Part 1 of the Build My Website series: Content Management System or Static Website?

I have been working on Barebones Static recently, my pet project for creating production-ready content-focused websites quickly with as minimal overhead costs as possible.

However, before I actually delve into this project that I'm working on, I do think that it is necessary to talk a bit about my opinion on content management systems out in the wild, and what I would do if I were business owner intending to create a content website.

Your Options

There are a myriad of ways that people can host content on the web. There are WordPress sites, plain HTML sites, custom JavaScript framework apps, the list goes on and on. Everyday a new framework pops up in the horizon, and you contemplate whether it is a good decision to adopt it. Most of these can be classified into the following groups: Content Management Systems (CMSs), and static websites.

Of course, there are other types of websites that are hybrids of the two main groups, but for now, we are only focused on these two main groups of solutions.

Content Management Systems (CMSs)

This category of solutions requires you to manually run a machine (whether virtual or physical), an optional Web server, and also an application will manage your content (often with a database). Some examples of solutions in this category are WordPress and Ghost, both of which are open source and free for commercial use. Of course, there are closed-source alternatives as well, such as SquareSpace and Wix.

Open-source CMSs are usually supported by a company providing hosting services, such as how WordPress.org is supported by WordPress.com. These hosting services will cost monthly fee, and has multiple tiers according to the additional perks and features required.

Closed-source CMSs usually are sold as a Software as a Service (SaaS), and may have a freemium tier that individuals can use for their own personal websites. Additional customizations would increase the monthly bill, and the maintenance and upkeep of the entire software is outsourced to the SaaS company.

Static Sites

The static sites category involves serving static files from a web server. These solutions can include a step to build the files before being placed on the web server (called a Static Site Generator), or can just be edited manually before being placed on the server. In general, this solution is much more customized and hands-on with the actual technologies that goes into making a website. This means that a good understanding of how a web page works would be benficial for anyone going this route.

In any case, static sites was how all websites were made in the early days of the Internet, and should not be shied away from just because it may seem "old-school" or "complex".

Arguments that static websites are complex are just nonsensical. Every end goal has a degree of complexity attached to the solution you choose. The end complexity will always depend on what you are trying to accomplish with your website. More bells and whistles and fancy designs = more complexity.

Choosing A Solution

  • Deployment : For Static Sites, there are many free services that allows you to host your static website for free, such as Netlify and Cloudflare . These services usually are faciliated by their Content Delivery Network. However, this is not the case for CMSs, as you would have to host them on a Virtual Private Server or with a paid hosting service, hence increasing your monthly cost for your website. Using a VPS also presents several hidden costs, such as security, maintenance, and ease of use.
  • Security : With a static website hosted on a hosting provider, the security costs are absorbed by the CDN that you are using. This may include services such as DDoS protection and automatic SSL encryption. However, the same cannot be said for a self-hosting your own website. Whether you are using a CMS or a static website, you will have to manage the VPS, ensuring that it is updated from security vulnerabilities and ensuring that sufficient protection measures are in place for your users.
  • Maintenance : High for self-hosting, low for static sites. So low that you can set it up and forget about its existence and it will still be available so long as the hosting service is not bankrupt. Backing up would just be a copy-paste to your external hard drive. On the other hand, in the CMS corner, you would have to ensure that your CMS database is backed up regularly, together with your VPS hard drive too.

My decision was quite simple. I hate having to maintain servers (I think you can sense it from my wordings in this post). I find it tedious, boring, and non-productive. Because of this, I lean very heavily towards using hosted services to serve static files. And these hosted services should be of extremely low cost (or free, if possible), because it isn't that complicated to host files. There are other static website deployment solutions that we can explore in the future for this series, but we would be jumping the gun right now if we talked about it now.

In conclusion, my advice for any small to mid-sized website would be to avoid a full-featured CMS. The additional setup and maintenance costs associated adds up over time, and the additional new things that you will have to learn as a non-technical person would be equal to or even more than using a static website anyway. Furthermore, if a new website takes months to pick up in traffic and revenue, your monthly costs from VPS expenses or hosting costs would result in your Profit & Loss statement being in the red (for this website item, at least).

Note: If you are intending to sell this website in the future are adamant about using WordPress, you should remember that it is not the technology behind a product/service that impacts the valuation of an asset, but the overall value provided to the firm in terms of additional profit. For example, when purchasing a delivery business, you mainly look at the revenues and costs of the business, not the type (or brand) of vehicle used to deliver goods. A website is just a way to deliver content, after all.

With that said, let us explore the different types of static websites, and continue my story on how I ended up creating the Barebones Static project.

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