So, you’ve had a glance over your outdated website, with its clunky functionality and irrelevant content, and you’ve decided it’s time for an update.
As a prospective client on the hunt for a quality website designer, you’re probably asking yourself this:
How long does it take to build a website?
The answer is that there’s no standard timeframe – each website developer, agency and freelancer will approach the build in slightly different ways.
As a general guide, this article will outline the basic stages of a website build, as well as an estimated timeframe for each. It’s important to note that the overall length of the project may vary slightly depending on the type of website being built.
For example, a smaller website requiring only five to ten pages could take around eight weeks. On the other hand, an e-commerce, membership or large corporate site with 20 to 30 pages can take up to 20 weeks.
Therefore, in order to manage your expectations when it comes to time, you should first determine which category your site fits into.
Phase 1: Discovery and briefing – 1 to 3 weeks
The first phase of a website build will involve an initial consultation between yourself – the client – and the agency. The goal of this meeting is for the agency to learn as much as they can about your website and its current functionality, as well as your target goals and requirements, so that they can plan accordingly.
This is the ideal time to provide as much information as you can in order to avoid miscommunications and ensure that you’re satisfied – not only with the final product, but also with the process through which it’s made.
Important elements to discuss may include:
- Overall expectations and objectives
- Technical requirements
- Target audience
- User needs
- Desired features
- Ideal project length
- Current website details:
- Usability testing
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Once these details have been considered, the agency will provide you with a project scope tailored to your needs. The aim here is to avoid any unexpected delays and/or dissatisfaction.
This brief will include target deliverables like:
- Website specifications
- Overall intent
- Estimated cost
- Estimated timeline
- Expected actions needed in each phase to ensure a successful and timely build.
This phase usually takes between one and three weeks. If you require a simple small-business website with minimal pages and content, this may only take a week and require a few conversations by phone or email.
An e-commerce or membership site – i.e., one that involves additional work on the design end – may take longer to finalise during this phase. There will often be continued communications to better understand your needs and work through any complex questions that come up.
If your site fits into this more complicated category, expect to wait up to three weeks for the completion of this initial briefing and project scope phase.
Phase 2: Website strategy – 1 to 2 weeks
The second stage is all about defining the website’s personality and its emotional draw. Capturing customer attention should always be a high priority; therefore, ensuring your site is unique and appealing is crucial. The agency should undertake further research at this stage into your niche, which will help them understand your desired brand identity.
Of course, you may already know what you’re after in terms of website features, but a little extra research will always come in handy.
Important factors to consider include:
- Colour pallet
- Brand narrative and tone
- Website values, personality and purpose
- User experience
- Messaging systems
One of the most important aspects of this stage – one that the agency should take extra care in doing – is understanding the relevant market and outlining your ‘competitive positioning’ in it. Doing so will entail understanding how you plan to differentiate your business from other companies that may share similar values and/or purpose. Asking yourself what you can provide customers that others may not, is a good start.
Competitive positioning may involve:
- Defining market problems and successes
- Confirming your position within the market
- Understanding your customers
- Outlining how you differ from your competitors
This phase usually takes between one and two weeks, depending on your website’s personality and the features required to bring it to life. Again, this stage predominately involves research and planning rather than execution. It does, however, still require a few exchanges between yourself and the agency.
Phase 3: Site structure and information architecture (IA) – 1 to 2 weeks
This stage revolves around structuring your website correctly in order to enhance its Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). This refers to improving your website’s visibility, not only to users, but also to search engine crawlers that collect relevant information to boost your page’s relevancy online. If your website has poor SEO, you’re likely to fall victim to low website traffic and poor search rankings for your target keywords.
Key SEO elements include:
- Website accessibility
- Speed and functionality
- Mobile use
- Internal linking
- Domain authority
- Site crawlability
- Content quality
- User experience
Information architecture (IA) is essential for an optimised user experience. While it’s easy to confuse IA with navigation, IA is the behind-the-scenes process of structuring a website based on the relationship between content and functionality. This may include factors such as content inventory, categorisation, meta data and auditing.
Your agency should provide you with a plan that includes a visual site map and page hierarchy. This will aid in the following steps of understanding how to build a user-friendly, easily navigable site with relevant content and working links.
A small-business website requiring only five or so pages can sometimes take as little as an hour to map out. More complex sites, like an e-commerce or membership site, can take one or two weeks. This is due to the increased level of visualisation and planning required to anticipate all the design and developmental work that will be required later.
An e-commerce website, for example, might entail thousands of products and multiple categories. Membership sites typically require login portals, community forums, gated content and live webinars. All of these factors take time to plan. Agencies will take all of your page and content requirements into consideration when drawing up your site structure. (9)
Phase 4: Content review and development – 2 to 4 weeks
This stage is easily one of the longest as it often depends on your ability to provide quality content. If your work doesn’t prove captivating to the end user, or you don’t have time to produce anything, agencies will sometimes hire professional writers in order to enhance optimisation and generate engaging material. However, this can add time to the build.
