What's the lifespan of your new website? (and how to extend it)

From Birth to Beyond: The Life Cycle of a Modern Website

Blog Audio: Read/listen time: 9 minutes

So, you have a lovely new website, fantastic, but do you know how long it will be useful for? In this post we will discuss how long a website can be effective for before it needs some kind of substantial work being carried out. For those of you already wondering how you may be able to extend your website’s life, we will look at some ways of doing that too!

My name is Paul Edwards, I am a web consultant and frontend developer based in Worthing, West Sussex. If you feel that you have any unanswered questions I would be happy to have a chat to you about your specific situation. Call me on 01903 527927.

Today I answer the question:

What is the lifespan of your new website?

Surprisingly I have a really short answer to this.

4 years.

I know right? It’s very unusual to be able to give such a simple answer to what is a very complex situation with so many variables. But the reality is that 4 years is the average age of the typical website that I review for realignment or total redesign and build. Every site is unique though so I’m sure you wont mind that I qualify the answer of ‘4 years’ with soime caveats.

All things being equal, assuming that goals haven’t changed, the market hasn’t changed, products and marketing have remained the same and that the website has remained largely unchanged since launch, 4 years is a respectable life for a website.

So why does a website ‘wear out’ after 4 years?

There are lots of influencing factors that determine the lifespan of your website. Lets look at some of the key reasons that could put your website on the scrapheap after 4 years:

Core Updates

Over a third of the worlds’ websites use WordPress. WordPress is a content management system that lets you add, edit and manage the content for your website. As with most software, WordPress is updated on an ongoing basis.

Updates often consist of security updates which fix security flaws as and when they are found and are often released as minor updates. As well as minor updates there are much more substantial updates called core updates. Core updates may also fix security flaws and fix bugs found in the software but alongside that core updates also offer feature additions, changes and tweaks to improve the experience of using the software.

Core updates often bring with them, changes in how code works and as such the requirements placed upon other bits of code called plugins can change.
Over time what was once a well-functioning website can slowly develop errors and eventually may experience the partial or complete loss of function of all areas of the website software are not kept up to date.

Abandoned Plugins & Modules

One of the stand out features of using WordPress to run your website is the huge development community that exists around it. People from all over the world contribute to WordPress itself and write thousands of extra bits of software called plugins. (other CMS sometimes call what we know as plugins ‘modules’)

Plugins add functionality to WordPress which is not included as standard and they can be written by anyone who wishes to. One of the downsides of this is that plugins can over time get forgotten about by the author or abandoned. If your website used the function of a particular plugin in some important way and that plugin later gets abandoned by the author then that plugin will not be receiving updates to keep its code safe and secure. As well as potential security issues, an abandoned plugin will not be having its code maintained in order to keep it compatible with the new releases of WordPress core.

The effect of this over time can be that certain parts or functions of your website could stop working. At worst your website may have a security flaw that remains unpatched and this could leave your website vulnerable to hacking. Recovering a site that has been hacked can be time-consuming and expensive and if your site is hacked you may suffer the loss of data belonging to your clients which can lead to further losses by other parties.

Irrelevant Content (aging)

Nothing stands still. Your company or organisation will incrementally review and change its goals and targets. New products may get released, other products retired and the job of your website may change over time.

A website is organic. By that, I mean that it requires constant nurturing, maintenance and update of its content to maintain its effectiveness in helping you reach your goals.

A website build is often a list item on a person or teams agenda which once crossed off of the list gets little thought moving forward. If your site is maintained and edited on an ongoing basis then its useful life will be maximised and the return on the investment made will be maximised.

Visitors come to your website to complete a task or reach a goal of some kind. As your business, competitors, industry and demands of your users change you will need to keep your website up to date to reflect those changes.

I find that on average if a site does not have its content reviewed on an ongoing basis it is largely irrelevant or ineffective within 4 years.

Changing User Habits

Over time, how users expect a website to work changes. User habits can, on the whole, take a long time to change however sometimes technology advances can cause a very rapid shift in user habits.

Mobile phone usage has very sharply changed user habits in terms of where, how and when they view websites.

In recent years we have had a shift from desktop users being the largest market to mobile phone users being the group of people that make the largest number of google searches.

Such a shift change in the use of technology means that your website once built and optimised for visitors using desktop computers may not even get to see your website as Google now ranks its search results with mobile having priority. If a visitor does get to your website it may not be built mobile-first /responsively meaning that it won’t display well on smaller screen sizes and will give a bad user experience.

Websites that don’t display properly will fail to keep the attention of the audience and as such will be poor (at best) at making conversions, sales, completion of calls to action.

What point is there in having a website that doesn’t deliver on the goals for which it was created?

Competitor Improvement

When your website was designed and built, (if you employed a competent web designer) it would have been built with your competitors in mind. By that, I mean that your web designer will have tried to improve upon your competitors’ content for your chosen keywords and phrases.

This is done to help you appear higher in the search engine results than your competitors, meaning that you drive more traffic to your website than them.

Although you may not have updated your site content or design in the last 4 years, your competitors likely have. This means that they have taken into account changes in search engine algorithms, user habits, demand for products and services etc.

Your site may still be ranking highly for particular phrases and words but they may not be the words and phrases in current use by your customer base. How people search the web changes over time. Quite simply your content has become outdated and ineffectual.

How to extend the life of your website

It is not going to be possible to indefinitely put off rebuilding your website. At some point, technology or user habits will have changed to such a degree that even with ongoing tweaks, your site will have quite simply run its useful life.

There ARE things you can do to add years to the life of your website

It isn’t all doom and gloom though. Until that point, there are things you can do to add years to the life of your website. Here are some of the top methods:

  • Ongoing incremental (monthly) technical updates and maintenance to your content management system and its plugins or modules
  • Six monthly reviews of technology & hosting efficiency and fitness for purpose
  • Conducting a yearly review of the website against goals and objectives
    Keeping on top of legislation changes that affect your website/industry
  • Ongoing addition of current content
  • Build site maintenance and content development into marketing calendars and budgets
  • Six monthly search engine optimisation
  • When there is any significant change in how users view the web, such as with new types of devices, ensure that your website theme can display your site optimally for that device screen size and shape.
  • Ensure that any changes to your corporate style are changed on your website and social media, not just your print!

Of course, every website is unique. Every company has its own goals and strategy and for that reason, I am available to help you. Should you wish to discuss your goals please get in touch with me on 01903 527927 and together we can have a look at your website and work out how best to get it working for you. I carry out website maintenance, realignment and total redesigns and rebuilds for clients of all kinds.