Fast forward a mere 15 years, and it’s pretty astonishing how much the internet has changed. Social media is integral to business marketing and operations, design is always mobile-first, and the pace of change has accelerated to warp speed.
We used to advise our clients to expect their websites to last 5-6 years… and even after those 5-6 years, we often found that sites could be resilient with just a few tweaks as opposed to a full redesign/rebuild. But the past couple years – not entirely thanks to the pandemic, but definitely thanks to the pandemic’s talent for revealing cracks in a foundation – have shown a drastic change. Some pre-pandemic research (from 2017) analysed websites using the Wayback Machine” to show that the average lifespan of the top 200 marketing websites is 2.66 years.
That research cites 10 factors that determine how fast a site ages, and the first 3 factors are all about how fast business, industry, and strategy changes. Obviously, 2020 and 2021 brought about swift and drastic changes across the board – we saw it first with our yoga studio clients like Novo Fitness and FreeBird, whose solidly in-person operations had to react swiftly to lockdowns and social distancing. During that time, we saw plenty of folks reacting by moving services online, adding new services or products, shifting industries or focus, and even starting new businesses.
Given how fast the world, the internet, and technology in general is changing, the answer to the question “how long should my website last” is not possible to answer in a clean, succint way. That 2.66 years number is incredibly imperfect, with so many variables affecting it that the number is almost useless to an individual or small business. Predicting your website’s lifespan without taking into account the variables specific to your industry and your own business is essentially like trying to see the future in a crystal ball. That said… there are ways to identify your variables and start to narrow down your site’s expected lifespan.
Factors influencing your website’s expected lifespan
Your website’s content
Website content is simultaneously the easiest and the most difficult aspect of maintaining a healthy website that actively supports your business goals.
It’s easy because “it’s just words”… anyone (including yours truly) with knowledge about your business operations, goals, and aspirations can sit down and start to write… right? Ahh, if only it were that simple.
Content is the #1 roadblock in any website build we embark upon at BIPi. It’s difficult for so many reasons: the intimidating nature of a blank page or blinking cursor, the time that writing can take in general but also the time that it takes away from actual business operations; the cost of outsourcing writing; the ever-present tension between the big picture and the small world of one blog post; the strategic considerations surrounding SEO, social media promotions, your audience’s interests; the uncertainty surrounding the ROI (especially at the beginning!); and on and on.
The good news is that, from a development standpoint, incorporating new content into an existing website is relatively simple, and moving content from an older site to a newer one is only slightly more complex. Once we have the content in-hand, adding it to the site is less of a creative endeavor and more of a solve-the-puzzle game. Additionally, once your intial content is written, it’s much easier to revise, replace, and fill in the gaps in an ongoing way.
Your website’s content shouldn’t be considered a static project that, once completed, never needs to be done again. Remember the lessons from this pandemic, and expect that changes – in the outside world, in your business, or with you, personally – can and should affect the content of your website. Plan from the start to revise and refresh your website page content on a regular basis – less frequently than your content strategy (like blog and social posts), but often enough to make it clear to site visitors that your website is up to date and accurate.
Your website’s public User Experience (UX)
A website’s UX is all about the quality of a user’s interaction (both practically and perceptually) with that site. It encompasses the entire design & architecture of the site. When you’re considering the quality of your site’s UX, you have to consider a multitude of factors.
At BIPi, we think that the best place to start is with a sitemap, and then wireframing. Sitemaps are great because they strip away a lot of detail; it’s essentially an outline of a website that shows how each element of that outline relates to another. It’s where we start to identify what content to write, and it’s where we start to understand what the ideal “user journey” through the website looks like. Once a sitemap is finalized, wireframing takes us to the page level to determine how, visually, content will be placed on pages.
While there is much more to UX that’s dependent upon a variety of factors, including the way that your specific client/customer base is most likely to use your site, the sitemap and wireframe(s) are the most basic elements. They are the skeleton and scaffolding of your site; when considering changes to your site’s content, remember that these elements can be directly affected by those changes.
Your website’s back end interface
User Experience can be just as important when considering the “back end” of your website – the area where you as an admin (or the BIPi support team) adds and updates content, implements new functionalities, or performs maintenance tasks. In WordPress, the back end is often referred to as “WP Admin” or the dashboard; on Squarespace, it’s called the account dashboard or admin area, which has various panels for making edits to parts of the site.
