What's a static website?

When you need fast-loading, high-performing web pages, a static website will be high on your priority list. Let's look at static websites and how they work.
February 21, 2023


We say it oftentimes on this blog and elsewhere, but it bears repeating: Websites are the gateway to modern businesses. When a prospective customer wishes to learn about a company’s products and services — and make a purchase or a subscription — the official website is the first place they visit.

For this reason alone, it’s vital for web pages to load as quickly as possible. Speed equals revenue. Markets are competitive, and potential customers simply won’t wait around for a slow or unresponsive website to load.

If you'd like to deliver faster load times and greater performance, then, a static website should be high on your list of considerations. In this post we'll explore the wonderful world of static websites, offer some handy definitions, and see just how they differ from dynamic websites.

Static websites defined

A static website is a type of website built using only HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Unlike dynamic websites, which generate content on the fly each time a user requests them, static websites serve the same content to all users and don't use a database or server-side scripting languages like PHP, Python, or Ruby.

Each page of a static website is pre-built and stored as a static file on the web server. When a user visits a static website, their browser downloads the pre-built files and displays them to the user. Since there's no server-side processing, static websites are generally faster and more secure than dynamic websites. More on that below.

Static websites are often used for simple websites which don't require frequent updates, such as personal blogs or small business websites with only a few pages. But they're also a popular choice for considerably larger purposes like hosting documentation, technical manuals, or other types of reference material that don't change often.

There's also a vast ecosystem of tools available to help create these sites, including static-site generators (SSGs). SSGs take a source directory and render it to a set of static HTML pages, and optimize the CSS and JavaScript output. 

The build phase is also used to apply a unique filename based on the asset contents. For example, you can replace something like /js/main.js with /js/main-b46130a4.js. This technique invalidates the browser’s cache, making sure that users always receive the most recent version of the website.

With the rise of static websites and the minimal requirements to serve them, many providers like Netlify and others offer dedicated deployment solutions specifically for static websites.

Graphic of a lightning bolt

Seven magnificent benefits of static websites

1. Speed

Static websites are pre-built and their content is served "as-is" to the web browser, which means that web pages load quickly. There's no server-side processing required to generate the content, and consequently there's less data to transfer to the user, reducing the load time even further. And as we all know, faster load times lead to happier site visitors.

2. Security

Static websites are generally considered more secure than dynamic websites because they don't require a server-side scripting language or a database. With no backend, there'll be fewer entry points for attackers to exploit. Static websites are also less likely to be the target of an automated attack, such as SQL injection or cross-site scripting attacks.

3. Scalability

Another amazing thing about static websites is that they're easy to scale up to handle large amounts of traffic. They require fewer server resources than dynamic websites (again, no server-side scripting language or database), which means the server doesn't need to handle as many requests per second. Even if a static website experiences a sudden spike in traffic, there's no need to panic; it can handle the increased load without issue.

4. Lower costs

Let's talk money. Static websites will be cheaper to host than dynamic websites because they require fewer server resources. Where there are no overheads like a server-side scripting language or database, the server doesn't require as much processing power or memory. The result is lower hosting costs, which are especially helpful for businesses or individuals operating with limited budgets.

5. Simplicity

Related to those lower costs, static websites are easier to develop and maintain than dynamic websites because they don't require a backend database or complex server infrastructure. There's no need to write server-side scripts or manage a database, which saves time and reduces complexity. This simplicity can also make it easier to update content on the website, as changes can be made directly to the static files.

6. Reliability

Static websites are more reliable than dynamic websites because they don't rely on third-party services or external APIs to function properly. With a static website, everything is self-contained within the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files. Consequently, there are fewer points of failure and fewer opportunities for things to go wrong.

7. Improved SEO

Optimization for search is easier with static websites than dynamic websites, thanks to their simpler, more predictable structure. Search engines like the almighty Google and the upstart Bing give preferential treatment to web pages with a clear, concise structure — which static websites tend to have by default. Additionally, static websites can be served from a Content Delivery Network (CDN), which can further galvanize page load times and boost SEO.

Deep competition and incredibly fast speed to market

Things to consider with static websites

Useful as they are, static websites are definitely not a case of "one web technology to rule them all". They have some limitations compared to dynamic websites, although it's important to note that most of these can be remedied by using JavaScript libraries, APIs, or third-party services. The principle of composability in action!

Time-consuming updates: While the site visitor won't experience delays, making updates to a static website can take a bit of time, especially if the website has a lot of pages. And when using an SSG, the whole site has to be rebuilt every time a change is made, even if it's only to a single page.

Difficulty organizing content: Related to the above, as a static website grows in volume, it can become challenging to oversee and maintain a large amount of content, e.g., locating a specific blog entry or maintaining a consistent design, look, and feel across all pages.

Lack of personalization: Static websites don't offer much in terms of personalization, because each user sees the same content. That might be a disadvantage for websites that require a high-degree of user-specific or user-generated content, such as a social media platform.

Limited functionality: Static websites have limited functionality compared to a dynamic website. It's not possible to create user accounts or process payments, for example, or perform other advanced operations without a backend database and server-side scripting.

graphic icon of multiple websites

Ideal uses for a static website

The short answer for busy executives: most things. The growing ecosystem of tools, testing, and deployment options has supercharged their uptake and development into all avenues of publishing to the web. But okay, let's go deeper with some examples.

Starting small, a static website can be used for a personal or portfolio website to showcase a person's skills, experience, and work samples. It's an ideal option for creative professionals like designers, photographers, writers, and editors, where the content of these sites won’t change too often, while benefiting from the additional security, flexibility, and ease of use that static websites provide.

Stepping up the ladder, a small to medium business can use a static website to provide information about their products or services, hours of operation, location, and contact details. And for those practitioners of the dark art of content marketing (only kidding), then static websites can also be used to create a single web page for capturing leads or converting visitors into customers.

What else? There's also the documentation scenario. A static website can be used to provide documentation for a software application or an API, making it easy for developers to find and access relevant information. It could also serve as an educational website that provides academic content, such as tutorials, courses, or resources on a particular subject.

If we’re talking enterprise-grade applications, meanwhile, then a static website on its own probably isn’t going to cut it. That’s where a composable content platform comes in, pulling together components like a headless CMS, a static site generator, ecommerce, localization, search and personalization into something capable of meeting the demands of a globe-spanning operation.

Wrapping up

As all of the above should make clear, static websites offer improved security and performance. With the proliferation of pay-per-use compute solutions, the ability to serve content at a fraction of the resource use is proving increasingly valuable. If you’re looking to make use of these benefits from static websites, Contentful is at your service. With support for the most popular SSGs like Gatsby or Hugo, or frameworks with SSG capabilities like Next.js and SvelteKit, simply sign up with us to start building.

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