There are so many web technologies out there, how do you know which one to choose?
(*TL;DR is what the kids say. It means "too long; didn't read". It's often used to introduce a precis for people who don't have the time or inclination to read a full article.)
Web designers can throw out techy terms with the ridiculous expectation that you’ll understand exactly what they mean. We try to communicate with our clients in plain English, so we thought it might be useful to write this post to explain a little bit about some of the different web technologies that exist, and which might be right for you.
Some of the concepts we talk about below have been simplified to get the broad point across - in reality they’re a bit more nuanced but this is a good starting point.
Every time your web browser (Chrome, Edge, Safari, Firefox, etc.) requests a web page from the internet, it gets sent back a set of resources from a remote “server” (internet-connected computer that stores that website). The most fundamental of these is the HTML code. The HTML contains the framework of the page, all the page text and links to anything else it needs, such images. Every web page has HTML, no exceptions.
Next comes one or more CSS files. CSS code tells the web browser how to present and style the HTML. This can include instructions on which font to use, how to set out the type, what size to make images, how wide to make columns, and so on.
Then there are media assets (images, videos, etc.). It’s extremely rare for things like images to be included directly in the HTML of a web page - they’re almost always stored as separate files on the server and then referenced from the HTML.
A static website has all the necessary files for the complete website already created and saved as unchanging files on the server. When a request comes in from a web browser, the server can send these files incredibly quickly because they already exist.
In contrast, a dynamic website is one where the required files are built by the server on demand when you ask for a page.
Using our example of a contact page, in a static website when you visit www.example.com/contact, the server will go and find the contact.html file and send it back. If you request the same page from a dynamic website, the contact.html file doesn’t exist; instead, the server processes the “contact” request by running it through some code and probably pulling some content from a database. It then creates the required HTML in real time and sends it back to the web browser without ever saving it as a file on the server.
Because the content of static sites is pre-built and fixed, the same page content gets shown to every website visitor. With dynamic sites, different visitors can be shown different content depending, for example, on whether they’re logged in to the site. A blog that allows comments will usually be dynamic: because the page is generated at the time it’s requested, it can pull in all the latest comments. E-commerce sites are also dynamic so that they can show live product stock, what’s in your shopping cart, and so on.
So which do you choose?
Well, if you have a basic brochure website with content that changes rarely, a static site might the best choice. It can be quicker to build than a dynamic site and it requires almost no maintenance. It’s also going to be blazing fast for your site users, which in turn could help your search engine ranking (how high you appear in Google’s pecking order).
On the other hand, if you need to be able to regularly update site content yourself, you’re almost always going to need a dynamic website, usually built with a CMS such as WordPress.
A CMS, or Content Management System, is a tool to simplify the creation of website content for non web professionals. The best known CMS is WordPress, which at time of writing is behind almost half of all the websites in the world.
WordPress makes the process of adding pages to a website simple enough for most people to take on themselves (with a bit of training).
A WordPress site is dynamic, and hence slower than a static site, but there are tools we can use to speed things up and still create a snappy, responsive feeling website. At RB7, we’re WordPress experts and you can be confident that we’ll use best practices to get the most out of your website.
As good as WordPress is, there are times when you need something that WordPress just wasn’t designed for. In those cases, we have the skills to create something bespoke for you.
Okay, that’s a lot to read and absorb. Bottom line, you don’t need to worry about it. Right at the start of a project, we’ll assess your needs and make a recommendation for the best choice for you.
We’re here to take the confusion out of the web design process from the earliest planning stage right through to launch and beyond. And if you need us, we’re always just a phone call away.