The changing nature of websites
It's fair to say that there's been a significant change in direction in web design over the past five years or so. If I were to put a label to it, I'd call it Participation. The growth of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter is testament to that.
And that's had an impact on business and personal websites too: people, customers, prospects, expect more of your website that they did, say, five years ago. They expect to be able to interact and participate in some way.
This may be as simple as a news blog that allows them to keep up to date with an area of interest. It may be through commenting or reviewing where they can express their experience (whether positive or negative) of your product or service. It may be 'Liking' you via Facebook, or 'Friending' you via Twitter.
However it works, it's in your interests to give your customers and prospects this opportunity: there is absolutely no doubt that 'participatory media' builds stronger and deeper relationships with customers.
Websites on the move
Websites that allow the kind of interaction suggested above are referred to as dynamic. And what makes it all possible, as well as a good deal more, is a database, which is why dynamic sites are also sometimes referred to as database-driven sites.
What sets dynamic sites apart is what happens behind the scenes. All information (all content, all data) is stored separately to the actual webpage. When a user requests their browser display a given webpage, a pre-defined template fetches data from the database to populate that template. This all happens so quickly that it cannot really be perceived. But it opens the door to some interesting possibilities.
For example: Because the content (data) is stored separately to the design (template, layout), the look of a website can be changed relatively easily without pages having to be redesigned and relaid out. In some environments, the collection of templates that make up the design of a website is called a theme, and the theme can be changed time and time again without affecting the content. Indeed, with a little more tweaking, a different theme can be presented to different users, dependent on how the user responds to different criteria.
It also means that different content can be used across different areas of the website without it having to be re-typed every time. If you have, say, a News blog, then you can present that News blog in several different places across your site and in several different ways, but you only have to update the centralised blog once. You can even have a given News article automatically summarised, given a popularity score, and sorted by date, to present a precis of the most recent and most popular articles. To do that manually would take hours, and would have to be redone every time you published a new article on your blog.
And that's just the start. Dynamic sites also empower you to utilise all sorts of custom functionality.
Develop a mailing list and run different campaigns to specific market segments, track the results, build a new campaign based on those results and run a new campaign — all semi-autonomously.
Build a sales site with shopping cart that suggests up-sells and cross-sells based on the cart's contents, and then have the customer pay for their products via Direct Transfer, PayPal or any number of payment gateways. Present different landing pages to different people, find what works and what doesn't, conduct your own market research: dynamic sites make this (and much more) a lot easier than it once was.
So static sites are dead?
No, I wouldn't say that. Firstly, some of the benefits of dynamic sites (such as templating regions and user updatability) are increasingly possible through faux-dynamic tools offered in static site building software such as Adobe Dreamweaver.
But the big benefit of static sites is in the visual design of the site and its constituent web pages. In brief, you can do a lot more with a static site, design-wise, than you can with a dynamic site. True, this gap is closing and where dynamic sites once looked a bit 'blocky' and overly structured, it is increasingly possible to add more designerly elements. That said, if you want a visually arresting site, a static site is the way to go. Further, if your site is purely informational, you may not need the dynamism of a database driven site: a static site might suit you fine and allow the design to shine.
Head to head
Here's a rundown of comparative benefits:
|Possibly cheaper to set up||Needs more forethought during planning stage to map out how various elements interact with other elements, so possibly slightly more expensive due to this extra structural planning|
|Hosting and serving of pages requires no special server requirements||Require the server to run database applications such as PHP and SQL to store content|
|Updating pages requires modest knowledge of HTML, the building blocks of webpages; large scale updates are time-consuming and essentially mean starting from scratch. A redesign is starting from scratch.||Once setup, pages can be created and edited using tools similar to those of Microsoft Word and requiring no special skills|
|Essentially a one-way process: information is presented to the user, without any opportunity for interaction or collaboration||Users can interact with the website: add content, comments, update it, share it, see different content bases on their preferences|
Not sure what you need?
Talk to us. We’re happy to discuss the possibilities, costs, and outlook for your site. To be honest, our preference — or rather our advice — would be towards dynamic sites because of the participatory benefits they offer, and we’re big believers in participation being a powerful marketing benefit. That said, we want your site to be the best it can be according to your brief, and if that means a static site structure better suits it, then we’re happy to design you a fabulous static site, too.