The question of how long the working life of a website is, is one we’re frequently asked. Whilst there’s no definitive answer there are two indisputable factors to take into account in order to decide whether retirement looms. Firstly; a website is the most important component of any brand’s digital strategy and most likely, of the brand's overall marketing strategy, because it’s the end point of most marketing campaigns. It’s where all the click-throughs from email campaigns or social media end up, and it’s the first point of verification whenever a prospect is considering whether to engage or not. Secondly; a website starts losing its effectiveness pretty much from the day it’s launched. This happens because technology moves on at a relentless pace, but also online fashions, culture, messaging, design and even your digital strategy moves on quickly too. The internet is constantly evolving so digital strategies must be evaluated and reevaluated on a frequent basis and this naturally includes your website.

Two years after the launch of a newly designed website, it’s about 50% less effective than it was during the launch. Two years after that, it’s about 25% as effective, and it continues to decline from there. Ideally, to extend its life, the site will use technologies that make both refreshing content easy and enable continuous development. A good content management system [CMS] will allow content to be updated easily and as frequently as you want, and by updating copy and imagery regularly you can make the site appear different for returning users. With a more sophisticated CMS, such as Umbraco, the site can incorporate 'content blocks' which allows you to not only change text and image content within the page, it also allows you to add, remove or move entire sections of a page which can alter the site’s appearance and structure significantly. Content is the foundation of every successful digital strategy so it must be current.

By using open source technologies, it makes continuous development easier compared to many vendor based systems, as new features and functionality can be developed and implemented within the site based on both user feedback and predicted trends. We support our e-commerce sites with continuous development within our Flexsmart packages which embraces continuous development with ongoing work typically working on a 12 or 18 month road map, to incorporate new technologies and enhance the solution. This is an ongoing investment but the results can be significant, for example the new platform we developed for our client Timco has seen online sales rise from less than 10% of overall revenues before we launched it, to now top 65% with a new target of 75%. Similarly the new site we developed for Uform has seen online revenues grow from just over £100K a month to £1.9M a month in less than a year. This kind of commercial success makes the ongoing investment decision in continuous development a given.

Whilst an older website still works, an outdated design can have a really detrimental effect on your brand image. Just think about your own perceptions when you visit a site with a dated Ui, it immediately reflects badly on the brand and can even prompt decisions to reconsider whether to engage with the brand at all. A few years ago, for example, the adoption of mobile responsive techniques created a clear dividing line between sites that used the technology and those that didn’t. It immediately dated those that weren't responsive and created a very negative impression as it the non-responsive sites were hard work or sometimes near impossible to view a site on a mobile, which is now the commonest device. Occasionally you can still stumble across an old site which isn’t responsive, but you don’t stay for long!

If you haven’t updated your website in a few years, even if it is responsive, the Ui design will inevitably look outdated and result in a negative impact on your brand image as it says that you just aren’t current. Furthermore, if your website looks neglected, it demonstrates that you don’t value your customers’ digital experiences. Sometimes we’ve advised new clients that their existing site, which we’ve been engaged to replace, is so outdated it’s better to take if offline and put a temporary holding page in its place as the impression it’s creating so negative it’s actually driving prospects away. The digital experience is absolutely critical and every brand should prioritise their customers’ online experience.

There is another potential issue with older sites and the impact on search engine optimisation as SEO plays a big role in how customers find you. Optimising your website for SEO is part of the development process with the correct structure of web pages. From there, content and design come together to communicate messages and values. Consistency across content and meta data helps to boost SEO, which in turn helps prospects find your brand but the SEO algorithms and Google’s policies change frequently, so you may need to change your strategy to keep up. A site that’s ranking well today may not continue to do so if your site isn’t optimized for current SEO resulting in missed opportunities to drive prospects to your website. Successful SEO plans for long-term growth, in the way you build a website, and then short term regular changes to boost the SEO effectiveness of the site, much like blogs posted on a regular basis for up to date content. If you want your website to reach people, you have to be aligned with the current SEO algorithm, which that means responding to changes.

All of which leads us to conclude with the two year redevelopment cycle. If your website was designed say three to five years ago, the content on the site will probably have lost its effectiveness, certainly its impact. Turnover on the internet is fast and if anything is accelerating meaning that you must constantly evaluate and rework your digital presence so that it still resonates with your target audience. You can extend the life of a site by making small, constant changes such as updating content and even changing layouts if content blocks are available. It can also be possible to refresh the Ui of a site, depending on how it’s been built, without a complete rebuild to give a new look and feel to give a bit more longevity. Bear in mind though that this can be a sticking plaster solution and not a long term fix. Ideally you should plan ahead for a redesign/rebuild on a two year basis recognising that your website is a long-term investment and part of an ongoing process to develop and enhance a relevant, effective digital presence. Your website is critical to the success of your digital strategy. Don’t let it go stale.