What kind of website
You can build a website with cloud services like Wix.com in one afternoon. On the other end, you can spend a year or more on development of a website for a large corporation with many demanding user and performance features.
This article focuses on mid-sized company websites, since that's where the bulk of our experience is.
I'll try to briefly discuss what drives the total time spent on building a website, and give you rough estimates for company websites with some level of complexity and quality.
Considerations before build
When can the build start?
When you go for a custom build, bear in mind it's work done by specialists. If they're good, and you should definitely want the good ones, they will usually have open and on-going projects, and will have to schedule yours some time ahead.
A good rule of thumb is to expect at least a month or more for scheduling supplier capacity. If you're in a rush, some developers might find a way to schedule you faster, but it usually costs considerably more.
There could be a number of internal stakeholders with different goals for the new website. Marketing, sales, human resources, back office, … depending on what features you want from your website. The more internal people are included in decisions, the longer it takes to complete the whole website.
Small companies run by a general manager who has sales and marketing responsibility can include just that person, and move forward rather quickly. Larger companies with managers dedicated to each specialization will require careful planning to assure effective cooperation.
If there are three or more stakeholders on the client side, we usually raise the expected time for consultations and feedback sessions by 50%.
Pro tip: Make sure your communication is effective - all persons involved know their role, there are clear decision rules to avoid stalemates, deadlines are met, and feedback is relevant and up to the point. Software tools such as collaborative documents or planning/ticket systems are great choices over long threads of e-mails or urgent phone calls.
Over the years the one factor that stands out in relation to keeping deadlines, is project management. Having competent project managers on both sides can make a difference in delivering the website on time or spending twice as much time on unclear communication, requirements, and endless meetings.
To read more about approaches to project management, check out the article At the Crossroads of Project Management from our colleague Daniel.
Discovery and analysis
Discovery and analysis as phases are critical to building a website that achieves your goals.
Web developers often ask you for a description of what the website should look like, how many pages to expect, and what features are needed. If you already know what works best for your company website, this step certainly accelerates the build.
If you don't feel confident about what exactly your website should look like, don't worry. You need to know your business goals and hire a specialist to help you figure out which website solution is the best one to reach those goals.
The new website should reflect an online marketing strategy aligned with overall business strategy, goals defined by company stakeholders, defined [personas] and user stories, corporate identity package, and others. This can all take a considerable amount of time.
Your budget and importance of the website for your business will influence how much time and resources you can spend on these crucial initial phases. For some, it's 10% of the total time available, with websites with serious impact on business goals it can be up to 30% of the time or even more.
The result of this phase is a detailed technical specification for developers and wireframes of the new website to be used by designers in the next stage.
From our experience: Making even large-scale changes at this phase is quite cheap compared to modifications in graphics design, or worse, in a website which is already complete. Wireframes and specifications are just mind-based models to mimic what your solution will look like. Don't be afraid to experiment with them, especially if your idea of how the website should work is not quite clear at start.
Time spent : 4 - 8 weeks depending on complexity.
The graphic design phase can be as easy as buying a template if you're using suitable CMS or hiring a rockstar designer for a custom-looking website aligned with your company's visual identity.
Building a serious company website while using a graphic template is not that common, so we focus on custom design. Competent designers can deliver the first version of layout within two weeks if the website is not too complex. How much more time it will take until the final version is usually very variable, depending mostly on how many stakeholders can comment on the design, and how fast the feedback loop is.
We've seen designs being approved with just minor edits after three weeks, but also demanding clients taking over 3 months to arrive at the perfect look they had in their minds.
Pro tip: When it comes to graphics design, don't fall in the trap of making subjective decisions based on the opinions of a few stakeholders. Try to be in the skin of your website audience. If you can do that, test the design with your potential visitors.
Time spent : 3 - 6 weeks depending on number of unique pages
A great website requires great content, whether text, images, or perhaps other multimedia. The client needs to dedicate enough resources to deliver these within the right time. Some parts of content can be created in parallel with the website build, others need to be ready before development starts.
Ideal content timeline :
- In the analysis phase, wireframes should already respect content layout and organization, which should not be changed in later stages.
- In the website design phase, the designer should provide a style guide on content formatting that will applied to all of the content. Also, design usually defines sizes and layout positions of images or media used on the website. You need to have final content provided at this stage if the design is critical to it, for example infographics sections.
