Your marketing plans probably need an answer - "how long does it take to build a website?"
If you haven't had a website redesigned recently, you may not have a good handle on how long it might take. The time required certainly varies, and the one answer you may hear, that really isn't helpful is,
A better grasp of the likely timeline is helpful when you're working on marketing plans and marketing budgets.
Five goals that determine how long the web build will take
Your business goals are the critical place to start. To determine what kind of a timeline your new website may need, consider these website goal questions:
- How much revenue does your website produce for your business now, and how much do you want that to change?
- What's wrong with your current website that is a "must fix" in the next website build, and how does that impact your business?
- Do you view your website as a place where you can win more customers (is your competition doing it?), or do you have a purpose other than customer growth in mind for your website?
- What work do you expect your website to do (treat it like an employee) in the process of attracting, engaging, educating, closing, or supporting customers?
- What is the list of new elements (specifically) that you want to achieve with a new website?
If you have big plans for your website, then you can expect the build to take longer and cost more. More focused goals and plans may require a shorter time frame. Each of the questions above represents the need for a longer website build-out, but some of them are essential steps you should never skip. Defining your goals is a critical way to avoid a painful website process.
The baseline website build time that you should plan for is generally about 12-weeks. This allows time for the critical elements from each of the goals above to be completed and for you to get a website that is a material improvement on what you have now. That time can be lengthened if you have substantial development or more complex needs.
When you hire someone to build a website, a timeline that is less than 12-weeks ought to raise your eyebrows. Websites that are built in substantially less time often skip important steps or use templated systems that will ensure that instead of standing out, you'll look just like everyone else. If your web builder is using a DIY system, or a heavily custom-coded open-source approach (like custom WordPress), they may have a quick timetable, but may not deliver any improvement over what you already have.
Four essentials for an effective web build timeline
(this part might surprise you 😱)
1. A shift in focus
The most common time-waster in the process of building websites is retaining the brochure website approach. Yes, it's fast to just take the current language of the website and put it into a new design, but it won't deliver anything better than the website you already have. And since it is not an upgrade, that makes it a huge waste of time.
The focus on the majority of websites is all internal - i.e., it's all about you. The problem with this is that your buyers are trying to solve a problem or achieve something that is all about them.
2. The end to your dead-end web pages
There are two kinds of dead-end web pages.
- About 90% of web pages have almost no traffic, and many have exactly no traffic. These pages are a dead-end effort because while you may think you need them, no one else does. You can shave some time off your website build by eliminating pages that will never see the light of Google traffic.
- The other kind of dead-end page consists of places that your online visitors go to die (or just leave). These are both pages that are reported as a "bounce" or an "exit." If the goal of your website is to win more customers, then dead-end pages have to be repaired, shifted, or re-conceptualized. Repairing these dead-ends on your website and making them valuable engagement or conversion pages may add some time to the web build, but it's worth it. Bringing forward dead-end pages guarantees an outcome you won't be happy about.
3. A new experience for your buyers
For all websites, except for those that are simply an online brochure, the goal should include the process of moving people through the buying process. That starts with becoming aware of your company as a possible solution for their own goals, and then engaging them and helping them make a great decision about how they meet their need.
Presenting and sustaining the buyer experience is the core job of the website. Once you've sold them, the website can help with customer service too, but much of that responsibility shifts to a customer service function in your business.
Creating an online buying experience is a critical part of the web design process and should show up in the timeline in three ways:
- Defining the buyer experience should happen before the web build begins. The journey that you are creating for your buyer online determines exactly what you build and how you build it. Without this buyer's journey, you are either copying what someone else is doing, or you are building an experience that is unlikely to create improvements in your website performance.
- The buyer experience that you define has to be put into the written copy of your website. Most websites don't have an intentional buyer journey and this will most likely be a new part of your website messaging.
- The buyer experience and the copy that expresses it are then translated graphically to line up with your brand style. Those graphics are then encoded into the web platform
Defining the buyer experience, creating messaging, and translating the experience into graphics and code are critical steps to an effective website.
4. Automation and All-in-one Functionality
Modern websites take more than attractive graphics to effectively deliver growth. They have to integrate into the marketing, sales, and customer service environment. At a minimum, that means they need follow-up automation and a customer relationship manager (CRM).
