The timeline for designing new websites depend on many things. Obviously, the largest determining factor is how big the site is because the design and planning process can vary depending on the size and complexity of the website. Also, you have to allow for more time if you wish to include pieces like online shopping carts and catalogs, blogs, integration with other sites, connecting to third-party data sources, content migration, and other types of non-standard add-ons.
Let’s explore what goes into designing a small business website and how a typical timeline would work.
As with any project, the clearer you are about what you want, the easier it will be to communicate that vision.
Your chosen web design firm should have a discovery process of some kind. Whether you have no idea what you want or have sketches of every screen, they should still dig in to make sure both parties are clear on the objectives. It is better to clear up any assumptions and misunderstandings at the start vs. at the end when it is expensive and time-consuming to resolve issues.
To prepare, ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I trying to achieve by building my website?
- What other websites do I like? (whether in your industry or not)
- What are the URLs of 3-5 of my primary competitors?
- How do I want my visitors to view my company? I.e. classy, corporate, contemporary, traditional, eclectic, etc.
- Who is my target audience?
- What type of messaging do I want to communicate?
- What action do I want my target audience to take?
- What assets do I already have?
- What is the budget I have allocated?
- Will I have the resources to quickly provide assets and feedback?
You don’t have to have all the answers, and you can be fuzzy on your vision. That’s the job of the web design firm - to help you walk through the process to figure out what you want or need. It may take a bit longer to go through the process, but it is well worth it in the long run.
Next, make a list of features that you would like to have on your site and determine which ones are optional or required. These features may include things like:
- Live chat
- Newsletter and email opt-in
- Video gallery
- Contact form
- Shopping cart
- Web analytics
- Password protected content
- Multi-site capabilities
- Content moderation
- Integrations with other systems such as a CRM
Make sure you have everyone who has decision making power over the website fill out a survey or at least provide their input at the start. Not having stakeholder input at the start usually causes delays at the end. Everyone has thoughts and opinions - get them out in the open as early as possible.
Website Design Process
A pretty simple website with not many pages and no extra functionality usually takes about eight weeks, give or take. A more complicated or larger site can take anywhere from 12 weeks to 6 months or more. A lot of this time is dependent on the client. Good preparation and quick responses to questions and requests can dramatically impact the design timeline. Let’s go over the basic process involved in designing a new small business website.
Discovery and Site Architecture
Website design usually begins with a survey or discovery process. Depending on the size of your website, this can be pretty quick or take a while if you have complex requirements and existing content. Make sure to take inventory of what content you want to migrate over if you have an existing website.
Our process includes scheduling a call or face-to-face to discuss your responses and make sure we understand the design requirements, expectations, and walk through competitor websites to dissect them (to beat them). The goal is to get on the same page. It’s too easy to assume everyone is thinking the same thing. It’s better to get through assumptions early in the process.
This is a great time to confirm the project scope. It is also when we would determine the site architecture, which is essentially a sitemap and establishes the key pages and how they link together.
Pro-tip: Use web analytics such as Google Analytics to see where your visitors flock to. Make sure you don’t inadvertently remove those pages.
Wireframes and Sketches
We would then start with wireframing the primary screen. A wireframe is essentially a blueprint that represents the different areas of the web page. A wireframe shouldn’t show any actual design elements, but it helps determine what will go where and allows you to visually see if anything important is missing or difficult to find. Wireframes allow us to get something in front of you earlier in the process.
The wireframing process always includes feedback rounds where you provide feedback, we talk through it and make necessary revisions. We do not want to move on to other screens until the primary screen is solidified. It essentially creates the precedent for the other screens/pages.
Once the homepage wireframe is approved, we would move on to the next screens and most likely create them all at once or at least several at once to get them in front of you asap. We want feedback so that we can tweak, update, or change things quickly.
After the conceptual wireframes are approved, we would start designing the homepage. We initially focus on the homepage to create a baseline look and feel that will permeate through the rest of the website. The visual design has to compliment your company’s brand (logo, brochures, collateral, etc.). It has to communicate the culture of your company as well as how you are interacting with your audience. This is where color themes, shapes, and typography are chosen.
The visual design shouldn’t be completed in a vacuum. You should have input at the start and through various revision rounds to make sure it’s exactly what you want and need. At that point, after the feedback and tweaking are completed, we would move on to other pages. Subpages would utilize the style that was defined when the homepage was approved.
Note: When reviewing designs, make sure to ask your developer to provide a mockup that can be seen in a web browser. If they send you an email attachment, you won’t know the actual scale of the image. We normally upload design mockups into a system and provide a URL for you to visit through your web browser. This lets you better see the intended scale and dimensions.
Website Development and Build Out
Up till now, you played a big role in the process. Now it’s our turn. The first step is always creating a development site and a staging site. We can work on development and then when its time we can push those updates to stage for you to review.
Note: It is usually best to make sure your staging server and production (live) server are as close to identical as possible. You don’t want the stress and agony of putting something live just to not have it work.
Internally, we start to build out the architecture of the backend to make sure we account for all the content types. We would also build out functional areas or scoped features. Even though it’s ugly, you should be able to play with the features fairly soon. As the project progresses, we would start to slice imagery and code it into the site as well as create the CSS.
If you are re-writing all of your content or are going to use what you already have, this is when we would work on migrating that content.