- During development, sample content is usually used to test the functionality and style of the website. Having the final content there is an advantage, as you can skip one QA step (see further).
- If the content is finalized after development, a tuning phase should be part of the QA process to make sure there are no style or functional errors induced by it.
Client ability to deliver content is a major factor in total build time. Keep this in mind and ensure there are resources on your part dedicated and responsible for it.
How NOT to provide content:
- Having no idea during analysis and design phase of what the website will contain.
- Making large-scale changes to functionality during development to accommodate for newly added content. For example, changing previously approved navigation, building complex filtering features, etc.
- Adding content late after launch, completely ignoring the need for QA steps.
Time spent : runs parallel with other phases, client dependent
Programming and coding
After you have the business logic in place, wireframes and designs have been ironed out, then comes the time for the programming and coding, based on the technical description from the initial analysis phase.
Here lies the black box for many clients who are new to web development, and don't have an idea what could be a realistic time frame. You can either trust your development partner in their estimates, or hire an external technical oversight consultant to make sure you're getting the best service. In fact, we rejoice when the client has hired a technical consultant because it means we'll communicate with one of our own, and can work more efficiently.
Read the article WordPress, Pimcore or Gatsby? - helping you choose the CMS for your company website to get an inside review of some current options on how to approach the CMS side of developing a website.
The total time spent on programming and coding is usually the biggest variable. Even a simple website can take a couple of weeks, while the more complex solution easily stretches to a couple of months and even up to a year. Some development processes are interdependent, and no matter how many developers you assign, the time cannot be reduced beyond a certain point. The old classic saying that nine ladies won't give birth to a baby in one month applies well here.
Pro tip: A good supplier will discuss your choices and their position on the value-for-money scale. We are sometimes asked to develop certain features that make no sense, for reasons like: "XYZ competitor website has it as well". This could add a number of man-days of development for no significant benefit. Details such as these should be ironed out during analysis.
There are different levels of quality when it comes to programming and coding. Even though the website might appear the same at a first glance, differences become apparent over time and the amount of use. It's only up to the client to decide how important the code quality is, and how much resources can be invested.
Quality means how well the site works on various devices, how fast it is loading, whether it's stable under higher traffic, whether it's secure against intruders, and how the technical solution will age.
Time spent : 6 to 16 weeks depending on the scale and quality requested
Quality Assurance and Testing
The final part before launch is quality assurance and testing.
Quality assurance means that ideally someone other than the developers who built the website verifies that all requirements laid out in the initial specifications are met. No custom work is bug-free, and this extra step helps to deliver a website working correctly for testing.
Pro tip: If you have invested enough budget and thought into development, the website should be accompanied by all sorts of automated tests that verify whether it's operating as intended. It helps to accept or refuse the development result as delivered, but some technical knowledge on part of the customer is definitely desirable, should this be part of the QA.
You can perform testing simply by showing the site to someone not included in the development process, and watching if they successfully accomplish their goals. Or you can go all the way with eye-tracking monitors, large groups of recruited testers, and statistical analysis of the data gathered.
Testing might result in amended requirements for the site. If the initial discovery and analysis have been done right, you should expect only minor changes that won't delay the website launch.
Time spent : 2 - 4 weeks depending on scale
Here is a quick overview of the key phases for building a custom mid-size company website. These estimates originate from Kurzor's core value to strive for excellence in our craft. We disregard alternative building strategies focused on faster delivery, which can result in poor quality.
|Discovery and analysis||4 - 8 weeks|
|Design||3 - 6 weeks|
|Programming and coding||6 - 16 weeks|
|QA and testing||2 - 4 weeks|
|Total||15 - 34 weeks + content|
The big range in the total time is dependent on two major variables: the scale of the website itself, and how fast the client can deliver inputs, feedback, and comments during the building process.
To summarize, here's what to do and what to avoid in website production:
- Do not underestimate the analysis/discovery phase, allocate enough time for it, and plan to perform most of your experiments and feedback here.
- Graphics design should always be judged based on the proposed target audience of your website, not by subjective opinions of a few biased individuals.
- Listen to your developer carefully, and take their advice on key value for money metrics of the features of your future website.
- Provide content as soon as possible during development. The later it is included, the more issues you can expect.
- Don't rush your website launch, and prepare for a reasonable QA phase, especially if you have decided on custom development.