What is the average website lifespan?
27 March 2018
In order to prolong your website’s life, you need to know the answer to the question ‘What is the average website lifespan?’
You may be surprised to learn that the average website lifespan is similar to that of your pet goldfish. If you can keep it going past two years, you’re are doing well.
The general consensus within the industry is that on average a website can last between 2-5 years before it needs to be rebuilt. In design terms, the timeline is even shorter, and you are looking at anything up to 3 years before a revamp is in order.
How to Think of Your Website
Let’s use an analogy between websites and mobile phones. Most people in the UK would at some point have gotten their hands on their first mobile phone. My first phone was a Nokia 3310, a classic! My first phone had a black and white screen, no internet and a single game (snake). It was basic, but I loved it! It represented becoming a grown up, and I was even allowed out later because I could call my mum, so she knew where I was.
Time marches on, and most of us move on from our first phone. Usually, because the next new shiny thing comes along and you want to be on BB messenger like all your friends, so the once beloved Nokia 3310 sits in the bottom draw forgotten about. The point is that you have outgrown that old Nokia and moved on to something that better suits your needs, looks better and does more things.
What’s the point of this analogy?
The first thing you need to do is to evaluate your current website. The average lifespan of a website depends on three things.
- Does it still carry out its primary function or does it break on a regular basis or just not work at all?
- Does it have all the tools that allow you to service the needs of your business and your clients?
- Does it look good or would it be better suited to sitting in the junk draw alongside my 3310?
Seriously, if you arrive at big proposal meeting with a 10-year-old phone to your ear, it doesn’t scream ‘Hey, I’m the business owner.’ However, if you arrive with your iPhone 8 in its smart leather flip case, then people’s perceptions change. Yes, it’s shallow and materialistic, but appearances matter in business.
What is the Average Lifespan of a Website?
While there is no set timeframe for how a long a website should last, if your site is older than three years, then there is a good chance you are due for an upgrade.
- 6-12 months old – If you are a market leader then you need to be continually refreshing your website to keep things exciting and engaging for customers.
- 2-3 years old – In a competitive industry, it is time for a new website. In a non-competitive environment, you need to start planning.
- 3-4 years old – Analyse your current website and plan for immediate upgrades or plan a brand new site.
- 5 years old – You need to revamp your website, now!
Age is only one indicator that you need to plan an update. There are many other factors (most of which are outside your control) that you should consider.
Web design standards change
Website technology moves quickly, and the latest web techniques have always been a mix of what you can do within the technical limitations you have to work with, and what’s hot or not regarding design.
When I first started building websites in 2014 things had come along way since the early 00s, where you were limited to 256 colours. Until about five years ago, you were also limited to the dozen or so fonts that came standard issue on both Macs and PCs; this puts severe limitations on web designers regarding creativity.
It’s only when these technical design constraints are removed (overcome by new technology) that we can progress the design, the sites that still use them suddenly look like they are stuck in a time warp. A good example of a massive step forward in web tech that then facilitated creative progress is the use of Google Web Fonts. Suddenly you were no longer limited to a dozen generic fonts but could instead choose from thousands of different typefaces to use on your site.
Just like fashion, website design follows trends—gradients, borders, drop-shadows, dark/light-coloured backgrounds, tiling patterns, small type, large type, fat footers, mega-menus, you name it.
The average website visitor can’t necessarily tell you what design elements you should or shouldn’t have on your site, but they know when something looks dated. Now people are more exposed to current trends and tech than ever before, they are savvy and the instant nature of today’s world means they are very aware of evolving technology and design practices.
New technologies emerge
We’ve already touched on this point in the above section but if you think back just a few years you might recall the massive trend for Flash-based websites. These sites were crammed with pointless animations and were near impossible for the non-developer to update.
Flash development was a dark-art, and these sites cost a fortune which was a shame as they were impossible for search engines to index, hard for those with visual impairments to use and frustrating for repeat visitors. Within a few short years, something that had been the very latest in cutting-edge web tech now looked like a school art project.
