At some point in the sales process, each of our potential clients eventually asks the same thing: how long does the typical marketing website last? The answer, which we’ve referenced many times elsewhere in our writing, is three to five years. Today, though, I want to spend some time explaining why exactly we expect the typical marketing website to last that long.
There are three reasons we’ve settled on the three-to-five-year timeframe, and all of them have to do with the pace of change.
1. The Pace of Change in Digital Technology
It’s no surprise that technology — especially digital technology — changes rapidly, but sometimes the sheer speed of it can be breathtaking, even to those of us in the industry. For example, just a couple of years ago, most digital marketers couldn’t have predicted marketing automation; today, it’s fundamental to current best practices. Pretty much every site we build is now centered on marketing automation. The same thing could be said of responsive design a couple of years before that. So, I can’t tell you what will change, but what I can tell you for sure is that change will happen. There are going to be new devices and new techniques and new uses for devices that already exist, too. Whatever that looks like, it will most likely be significant enough to render your shiny new website a little (or a lot) outdated.
It’s similar to buying a new car (minus the whole resale value thing). You could buy the Cadillac of Cadillacs, but no matter how fancy your new car is today, over the next three to four years there’s going to be some weird Bluetooth thing or some new parking assist technology or whatever. It doesn’t mean your car doesn’t run, but it’s no longer going to be the best, most advanced car on the market.
The other thing to remember is that we can’t build sites to preemptively prepare them for the change that will come. In some cases, it might be possible to apply new technology to an existing codebase; in other cases, the codebase itself will be fundamentally incompatible with the new technology. By the five-year mark, you can bet that you’ll be ready to rebuild so you can take advantage of the latest web and digital marketing technology.
2. The Pace of Change in Web Design
Web design conventions change quickly over time, and that’s true even if you try to make your site’s visual language “timeless” (whatever that means). This isn’t just about the waxing and waning of trends; it’s also about shifts in UX best practices and advances in technology that make new interactive design elements possible. There’s no getting around it: the site you launch today will almost certainly look outdated in three to five years. That’s true even if you aren’t jumping on the latest trend-of-the-day bandwagon, like Flash or parallax.
The new car analogy applies here, too. Think about it: you can spot a car that’s five years old. Even if it’s clean and well cared for, you can tell. It doesn’t look like a jalopy or anything, but even if you can’t put your finger on exactly why, you know it looks a little older. I’m sure designers can say, “Oh, well, this looks old for these five reasons,” but the average person just knows that it looks old. It’s the same thing with your website.
The trendier your site design is, the more quickly this will become a problem. But again, even sites that don’t use ultra-trendy elements like parallax start to look a little long in the tooth after a few years. Eventually, that will start to reflect poorly on your brand — especially if your agency counts design as one of its core offerings.
3. The Pace of Change in Your Agency
The third reason you’ll probably want to rebuild your firm’s site in three to five years is….you. Well, by you, I mean your agency. If your firm is healthy, it’s going to change. Your needs are going to change, your goals will change, maybe even your capabilities or specialization will change. Now, of course, you have a CMS, so you can update the content on your site to reflect new offerings or add new staff members. But the basic structure, the perspective you take on the website, and the things you choose to position hierarchically — those things will most likely be slightly different in five years. If so, your website will need to be brought in line with your firm’s current positioning.
Speaking of your business: where you fall within that three to five year timeframe will depend not only on your own business’s needs but also the industry you serve. For companies like Newfangled and the clients we serve — marketing services firms — it’s typically closer to the three-year side of the spectrum, because we rely so heavily on our websites to market ourselves, and we need to stay sharp.
So, that’s where we get our estimated timeframe. Will your site keel over and die after five years? No. But at some point the changes in technology, web design, and your own business will mean that your current site is no longer a fair and strong representation of your firm. Once that happens, rebuilding will always be the best option.