Website Lifespan and You

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A web design company, an advertising agency and a software vendor walk into a client's office. The client asks, "How often should we redesign our site?" The agency replies "two years." The software guy says "three years." The website designer says...

This isn't a joke. I was actually in this meeting. There were eight people from three companies in a conference room and another two more people from another company on speakerphone. My answer at the time was four years, based on that business and their industry. Since then I've thought more about the question and the factors that determine the answer.

What is the lifespan of a typical website?

My short answer is 2-5 years, but that's a pretty big range. Most experts would just say "it depends." But what does it depend on? Here we'll look at the reasons why a site lives a long happy life, or if it gets old fast.

Website life expectancy factors

Here are the main factors that I'll breakdown the factors into two groups: your business and the site itself.

Your Business

* Is your business changing fast? Any fundamental changes coming up?

* Do you run a lot of promotions or events?

* Are you in a creative or technical industry? Times change faster for some than others.

* Do your visitors have high expectations? Do you have to show (or teach) them a lot to get through to them?

Your Site

* Does the site look narrow on your screen?

* Is the design "trendy" or cutting edge?

* Do you rely heavily on search engine traffic?

* Is the site difficult or costly to update?

The more times you answered "yes" to these questions, the more likely the website life span is closer your website's lifespan is to two years than five years.
Example One:

Classic design for a non-profit with a nice content management tool and a built-in blog. It's a flexible site for a business that doesn't change too rapidly, for visitors that who are mostly looking for information.

Lifespan: 5 years

Example Two:
Contemporary website for an interior design company. The site has a Content Management System but it's not very flexible because the design is more about beauty and impression. Visitors have high expectations and want to be impressed.

Lifespan: 2.5 years

Live fast, redesign young.

If the nature of your business puts you on the shorter end of the scale, you may plan on a major redesign in shorter intervals: every 2 years or so. This cycle will guide design and content decisions. A site that is designed to live a shorter life may have more graphical content (charts, infographics, page-specific headers and animation) and more graphic navigation (buttons instead of text, links). In other words, design may be more about presentation power than flexibility and ease of updating.
Time to pull the plug

Of course, you can keep a website active long after it's outlived it's usefulness. But you risk becoming one of those people who say, "I have a site, but please don't look at it." You've met people like this. They're so embarrassed that the look and content are so out of date, they truly don't want anyone to see their website. At this stage, the website is actually hurting the business. Imagine having a marketing piece that you want to hide from the world!
How to extend your site's lifespan

Now there are ways to take months or even a year off the look of your site*!

* "Page Injections" - New templates. Maybe you really just need a new landing page design or a better contact page with a form and a map. This targeted procedure can focus on trouble spots where the aging is worst.

* "Nip and Tuck" - Tighten up the design with a few style-sheet changes. Refining the type (snip, snip) and making a few tweaks to the color palette (snip, snip) can help bring things up to date.

* "Face Lift" - Home page redesign. This is a slightly more drastic procedure and can actually be a bit pricy.

* "Flash Lift" - If you have a Flash piece, consider a new animation. This is a surgery-free (no coding) option that can really change the look of your site.

*These techniques were not tested on animals.
Bottom Line

When you, your business or your visitors change, your website ages. It's old as soon as it's out of sync with your business and is not getting you those measurable results. Keep it as young and fresh as possible, but be ready to make the tough decision to redesign. And when you do, think ahead as far as possible.
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