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How Long Should A Website Last?

30th March 2015
Fortunately, websites last a little bit longer than most strands of high street fashion, so whilst they’re a potentially large outlay to create, their value is likely to look ‘on trend’ a little bit longer than the quirky designs that the high street inflicts upon you. However, unlike a particularly robust pair of jeans that surprises you by lasting a decade before you’ve even realised (waistlines permitting), there is such a thing as a ‘best before’ date for a website. It just happens to be a little bit more to do with perception and external changes than spotting that you’ve missed the ‘use by’ date on a packet of cheese and can clearly see the mould.

So, how long should a website last? Our lead developer Rob Bethell believes that you’ve got a few years of quality life in every development, summarising:
“Typically it should range from at least three years, but it does depend on changes to technology introduced in the meantime. In recent years we’ve seen social elements become important, but these were easy to build into existing sites without the need for a complete overhaul because of simple plugins, icons or feeds.”
These developments have been very productive in terms of giving many sites a new interactive element and adding a whole new reason for visiting, not least for reasons of keeping content fresh as we’ve covered in previous columns. But for how long can you keep touching up an ageing design? Rob continues:
“Adding new sections and updating layouts can allow you to extend the life of websites by a few years, such as making elements larger for touch screen devices like tablets, but eventually you usually need to consider a major revamp. That could be due to programming or database software becoming out-dated or significant changes to front end technology.

A case in point is the modern need for responsive web sites – those being the ones that adapt to the format they’re being viewed on so that you don’t need to re-size or scroll too much to see content clearly if you’re looking at them via a different platform like a mobile or tablet.

Many people have responded to this need by designing new sites that are more suitable, but it is also possible to design a separate mobile version to get round having to completely re-design a site.”
If that idea sounds like too much for your pockets or technological brain to bear, what hope is there for those who are conservative with a small ‘c’ and like to get maximum shelf life for what they paid for?
“Ultimately, if you really wanted to, you could keep a website for years on end and not lose too much in terms of functionality. However, you can never account for the sort of progress that will be made in technology, and you may find that compatibility issues start to make a site less effective, whether it’s a new type of device for viewing it on, or even just the emergence of a new browser that displays your site differently.

A dated site could lead to negative perceptions from customers, who get the impression that you’re neglecting your image or may not even still be trading. You don’t want to experience the likely downturn in sales or leads that this will cause, so it’s best to keep things fresh.”
With that in mind, what’s the best quick fix? If you last undertook a radical overhaul of your site four to five years ago, it’s inadvisable to look for one, as you’re probably already left behind in terms of the technological steps forward. Newer websites are usually easier to extend with functionality such as mobile versions.
BBC News WebsiteThe BBC website has been through several incarnations
I recently read an analogy that you should treat your website like you’d treat a garden – make sure you keep weeding, trimming and planting something new. This means you may want to take out text that dates the site, images that don’t look sharp or contemporary, or maybe dig deeper and remove code that has been superseded by something cleaner or more functional.

At the same time, you can look to bring in something new... maybe there will be a new ‘must have’ social network that you want to be a part of, and can embed functionality from that into your site. Maybe you’ll simply fancy a change of colour scheme or a tidying project on menu bars, header layouts or whether you use static or scrolling imagery.

Change little and often, and you may be able to keep the same basic website build fresh and active for many years without people realising you’ve not fundamentally rebuilt it – they’ll only really notice how it has evolved if you ever run an archive feature, or they check you out on a website archiving service like Wayback Machine.

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