Without these tools, the website will be like a store manikin, you can dress it up as nicely as you like, but it won't run the cash register or stock the shelves.
In the past, this was accomplished by adding multiple plugins and specialized code and then purchasing multiple marketing or customer service software systems. The time burden and the cost of adding all of this became unsustainable, and new SaaS (software as service) systems that bring everything in-house including security, hosting, CRM, customer service, sales automation, and marketing tools are taking over.
You can actually get a SaaS CRM for free.
Many of these tools are actually not "nice to have" but fall into the category of essential because they move the website into another whole category of growth potential.
Planning the time and including the use of automation and other tools should be important in the timeline. This normally occurs during the final phase of the website build but should be planned at the beginning of the process.
Another benefit to the SaaS approach to websites saves time. What required custom code, APIs, and developing in the past can now be done with far less effort. And, since this is more user-friendly, it also makes optimization faster after launch.
Building with low website expectations is faster, but it creates poor website outcomes
Here's the truth: most people have pretty low expectations for what their website can deliver. If you are e-commerce focused, that is probably not true, but most other businesses have never seen dramatic revenue growth from their websites so they begin with pretty low expectations about what is possible.
You can be sure that if building fast is your primary criteria, you will fall into this rule: Overnight websites always sacrifice outcomes.
The best way to start with the right kind of expectations is to review the very best websites in your industry. By best, we don't mean the prettiest, but we mean the ones that are delivering sustained growth by winning quality customers.
The work that those websites provide to deliver on revenue growth can set your expectations at the right level. When you are reviewing competitor websites look beyond the visual appeal to the concepts and the conversations that it is creating.
Your expectations need to line up with your customer's anticipation
Your customers are used to using lots of other websites almost every day that offer seamless experiences, deliver highly engaging experiences and address specific needs and challenges. Even though those websites are not in your industry, they are shaping what your customers expect from you.
Your customers expect a website to be:
- Smart - it knows what they need and remembers them
- Seamless - it is easy to use and navigate
- Valuable - if they can't find what they need very quickly, they bounce
- Focused on them - they don't want to be sold, they want to be helped
Your website timeline has to reflect the time required to deliver at the level your customers expect. How does that affect the website timetable?
- It requires that a deep dive into customer needs and expectations occurs at the beginning of the process.
- It means that you may have some special features that you have to build in, or plan to include following the launch.
- It takes a commitment to ongoing optimization following launch to reach a seamless experience.
Timetable for a new website
|Build Activity||Time Required|
|Messaging & Content||20-30 Days|
|Graphics & Style||30 Days|
|Coding and Automation||30 Days|
|Equivalent Agile Development Timeline||3-4 Sprints (work periods- see below)|
Can agile development improve the website build process?
Agile development is the approach that is now used by most large technology companies to deliver new products. It is more efficient than traditional project management approaches and is even being put to work in car manufacturing, organizational development and other growth activities in both the nonprofit and business world.
Benefits of following an agile development approach in your website build:
- Rapid development and delivery.
- Transparency in the development process.
- Continuous customer input & feedback.
- Reduced website development timeline.
- Anticipate and include changes in each developmental stage.
The important thing about agile when we are asking, "how long does it take to build a website" comes back to the quality and the value of what we are investing to build.
Agile teams work in focused periods, called "sprints", and that means that when an agile company is building your website, they will be able to complete a specific portion of your work in a very focused way. Additionally, they will be able to invite you into collaboration and feedback without disruption.
This process incorporates the collection and implementation of your feedback along the way. Compare this to the painful old 6-month approach to building websites. You wouldn't see much of anything until you started seeing designs and you couldn't test anything or provide feedback along the way. In an agile process, you can expect to give input during each sprint and for that input to be incorporated without derailing the process.
If you are reviewing an agile website timeline, you should still expect to see the critical elements described above, but they will appear in discrete sprints with meetings that you participate in before and after each sprint.
The agile approach not only improves the outcomes but also mirrors the important post-launch phase of optimization which should continue for as long as you want to continue growing online and increasing conversion rates.
The mantra of the agile web building approach is "launch lean, improve iteratively." This means that you shouldn't be waiting 4-6 months to launch, instead, you'll pair back dead-end pages, install a new buyer experience and launch with monthly optimization sprints after about a 12-week development process.