Building a new website can be a time and money consuming process. Even if you’ve hired someone to design and develop site for you, it still usually requires a good deal of effort on your end, for things like coming up with a sitemap, creating content, and learning how to use the site. In other words, you probably don’t want to have to go through all of this every single year, or even every other year.
No website is going to last you forever, thanks to changing technology and coding languages/standards, but if you make the right decisions up front, you can besure you get something that might last you a good five years – or maybe ten (or more), with the right maintenance and updates. Here are a few things you can do to future proof your website.
Use a popular, community-supported platform
WordPress and Drupal are two good options that come to mind right away. Because there are so many websites that use these content management systems, which are both open source (meaning anyone can see and modify ALL of their code), it’s not likely that they’ll be going away anytime soon. In fact, the only way they’d really dry up would be if most of their users migrated to another platform. Considering, for example, that WordPress has about 60,000,000 users, it’s not likely the market is going to disappear overnight. If it does happen, it’s going to take years, giving you more than enough time to plan your escape.
The alternative here (i.e. usually the wrong choice) is choosing a closed-source, proprietary platform for your website. I won’t name any names, but if you buy a license to a closed-source content management system from Company XYZ, you’re kind of at their mercy. Since they’re the only ones who maintain and update their code, if they decide to stop supporting or discontinue the platform, you’re going to find yourself in a very bad spot. This is also why you wouldn’t want to hire ol’ Joe Schmoe to build you a custom CMS – What happens when he gets hit by a bus? (that guy is always getting hit by buses)
Also included in this category are website building tools like SquareSpace (who, by the way, have a very good product and don’t seem like they’re going anywhere for a while). If, for whatever reason, SquareSpace decided to close its doors and shut down its servers, what do you think would happen to your SquareSpace website?
However, sometimes you might find that you have no choice but to go with closed-source platform, maybe because it has a feature you can’t get anywhere else. In that case, try to choose one that’s been around a while, from a reputable company. ExpressionEngine, SharePoint, Shopify and, of course, SquareSpace are probably decent bets.
In my opinion, though, go with open source, if at all possible.
Try to keep things modular
If you launch a website and then decide a year later that you also want you sell a few products from the site, you don’t want to have to redo everything from scratch. If you choose a modular platform (again, WordPress is a good example), you can add or remove something like an online store pretty easily.
Think of it like you’re building a house: If you want to add a back porch after a few years, you wouldn’t have to rip out the kitchen, one of the bedrooms and the basement in the process, right?
Don’t get too swept up in design trends
There is no reason why your website can’t look awesome, as long as, at it’s core, it’s also highly functional. Every year or so, a new web design trend sweeps the internet, from things like splash pages, to massive full-screen auto-playing video, or giant text greetings, to name a few. Sometimes this stuff can be very striking and cool, but if it’s preventing your visitors from doing what they need to do, it’s going to get old fast.
Not to mention, if you choose something really trendy, a couple years later, once no one is doing that trendy thing anymore, your website is going to feel dated quicker than it might normally. I have two words for you: JNCO Jeans.
Stick to (or create) good brand standards
You don’t want to have to redesign your website every time you get new business cards, or vice versa. To avoid this, make sure you have solid, established brand standards that you’re comfortable sticking with for a while. For more on this, check out another recent post I wrote: “Should Your Brand Collateral Match Your Website?”
Keep the door open for a theme refresh
If you want your website to go for the long haul, this is a really important point. Most good content management systems do keep website content separate from the design. This way, if you want to update the overall look and feel of your website (even drastically), you can do so, without having to rewrite or re-enter much (if any) content or worry about broken links and modified URLs.
WordPress is a great example of this: If you’ve ever managed a personal WordPress blog, for example, you know that there are thousands of themes you can swap at will with very little hassle.
Now, if you hire a company to re-skin your site with a new custom look, it’s not going to be free – There’s still going to be a good amount of design and coding involved – But in many cases, a re-skinning job will be a mere fraction of the cost to redo your entire site.
Alright, so what’s the big takeaway here? If I could only stress one point, it would be to build your website on a popular, open-source CMS, if at all possible. Don’t cram yourself into a tiny box and then complain that you don’t have enough leg room. I won’t be able to hear you anyway, I’ll be too busy lounging in my spacious, luxury crate.