How Long Does A Web Site Last?

If only web sites had clear expiration dates. It would make life easier for us all, because there would never be that “in-between time” where you’re not sure if you need a new web site or not.

Here at Anchor, we like to say that a web site should last about three years before it needs to have a fresh coat of paint. The code behind the site may last a bit longer, but not much. Why is there such rapid obsolescence for web sites? Because internet technology doesn’t change once a year – it changes every day.

That’s not hyperbole by the way. Every time Internet Explorer or Firefox or Chrome have an update, it changes the rules. Every time there is a new version of Flash or Quicktime, it changes the rules. A recent browser update sent one of our client’s sites into disarray for anyone using the new version (which was most people, since the update happened automatically). The repair didn’t take long (thank goodness), but it was literally impossible for us to predict how the new version of the browser would work when we were programming for the old (current at the time) version.

I call it the velocity of the internet. It’s fast. Really, really fast, and the mobile web has taken us to light speed. Mobile is like the wild wild west right now, and until it settles down, keeping up is going to take diligence and quick thinking. In fact, the world of the mobile internet provides one of the best examples of how web sites “expire” so quickly: if your site doesn’t look good on a smart phone (Blackberry, iPod, Android etc.) in 2010, then you are missing a huge opportunity to communicate a strong, healthy brand message to your customers.

Why weren’t we building sites with smart phones in mind three years ago? Because with the exception of phones for the super rich or the super nerdy – they didn’t exist (at least not in the Midwest where we are located). We saw them coming, but it’s a tough sell to tell a client “we think it’s worth the extra $2,000 in development time to reach that 2% of your target audience.” However, when the same conversation happens today (and I literally had this conversation today), clients themselves are now telling us “everybody wants to see our sites and get our emails on their phones!”

So the days of five year old web sites are gone. If a brand new web site says “We’re on the cutting edge,” then a five year old site tells your customers “Innovation isn’t a priority.” That’s a bummer, especially when it’s your first impression.

Maybe someday the internet will settle down into a nice groove, something like the print industry (after all, a book was a book for a long time) but I doubt it. Instead, it will likely continue to be an adventure that changes by the hour, a wave that begs to be surfed with gusto. As long as there are new ideas, the information superhighway will be their travel route of choice.