This question comes up quite a bit. And of course the answers will vary. There are websites we built 10+ years ago that are still functional. We don’t suggest letting your website get to 10 years old, but, you can definitely get your money’s worth with a well built website.

I went looking for sources to share regarding the average shelf life of a website. The answers out there are so all over the place that it made more sense to share from our experience.

Website Infrastructure and Mechanics

HTML/CSS Frameworks

One of the factors in a website’s longevity is the quality of its insides, the guts. All websites start with HTML/CSS. This is the code that makes up the styles and structure of the visuals and interface elements of the site.

CSS frameworks, like Bootstrap, are a collection of prebuilt CSS, JavaScript, and HTML coding that can be manipulated to achieve the design and functional elements you want from a website. As browsers improve, so do frameworks.

Your website may be built in an older version of Bootstrap or some other framework which means your website is not optimal for user experience. Framework updates usually make a website perform better, especially at multiple resolutions and in multiple device types.

These updates can also make your site faster as the amount of queries are limited because of better, faster coding techniques.

PHP and JavaScript Frameworks

Much like HTML/CSS frameworks, PHP and JavaScript frameworks will roll out periodic updates. For example, we’ll often use a PHP framework called Laravel. Laravel is an open source framework, meaning anyone can download it and use it to built websites and custom applications.

The systems and sites built using frameworks like Laravel or Cake, and even JavaScript frameworks like JQuery will become outdated within a couple of years. Running outdated frameworks could mean security vulnerabilities and definitely means inferior performance.

Most marketers do not care about these frameworks and/or how a website is created. But, you should care about security and performance. You know why? Because Google sure cares. The performance of a website does factor into its rankings.

You know who else cares? Your target audience! They don’t care that your site isn’t using the latest frameworks, but they will notice if it does not fill the space and perform like the more modern website of your competition.

Content Management Systems, Plugins, and Other Software

Content management systems (CMS) are essential in our current digital marketing environment. Without a CMS, you are either spending too much money on an in-house coder or you’re relying on a firm like ours to make every change to your website.

I have no beef with in-house coders. And we certainly won’t turn away anyone needing some changes to their website. But, in doing so, we always mention the need for a CMS.

You never want to make content editing difficult.

Content is still important for SEO and UX. It’s the value, the secret sauce of any good website.

A CMS, like frameworks, is software. And software requires upgrades. We’re an open source shop meaning we build websites on top of open source CMS’s like WordPress or Drupal. There are others but these have proven to be the most reliable and easiest to work with on our end and for our clients.

Running old versions of a CMS can mean, yup, you guessed it, degradation in functionality, security vulnerabilities, and website performance. These will affect your SEO, your UX, and your conversion rate. So, keep your CMS up-to-date folks!

But, What about the Website’s Design???

So, now that we got all that boring, but important, code stuff out of the way, let’s talk about the fun stuff… the “look and feel.” What’s the saying?

You never get a second chance to make a first impression!

So true. And that impression is made within seconds (milliseconds even). Your organization is being judged before a single link is clicked or a word is read. Don’t take my word for it…

“It takes about 50 milliseconds (that’s 0.05 seconds) for users to form an opinion about your website that determines whether they like your site or not, whether they’ll stay or leave.” – https://www.sweor.com/firstimpressions 

Think about your own internet surfing experience. How many times have you gone to a website, from a link or a listing in a search result, and immediately clicked away? And why did you do that? Here are some possible reasons…

  • It didn’t load properly or at all (see above)
  • You’re on a mobile device but the website is stuck in 2005
  • There are too many distractions or information overload
  • It just didn’t feel safe
  • I mean, it’s ugly, no offense

Sometimes, all of these reasons are bouncing around your brain before you even realize you’ve selected the back button.

You can break design into two categories…

  1. Visual Validation
  2. UI/UX

Visual Validation (Snap Judgement)

Am I in the right place? The color, images, and layout can have an immediate impact on the user’s decision to stay or go. We use visual cues all the time to know where to go and what to do: stop signs, red light/green light, etc .

A website’s design is no different.

The colors and imagery lay the thematic foundation. Colors can also be very trendy. For example, look at our website in 2010 vs. 2014 below. Much different. And we got a lot of compliments on both versions.

The darker, older version used a lot of deep earth tones and textures. This was very popular back then. Now, not so much. But, maybe that trend will come back around soon so we can save ourselves a little design time. 😉

The lightness, darkness, cleanliness, texture, and so much more are all part of a website’s design. Business websites tend to use a lot of blues or greens, be very “clean” and are modern, to an extent.

A more creative or fun site will use brighter colors, and even motion to draw the user in and validate their choice to visit that site in the first place.

Use design to establish a visual connection with your audience. Remember, you have 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds) to make that first impression.

Design UI/UX

There have been books, seminars, white papers, meditation circles and more about UI/UX. I’m just going to oversimplify here. Design plays a huge role in the usability of your website.

It’s simple really, the design tells your conscious brain one or more of the following:

  • Am I in the right place?
  • Is there information here that can solve my problem?
  • Can I trust this website?
  • Do I know where to begin?

That last question is huge. Do your users know what steps to take on your website? You sure? Have you ever tested anyone using your site. You might be surprised.

Companies have a proclivity for self aggrandizement. That’s fancy talk for “they really like them some them.” Your website should not only be for the user but also be about the user.

The colors, language, and structure should be designed in a way that is a continuation of the user’s story. Fill in the blanks…

  • The website visited found me by ________.
  • They are looking for _______.
  • A success for them is _______.

Of course, this is a dramatic over-simplification. But, the point here is that you need to know their story. Where are they coming from? What do they need? How can your website make them “feel” that they are in a place where they can easily find what they need?

Does Your Website Need Help?

If you’re reading this and thinking “my current website really doesn’t do any of this,” it might be time for a redesign.

Or, you might just need to rethink your content a bit. Either way, the users of your site are hyper-critical. They will notice every UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) issue.

They will notice if your site is slow to load. And it will drive them bonkers if your website is not responsive. If it is responsive, they will pick apart your navigation.

Frustration is a hidden link or buried info or making it hard to complete a task.

A website is never a one and done scenario. The code, content, design, and usability are always being tested and criticised. Your job is to make their experience as easy and rewarding as possible. That is the real secret to website success.

So, a website has a shelf life. But, it’s lifespan is determined much more by its health and usefulness than it is by an arbitrary date. But, if you have to have a number, let’s say 2-3 years (even though we both know that number is meaningless).

Is your website healthy and useful? Need help or have questions? Drop us a line.

Jon-Mikel Bailey - Before co-founding Wood Street in 2002, Jon worked in sales, marketing and business development for technology and marketing firms. A popular speaker, he gives seminars on marketing, internet marketing, branding and web design to chambers of commerce, trade associations and colleges. He has a BFA in Photography from Frostburg State University and still shoots photos for Wood Street clients.

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