If you're planning to get a new website design soon, or thinking if it might be time for you to have a new website built in 2021, you might be wondering how long your current or future website should last for.
Well, according to our data, a website typically lasts about six years before it gets scrapped and rebuilt again from scratch. Whether you use an expensive licensed CMS or an open source one like Wordpress, it typically makes no difference. It is unusual for websites to be moved away from the original developers and if they are, they are either ‘mothballed’ until they are rebuilt, or just rebuilt when a new agency takes it on.
To make your website last longer, you should look after it and update it as often as you can both on the front end with regular content and reviews of user journeys, as well as on the backend. If you can spend regularly, there is a chance that your website will last a bit longer than the average.
How long does a website last on average?
This is the question that we are trying to answer in this blog! In short, there is no definite answer on this. If you search for the answer to this now, you will get a variety of answers from 4 to 10 years and I’d agree with that. However, there really is no finite answer. Like a website itself, each project and client is unique. The budget will be different, the approach to development will be different, the content and layout will always differ and markets and industries always change.
Adido has been building websites for over 17 years now and I thought it would be worthwhile sharing the information on the websites that we’ve built in this time and the length of times those websites have lasted. This is good to know for our clients when it comes to forward financial planning so that after a certain period of time, they can start to prepare and budget for a new website.
On average the websites that we build last at least 6 years. Of the 50 websites that we are still hosting at this point, the average time is 6.17 years (or roughly six years and two months)
At the extreme we have several websites that have lasted over a decade which shows that if built correctly, websites can last an incredibly long time. With that being said, some of these websites do not work correctly on mobile and tablet devices and as such limit the potential of the website with the target users.
Is six years a good amount of time for a website to last? As mentioned before, it is roughly aligned to what other surveys have said and given that technology has shifted a lot in the last decade or so, it’s perhaps not unsurprising that websites have had to be updated a few times in the last decade with the growth of smartphone adoption and user behaviours changing. (Mobile traffic is now bigger than desktop if you didn’t know).
Does CMS choice influence how long a website lasts?
One of the things that often gets discussed when a website project is started is around choice of content management system. There are dozens of commercially available CMS’ on the market from hugely expensive enterprise systems such as Sitecore or Episerver through to DIY and mass market options like SquareSpace and Wordpress.
In our experience though, despite the CMS that has been used in the past, there are very rarely cases for websites to take their CMS with them to the next version.
When a website is redesigned, the old CMS isn’t usually reused. Usually the design and CMS is all scrapped and everything started again.
In our 17 years, we’ve perhaps worked on projects one or two times where the old CMS and content is kept and a new template or ‘skin’ is applied to it. After six years, technology has moved on, needs have changed, staff have changed and something new is needed.
Therefore, building a site in Wordpress, MODX, Silverstripe, Umbraco or any other CMS isn’t really the issue in terms of making your website last longer. It’s the resources behind it in terms of people and effort that make the website last longer. There is almost no point in having a CMS if it’s not used. The content will go out of date in no time and it will all need to be updated down the line.
In my opinion, the only reason why CMS choice comes into play is because either the user has worked with it before, or it’s a ‘better’ option when it comes to de-risking the agency relationship. We frequently get told that WordPress is a good option because ‘if we leave our current agency, we can move CMS to someone else’.
This is partly true. If you have a pretty straightforward brochure website which has no or little customisation on it then yes, having a CMS which is easy to move across to another developer at some point is useful. But I’d then say if you have little technical requirements, then you shouldn’t ever really need a development agency anyway, you should be able to manage your website yourself via your CMS although it’s obviously good to have peace of mind to then have someone around to call on if you need them.
However, if your website has several bespoke elements to them, say some sort of integration with your own databases, CRM or other bespoke bits of code you have invested in, then the CMS, again in my opinion, makes little to no difference. If you’ve had a site for a few years, but for some reason want to move your bespoke website over to another agency, the majority of them will not be keen to take it on. There are many ways to solve a technical problem and with a lot of our industry brought up in a ‘just getting the work done’ mindset due to client budgets, there are very rarely technical specifications available to show how things work and if, in the rare instance there are, they will probably be out of date and the people who wrote them might not be around.
When you approach a new agency with an old system, you will probably get two answers; we can leave it to work but can’t add or change anything until you are ready or we can’t work with that and you’ll need to start again. Either way, you’ll be pretty stuck until you get enough budget to rebuild and start again.
