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Keeping up to date

Some factors to consider to keep your website at the cutting edge through it's lifecycle

14 June 2016

Website upgrade cycles

Websites are an effective online presence that allows 24/7 access to your brand or business. With over 3.2 billion people online worldwide and over 82% of New Zealanders accessing the internet, the reach is massive and opportunity for sales conversion is enormous. Websites fall into the category of Capital Expenditure but are often given a limited ongoing budget after the initial spend, a factor that can both limit their effectiveness and ignore the reality of changing technology. There are several things to be aware of when budgeting a website spend and the ongoing costs are part of this.

Your eco-system

The digital and business eco-system encapsulates more than just the website. Social media, cloud software, payment gateways and digital services can often form part of your service delivery or marketing process. External services can be updated regularly which requires updates to your integration with them. Budgeting for maintenance is essential even if your website doesn't change the services it relies on or implements may.

The system that runs the website

Most websites are in a piece of software called a Content Management System (CMS). All software needs regular patching to maintain security and effectiveness, however most software also has a 2-3 year support cycle before it needs to be updated to the newest version. The internet has many layers of software inter-dependencies, for security these are in a constant state of redevelopment and on a regular basis whole parts of software infrastructure are replaced; often necessitating an upgrade to the CMS. The upgrade fixes the underlying code and improves usability without changing the system so much that you need to start again. These upgrades can effect parts of your site, particularly custom developments, and should be planned for on a regular basis. Most CMS projects have a Roadmap that describes their software life-cycle.

The hosting servers

Your website lives on a computer in a server farm. Just like any computer the server hosting your site will eventually need to be upgraded as hardware, software and the hosting space become out-of-date. Visitor numbers and the amount of content can also impact on a server, sites can become a victim of their own success. To upgrade the server the website must be copied to a new server. A new server will often mean changes to the website CMS and/or code, this is a good opportunity to look at a longer term upgrade if one is about to become due.

The design

Even the best designs for a website last only a few years before becoming dated. Web managers should plan on upgrading the design at least every three years or more often if your core brand is likely to change on a faster cycle. New technology can also increase the design options available, HTML5 and responsive design are two examples where interactive designs and automatic scaling for mobile have become possible.

The functionality

A website should support your business activity, as your activity changes so should your website. Automations to processes and online interaction can be implemented improving customer service and creating faster workflows that require less face to face time with customers.

The content

Content should be regularly updated as part of your content marketing and SEO strategy. Typical updates are to news, articles and blogs. Video can also be a part of your content strategy and a YouTube channel configured to update within your website can automatically feed new content direct into the website. Youtube is also a highly used search engine and a place to gain followers off you website.

Digital strategy

A digital strategy encompassing the website, marketing and social channels is a useful tool for planning your approach and budget. When planning consider that a website will likely date within three years before some overhaul will be required. In the meantime new external services might need to be added, security patches applied and unforeseen upgrades be required. It's safe to say that hosting will not be your only ongoing cost once the website launches.

The upshot

When developing your website plan on a design refresh at least every 3 years and a system upgrade every 3 to 4 years. In addition a regular content plan and some ongoing maintenance should form part of your budgeting cycle.