Whenever you, as a business owner, acquire an asset, you no doubt do that knowing full well that it comes with either a certain period of shelf life or maintenance costs. For assets that depreciate, such as cars and other machinery, there will come a time when purchasing a new one will be more financially viable than fixing what you currently have. For properties, regular building maintenance is a necessity in complying with safety regulations, especially those working in the food industry.
Viewed from a certain lens, your company’s website is akin to your property, with the notable exception that it’s rendered solely in 1s and 0s. It has a specific, unique address, it’s where your customers and potential customers could find information about your products and/or services and it’s where you can be reached. Also like properties, regular maintenance is necessary for your website to be able to keep up with the latest trends and advancements in web development.
The longevity, or a lack there of, of a website
Simply put, your company’s website should never be a one-and-done deal. You should treat your website the same way you would treat any other asset, funds need to be earmarked for the sole use of maintaining your website for the purpose of longevity. Web development is closely related to the progress of technology, which for the past several decades have closely followed the oft-mentioned Moore’s law.
For the unaware, Moore’s law is the observation from Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that states that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every two years. While this growth in sheer computational power has slowed in the past few years, it’s still moving at a pace so fast that even websites that are cutting age 5 years ago are getting increasingly outdated today.
For example, I recently visited my old alma mater and found that while my faculty buildings have changed here and there, it was still more or less the same place I saw back in 2008 on my first day of college. On the other hand, if I was asked to visit the 2008 version of Facebook right this second, it would’ve been as unrecognizable to me as the Galapagos Islands. Google’s homepage is the sole outlier in the rapidly changing world of the internet.
The lifespan of a website
So now the question is, how long exactly does a website last? The answer, like most things in life is nowhere near as straightforward as the question. Continuing on with the property analogy, when you’re doing maintenance on your building, not every aspect of your building is worked simultaneously. Plumbing for example might not have to be touched for decades on end while air conditioning will have to be messed around with every few months or so.
A website too is essentially comprised of several different layers with each having their own shelf life, which will be explored further.
The content database
Essentially, this layer exists solely as your website’s storage. If you’ve ever dealt with storage, warehouses and the like then you should know as long as you have a solid foundation for management and organization and ample space, you’re good for the long run. How long this would last depend entirely on your initial investment and a good one should last at least a decade. This layer has no direct interaction with the users and as such, presentation is not a concern with this layer.
The content management system (CMS)
Basically, a website has two interfaces, one that interacts with users and one that interacts with the administrators and/or content managers. The former is what the average folk would think of when they heard of the word website and the former is how web administrators manage the website’s content, the CMS. The problem lies in the fact that people tend to put more focus on the facade while neglecting what goes on on the other end of that face.
It should be not surprising then to learn that CMS has historically been less intuitive, if not downright terrible, to use than the actual website. The CMS is a tool in that it should help your content team produces the best content they could come up with but instead they tend to spend too much time grappling with how restrictive your outdated CMS is. With CMS, the pace of development is quick but not as quick as how it could and should be, so expect some changes within 4 to 5 years.
The user interface and user experience (UI and UX)
Your website’s primary goal is to fulfill whatever it is your customers need and/or wants and depending on who you talk to, that burden lies on the presentation or on the quality of the contents. Contents are important yes, but it’s the quality of your presentation that gets your feet on the door and it doesn’t matter how good your contents are if your customers aren’t even giving you the opportunity because your website is either unattractive or difficult to navigate.
A major redesign is generally pretty uncommon but you should expect incremental updates and small changes, aesthetically or functionally, every other year or so. Still, the work involved in evaluating your website’s UX should be an ongoing process. Even if you have no changes planned in the short-term, you and your team should constantly monitor trends and developments to see if there’s anything that could be used to improve your website.
Website as three layers
Technically, dividing a website into three different layers is an oversimplification but as an abstraction of how websites work, it’s not a bad approximation and besides, good things always come in threes. As with all things in life, it’s the appearance of a website that requires frequent care but work relating to the interface is generally less substantial than any improvements on the core platform. If you feel that your UX is lagging behind, work on it immediately instead of waiting for the opportunity to improve your core platform as well.