The Lifespan of a Website

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There are many reasons why websites can work well for business. In a digital, increasingly global marketplace, websites are the new front-of-house. They’re the first impression you make on the majority of your clients, and potential clients. It’s essential to make sure that the first impression is a great one.

It’s also important to realise that there are many reasons why a website needs constant maintenance to remain effective and functional. There just is no way of avoiding the fact that websites can’t and don’t last forever. You’ll need to rebuild your website every now and again, but the good news is there are ways to keep it up to date between overhauls.

Digital clients walk away with the click of a mouse

Drab or malfunctioning websites don’t reflect well on your business. Consumers are constantly making choices. They often don’t even know they’re doing it, but they’ll favour a website that’s engaging and attractive over one that isn’t, every time. It’s easier in the digital world to up and leave your place of business. Moving from one store to another no longer requires a walk or a drive. Clients and customers do their walking with the click of a mouse.

A website can be a company’s greatest asset. Paying attention to keeping that asset user-friendly and relevant can pay great dividends when it comes to generating leads. Neglecting that asset will have a negative impact, pretty quickly.

So, how long does a website last? What’s the lifespan you can expect between rebuilds? And, what can you do to maximise longevity and function? Stick around, and we’ll try to get to the bottom of those questions in this article.

Getting the balance right: What you need to do, and when

At FutureLab, we think a lot about websites. I mean, some of us probably spend way too much time thinking (and even dreaming) about them. No matter how much I try to avoid it, I end up taking my work home. The first time I talked about PHP in my sleep, it didn’t go down too well. It got even worse when I started dreaming about React and Gutenberg – but that’s another story.

Anyway, enough about my problems. The point is, we know that you don’t think about websites as much as we do. We realise that often, all you want to know is:

  • What will it cost?
  • How often, to keep it working?
  • How can I minimise that cost and frequency?

To get to the bottom of some of these questions, it’s helpful to have a quick look at the two main ways your website will go out of date.

Aesthetics and Design, Function and Technology, User Interface

There are three main ways in which your website will age.

Designs go out of fashion and visual trends come and go, in website design as with all other forms. After a relatively short period of time, your website will begin to look dated. That’s the first way in which a website gets old.

The second way that time catches up with your website, is technology. It moves quickly on the internet. Small changes happen all of the time, but eventually bigger changes and advances will start to affect your website.

Probably the most alienating way your website will get old, from a customer point of view, is the user interface. Technology and design in UI move quickly, and a website can start to feel old if it doesn’t keep up with trends.

Design and changing trends

The importance of keeping web design in line with trends can perhaps best be illustrated looking at logo and branding evolution. It’s a good place to begin at any rate. Smart companies know the dangers of looking outdated, and there’s always been a need to keep up with the Joneses on the web. We’re back once more to the fact that things change quickly in cyberspace. It doesn’t take long before the fresh design starts to look dated all over again.

Let’s look at a logo and a brand that most of us encounter many times every day. Over the years, Google has become one of the most recognisable brands on the planet. Their logo looks as familiar as anything you’re ever likely to encounter online. But it’s important to remember that the familiarity, and how current the search engine’s logo looks, are the result of painstaking maintenance – not of anything accidental.

Brand identity and familiarity are not a consequence of Google resting on their laurels. Far from it. That modernity is contrived and it’s the result of careful consideration for what’s changed over the years on the web. The Google logo looks the same, but it’s not. In fact, it’s changed a total of six times over a thirteen-year period. It reflects changes in web design trends as they happened over time. A drop-shadow dropped here, a move to flat design there.

And that all keeps things very current, projecting exactly the image a company like Google need to have. Remember when Google made one of the most subtle logo changes ever? The way their logo has changed over the years is all about keeping up with trends. Fashion on the web goes beyond logos too. Not too long ago, the trend was to animate everything. Then we saw a theory take over which favoured having lots of written content. We’ve moved to the simplicity of design and easy navigation recently.

The only thing that’s static and certain about web design, is that it will change every couple of years. It’s massively important for websites to keep up with those changes. When your website looks dated, the perception of your potential client will be that your company is dated too. Getting ROI from the original cost of your website design means maintaining the look and the feel of the website.

Technology and the ageing process

We know that design and branding aren’t the only things that regularly change on the internet. Arguably, technology moves even quicker. The web can be a place where if you blink, you fall behind or slow down. Constant changes in the way websites are built, rapid advances in the tools and vehicles which make responsive websites possible, improvements in terms of loading speeds, the rate at which transactions can be processed and payments taken. If you don’t keep up with changes, and fail to carry out regular maintenance, you’ll soon be at a disadvantage.