The back end is, in our experience, the part of the site that you want to endeavor to change the least often; websites are complicated enough as-is without having to learn to use a new tool to make changes to content and design.
Lifespan of a Squarespace website
We recommend Squarespace for individuals and very new or very small businesses. Squarespace is a for-profit company (as opposed to an open source platform like WordPress) that’s dedicated to making sure your websites look stellar and function smoothly. That does come with a lot of limitations (which can often feel restrictive to a developer), but the great part about Squarespace is that the back end interface won’t ever require you to actually engage a developer to update it; the monthly fee you pay to Squarespace covers all of that techy stuff, including security and software updates.
When it comes to the front end UX, Squarespace offers really simple templates developed by the company, and you can, for the most part, swap between templates on a whim. Content updating is super simple while also giving you the tools you need to control SEO (if you want).
Squarespace can easily be a DIY endeavor. Even if you hired BIPi to initially set up and configure your website, should your budget be too tight to come to us for ongoing help, you have all the tools (and documentation!) to make changes yourself. It’s the perfect balance of affordable and high-quality, and it even has eCommerce capabilities.
The primary reason for a Squarespace site having a short lifespan is that you can quickly outgrow the limitations imposed by the platform. If you need a specific functionality or if you need complex page designs outside of what a template provides, it can be expensive (or impossible) to add.
Much of our initial discussions and roadmapping sessions with clients center on the “Squarespace or WordPress?” question, specifically with an eye to how long that client will benefit from the affordability of Squarespace versus how long until their business operations are limited by the platform.
For BIPi clients on Squarespace sites, the “average” time they’ve spent on the platform isn’t a helpful metric. Some folks (mostly those who need a site to represent them as an individual) have been on there for over 8 years with no redesign at all, while others (very new businesses) are only there for 18 months as they build up their revenue and content library to support a higher marketing/website budget.
Lifespan of a website built on WordPress
Choosing to build on WordPress means that you are using a set of code that’s open source and maintained, updated, and improved by a global team of volunteers… and also, likely, using additional pieces of code called plugins written by for-profit developers. WordPress issues updates to its core software every 3-4 months, while WordPress plugin updates (due to the diversity of developer location, developer specialty, and plugin popularity) are entirely irregular, depending on many factors (including how changes to WordPress core can affect the performance of that plugin).
WordPress began as a relatively simple blogging platform, but over the last 18 years, it’s grown into a tool that’s used by nearly 40% of websites on the internet to do myriad tasks that support business operations. The complexity of the platform has its upsides – you can pretty much do anything with WordPress, from creating an internal wiki to building complex services-booking applications. The downside is that, while WordPress core is technically “free”, the cost of keeping a WordPress site properly up to date, from content to code, now starts around $100-$150/month.
The better maintained your WordPress site is, the longer you can expect it to last before you’re forced to do a redesign or rebuild. BIPi clients, on average, are doing full redesigns or rebuilds every 6 years while planning to stick with WordPress permanently.
How these factors work together to dictate your website’s lifespan
While your website’s content will likely always be the thing that changes most frequently (and the back end would, ideally, change the least frequently), the content, front end, and back end all interact in ways that affect the other. If, for example, you need to add online booking calendar functionality to your site, you’ll also need to consider the way that looks for site visitor and the way that you’ll manage it.
Extending the life of your existing website
Just like real-world tools (some of our favorite comparisons are cars, houses, or your teeth), websites that get regular attention from a knowledgable caretaker are much more likely to sustain their original architecture and design for a longer time. That’s why BIPi offers Website Support Plans and marketing operations consultation – to support your digital and online decision-making as you grow your business and your brand.
Still, while BIPi definitely makes that aspect of your business easier, it’s always possible to DIY. Our best advice (that we endeavor, always imperfectly, to follow ourselves!) is to create a consistent plan and stick to it. You should be putting eyes on your own site regularly so that you’re the one catching errors or bugs, and you should be adding content to your site on at least a monthly basis. This will allow you to stay in tune with one of your (if not the) most important tools for growing and managing your relationships with existing and potential customers.
If you’re curious about how Berry Interesting Productions can help your team build or rebuild an outstanding website, we’re always happy to help! Drop us a line or book a consultation. You can also sign up to get emails from Berry Interesting, and we’ll keep you in the loop.