This is a great question that is commonly asked on and offline.
In general, I would say that most businesses, especially small businesses, don't update nearly enough.
I am thinking of two websites that haven't been updated in about 15 years...
But I get it. Small businesses often need to be careful with money. But there is also a trap of getting caught up in spending it on what's familiar. And for many businesses, websites weren't familiar. So it was a one and done deal.
Here are a few thoughts on when you should update your website.
#1. What does "update" mean?
Update can mean a couple things. For this post I'm thinking about updating the design. But along with that there are other updates that occur. There is updating the software. The latest version of Wordpress or Spotify. And also any add-ons or plugins you're using.
Usually it's good to update the software as the updates come available. But that can sometimes mess with the design whether it's custom or some kind of theme.
But after seeing this question online and hearing it in person it seems that most are thinking about a design update (usually along with a software/code update) when they ask this question.
So that's what we're going with.
#2. Major web changes
Every once in awhile major changes come to the web or online world. A big one came when the smartphone blew up. For many people, they only use the web with their smartphones. No computers.
Yet too many business websites aren't optimized for viewing on a smartphone. That is being way too far behind on updating your website. You're basically giving up on the idea that you're going to get business from your website at that point. You might as well almost take it down and safe on the hosting costs.
Talk to a web designer about major changes to the online world. Discuss with them if it requires major or minor updates to your site. You want to make sure you're giving potential site visitors the best experience.
#3. Regular audits
This is one that I'm a huge fan of for business website updates.
Schedule annual audits.
This includes for the design and software of your website, but it also includes all the content on the site.
Chances are that your sales process changes every year. Probably more often than that. And as your sales process changes the content should change along with it.
Every year you learn more about your customer. You also learn more about yourself. Make sure the content and design reflect those changes.
Annually is a good goal. Every six months wouldn't be bad. At the worst, you can probably get away with every 2-3 years.
#4. Tight budget situation
If you're in a tight budget situation, I get it. You probably don't want to hire a designer to customize things all the time.
There are still some options for keeping your website updated appropriately.
For one, you can subscribe to a premium theme. There are tons of good ones for WordPress, Spotify and just about all the other website builder services.
If you subscribe to a theme and if the company is a good one they will continually provide updates.
WordPress does this with their own theme. "Twenty seventeen" to "Twenty Eighteen" and so on.
The design changes for the better every year.
You could also work out an arrangement with a designer for this service. Pay them for a custom design, but pay them a monthly fee or annual fee and in the agreement work in that they provide regular updates and tweaks as necessary.
#5. Continual small changes
I kind of mentioned this in #3. Along with your audits it's good to look at updating your website as something you're always doing. Don't think of your website design as being "done".
The moment you launch it will start getting old. Those companies I know that have 15-year old designs thought that they were "done" with their design. But the years start going by faster and faster and now those sites are pretty much worthless.
Not a lot changes in a year. But after that things start to get dated quickly.
Change your mindset on design and start thinking that it's always something fluid. Something that needs tweaking, not major overalls once in awhile.
Updating your website can be intimidating. If you're not comfortable with the technical side then you need a designer that you can pay to handle it. There is the design, but also the software. Look to get into an agreement with a designer that can provide regular updates and also possible major updates along the way.
You'll be better off doing this than you will be having the feeling that your site is "done".