Written content is not the only key focus of this stage. Other forms of media, including videos and graphics, may also need to be developed. Organising the collaboration between photographers and videographers is another important component to consider.
Key content considerations may include:
- Substance – Examining how you communicate with your audience through tone, themes and styles of media.
- Structure – Asking yourself whether your content is presented in a clean and organised manner.
- Authority – Ensuring that your content is of high-quality.
- Workflow – This consideration falls more under the agency’s role and involves using the correct development tools and software to ensure content is functional and displays properly. (10)
As touched upon above, the reason why this phase can take between two and four weeks is due to the unpredictability of outside professionals. Agencies can’t always control how long content development will take.
If you’d like to speed up this stage it’s essential to remain specific, efficient and detail-oriented when creating and providing content.
Phase 5: Wireframes – 1 to 2 weeks
This phase focuses on creating a basic skeletal framework of your website using simple line drawings with a pen and paper. While some agencies will create these wireframes before content development, doing so afterwards allows agencies to build the wireframe around already existing content, which can prove more convenient. (11)
Once the physical line drawings have been completed, they are then fed into design software for finalisation. These programs allow for you to interact with the prototype and understand the functionality of, and space allocation for, each element.
Standard elements include:
- Body content
- Image galleries
- Search field
- Share buttons
- Headers and footers
- Contact information
This stage is less about the overall design and more about the general layout hierarchy of website pages, which is why wireframes are often likened to the blueprints of a house. Depending on the detail involved, wireframe styles can range from low-fidelity to high-fidelity. However, the more specifics the better, as the stages that follow will build on these outlines.
Wireframes for small business websites are usually quick and easy to draw up and finalise. A larger site, on the other hand, will typically take longer.
Using one to two weeks as a basic timeline is appropriate, considering the sketching time as well as the communication required between yourself and the agency. Waiting at this stage is worth it; ensuring you’re happy with the basic website skeleton is key before moving to the next stage.
Phase 6: Visual design – 2 to 4 weeks
This stage is all about bringing the website to life using design software. Once you’re satisfied with the mock-ups, using the wireframes as a base, a visual designer will transform the basic framework into a vibrant, functional site that captures the essence of your target personality and theme.
It’s difficult to grasp how inviting a website will be without witnessing the fullness of each element set in place. Therefore, by combining each of the previous stages together, you will have a better idea of how the site will look and feel to a user.
Elements applied may include:
- Colour pallet
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this phase takes a little longer than others, as it revolves around bringing all of a site’s elements together and ensuring they function while remaining aesthetically pleasing. Larger sites will obviously take longer as there are more components to include and manipulate.
You may also view your newly-designed website and change your mind on a few different elements, from font to colour. Therefore, continued collaboration is also a key, and time-consuming, component of this phase.
Phase 7: Development – 1 to 4 weeks
Stage seven revolves around the actual creation of the website. After you sign off on the visual design, the agency will develop the site using WordPress, or a similar platform, and distribute the elements accordingly. They will generally focus on user experience during this phase, and ensure that loading speeds and general accessibility are optimised.
Benefits of using WordPress include:
- Easily customisable
- SEO value: search engine-friendly
- Links to social media
- Built-in blog
- Recommended for business sites (13)
For a smaller website, the developmental process should take up to one week, as there are fewer pages and elements to consider. On the other hand, an e-commerce or membership website may take up to four weeks as they could potentially contain additional pages and prove more complex.
You will usually be able to view the website as it progresses, offering suggestions along the way. Therefore, there is still some client/agency collaboration in play.
Phase 8: Testing and launch – 1 week
The testing stage helps ensure that no issues or glitches will affect your website. This phase is incredibly important in order to avoid any security risks and to enhance your site’s overall functionality.
Rigorous testing is essential. After all, it would be disappointing to go through each stage, crafting your site to your liking, only to find the end result bug-ridden and unusable.
Testing usually only takes around one week. Obviously, if the agency runs into any threats or glitches, fixing them will affect your overall timeline. For the most part, however, this stage does not take long at all.
After testing is complete, the only thing left to do is click that launch button.
Phase 9: Maintenance
In order for your website to remain healthy and functional, many agencies will provide ongoing maintenance support. This generally involves ensuring the latest software and plugins are installed and updated in order to keep your website safe and user-friendly.
Depending on the size of your website, the overall build timeline will vary, but expect it to take between eight and 20 weeks. Obviously, if any problems arise – i.e., content is delayed or your site requires additional, complex work – you may wind up closer to the twenty-week mark.
Hiring a quality agency dedicated to providing you with the best materials and planning will help ensure that the time it takes to create your website will be worthwhile.
Are you looking for a quality web design and development agency to partner with? Book a discovery call with one of our website consultants today.