Your business depends on its website. After all, that online domain is where customers purchase products from you, to learn about your company, interact with your employees, and get an overall positive impression about what your business has to offer and how you go about doing what you do.
In other words, it’s essential.
You’ve probably invested a good amount of time in getting that site up and running and perfected to your exact specs. It’s probably a dynamic site that includes all sorts of features and UX goodness to keep people coming back. Your content probably changes regularly (to keep the site from getting stale) and you have a complete backend CMS to make everything easy.
What about now? Still interested?
These are called static site generators and they serve a very specific purpose—one that might be of use for your company. Let’s dive in and see if these tools are a good fit for your company.
Just what is a static site?
First, let’s answer this question. Back in the early days of web development, every website was a static site. HTML files were served up that might contain images and links, and although those elements functioned, their only function was to deliver assets to the page. That’s why they were static—unless the developer manually made changes, the content never changed. It was static.
These types of sites were fine for personal and small use-cases. But as more and more businesses hopped onto the web train, the static site was revealed to be too limiting.
That’s where the dynamic site came into being. These types of sites could dynamically change content and deliver more and more information and products to consumers and the masses. To manage dynamic sites, Content Management Systems (such as WordPress) were created.
But for static sites, it was all about hard-coding HTML and CSS. Those were the only 2 languages you needed to build the 1990s website of your dreams.
Why use static sites now?
We’re well beyond the 90s and static websites. So why are they making a comeback? The primary answer for that is automation and DevOps. Thanks to these 2 technological advancements, it’s possible to make use of static sites in a way that can actually benefit a business.
But it’s not exactly what you think.
Your entire website won’t be based on static content. Static site generators are used to enhance dynamic sites. These generators are a combination of hand-coded static sites and full-blown CMS. This amalgamation of the 2 looks something like this:
- You generate a static HTML page website that borrows concepts like templates (from the world of CMS).
- Content for these sites can be extracted from databases, markdown files, APIs, or any storage location.
- Site generation is then done in a staging server.
- The resulting HTML files are then deployed to the live web server.
Unlike the original static sites of the 90s, these types of sites aren’t unchanging – quite the opposite. Because static site generators work on the concept of templates, it’s very easy to build and deploy similar sites from the same template, but with different content. This can be automated so quickly that your users would never know the difference between static and dynamic content.
But is this type of system right for your business?
First and foremost, the complexity of getting a static site generator deployed into your workflow can be a dealbreaker. It requires quite a bit of skill just to get the site generator up and running. You need developers and DevOps with the ability to work with a lot of moving pieces in such a way as to make it seamless. To automate the process is even more challenging. The rewards, however, are many:
- High performing websites
- Fewer dependencies on the server-side
- Greater reliability and security
- Better support for version control and testing
- Faster deployment of new content
- Automation, automation, automation
- Use of pre-cached pages for increased speed
The most important question you should ask yourself is: “Would the time and effort invested in a static site generator platform benefit my company?” It’s a serious investment in resources. Not only that, but it’s a completely different metaphor for content delivery, which can mean a significant learning curve for your teams. After all, they’ve probably been working with one particular platform for years.
Another issue is that you’ll find many static site generators are still fairly niche tools, so there’s not a large community ready for help. This issue also helps to increase the initial setup time. This is an entirely new build process your teams will have to integrate. And without a standard admin interface, things get even more complicated.
Finally, if your site requires user logins, forms, search, or discussions, you’re going to face even more complications.
So, once again, ask yourself the question: Is it worth it? Yes, the benefits of employing static site generators can be incredible, but getting to that point will be a daunting challenge.
If you’re still interested in checking out static site generator platforms, here’s a shortlist of options: