You might be thinking, "what is this guy smoking? what year is this? of course everybody needs a static site – don't you know WordPress is literally the devil?"
While I think everyone deserves all the incredible benefits that a static site may bring (no plugin or theme updates, no worries of malware, lightening quick, simple to reason about), not everyone needs one. Let me explain why.
This post is directed at freelancers and small web dev shops, because that's where my experience has primarily been.
1. Site improvements over time
What happens when you can no longer assist with maintaining the ultra-custom React Gastby site that you rolled out for your client 2 years ago when it was still in v2-beta?
I've built a number of static sites for my clients while I was still doing web development and consulting on my own. I don't really do that anymore.
When that was still my bread and butter, static sites were the hot new thing on the block – and after spending years maintaining janky WordPress installations that were riddled with malware – it felt like a breath of fresh air. I ended up building some really beautiful, interactive websites for my clients and they were very pleased with the results.
Fast forward to today, I've now shifted gears to work at Greenspace Mental Health full-time. When you're already working full-time, lord knows you can't always help add that extra page or content for your old client who's rocking the sick beta Gastby site. The slick animations and page transitions can't help you now.
However, if this was some modest WordPress setup, I could just create a new admin user and pass along the info to just about anybody and they could come in and be their new "IT guy". Presto. Problem solved, not my worry anymore.
Consider my scenario in 2020. My clients now need to find somebody not only proficient in React, but also have working nowledge of how their headless CMS plays with a static site generator. Now, some my clients have deep pockets to hire someone like this, but sometimes your clients just want their 13 year-old tech-savy nephew to be able to get in there and update the site footer – and that's okay too.
Does little Timmy know React? Probably not.
I've encountered some WordPress installations that have been kicking for closer to 10 years and have passed through the hands of many developers, and are still delivering value to the business after all this time. There's something to be said about the service-ability of a product like that.
Perhaps it's akin to the Gaggia Classic Pro espresso machine. Sure, it's kinda ugly and needs regular maintenance. But, with a little love, it can last many years and just about anyone can get in there, service it, and extend it's life – even your nephew.
2. Your time is valuable, too
Building a static site is fun, especially coming from traditional CMS's like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal. However, custom static sites can quickly become a time sink, which can become very costly to you or your business.
When I had first started at a web design agency, the company was simply buying WP themes off of Envato market and reskinning them for clients to match their brands. Do you know how quick and lucrative that is? There's hardly any custom HTML/JS/CSS – you're just swapping out graphics and adding business copy. We were cranking out sites within days.
When you consider each site is selling anywhere from 5k-15k, that's a lot of cheddar.
Compare that to the time spent creating all the HTML/JS/CSS/React from scratch. Not to mention wiring up the headless CMS and adding the required validation so that your client doesn't end up accidentally borking the build on Netlify because your generator didn't get the input it expected.
You are spending many days, even weeks just on the development.
Now, if your client has deep pockets and is willing to pay top dollar for a site, you have a couple options. Either:
- go the completely custom static-site route, or
- go a swanky WordPress route (I'll explain) and save the extra cash to buy yourself a bathtub to hold all the money you're saving yourself
You can get pretty far very quickly by purchasing a premium WordPress theme built on the Genesis framework, sprinkling some Advanced Custom Fields where you need to extend the theme, and then using something like Shifter to generate your static site. In my opinion, this gets you pretty far with minimal effort, and you still get so many of the valuable perks of a static site.
Many of my friends and colleagues are shocked that I'm reccomending that people go the WordPress route – but I've come to realize that it is still a very viable option, especially when you're wanting to create a website quickly and you are willing to swallow your pride.
However, if this next project is a passion project, or you feel you can build it faster in React, then don't let me stop you – building static sites is fun. But, if your rent is coming up, you don't want to keep eating ramen, and the non-profit you're building this website for just needs a simple website, don't over-complicate things.
3. Hopefully your tech will stay relevant
The JAMstack is still a new-ish concept, and in the past few years I've already seen some static site generators and headless CMSs fade away into the hype abyss.
When generators were exploding onto the scene, Middleman was still quite relevant, Spike was an up-and-comer, and Jekyll was top dog. Keep in mind, that was only 2 or 3 years ago. Look at this very long and comprehensive list of generators. There's so many more options, with many new generators taking the top positions like the aformentioned Gatsby.
Years ago, your best CMS option was likely the WordPress API via something like Rooftop or KeystoneJS. Now, you have so many more options to choose from it's almost overwhelming. My top pick in this arena is still Sanity, those guys are awesome.
On a few sites, my tech bets were cetainly misplaced. Will the CMS provider I chose for my client 2 years ago still be around 10 years from now? Hard to say, but at least with a traditional monolith CMS, I know that as long as I pay for the hosting and domain, that puppy should last for quite some time (along with the regular maintenance that they require, of course).
Hopefully I've been able to provide an arugment against always choosing a static site for your next project. Don't get me wrong, I think static site generators make building websites fun again, but they aren't always the correct tool for the job.
Perhaps pride and my love for exploring new technologies blinded me from understanding the long-term implications of static sites. I just hope the sites I've built can last a decade, I mean they're just static files after all.