Whether you’ve been involved with building a website or not, when the time comes, you’re probably pulling out your aspirin in anticipation of the monster headache you know is coming. After all, how many of us have opted for a new website thinking, “This should be simple and quick. We have a plan and a timeline, so it’ll be done in no time!” (Raising my hand.) Six months later, your site isn’t finished, you’re over budget and your marketing department is still claiming “just one more week.” It happens. Why? Because the complexity of building a website can grow exponentially as elements are added, making it difficult to nail down a hard deadline.
It can be a painful process...but it doesn’t have to be.
If you’ve ever attempted to update your business’s website, then you’ve probably run into the same problem. The backend of website design can be confusing and time-consuming, which is why so many people opt to hire help. Professional website designers and developers are well-versed in making your pages look clean and work seamlessly, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they can work faster than the average joe.
Long story short: building a website takes time, even for professionals. So when you hire an agency to help you with web design, having a realistic timeline of deliverables and when your site should be up and running can curb a lot of your frustration. These timeframes can vary based on your needs and the size of your site, but overall, there are a few rules of thumb you should expect.
The Simple Answer
Even if you’re a small business that just wants a simple site, the average timeline for completing a website is 12-16 weeks. This timeframe accounts for the entire design process, from picking a theme to implementing the code and publishing the final product.
Just because this is the average, however, doesn’t mean it’s the end-all-be-all. Timelines can also depend on how much work your site needs. For example, if you have a high-quality site that only requires some fine tuning, then you could very well be looking at a quicker turnover. If you need something built from scratch or haven’t updated your website in a few years, though, you could be looking at even longer than the 12-16-week estimate.
It all comes down to what your business needs. Things like landing pages, the number of pages overall, your target audience and what plugins you include can all factor into how long the design process will take.
But First, Ask Why
Why are you building a new website?
The first step of your website design is to clearly define why you’re building a new site. What are you hoping to get out of it? The answer to this question establishes the purpose of your website build and can help an agency deliver an acceptable product.
Once you define why, go a layer deeper and set some goals for your new website. If you’re looking to increase revenue, by how much? If you have determined you need a more cohesive and effective user experience, how will that be measured? Once you’ve clearly defined what you need out of a new website, you figure out the elements needed to accomplish those goals. The number and complexity of those elements will have a big impact on your timeline, so it’s important to understand them up front.
For example, lots of website development is geared toward e-commerce. Businesses need a place to display their products, portray their brand and engage with customers across the globe. With this in mind, think of how many components are included on your favorite online store’s website. If your goal is to buy and sell through your site, there will be a lot of backend elements to add and optimize for your customers to have an easy, problem-free experience.
Another common reason for revamping a website is to improve digital marketing. Maybe you’re hoping to see positive search engine optimization (SEO) results after a redesign or create a site that’s more compatible with your content management system. In this scenario, a designer might have to focus heavily on your website’s blog or how it interacts with another program to easily convert and publish text.
All in all, there should be a higher purpose for your web design. “I want it to look nice” simply isn’t enough of a reason to create a new website, and it might lead to extra weeks or months trying to get things just right because you didn’t have a clear vision in the beginning.
Is your project a new website or a redesign?
Step two of any custom website build is defining what type of help you need. Are you redesigning or building a fresh website? The amount of work varies with either option, as does a realistic timeline for completion.
Most of the time, new websites are for new brands. That means your agency will need to build all the foundational elements of your brand before the website work can begin. That includes:
- Logo (with vector files)
- Brand colors and guidelines
- Copy for your website pages
- Imagery for your products, team and/or location
Because web developers are often working from scratch with a new brand, there’s very little information they can draw from to see what does and doesn’t work with its customers. This can often extend the amount of time it takes to create a comprehensive site because the designer will have to decipher functionality and the user experience from scratch.
