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Should I update my existing site or start from scratch?

When a client approaches Access with a web project, a common scenario is they already have a website, but want it “freshened up a bit.” And there is nothing at all wrong with that. In fact, as the web is continuing to evolve rapidly, a website can begin to look stale pretty quickly. Sites created just two years ago can appear dated to visitors and thus create an undesired impression. There’s nothing like some minor updates to spruce things up a bit. Realign some menu items, maybe add a slideshow. That should be quick (and inexpensive) right?

It depends.

Was the existing site created using a CMS or was it completely custom built? Was Access the creator of the site or was it developed by someone else? Exactly how extensive are the “minor” changes desired? Would it, in fact, be simpler to just build a new site?

When a client comes to us with a desire to freshen up their site a bit, I follow these steps to determine the best way forward:


How old is the current site?

  1. If the answer is five years or more, the best option is almost certainly to create an entirely new site. There are a number of reasons for this, but the biggest one is that the web has changed so much in the last five years that any changes made now would simply be a delaying tactic. It would be best to start from scratch, create a new responsive site in a modern CMS that is well-supported, and move forward from there.
  2. If the site is two – five years old, I would still recommend building a new site in most cases. However, if the site is strictly a brochure site, you could probably get away with some minor changes for a fresh look.
  3. If the site is less than 2 years old, changing the existing site is probably the best option. This assumes it was not a completely custom built site.


Does the site use a CMS?

  1. CMSs (Content Management Systems) have progressed a lot in the last few years. They continue to evolve rapidly and introduce new features that make sites more dynamic and engaging. Even simple sites can benefit from a CMS, such as WordPress. More complex sites almost certainly need a CMS, such as WordPress or Drupal, to manage them.
  2. It is typically pretty straightforward to determine if a site is using a CMS or not. If it isn’t, or if it is just a collection of HTML files, in all likelihood a new site should be created rather than modifying the existing one. Sites that were not built using a CMS tend to be difficult (i.e. expensive) to modify. Especially if the original developer is no longer available to make those changes.
  3. If the site is using a CMS, is the CMS up-to-date? The downside to using a popular CMS is that they are big targets for hackers. In most cases, a hacker is not interested in trying to get into one site that was completely custom built, when for the same effort they can hack thousands of WordPress sites. For this reason, most CMSs regularly release bug, security, and feature patches. It is important that these patches are applied regularly, but they are often ignored. If a site is running on an especially old version of a CMS, it may not be possible to easily update the site to the current version of that CMS. In those cases, the best option may be to create a new site and start from scratch with the latest version of that CMS (or another CMS.)


Was Access the original developer of the site?

  1. If Access created the original site, then we will have all of the original site files and understand exactly how the site was created. This can be a huge benefit to making any changes requested, as we are already familiar with the code behind the site.
  2. If the original site was created by someone else, it will be more difficult to make changes to it. The reason is that each developer has their own style of coding. They tend to put files in particular places in the site structure, etc. Some developers are particularly good about documenting code, but most are not. If the code is not well documented, any developers coming behind the original to make changes ends up on a hunt, searching for code that controls the item that needs to be changed.


Is the current site responsive?

  1. By responsive, I mean does the site behave properly on devices of all screen sizes. If the current site simply looks like a very small version of the desktop site when viewed on a smartphone, it most likely is not responsive. Making a non-responsive site responsive is often a very difficult task that ends up costing more than just building a new site that is responsive to begin with. If a site is not responsive, my recommendation is almost always going to be build a new site.
  2. If a site is mostly responsive, but doesn’t play nice on a few devices, this is generally something that can be fixed without having to create a new site.



If you just want to know whether you should tweak your existing site or build a new one, consider this:

  • Is my current site less than 5 years old?
  • Does my current site look good on my phone?
  • Am I able to login to an admin area and change the content of my site myself?

If the answer to any two of these questions is “no,” you’re best option will probably be to create an entirely new site.

If you answered all questions “yes,” you are probably okay to freshen up your current site.

Regardless, feel free to contact us and I will be happy to make a recommendation based on your unique circumstances.

Topics: Programming, Website Design