How long should a website last for? The average lifecycle of a website is about two and a half years. At Evolving Web we aim to develop products that will last between five and ten years. However, this sort of longevity can only be achieved through ongoing improvements.
In March 2022 we published a blog post on the 10 signs your website is outdated. This post is worth reading in full, but to briefly recap, these are 10 signs that you might be due for some investment and serious improvement:
Users find it hard to navigate.
It’s content-heavy and hard for users to understand what you do.
It lacks clear calls to action.
You have outdated or incorrect content.
Search results aren't relevant.
Load times are too slow.
You need developer help anytime you want to make a change.
There are too many PDFs or content that's not accessible.
It doesn't allow you to implement SEO best practices.
It’s not optimized for mobile devices.
If one or more of these issues apply to your site, you definitely need to consider an overhaul. How extensive an overhaul is required depends on a number of factors, which can be addressed in a website transition plan.
Looking For the Signs
A website is a lot like a house. Fixtures and appliances age. Paint jobs, roofs and other elements occasionally require touch-ups or complete replacement. Clutter builds up and needs to be dealt with. Families expand, creating new demands.
The main difference between a website and a house is that your house is a private space, whereas your website is your company or organization’s gateway to the world, making it all the more pressing that it be up to date. Your house will survive without the latest developments in interior design. Your website, not so much.
Just as homeowners need to keep an eye out for signs that their houses might need minor or major repairs or remodelling, website owners need to do the same with their sites. That two-and-a-half-year lifecycle is not a long period of time. In fact, there are steps that are well worth taking as soon as your website first goes live.
Websites benefit from periodic, scheduled benchmarking. This means looking at competitors’ websites and seeing what they may be doing better (or at least differently) than you. Are your competitors using new keywords? Are they offering online features that you aren’t? Are they doing a better job at directing traffic to their sites through digital channels? Consider doing a benchmarking analysis every six months or so.
User testing is an important element of any website development project, but it is also a useful tactic to re-employ after your site is operational. This is especially useful for budget-conscious companies or organizations, as virtually anyone can find a handful of external stakeholders from a target audience willing to offer feedback on a website. Chances are that said stakeholders have also spent time on competitors’ sites and can offer comparative feedback.
Employing these and other tactics should give you ample warning that your site is perhaps not performing as well as it could be and that improvements are overdue.
For more on testing, read our recent blog post Design, Test, Design Again: Our Approach to Usability Testing.
10 Steps in Planning Your Website Improvement Project
Once you’ve identified that your site has shortcomings, it’s time to drill down to the heart of the problem. Is navigability a problem? Does your content not pass muster? Is your site falling short of accessibility standards? Here are ten steps you can take to identify the problems with your site that will enable you to take action.
1. Do a Content Inventory.
The first step to take in any website transition planning process is to map out your website’s content from top to bottom. Once you have a complete sitemap, you should be able to identify any problems your users might be having in navigating your site.
2. Conduct a Content Audit.
The next step is to do a full content audit. The purpose of this is to identify what content is serving you well (i.e. drawing traffic), what content is gathering dust and how specific pages and types of content have fared over time. Metrics to examine include page rankings, user behaviour (page views, bounce rate etc.), engagement and sales.
While companies or organizations may opt to undertake this internally, Evolving Web has extensive experience conducting content audits and would be happy to help you arrange this process.
3. Assess Your Tone of Voice.
Does your organization have guidelines around brand voice and tone? If so, is the voice and tone of your website consistent with those guidelines? A site that may have started off with a consistent tone of voice may start to lose this over time. As such, a check-in on brand identity is well worth the effort.
4. Review Your Company or Organization’s Mission Statement.
A website is a tool that should be embodying your company or organization’s mission statement, and if it no longer is there’s a problem. It’s worth reexamining if your mission statement comes across on your website – more than just a brief mention in your “About Us” section.
5. Review your Keywords.
While juggling keywords is no longer a valid search engine optimization strategy in itself, it still matters that you use the right keywords. Use Google Analytics to find out what terms people are using to find your site. Research related search terms by searching your current keyword in Google and see what the search engine suggests.
You can also use a keyword search platform like Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush or KWFinder to get the latest on what keywords people interested in your industry are using. You can also reach out to us directly for help with your SEO strategy.
6. Research Alternative CMS Options.
If there are mechanical issues with your website, like overly slow loading times, it could be that your CMS is no longer the best fit for the type of content you’re seeking to provide. It could be time to start looking into alternative CMS options.
7. Do an Accessibility Scan.
As with Step 2, conducting an accessibility audit should be achievable internally, through your own stakeholder network. At the outset of a website development project, it is wise to develop a network of people who either have disabilities or work with assistive technology who can assist with an initial accessibility audit and follow-up checks to ensure that your site continues to be accessible to all.
8. Do QA Testing for Mobile Devices.
This test can easily be done internally within a team – provided the people on that team operate mobile devices. Just as it’s crucial to test your site on mobile devices at the outset, it is equally critical to continue doing so as the site ages.
9. Keep an Eye on Analytics and Digital Trends.
How are people reaching your site? Has this picture changed over time? What digital channels are your competitors using? Keeping your eye on your analytics picture as well as on trends in digital media will alert you to dynamics that could affect how people interact with your website.
10. Get Help.
Much of the work involved in these steps, and the actions needed to remedy the situations, can be done in-house by most teams. However, if you’ve been through all these steps and found multiple issues requiring extensive overhaul, it’s probably time to call in the professionals. At Evolving Web we are well-versed in all these aspects of website transitions and would love to assist you with your site revamp.
The Role of an Agency
Ever wonder why we chose the name “Evolving Web”? Simply put, we chose it because it reflects our view of websites as continuously evolving entities that need to be nurtured and guided over time. Websites have changed significantly since we first put out our shingle in 2007, and the work we do has evolved with them – as have our relationships with our clients. Constant evolution has been the theme of our work since the beginning.
The circumstances in which we enter into relationships with our clients are as diverse as the clients themselves. In some cases, our role is a simple migration from WordPress to Drupal, or from an older version of Drupal to the latest version. In other cases, a web project may involve a migration plus a significant content or UX overhaul – changes akin to a major house remodelling. And in some cases, we’re building a house completely from scratch.
At times we’re faced with a site with particular issues. In the case of Royal Roads University’s Our People site, we were tasked with fixing a site that was failing to deliver content to its intended audiences due to problems with information architecture. Through extensive interviews and surveys and a thorough content audit, we were able to reorganize the site in a way that satisfied all the university’s internal stakeholder groups.
Not sure where to start? We offer a wide range of different website audit services, which can help determine the state of your existing site and what it might need in terms of transition. These include a general-purpose audit (the most thorough version we provide), a strategic UX and content audit, a high-level in-depth technical audit, an accessibility audit or a pre-migration audit. An audit can help determine whether a straightforward migration is all that’s needed or if a more thorough redesign is necessary at this stage.
We can help you craft a website transition plan based on the audit's findings. A good transition plan should reflect the unique needs of your organization and map out a plan to get you to the website you need. Wherever you are in your “evolving website”, we can meet you there.