While a website is a major purchase for most businesses/organizations, a new website isn’t going to be a one-time thing. So how long will a website last?
TL;DR: Probably 2-5 years.
Change is inevitable. As technology and aesthetic tastes change, you’ll need to redesign your site or build a new site. But that can be a good thing. A clean slate. A fresh approach. A chance to reinvent your brand to reflect new visions and new priorities. But you don’t want to do it more than is healthy. You have other things to do, right?
Keeping up with Changes
Historically, the longevity of a website is determined largely by outside factors…like Steve Jobs. The web was a bit of a mess in the early 2000s. There were a ton of browsers and each one rendered web pages a little differently. And the “same” browser version would often show things differently if it was running on a PC or a Mac. It was the wild west. When Flash was an option, it was a godsend. Flash added incredible functionality and universality when the browser wars were at their peak. I suspect each browser was trying to come up with a quirk (aka feature) that made it indispensable and therefore the standard moving forward. After the iPhone and iPad took off, Stevie had some real power. And with that power, he chose to kill Flash. Still a mind-boggling decision to me. Maybe he saw websites that ran just as well as iOS applications as a threat? Regardless, overnight, millions of websites had to change completely if they wanted to work in an iOS world.
The fall of Flash and the need to adapt to mobile web browsing caused the two biggest shifts we’ve seen in web development. But websites will still age-out of usefulness without major shifts in the tech landscape. The way a website is built today is nothing like the way they were built in the late 90s. Technology persistently evolves and everything will eventually need to be replaced.
If you follow SEO (search engine optimization) closely, then you know that changes are happening all the time as Google refines its algorithm significantly every few months. Google usually announces a few incredibly vague tips for updating your website, which causes wild speculation in the SEO community as to what’s really going on.
Websites in a CMS World
A lot of developers advocate for WordPress because it's an open environment and not tied to a specific host. If you decide to change hosts, or start over with a new template you should be able to export-import your articles from an old WordPress site into a new one. This is a huge deal if you’re a prolific blogger. It’s also one of the best arguments for WordPress. The problem is that WordPress is a nightmare to live with. WordPress requires daily maintenance. Managing a WordPress site yourself will require a ton of time and education that small businesses simply do not have. Unless you have an in-house web guy or the budget to pay a web developer for a few hours per week (minimum), you should avoid WordPress.
As a rule, I like to tinker. It's a big part of the reason why I’m a Windows/Android guy and not a Mac/iOS guy. Running into the limitations of what you can do with an iPad frustrated me. But I also recommended an iPad to my Dad, who was no slouch in the tech department. The closed system of iOS offers stability and reliability. I try to recommend simple and stable solutions to my web clients as well.
For a long time I built websites from scratch. Starting with a blank page, all of the code and images are created without any waste. This process made some very high performance, very stable web sites. It was easy to build custom features and create very powerful online applications.
The scratch-building technique still makes sense for some projects. But for most small businesses, I’m convinced that you can’t beat Squarespace.
A big reason why I advocated for scratch-building websites is because all of the CMS options sucked in one way or another. While it made clients reliant on me for updates, the CMS options were so bad, that I know most clients would contact me for updates anyway. At least by doing it myself I could make changes quickly and the daily/weekly update time would go away. While some developers saw this as antiquated, I saw it as the only ethical solution.
When you login to Squarespace, you'll find that the user interface is logical, clean, and super easy to use. I don’t mind handing it off to a client. The number of features you get is astonishing, including baked in eCommerce. It has its limitations (like an iPad) but your quality of life improves SO much. When the time comes to move to a new platform, there will probably be a good deal of copy/pasting, but for the next few years, your life will be so much better.
Sometimes Less Than a Year, Sometimes More Than a Decade
If you made a bad choice (and we’ve all made them) you may need to consider a new website after a few days. It happens. Living with a bad website isn’t worth it. Maybe things have changed drastically for your business in a way you couldn’t have predicted? Maybe you’ve discovered that your site performs poorly on search engines, or on mobile devices, or everywhere if it’s built on a particularly slow server/backend. It may be ugly or broken, and a total pain to maintain. Or it may be that your developers are hard to reach or out of business. Regardless, cutting your losses is almost always a good idea.
I have a client who came to me about redesigning a site I built for them 10 years earlier. The website still worked fine and actually looked surprisingly good. But after a decade…yeah, it's time for an upgrade. So there’s no rule about exactly when you need to launch a new website. But if you feel dread when a client tells you, “I’ll just look it up on your website,” or if you put off making updates to your website because it's such a miserable experience, then it's time to look into a new website.
Conduct a Website Review
I recommend taking a little time every year to review your website and make sure that it's working for you. Start by jotting down a list of the things you want your website to accomplish. For example: drive new sales calls, answer customer questions to free up support staff, have a striking presence for our brand, outperform the competition on Google….you get the idea. Start with what you really want to accomplish so you have a yardstick to judge it. This keeps your personal feelings from getting in the way (at least a little). Then check if your website is doing these things.
Do a few searches and see what your competition is doing. Make notes about what you could be doing better. If you don’t like the results, then it's time to make a call and get to work on the next version of your website.
Then reach out to Version2. :) We’re happy to take a look and give you our honest opinion. We can let you know what’s working and what could be improved. We’re pretty good at translating tech-speak too, so don’t worry about that. We know most businesses aren’t web designers.