If you have an existing website that needs a redesign, then lack of data won’t be an issue. Developers can use your existing site as a kind of template for their new build, preserving your brand’s integrity while making sure your website looks current. They can draw on past user engagement to improve conversion and user experience. All of this existing information lets your website team use data to inform their design decisions and makes the most of your investment
Elements of a Successful Website Build
Research and planning (4 weeks)
Every project requires research, but especially web development. If you don’t know what your competitors are up to or what’s not working on your site, then you won’t have any idea of which direction to move in for success. The entire process of designing your new website should be based on your internal data and what your competition is doing. These two things can help you offer better service, easier access or more engaging content; whatever your brand needs to bring in more customers.
Speaking of customers, your website will be a conduit to deliver your brand message to them. To get the most bang for your buck, you want to make sure your message is clear, concise and compelling on each of your web pages. Let your customers know exactly what you do, in as few words as possible, and put that sentence front and center on your design. This is your one-liner; the sentence or two that you use to quickly tell someone what you do.
The final step in this initial phase is to get everyone on the same page. I can’t tell you how many website projects I have started, only to have key decision-makers change their minds on foundational elements halfway or more through the timeline. Get all decision-makers on the same page from the start.
It can help to create a website mockup or blueprint (also called a wireframe) so your web team can see where the main focus is and which aspects are standing stage left. Building a website takes a unified vision and universal understanding, so once you have your message nailed down and have utilized available data, use your team as test subjects to see if the overall vision was successfully realized.
Website Design + Development (8 - 12 weeks)
The second phase of web design is what takes the most time. Even if you’re pursuing a redesign instead of starting from scratch, there are lots of factors that contribute to the timeline and cost of web development.
The design phase is focused heavily on the style of your website, so if you aren’t sure about things like color scheme or layout, this might take some time. We start by designing the homepage, which will set the tone for the whole site. The development phase comes next, which is when developers add in text, plugins, headers, footers and all the other little backend doodads that make your website work. This is often where the bulk of the time is invested in a typical website design.
As mentioned before, timelines are always variable. For example, a simple 5-page website might be designed, developed and ready to go live in just eight weeks. But the more pages you add or customization you need, the further your timeline extends. A good guide to use is the front-end functionality on your site. If there are lots of buttons, options and places to go, it’ll take longer to develop than something more straightforward.
Additionally, if your website needs more advanced functions, such as an online checkout for ecommerce shops, third-party integrations like PayPal or uniquely designed and developed pages, then your timeline will almost certainly be extended. Basically, the more a developer has to manipulate the HTML and CSS codes for specific functions, the more time the build will take.
Can my website be designed faster?
Even after reading all this, I bet you’re still wondering if it really takes 12-16 weeks to build a website. The short answer is yes. If you want a quality website, that is. But to help you further wrap your head around why you don’t necessarily want to value speed over quality, we can look at the project management triangle.
The triangle consists of the three main aspects of any project: quality, cost and time. The catch is that you can only have two. A high-quality website might carry an average cost but take more time to complete. Alternatively, a quick turnaround time could carry the same price but produce a subpar product. So before you hire someone for your website project, consider which of these two elements is most important for your business.
Building a comprehensive website that will resonate with your target audience and convert prospects into customers takes time. Plain and simple. Aside from the technical design aspects of your website, developers will also need time to understand your business and goals. Having a comprehensive view of how you want your brand represented and what you hope to achieve can help them know which features will add value to your site and move you closer to your goals. You want to allow time for your web designers to think through how they can adjust your website to showcase your brand effectively and efficiently.
If all of this sounds well and dandy, but you still need your site up as soon as possible, there are a few options for you. You could try doing it yourself. Anyone can build a WordPress website with their user-friendly tools and drag-and-drop widget setup, but I suggest revisiting my introduction. Even with a simplified design, using a website builder to DIY your site might seem easy at first, but it can quickly become technical and time-consuming. Plus, depending on how much you’re willing to pay for a pre-built template or membership, you might not be able to customize your site outside of the options included.
We offer a few different template options for businesses who need simple websites that can get off the ground quickly. These are less customizable than standard options, but can be more cost effective and have shorter timelines than a full-blown web design.
👉 Check out Why Your Website Redesign Costs So Much