Having an off the shelf or popular CMS as part of your website will basically make no difference as it’s the bespoke code and elements that agencies and developers are cautious to work with. We’ve unfortunately had to review numerous potential client websites which have been so badly coded that almost any changes made results in code amends which can break the website.
So in summary, does CMS choice make your website last longer? I’d say no.
How can you make your website last longer?
So, if CMS choice doesn’t make your website last longer, then what are your options? As discussed, the reality about making your website longer is more around keeping the content up to date.
A website should be a living asset for your business. It should reflect where your business is at any moment in time and not have pages or sections which are out of date. And the dream of content management is just that, content which is managed! Yet the reality is that marketing managers, even if they are ‘digital’, rarely have the time to keep their content properly up to date.
How do businesses make their websites more up to date and extend the lifespan of the website for a few more years longer. Here are some ideas!
- Having a CMS that supports templates allows for websites to be ‘revamped’ on the front end to reflect changes in brand identity or update places where the user journey can be improved. Most common CMS’ systems allow for templates to be used and by updating and adding new templates over time, allows the website to stay up to date and fresh without having to start again
- In addition your CMS should support ‘contentblocks’ which allow you to build up your own pages as you wish. Rather than relying on lots of templates to meet your needs, having the option to ‘build your own page’ as you wish, gives you flexibility and control to keep adding to your website over time. The only slight issue here is that the way you build up your contentblocks can mean that if you want to upgrade or switch CMS’ that your content is stored in an unstructured way and getting it out again can be tricky!
- More content more often
- It might seem pretty obvious that to make your website last longer, it should have more up to date content, but it’s true! Far too often websites get out of date; blogs go stale, new team members are missed, product and service information is incorrect and generally the user experience degrades over time.
- From a purely financial perspective, investing in new content on an ongoing basis makes the website experience better, which should lead to higher, or at least static conversion rates, as well as extending the life of the website, perhaps another year or three, thus reducing the need to spend big to rebuild.
- Annual checks/updates
- Keeping your CMS and website up to date technically is also important. As technology gets old, things can break or not work anymore. This can sometimes be obvious through buttons or links not working but also extend to behind the scenes areas such as database management and server speed. As sites get bigger over time, it can sometimes be the case that images and files accrue and often slow the site down. By carrying out either ongoing or annual maintenance checks, you are able to update modules or add ons which make the website more secure, offer new features and generally improve the overall experience. This spend of a few hundred or few thousand pounds a year can again extend the lifespan of your website past the six year average.
Should a website last longer if I spend more money?
One of the things I was interested to look at from our own data was to see if clients who spent more money actually saw their websites last longer. I also wanted to help our new clients answer the question of when they are setting their budgets, whether it is a good idea to invest more to get better ROI from their spend.
Digging out data on websites we’ve worked on and how long they last for isn’t always easy. Some of the websites we’ve worked on over the years go back to very basic HTML ones which cost less than £1000 or were taken on when we were a little less experienced and should’ve charged more!
The data I have been able to pull together is based on the best data available from Xero and our own internal systems.
But based on that, the answer doesn’t really seem hugely conclusive. It would appear that regardless of budget, that the lifespan doesn’t really change. The graph below illustrates this; the dots of years are all clustered around the 4-8 year mark regardless of the budget spent.
Why doesn’t budget affect how long a website lasts? That’s largely because bigger organisations have larger budgets and will usually require more development time spent on their needs. A simple brochure website might be enough but as businesses mature and offer more access to their services through their websites, more complexity, and therefore cost is needed. And again, over the period of five or so years, the business and user needs would have changed with the net result being a revamp or rewrite of business processes and user needs.
Again in summary, making a larger investment doesn’t mean your website will last any longer.
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Will your website last longer if you pay a license fee?
I think the answer to this question is no. To be honest it’s not one that I’m very well placed to answer. At Adido we’ve only ever worked with our own proprietary CMS (in the early days, like every other agency did in the 2000’s) or with free, open source platforms. Anecdotally, my feeling is that no, paying for a license doesn’t make your website last longer.
In the past decade or so, I’d say there is an argument that it actually shortened the lifecycle of a website. The license model worked for numerous development houses for a while as they were able to rollout models and code updates that free systems couldn’t offer in the last 2000s. But as open source platforms picked up in popularity, and modules and addons got more popular to both build and buy, the paid license companies couldn’t compete and so had to either merge or die.
