Get Bite-Sized Insights

Simple, helpful insights on managing your business' online presence—directly to your inbox.

Static Website vs Dynamic Website—What’s Best for My Business?

Published by in Technology on . .

Quick answer: Whether a dynamic or a static website makes sense for your business, depends on your requirements, limitations, and goals. What’s more important than the platform or technology a website relies on, is the process behind making the website.

Static and dynamic websites, you may have run into these terms if you’ve been looking into a new website for your business. In this article, we’ll go over what they are, their unique benefits, and discuss real-world differences.

What Is a Static Website?

A static website simply provides your web browser with a copy of files that are already sitting on a web server. When someone visits your website, the webserver won’t have to piece together a web page using server code. In other words, no content is generated on the fly, and it’s showing the same content to all visitors, at any given point in time.

What Is a Dynamic Website?

A dynamic website generates a web page on the fly, using server-side code. This means the web page can pull data from a database and generate content specific to each visitor or content specific to any point in time.

Dynamic websites allow for more complex functionality and interactivity. Web applications like Facebook, Google, Gmail, WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, eBay, are all examples of dynamic websites.

Static And Dynamic Websites—Side by Side Comparison

To further understand the differences, let’s simplify what happens behind the scenes of a static website and a dynamic website, with a side by side comparison:

Static and dynamic websites, side by side comparison of how they differ in functionality.
Static and dynamic websites, side by side comparison of how they differ in functionality.

We see that the static website skips a step, and deliver content in a simpler manner.

Static Websites: Benefits, Limitations, and Downsides

Benefits of Static Websites

  • Speed. Static websites are simpler and can, therefore, be delivered faster to your web browser. And faster websites can benefit your business in the form of increased engagement and search rankings.
  • Security. Because there’s no server code or database running, there is less opportunity for malicious attacks on static websites.
  • Hosting Costs. Static websites require less server power and can be hosted in simpler server environments. These hosting environments are also simpler to scale up in event of traffic spikes.

Limitations and Downsides of Static Websites

  • Limited real-time updates. Static websites aren’t a perfect fit if your website needs to reflect changes made to your website on the fly. This is due to the simple fact that the web page needs to be re-created and deployed every time new content is added. However, as we’ll see below, modern static site generators can help automate some of these tasks.
  • Limited functionality. A lot of common functionality can be implemented into a static website, for example, a contact form. But since static websites don’t run server-side code, the more interactive and complex functionality you need, the less a static website will make sense.
  • Less Back-end Administration Options. Static websites typically don’t have feature-rich administrative interfaces. Be it visual or functional, you’ll rely more on your developer to make changes to your website.

What Are Static Websites Great For?

  • Smaller Blogs
  • Landing Pages
  • Informational websites
  • Websites where content only changes when you or another author are publishing updates.

A New Level of Flexibility With Modern Static Site Generators (SSG)

Today, it doesn’t make sense to mention static websites without talking about the benefits of modern Static Site Generators (SSGs). Let’s take a moment to understand what they are and how they can benefit your business.

What is a Static Site Generator?

Static websites have been around since the inception of the internet. But back then, static websites quickly became too cumbersome to manage. So when dynamic content management systems became widely available, in the early to mid-2000s, static websites, for any serious purpose, were practically abandoned.

Fast forward to today, and innovations in how static websites are generated have dramatically changed how we think about them. And this is where SSGs come in. In short, an SSG helps us put together and manage web pages so well, that static websites are yet again a real alternative to dynamic websites.

Today’s SSGs can even make great use of databases. The difference being that an SSG pulls data from a data source at build time instead of on the fly. For example, they can automatically include a new blog post when the web page is built. The generated files are then put on a web server, ready to be served to visitors.

But the benefits don’t stop there. Modern SSGs can help with:

  • Automatic Deployment. Rebuilding and deployment of a website can be configured to happen automatically when new content is created. You can, for example, create a new blog post for your website, in a word-like interface, hit the save button, and your website is automatically rebuilt and republished.
  • Flexible Data Sources. SSGs have a flexible way of talking to data sources. They can, for example, pull in a blog post from a platform like Contentful, a Content Management System like WordPress), or even a file in Google Docs. This means that, compared to most dynamic systems, the front-end (visual part) of the website is more separated from the back end (inner workings), of the website. A real-world benefit is that you get to use the back end tool you like the most, for example for writing blog posts. You can even switch the data source entirely and still keep the front end.

