One of the most common questions that people ask web developers is: “How long does it take to develop and launch a website?” Of course, the answer varies quite a bit with the size and complexity of the project. In any case, it is important for developers to establish goals and follow a timeline before embarking on a project, as this keeps the team focused, facilitates planning, and ensures that the final results are delivered on time.
A website project timeline should list the most important milestones that represent the major stages of creating the website. Each stage should be given a set length of time that corresponds to its size and complexity. Also, there is a set of objectives that need to be accomplished in order to complete each stage. A typical project timeline of tasks done before and after a website's launch is as follows:
1. Planning And Discovery
The importance of this initial stage must not be underestimated, as it is the project’s foundation for success. This stage usually lasts from 2-10 weeks and often consists of the following elements:
- Research: Understanding goals, objectives of the project. Also, garnering some knowledge about the company, business models, and internal team structure all go a long way in defining a successful project.
- Requirements and/or definitions document: Clients can bring this to the table, but if not, we oftentimes help. This document outlines, in brief fashion, what the project requirements are.
- Creative brief: A creative brief is not always necessary, but, it is helpful when a client has internal design resources and a third-party will be brought in to collaborate.
- Technical briefs: A must-have document when internal IT or security folks are going to be approving work done or have a hand in choosing technical direction.
- Discovery sessions: 100% essential - for smaller or simpler projects, much of this is the business development process. For larger projects, discovery should be broken into its own phase of work.
- Detailed architecture briefs and site architecture documents: This is the output of the above steps - the project is spelled out line by line in a readable, semi-technical document for clients to review and approve.
- Sitemap: The old-fashioned sitemap is key to having a visual understanding of any project, whether it be an informational site or a complicated application.
- Wireframe (a skeletal design diagram that provides a brief overview of the intended site functionality): Wireframing is helpful to detail interfaces, however, it is not a mandatory step.
Discovery is so important, we have made sure it's a primary component of our business development process. Without discovery, how can any agency know how long a project will take, or even more importantly, how much it will cost? Any agency skipping around discovery - especially for complicated application build-outs - is doing you a disservice.
Once the research and planning are done, the project is ready to move on to the design stage. A major part of this stage is the creation of mockups that are presented to the client for approval. The goal of this stage is to establish a look for the website that the client is happy with and to determine the functionality that the client needs. The design stage typically lasts from 4 to 12 weeks. A mockup, which is a visual representation presented to the client in order to demonstrate the website's intended look, usually includes the following items:
- Initial Concepts: Homepage and/or key interface design. We find it best to start with a key page that is central to a website or application. For a website, it can be a homepage. For an application, it may be a dashboard. Either way, picking a single interface to work on and build concepts for makes everything easier later.
- Design System: The idea of a "design system" is the most popular approach these days to streamline application development, and in some cases, website design. Basically, a design system is a series of pieces, or parts, which can then be built into pages. Much like a modular web design approach, but, often broken down into more specific pieces. By using this method, developers can build pages directly in the codebase and require less iteration and time spent in the design phase - especially if wireframing was already completed.
- Internal page designs: If not using a design system, the idea of designing internal pages piece by piece is still a way to work through the process of crafting an interface.
- Desktop and Mobile views: In the past, overlooked by many. Today, part of the process. It's essential to consider all states of a site. Sadly, some agencies STILL overlook mobile designs. Some projects may want to consider designing mobile-first, but, it isn't always essential.
3. Content Creation And SEO
Not only is it important for a website to have an appealing style and functionality, but it is crucial for it to have great content that will appeal to the intended audience and perform well on search engines. This stage can be time-consuming if it is a large site, taking an average of 5 to 15 weeks, often overlapping with other stages. However, the effort is well worth it. Website content consists of the following elements:
- Key messages: What are the key concepts and thoughts you want to express to customers?
- Calls to action: What goals will you have for customers to complete, and how will they get there?
- Content migrated over from existing sites: There are many posts we've written just about content migration. For some projects, it can be a massive undertaking. For others, it's barely a thought. It must be considered and factored into your project plan and timeline.
- Effective page titles and headings: SEO matters, and key components are your titles and within the content, your headings. This should be considered on a page-by-page basis, especially on significant pages.
- Search engine optimization: keywords optimally placed within content, titles, headings, and image tags: when crafting pages, think of two or three keywords for that page - and integrate them into the content.
What about web applications?
Often overlooked by those building web applications is the fact that interfaces require copy too. Error states, multi-step processes, dashboards... you name it - it needs copy. Those building applications should be aware of this fact and plan accordingly.
4. Development And Coding
Once the design is approved and all the content is ready to be placed, the task of building the actual website can begin. Although there is little to no involvement of the client at this stage, it still takes up a significant portion of the overall project timeline. Informational sites that have 20-100 pages can expect a timeframe from 6 to 15 weeks on average - though it may vary. Web applications are a totally different story.
Also worth mentioning is your development methodology. Agile vs Waterfall means different techniques and timeframes. If you are unsure what will apply to you - that's a conversation to have with your developer.
5. Beta Testing
Once the development of the website is complete and it is fully functional, it must go through a period of testing before launch. The beta testing phase typically takes multiple weeks and should accomplish the following objectives:
- Review and receive feedback from the intended audience and investors: Ask the users themselves how the website or app works from their perspective.
- Ensure proper functioning across multiple devices, screen sizes, and web browsers: Your agency should do most of this, but, you should double check their work.
- Make sure the site looks and functions as per the specifications crafted in the discovery phase: Client and agency need to work together to ensure everything has been completed.
- Ensure that the site has achieved an acceptable level of accessibility conformance: this is an important phase that many clients overlook due to budget cuts or simply a lack of time.
Once all parameters of the beta testing are fulfilled, the site is ready for its official launch. Since all the work of developing and testing is done, this major milestone should be simple and quick, taking only one day. If the website is extremely complex, involving a variety of apps and components it can take a bit longer. The goal should always be a seamless, flip of a switch deployment.
7. Ongoing Improvements
The work of creating a website should not stop at launch. There are plenty of opportunities for the client to gain more from the website by performing maintenance and providing updates. In order to stay competitive in search engine results, new content should be added on a regular basis, and as time goes by, a website may benefit from design tweaks that keep the site’s style current with rapidly changing internet trends.
After looking over this timeline, the process of creating a website may seem more time-consuming than you may have thought, but bear in mind that projects vary a great deal from one another. A simple website could be done in as little as 2 weeks, while some of the largest projects may take over a year. Regardless of the project's size, it's crucial to establish a timeline of stages and objectives in order to facilitate the best results within the shortest amount of time.