Static site generators (SSGs) are popular and offer many benefits, but this article discusses reasons why they may not be a suitable replacement for your content management system (CMS).
In my previous article, we discussed how your site could benefit from using a static site generator:
- A static site is a collection of pages contained in basic HTML files. You could hand-write these in a text editor, but managing assets and repeated elements such as navigation can become problematic.
- A content management system stores page content in a database and provides facilities to edit and apply themes. Management becomes easier at the expense of flexibility, performance, server requirements, security, and backups.
- A static site generator is a compromise between using a hand-coded static site and a full CMS. You generate the full site once using raw data (such as Markdown files) and templates. The resulting set of files is transferred to your live server.
SSGs appear to offer the benefits of both CMS and static worlds, but they may not be suitable for every project …
1. You’re On Your Own
You won’t get far using a static site generator without some development expertise. The process is more difficult than using a CMS, there are fewer resources, and you could struggle to find pre-built plugins and templates.
Contrast that with WordPress. A non-technical user may require installation assistance but, once that’s complete, they can edit a site and install one of the many thousands of themes and plugins available. They may not have the best bespoke website, but they’re running with minimal intervention.
2. Choice Paralysis
There are many static site generators, but even the most popular tools are used by a tiny proportion of the web community. You’ll need time to research, investigate, and evaluate the options. One of the first SSGs was the Ruby-based Jekyll but, while you don’t necessarily require Ruby expertise, it will help if you’ve used the language before.
There are many CMSs, but there’s one obvious choice: WordPress. It powers more than 40% of the Web, so help is abundant. Again, it will help if you have some PHP experience, but even a non-developer can create a reasonable website using off-the-shelf themes and plugins.
3. The Initial Setup Time
Creating your first static site will take time. You’ll need to learn the build process, and much of the template code will need to be developed. Deployment scripts may also be necessary.
Developing a custom CMS theme can also be complicated, but pre-built templates are available and assistance is easier to find. Further development may not be required following the initial installation.
4. No Administration Interface
Clients may be cautious when faced with a complex CMS interface. Asking them to create and edit a set of Markdown files may terrify many. You can make the process easier by perhaps:
- using their existing CMS as an SSG data source, or
- providing simpler workflows, such as editing Git-based files in StackEdit or Hackmd.io.
But this will further impact your initial development time.