Angular, Google’s popular framework is a great example of how web technology marches ever forward. A glance at Angular’s wiki page reveals how often Google changes the version. We saw a major new release twice during a six-month period in 2018. There have been seven versions of Angular since 2014, with the most recent preview release taking place a month ago (4th April 2019).

Further inspection of Angular’s wiki page reveals the scope of the changes and improvements made to the framework in the last few years. Angular isn’t unique, it’s very typical of the way technology evolves, and of the rapid rate at which it changes the internet environment. To stay functional, a website requires regular maintenance. Development of tools like Angular, which sees versions supported for eighteen months or so before technology once again ups sticks and advances, means that there’s a finite inevitability built into every web design – no matter how good the developer on your project. Redesigns aren’t just advised – they become necessary.

User Interface and the client experience

The user interface is an area where it’s possible to clearly see how the internet has been rapidly changing in recent years. Nowhere are advances and evolution more apparent to website users and clients than at their point of contact.

Website usability
Elements of website usability

Over recent years we’ve moved on from just making websites for desktops, as more and more devices become available on which to utilise the web, and mobile technology has leapt well and truly toward the mid twenty-first century. The adaptive design came and went, with all the time-consuming challenges that designing for multiple devices presented. We’re in the era of responsive design, and we’re now building mobile-first websites. Things have changed a lot, and the innovation within mobile-first web development isn’t going to slow down any time soon.

To stay on top of the changes, and to keep that website performing and functioning well, as mobile device versions come and go, and as web design changes with that – it’s essential to adapt. Where the client meets website isn’t just the limit of your commercial reach and appeal, it’s also at the very cutting edge of web technology.

What can you do?

Being aware of the way in which the internet changes is a great place to be at. Understanding that the web is not a static environment is perhaps the greatest thing you’ll ever do for your own website. Your greatest asset isn’t a thing that you can switch on, walk away from, and then expect it to keep performing optimally, generating business indefinitely. There’s a real requirement to be realistic about the constant and relatively quick evolution of the internet and the technology encapsulated in it.

We take for a given in modern times that the tech landscape is advancing at lightning speed. However, many businesses fail to connect that with web maintenance and redesign, to their detriment. It’s a fact that regular maintenance both prolongs the life of a website build, and also keeps the site current and engaging for longer. Being wise to the fact that tech and design frequently changes can add great value to the original cost of a website. Your site will stay responsive and attractive for longer.

Failure to keep up with the march of technology, and to reflect changing trends in web design ultimately result in poor user experience, and a less than desirable brand image. It’s hard to avoid falling sales when that happens, and it defeats the idea of why you built a website in the first place.

Stay current and let your web designer advise as to which designs and technology changes are likely to be around for a while, not just a flash in the pan. Take advice on what will add value to and prolong the functionality and appeal of your website. Then act on that advice.

At FutureLab, we can keep your site optimised with regular updates. We’ll keep your CMS up to date and we can even provide bigger companies and more complex sites with periodic reviews. Staying on top of web design, adding new technology and features, it’s all possible. You may wish to add a landing page, update your content, or change graphic elements to keep the site looking fresh. Adding the right features and tech will only improve your site, updates under the skin will keep it ticking over and doing the job it’s designed for.

Another thing to consider when you build your website is scalability. Building in some scope for growth can be a great way to prolong the lifespan of your website, especially where one of the targets for its performance is to generate business growth. It’s a great idea to budget for scalability at the point of website design, and it means you won’t outgrow your website before technology outgrows it.

Adapt and evolve

In short, what you can do as a company is stay in contact with your developers. Building a website doesn’t end the day it goes live, and your developer can help with updating content, with adding new pages and features. Regular work to keep your site current and attractive gives your developer a chance to modernise and tweak the technical and to keep everything up to date both on the surface and below.

When the inevitable does happen, and it’s no longer possible to maintain a website that’s based on discontinued and obsolete technology, the greatest success which your site can have delivered is a maximum performance, for 100% of its lifespan potential. The modern internet landscape means that websites can only really perform well for a few years.

The costs to your business will be based on the scale of a lot of the elements we’ve discussed in this article. Good web design is sometimes a case of balancing investment against return, as so often in business. Sometimes you have to ask yourself – can I afford to fall behind?

Technology adapts to need – and needs and technology change and evolve at a rapid rate on the web. The best way to deal with that is to make sure your site is a mirror for that change, and to adapt and evolve with the times. If you have the mindset, we have the expertise to help you get the maximum return from your website, for the longest period possible.