Daniel A. Øien
Tuesday, 2 January 2024

Successful, long-running websites part 1: Fundamentals

This article series covers the main factors that are important in a website’s evolution, starting with the organisational fundamentals. It is written primarily with CIOs and CTOs of small to medium organisations in mind.

Photo by Hal Gatewood / Unsplash

Currently, websites have an estimated lifespan of 2-5 years between major redesigns, with an average of around 2.7 years for competitive industries. This is obviously a lot of work, but there are best practices to ensure that this work yields a good return on investment and a satisfying user experience over the long term.

A website is dynamic and closely interconnected with your organisation as a whole. It is also your public face and in many cases the first point of contact. Websites must evolve according to both internal and external trends and developments. As such, regardless of technical platform or internal organisation, it is important to maintain the following over time:

  • Consistency and quality of content and branding
  • Continuity of content updates and reviews
  • Good usability, accessibility and aesthetics across devices
  • Fast performance and stable functionality
  • Visibility and relevance on search engines
  • Structured and actionable analytics
  • Timely evolution of design and technical implementation

The foundation for accomplishing the above starts within your organisation. In upcoming articles we will delve into the details of the process and how to involve a digital agency; below is the overview of what you need to have in place before starting to create or re-design your website.

1. Allocate sufficient resources

A website is an investment that yields crucial benefits for your organisation. It needs to be a fixed part of your annual budget and personnel allocation, not run on an intermittent project basis. 

The exact numbers will vary depending on your size, industry and target audiences/markets, but as a rough estimate you should plan to use on average 5-10% of your operating income on your website(s) and digital communications/marketing, and considerably more if you want to establish a dominant digital presence or are active in a highly competitive sector.

For staff, your communications team should account for at least 15-20% of your regular positions. Also, if at some point you have to cut costs, you should avoid the common pitfall of slashing the communications budget first. This usually prolongs and exacerbates problems instead of solving them.

2. Assemble a good team and empower it

Your communications and technical teams are key to ensuring long-term quality and predictability in your digital communications. They also have important coordination functions and expertise in addition to their core competencies.

For a small organisation. a main website team should consist of 2-3 people with communications and technical roles. Bigger organisations can have sub- or departmental teams, but all teams need a website team leader with the delegated authority and budget to make executive decisions on design, content, technical and strategic aspects. 

The team leader should be able to approve budget adjustments and work orders up to a reasonable point without having to go further up the chain. They should also have final say on issues and possible internal conflicts regarding design and content. Websites (and especially the associated graphic design) are notoriously exposed to subjective and opinionated feedback that needs quick and final adjudication, especially if there are areas of friction within the organisation.

Regardless of how much work that is outsourced, it is a good idea to keep expertise in-house to facilitate quality control, continuity and support/knowledge transfer throughout the digital communications life cycle. You should therefore strive to maintain sufficient communications and technical staff on a permanent basis.

3. Create an initial specification

Before engaging a digital agency, you should hold a few internal workshops to develop a specification for your website project. It is important that section/group/department heads are involved in this process to ensure coverage, participation and support within the organisation.

The specification doesn’t need to be very detailed at this point, and you will later likely want the assistance of a digital agency to develop a complete specification and design brief. The initial specification should cover:

  • Identified main target audiences (on organisation level and, if applicable, per section/group)
  • Content inventory (what information do we have on our current website, and how is it organised?)
  • Media inventory (images, videos, publications)
  • Design inventory (logos, design guide, style guides)
  • Flagship content (most important content on organisation level and per section/group; what are we good at and what is our purpose?)
  • Flagship services/products (most important distinct services/products/publications, per section/group if applicable)
  • Primary goals (e. g., increasing brand awareness, promotion of specific products/services, dissemination of research or knowledge, building trust…)
  • Issues or pet peeves with current website, per section/group
  • Vision (e. g., what should be the status and reputation of our website a few years from now compared to peer/competitor websites? What measurable impact do we want for our organisation?)
  • Preliminary information architecture (website structure with thematic areas/sections)
  • Design and branding requirements (redesign, new design, branding changes?)
  • Technical requirements (specific technology/platform changes?)

Next steps

Once the initial specification is done, you have a basis for engaging with a digital agency and creating a design brief. Read more about the design brief in the next article in this series.