The devices people use to view your website change
Before the introduction of the responsive layout, the width of a website could be used to pinpoint its age. The width used to be directly related to the devices people used to view sites on. They started off small at around 640-pixels and grew wider as screen technology advanced and changed from 4:3 to 16:10, to 16:9. Now layouts are responsive (or fluid) and adjust to whatever size device you’re using. Since responsive design has been around for a few years now, any site not using it looks old and for many people is impossible to access.
Your content management system or theme goes away or stops being supported
I have had two clients in the last month who have both come to me for help with optimisation. Both their websites were running out of date themes. One site was running a premium theme without any license code which means no access to updates. The other also didn’t have license codes, but it turned out that the theme was no longer being supported by its developers and the last update was released in 2016.
Both these sites are examples of websites that are only a few years old but are in need of an overhaul due to changing technology. The current tech they are using has depreciated to the point of no return. They don’t need to throw their sites away and start again as all the content is still valid. When using the WordPress CMS, it’s simply a case of installing and configuring a new theme. Good practice would also require a fresh install of WordPress and a full plugin audit. This type of overhaul is also a good time to think about making some design and functionality improvements.
You fancy a change
Revamping your website can be done purely for aesthetic reasons, and it’s a good idea to keep things fresh, so nobody (including you) gets bored of the design. All I would say with regards to overhauling your site for design sack is that ‘if somethings worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’
Don’t rush into it, plan it, think about it, try new ideas and try to make the design work harder. Think about your users and target audience and design with them in mind.
5 ways to ensure your website has a long and happy life
Rather than waiting until your site looks like an outdated relic from the late 00s, budget some time and money for a design refresh every two years or so (annually is even better). Sometimes a little tweaking to fonts, colours, and styles can make all the difference, and this type of work doesn’t have to cost the earth. Think of it like that posh anti-ageing cream for your website!
Of course, there are some things that never go out of style: clean design, plenty of whitespace, modern type, clear navigation, and a keen focus on usability.
People are often seduced by shiny new things but just because they look good doesn’t automatically mean they function well.
Good questions to ask yourself, and your developer, when it comes to this sort of thing are:
- Will this technology help me communicate more effectively to my audiences?
- Will it inspire visitors to engage with me?
- Does it add to my brand values?
- Will repeat visitors appreciate it or will it become annoying (think pop-ups!)?
- Does it affect usability and accessibility (pop-ups again!)?
- Does it affect how search engines access the page (and again!)?
- Will it be easy to change and update?
- In 2 years, when this is no longer cool am I willing and able to do another redesign?
Just think of how many thousands (probably hundreds of thousands) of pounds could have been saved if people had asked these questions about Flash!
If your site is not responsive already, there’s not really much else to be done except…make it responsive. However, this is a great opportunity to combine your responsive upgrade with either a redesign or an upgrade of your content management system (CMS) if you need it.
Even if your site is responsive, it’s possible the layout could do with some tweaks to make sure it looks great across the wide variety of screen sizes available today.
Depreciated themes/CMS systems
Using an open-source CMS that has a strong community of developers, such as WordPress, can go a long way toward avoiding this problem. With open source software, if one company goes out of business, you can find many others to help you out. This is why I chose to work with WordPress—my clients work with me because they like me, not because they’re looked down to a software that only I know how to use. I do a lot of improvement work on existing WordPress website for my clients. This type of development work is cost-effective and relatively quick to complete.
If your website platform is being discontinued, or you just can’t find a good developer for it anymore, you won’t have much choice but to migrate to a new CMS.
Planning a website redesign
First off, don’t rush through the planning process. A thoughtful, sitemap, wireframe, user personas and design can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on the complexity and size of your site.
Check out my post on for more on this – 10 Steps: How to plan a successful website redesign
Is there a way to completely future-proof my website?
Not really. Things change quickly in the website industry, and there is no substitute for a full redesign or technology overhaul every so often to keep your finger on the pulse. You can extend your average website lifespan by taking onboard the advice above and making sure that you continually maintain and update your current site. Much like a car that never gets its annual service and always fails its MOT, your site will grind to a halt a lot faster if you neglect it.
Having a good CMS like WordPress providing the foundation for your website can help ensure that you never have to start over completely. With careful planning and a commitment to keep pace, your website can lead a long and very productive life.