The result was that some website owners were left with systems that were no longer supported and had to be moved over to free alternatives, leading to more redesign and build projects in the 2010s.
Will having a licensed (read expensive) CMS platform in the 2020s mean that your website lasts longer? Possibly but I still feel that regardless of whether you are paying for your CMS or not, as long as you are on a reputable and open source platform, it will be pushed forward and developed anyway so the advantages of a paid license are going to be minimal. But again, that’s just my opinion!
How long should a website last in the 2020s?
Going on from the point above, and looking back at what has happened, if you invest in a new website in the next year or two, should it last longer than it did last decade?
My feeling on this one is yes. I obviously have no crystal ball but I really feel that the rate of technology change in the coming decade will not be as great as it was in the last one. As we start the 20’s, we are in a time and place where consumer trends haven’t changed a huge amount for a while. We’ve all had a smartphone for a few years, broadband in our houses and offices for a long time and use social media on a daily basis. Back in the 2000s we could see change was coming, we just had to wait for it to happen.
As we look forward into the next five to ten years, there are new technologies around such as voice, robotics, automation, AI (whatever that really means) and other niche things but no of these currently show many signs of being ‘the next big thing’ like mobiles were ten years ago.
My personal view is that we’ll still have all of the devices we have now in ten years time. We’ll still be sat at a desk a lot of the time, we’ll still be typing a lot of the time and we’ll still be browsing or searching the internet a lot of the time on both mobile and desktop.
The needs and expectations and devices used by the world will obviously change but probably not that radically. So, if you invest in a website now, it shouldn’t have as many things to deal with as it would’ve ten years ago. Therefore, I’d argue that you should be looking to make your website last longer than the six year average that we’ve seen in our studio, regardless of the CMS that you choose. Even if in a few years time your CMS of choice is no longer supported, it should still be able to run on the server it’s set up on in perpetuity.
Does this mean you should spend more on it and view it as a longer term investment? Possibly. Our general view is that it’s better to spend budget over time to continually improve and evolve, rather than put all of the budget into year one and then struggle to invest in the coming years.
When should you redesign your website?
I guess the final question to look at here is when to rebuild or redesign your website? Just because your website reaches five or six years old, does that mean you have to go through the redesign process? What if your website doesn’t look great or works very poorly after only a few years? What if it still looks as fresh after five years as the rest of your competitors?
Again, there is never a definite answer on yes and no. It will always depend on many factors, some of which I’ve highlighted below
- Is your website struggling to load at a fast enough speed? Sometimes old CMS or coding platforms can lead to degradation in performance and not meeting the user experience. On the other side, changes to internal data and customer platforms can also mean that website technology gets out of date and so sometimes leads to no option but to rebuild from scratch
- Keeping your website content up to date is really important for many reasons. However, when marketing gets overlooked or underinvested, often the message of the business can be lost or look wrong. When your website content has more wrong with it than right, it’s probably time to start planning again!
- Changes to tech/user expectations
- In the last decade, we’ve worked on many projects that were built prior to the mobile age. Websites that only work well on desktop and not tablet or mobile. Unfortunately there are still many websites out there that are like this (I’m looking at some of the big banks here…) and they really need to update and get with the times. It maybe that these sites can be revamped and reskinned without the need of an overhaul, but if there are workflows or processes that need to be updated as well, the chance of doing some updates shrinks greatly.
- Market conditions
- The final reason why you might want to redesign or rebuild your website again is to react to changes to market conditions. Perhaps your competitors have all hugely improved their website design, offered new services digitally or user needs have radically changed and you’ve not kept up.
- Business rebranding
- It might be the case that your company positioning has gotten stale or out of date and needs to be overhauled. This reason could easily fall into the one above it but sometimes companies rebrand and refresh because they are bored of who they are and that’s the biggest driver. If this happens then sometimes a new website isn’t needed and a template refresh can suffice but often that’s not possible due to the content and assets all needing to be updated as well.
You made it this far!? Well done. I hope you’ve got a better sense of how long a website typically lasts for now and what you might be able to do to make it last longer. Perhaps you’re thinking of redesigning your own website now and need some advice?
We’re happy to chat if you want to. But if not then I hope you’ve got some ideas about how to make the best of what you’ve got and reduce your costs and efforts in the future.
Thanks for reading!