Dynamic Websites: Benefits, Limitations, and Downsides

Benefits of Dynamic Websites

  • Complex Functionality. Because a CMS, or a custom web application, run server-side code, and makes use of databases, they allow for complex functionality. A dynamic website can generate web pages on the fly, have logged in users, display user-generated content, have richer administrative interfaces, and more.
  • Flexibility. If you think your website might need more complex features in the future, a dynamic website is likely the right choice.
  • Large Ecosystems. Many dynamic CMS systems have mature and large ecosystems of existing code and resources. When taken advantage of carefully, re-utilizing these resources can reduce developing costs.

Limitations and Downsides of Dynamic Websites

  • Speed and Hosting Costs. With the added complexity of server-side code and database queries, dynamic websites require more powerful server environments to offset the extra steps it takes to deliver web pages.
  • Security. With server-side code and databases, dynamic websites have more doors for hackers to get in (however, as we’ll see below, it’s not entirely fair to label dynamic websites as insecure as such).

What are Dynamic Websites Great For?

  • Websites needing content rendered on the fly
  • Websites utilizing user-generated content.
  • E-commerce websites
  • Large website structures
  • Websites needing users to register, log in, and similar user interaction.
  • Websites that need to be operated by non-technical people.

In short. The more functionality you need on your website, the more likely you’ll need a dynamic website.

Dynamic and Static Website Real-World Considerations

Dynamic vs Static Website Speed

Static web pages are delivered to your web browser in a simpler way, and therefore have a clear potential to be the faster option.

But, in the real world, it’s not as black and white. Dynamic websites can also be made to make great use of static assets. With optimized configurations and server environments, dynamic websites can practically be as fast as static websites. Achieving this does however require more effort and resources compared to a static website.

On the contrary, when building static websites, it’s entirely possible to get carried away and end up with a big bundle of bloat.

Dynamic vs Static Website Real World Website Speed Tests

With little effort, you can confirm that the above holds true. Let’s do some quick tests:

  1. First, let’s load up Google’s Web.dev Measuring Tool in a new tab.
  2. Now let’s find some websites built with SSGs. Good places for that are showcase galleries of our two favorite SSGs in action: GatsbyJS Showcase or the NextJS Showcase.
  3. Now it’s just a matter of inputting website addresses into the Google Web.dev tool.

We can do the same quick tests with dynamic websites built on, for example, Drupal or WordPress.

Among excellent performers, it won’t take us many tries to find both static and dynamic websites with big performance issues.

What we’ve seen, is that a website being dynamic or static is just one of many moving parts affecting web page speed. As a business owner, hiring a web developer with a solid process and attention to detail is far more important than what platform they develop on.

Dynamic Website vs Static Website Security

Static websites have a clear advantage when it comes to security. With few moving parts to it, there are very few chances for a developer to neglect security. A static website on its own is practically immune to malicious attacks.

With dynamic websites, their complexity also makes security more complex. And with more complexity comes more chances for website owners and developers to neglect best practices and security measures. Thus leaving doors open for hackers. That being said, a properly configured dynamic website, can be a very secure website.

Dynamic Website vs Static Website Functionality

Due to the lack of a server environment that can execute code, static websites are limited in interactive functionality.

With dynamic websites, you can—in theory—make anything you can dream up.

For the purposes of this article, it may be helpful to think of it like this: From an end-user perspective, every website built as a static website could also be built as a dynamic website. But you certainly can’t build every dynamic website as a static website.

Dynamic Website vs Static Website Development Costs

The cost of developing either dynamic or static websites is something that is hard to make a broad statement about. It all depends on the requirements. In general, if your project doesn’t require complex interactivity, a static website is likely the cost-efficient option. On the contrary, the more complexity you need, the more cost-efficient a dynamic website will be.

Dynamic Website vs Static Website Hosting Costs

Hosting cost is another metric that is though to concisely generalize. In 2020, hosting costs for small business websites are so low that it isn’t necessarily impacting the decision-making process on whether to move forward with a static website or a dynamic website.

If we were to make a very broad statement about hosting costs, static websites are inexpensive to host, while dynamic websites require more server power and tend to be more slightly more money to host.

Conclusion

A Question About Needs

There are both static and dynamic systems that are rock solid when used right, and what system is right for you all depends on your requirements, limitations, and goals. If a static website ticks all the boxes for your needs, it’s likely the way to go. If it doesn’t, you need a dynamic website.

A Successful Websites Is All About The Process

What’s much more important than the platform or technology your website relies on, is the process behind making the website.

Here at Motical, we build websites with both static site generators (JAMStack) and dynamic content management systems. That way we don’t have to push one over the other, and we’re here to help you decide which one is right for you.