For smaller websites, it could be as easy as copy, remove embedded formatting, and paste. For larger websites, we may need to pull content from a database and map it to new fields. If you don’t have access to the existing website’s database and have a large site, we would write a script that crawls your existing website and scrapes content, then cleans it, and makes it presentable for migration.
Under 50 pages of content: It can be done manually.
Above 50 pages of content: You preferably have database access, if not then it could be done manually but would take some time.
Above 500 pages of content: Use either a database migration or scrape.
Quality Assurance and Testing
The website is being tested as it is being developed, but it has to go through an overarching round of testing on various devices. It should be tested on various screen sizes to make sure it looks and functions as expected.
It is best to do final QA after content has been migrated so that you can test with actual content vs. placeholder content.
Any interactive elements should be fully tested and don’t forget to test your contact forms.
Note: when testing contact forms on a development database, your contact email may go to spam because the email is coming from a server not authorized to send email for your domain.
Depending on familiarity with content management systems, you or your team may need some training. You’ll either want in-person or remote screen shared training to walk you through how to use the various areas of the backend.
We go a step above and create short video tutorials on how to use various functions. This way you have a quick < 3-minute video clip of functional areas in case you or your team forget how to update something. Additionally, these videos are great to share with new hires who will be helping manage the website.
Wow, you are ready to get this baby live, huh? The excitement builds, but there are still many details to keep your eyes on.
If we are hosting your website, then we would create the production environment, upload the code, database, and create the DNS records. We would work with you to migrate DNS or handle it for you to make sure any of your other services are unaffected. If you are hosting your website, you would create the account and database, and then we would push the database and code to your server. Once ready, you’d change DNS to point to the new server IP.
Pro-tip: Update your host’s file to force your browser to go to the new server before you change DNS. This way, nobody else can see the new site, but you can see it and play with it on the production server.
Unfortunately, this is where some web developers leave you hanging. Our work is not over once the site is live. You will still need support. Keep in close contact and report anything odd.
If you changed your site architecture, you will want to make sure you look for 404 errors. A 404 is when a page doesn’t exist at that URL. You do not want search engines to send traffic to pages that do not exist. There are various tools that help you find those 404’s. Screaming Frog is one of our favorites. If your website is not live, you can utilize the Hosts file trick to make your computer think it is live.
Note: Whatever tool you use for finding 404’s will most likely allow you to see if you have any blank or duplicate title and description meta tags.
Once the site is live and publicly available, you will want to verify your web analytics are triggering.
Make sure to double check your robots.txt file. It usually resides at yourdomain.com/robots.txt - this file tells search engines whether you want them to put your website into their database or not. We’ve seen this too many times. Someone calls us to do a review of their website and we see that the robots.txt website is disallowing Google and the other search engines to index it. You are pretty much telling Google to keep your site invisible.
Finally, please test your forms again. You want to make sure you are either getting the contact form email, or those submissions are flowing into your CRM. It is better to fix any issues in the first 15 minutes of it going live vs. a month later when you find out that IT didn’t create the email account to which your website has been sending contact submissions.
If we are building your website, we would be in charge of taking care of the above items. As always, we are here to support you after launch.
As you can see, the process is pretty straightforward but requires a lot of communication between the client and the designer. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and that client needs and wants are incorporated into every step of the process.
Even though the process described above seems reasonably clear-cut, there are potential issues that can occur at each phase that may cause the timeline to shift and grow.
- The more forethought about the design and any documentation that the client can provide is always helpful. If the client is unprepared or doesn’t have some clear ideas about the design and site makeup, much more trial and feedback will have to be part of the process and could end up taking more time.
- If the client has ever-changing tastes or indecisiveness creeps in, then the design can take much longer to be finalized.
- Waiting on client responses to questions can also impact the timeline. If the designer has to wait for long periods of time to hear back from the client, then the project could go on indefinitely.
- Sometimes it is better to see the prototype website and work with it for a little while in a test environment before being too critical of the design in its early stages. Some ideas sound good on paper or in someone’s head but don’t translate well to real-world application. Testing the prototype can eliminate redundant or unnecessary redevelopment time.
- The sheer number of pages it takes to implement large amounts of content can also take lots of time to create, so make sure your content isn’t duplicated and that it is clear, helpful and to the point.
- The complexity of implementing some types of functionality, especially if it involves relatively new technology, can have a big impact on timelines. Things like shopping carts and intense page behaviors and complex graphics can take longer to develop.
- Integrating with outside data sources and third-party vendors can also push timelines if they choose not to respond to requests promptly. Also, if they don’t have established methods of communication such as API’s or web services, connecting to them can take time.
So How Long Will My Website Take?
Creating a website or revamping an old website can be a huge undertaking. However, going into it knowing some of the potential pitfalls and challenges will help the project run smoothly and come in on budget and on time. As with most things, if you work hard at doing it the right way and are responsive, you will come out on the other side of the process with a wonderful new website that you will be proud to have represent you on the Internet.
As mentioned earlier, in general, we can typically build a simple, small custom website in as little as eight weeks. But for enterprise level websites, it can take upwards of 4-6 months or even longer.
For the best estimate of how long it will take to build your website, we recommend contacting us with your ideas and questions. One of our experts will be ready to help guide you in the right direction with a no-obligation consultation. There’s no question that we love what we do, and we want you to love the process too!