When building your online presence, there are many ways you can go about making a website. But in general, it all comes down to two fundamental types of design; static and dynamic websites.

In this article, we'll take a look at the differences between the two, and how to decide when is the best time to use static or dynamic content on your website.

What is a static website?

The clue is in the name; static websites primarily load ‘static’ content. In this context, this is content that has been coded into a file with HTML, CSS, and sometimes JavaScript. The file is then displayed directly on the website.

Static websites tend to be used for sites where content doesn’t often change, or where your aim is to create a website with good page-load times. To change content on static websites in its most basic form, the developer must make changes to the code in the file directly, before uploading it to the host again. However, static website generators make this more straightforward.

What is a dynamic website?

Dynamic websites, on the other hand, take content and data from a number of locations in order to render the website. This is primarily done using a server-side language, such as PHP or Javascript (running in Node.js), to connect the data and relevant files together. We constantly use dynamic websites in the form of web applications, including Google Drive, Facebook, and online email sites.

Dynamic websites are able to pull data on the fly, allowing for more functional uses like ecommerce, account systems, and more.

What are the similarities between static and dynamic websites?

Both dynamic and static websites are primarily created in the same languages. While dynamic websites require knowledge of a server-side language, both types use HTML and CSS for their frontend construction.

Static and dynamic websites can also handle large amounts of content, including rich text, images, and video embedding. Both designs are also capable of being used to create responsive websites, which automatically adjust the content layout based on whether they’re being viewed on desktop or on mobile.

While this might seem like a ‘dynamic’ feature, it can just as easily be done on static websites, as this is controlled by the HTML and CSS on the page.

While static and dynamic websites require development knowledge if they’re being created from scratch, there are ways of creating static and dynamic content using other tools to avoid heavy programming. Dynamic websites can be created using existing tools such as website builder and content management systems (CMSs), such as WordPress. Static websites can be created with a CMS, but it is far often quicker to develop one using a static site generator such as Hugo or Jekyll.

Benefits of static websites

Due to their relative simplicity, static websites don’t require as much development know-how as dynamic websites to build from scratch. With just a notepad document, anyone can create a file in HTML and CSS which contains their content. This works well for those who have only basic development experience, and simply want to create a website consisting of a few pages that display information.

On the other hand, dynamic websites require a lot more development knowledge to build if you’re starting with nothing. For instance, rather than just using HTML and CSS, the developer would need to be familiar with the backend language used, as well as having an understanding of databases.

Another benefit of static websites is that they greatly improve page load times compared to dynamic websites, as the browser doesn’t need to make as many requests to the server for resources on static websites. This means the content can be displayed more quickly. Page load speed is a metric measured by Google for SEO purposes, so decreasing the page load time of your website by creating static content is a great way to increase its ranking on Google.

Benefits of dynamic websites

While static websites provide faster loading times, dynamic websites make up for this in functionality and ease of use. Whereas static websites are most effective when the data doesn’t change often, dynamic websites can alter their data as the user navigates the website.

For example, the ‘latest stories’ area of a news website will almost always be dynamic. The process of adding a story to the site, and the ‘latest’ area loading the most recent stories, are both reliant on a database accessible via the site’s backend, making the system dynamic.

If a CMS or website builder is being used to create a dynamic website, the difficulty of creating it from scratch is negated, and it becomes far easier than even writing the HTML and CSS files for a static site.

Instead of the site owner needing to ask the developer to manually make changes to the content (for example if a new blog post needs to be added), they can simply log in to the CMS or builder and make the changes themselves. This also prevents the developer needing to charge the owner more money to make continual amendments to the content.

Deciding on a static vs dynamic website

Deciding between using static or dynamic websites will depend on what your website's purpose is, and what resources are available to you.

If your site consists of three pages or fewer, and you don’t expect the content to change often, then a static website is more than suitable for you. They come with improved loading times, so it’s easier for sites containing static content to rank more highly on Google, therefore bringing in more traffic.

Due to their comparatively smaller size, they also lend themselves well to shared web hosting plans, and if the content doesn’t need to be updated, they can be set up and left to run.

However, if you’re looking for a website that’s more functional, whether it’s an online shop, a blog, or a forum, then a dynamic website will likely suit your scope better. This way, you’ll be able to control and change the content as much as you like, as well as any content based on user input such as account systems and user profiles.

Of course, creating dynamic websites from scratch can get costly due to the front and backend development knowledge it requires. But if you’re looking for a more cost-effective option which gives you all the functionality you need, a website builder package can help you create your own dynamic websites without the development overhead.

With Fasthosts website builder, you can build both static and dynamic websites by simply dragging and dropping the elements you want into the builder, meaning you can create a professional looking website that you can update whenever you like.

If you want to find out even more information about dynamic websites in particular, and how to improve your website's hosting, you can head over to the Fasthosts blog where we post regular tips, tricks, and guides, to expand your internet knowledge.