The traditional way of building a website means that you take a lot of time and money to create a site that you already plan to outgrow in a couple of years. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Getting more strategic about how you build a website can enable it to grow with your organization over the years. To save time and money in the long run, learn how to extend a website lifespan from the start.
The Benefits of Future-Proofing Your Site
If you’ve been asking yourself questions like, “How often should I redesign my website?” or “How long should a website last?”, try this mental framework instead:
“What can I do to make a website that grows with my organization?”
Too often, we think about websites having a looming shelf life or an inevitable decline as technology evolves and your nonprofit ages. But that’s changing. Websites these days aren’t a product that you buy one time (with a huge price tag!) and eat up until there’s nothing left.
If, instead, you start to think about a new website as an ongoing, ever-changing tool, the way you go about building it changes. It becomes increasingly important to build a strong foundation that can adapt and be flexible over time. A flashy design is less of a priority than a streamlined and easy user experience that keeps people coming back.
Most importantly, if you’re not starting over from scratch with a new website every few years, future-proofing has real and substantial perks! There are the time and money you save by investing in the tool you already have and not trying to replace a product that’s “expired.”
But—even better—you take the pressure off yourself to build the perfect website all in one go. With an approach that’s based on future-proofing, you reduce the complexity of your website project right now and have a site that can grow with you when you’re ready. Less complexity translates to a faster launch!
5 Components of a Long Website Lifespan
If you want to build a site that lasts, there are five components to extending a website lifespan that should be considered early in the project. And you might be surprised to learn that most of them have absolutely nothing to do with its design. The keys to your site’s longevity happen much earlier than that as your website project comes together.
Be strategic about your structure
Your website structure is the way you decide to organize the information (pages) on your site. It’s so important to your website goals that we wrote a whole guide about it, and it’s something that can really derail a new website if you don’t give it enough thought. For example, nonprofits commonly fall into the trap of organizing their structure based on the pages that they think are most important. The result is that their main navigation is a hodgepodge of pages that don’t provide a clear, logical and replicable path to the information visitors are looking for.
You’re also likely to hurt your website lifespan if you choose to create a website structure that’s based on different types of people. Grouping pages by audience (like “for donors” or “for partners”) doesn’t take into account the overlap that occurs in your target audience, and it backs you into a structure that easily breaks when your audience inevitably changes.
Keep search engines top of mind
You don’t need to be an expert in search engine optimization (SEO) to know that you’ll want your website to be easy to find online. Like when folks search the internet for your nonprofit’s name, a program that you run, an annual event, or a topic related to your mission. There is a lot you can do to boost your visibility in search results after you create a new site, such as optimizing individual pages or blog posts, but putting SEO on the back burner can hold your site back for years to come.
Get up to speed on the main SEO considerations for a new website, and start to imagine how your site structure (see above) and the content you offer can help you attract visitors, encourage other sites to link to you, and create a returning audience. It takes time to build authority in the eyes of search engines. Sites that consider SEO from the start create value quicker and stay relevant longer.
Choose the right kind of website platform
Some structure and SEO sins are easily forgiven, but it can be extremely limiting to build a website on a platform or using software that can’t grow with your organization. For example, a website built on a proprietary platform can hamstring your efforts to make updates without a programmer. On the other hand, a more DIY approach with a basic website builder gives you a lot of control, but then you’re responsible for a lot of upkeep and technical details.
As you evaluate the best company or platform for your nonprofit, remember that you’ll have a longer website lifespan if it’s easy to upgrade your technology over time, maintain your website on your own or with support, and keep things secure.
Prioritize the ideal user experience
When thinking about a website’s lifespan, a lot of people immediately get sidetracked in the outward-facing design and creating a look that lasts. Design is an important part of your site’s longevity and overall usability, but a website should be user-friendly beyond the look.
Websites that stand the test of time do a great job putting visitors on the path to success by making information easy to navigate and understand, followed by making it simple to take the next step. Map out an effective donor flow that gets people to give online. Recruit volunteers with a simple application and onboarding process. Wherever your organizational goals line up with the goals of your target audience, prioritize streamlining those processes first. After all, it doesn’t matter if your website lasts 50 years or looks fantastic if no one does anything with it.
Create a website measurement plan
Nonprofits that keep their websites around for a long time make the effort to learn what’s working and what’s not and then adapt. If you want to be a part of that cool crowd, you’ll need some data to provide insights into how your site is performing. And there’s no better time than at the beginning of a website project to make a measurement plan.
At the very least, you’ll want to install something like Google Analytics for the launch of your new site. (Even better, you’ll carry over your analytics account from any existing site so that you can compare how the new site is doing.) As time goes by, regularly check in to see where there’s room for improvement so that you catch problem areas before they seem unsolvable. Or try out some experiments to see if doing things differently with your design or content leads to better results.
Live Your Best Website Life
Creating a new website for your organization can quickly feel like it will take too much time and energy to pull off something so complex. Switch gears and focus on how you can build a site with staying power so that you don’t get in the endless cycle of building and redesigning a site for years to come.
Investing energy in things that lengthen a website lifespan will put your priorities in the right place. And you can move forward with a site that works for you right now, knowing that it will be ready to grow with you later.
What’s the website lifespan at your organization? Are there any parts of your current website that got outdated faster than you anticipated? Or lived longer than you expected? I’d love to hear about your experiences. See you in the comments!