One of the hardest things for companies to do is predict is how long their new site will take to build and launch. That makes sense, right? These companies don’t build sites themselves, so they have no way to know what’s realistic.

There’s also a reason they want to redesign their site – their current site isn’t effective at achieving their digital marketing goals, and they want something new as soon as possible. By the time that most companies start reaching out to agencies, they’re often already 6-12 months behind where they want to be, and they want to make up ground, so there’s a lot of internal pressure to launch a new site quickly. That’s a fertile environment for poor decision-making.

So how do you go about setting a realistic timeline for your redesign? Here are a few tips to help you out:

  1. Don’t be arbitrary.
  2. Define the problem and scope.
  3. Consult an expert.
  4. Know thyself.
  5. Be realistic.
  6. Don’t forget about content.
  7. Remember the myth of simplicity.
  8. Think long-term.
  9. How Gravitate does it.

Don’t be arbitrary

We all want to prove that we can get things done, and there’s no better demonstration than setting an aggressive goal and then meeting it. The thing is, your clients don’t care how fast you launched your site – they care whether your site serves their needs.

“You impress people in your organization by launching a site quickly, but you impress your clients (and build your business) by taking your time.”

Most companies choose a nice round figure or an appealing date, such as “two months,” “end-quarter,” or “by the end of the year.” Generally, these estimates have nothing to do with how long a project should take; they just sound good in a meeting. Investigate how long this should take before you ever start discussing deadlines. Remember, you impress people in your organization by launching a site quickly, but you impress your clients (and build your business) by taking your time.

Define your problems and scope

A website is a tool, not an end unto itself, so define the problems that tool will help you solve. 

What will the new site do for your company that your current site does not?

Once you’ve defined your problems, you can start to think about scope. When discussing project scope, many companies focus on functionality, but there are other factors to consider, such as the size of your site, the level of your competition, the expectations of your audience, and the complexity of your message.

The other major scoping question is how prepared your team is for a redesign. Do you have a style guide? Messaging? Market research? Good content? If your organization can handle these things internally, that’s fantastic, but if not, they should be part of the project scope and accounted for in the timeline.

When you look at everything you want to accomplish, if the list is too long, consider breaking up the project into phases.

Consult an expert – sooner rather than later

Setting a timeline for someone else’s work is a dicey proposition. I could bore you with an analogy (there’s a good one about telling a baker you need them to bake a cake in 15 minutes), but suffice it to say that the people most qualified to define a realistic timeline are the ones who do the work every day.

If you contact a number of agencies, you may hear a bunch of different responses, and that’s great! Just remember that some agencies will tell you whatever you want to hear to earn your business. Follow up and ask about the reasoning behind their recommended timeline. Look through their portfolio and ask how long a couple of projects took and why.

Know thyself (& be honest about your own organization)

Remember, your team is just as responsible for launching on time as the agency is (often more so). Think about how much time your team will be able to devote to the project. How fast can your team provide feedback? If your vendor needs you to pull together some information for them, how long will that take? How big is your team, and how easy is it to schedule meetings? We have found that, for every two hours Gravitate puts into a project, our clients put in about one, sometimes more if they’re working on content or messaging.

A good test of your team’s decisiveness is how long it takes to select a vendor. We’ve had potential clients who set up a six-month vetting process and then wanted a site live two months from selection day. Two months is a very aggressive timeline in general, but a company that needs six months to make a decision probably won’t be able to handle a process that fast.

Be realistic

Often, timelines are based on a best-case, perfect-world scenario, but there are external factors that affect timeline as much as if not more than the project plan. Holidays are a great example, but so are your company’s busy season, vacations, and when one of your key team members is having a baby. Once you select a timeline, look at the calendar and add a day for every day that a key decision maker or content producer will be out of the office.

Don’t forget content (writing content is hard)

At Gravitate, we believe that content should be the focus of your marketing, and the website is the delivery device for that content. A well-designed website will present your content to users in an intuitive and aesthetically pleasing way, but the whole thing falls apart if your content isn’t up to snuff. Not only that, but content has to serve many different purposes now: in addition to providing information about your organization and services, it also has to drive search visibility and site engagement. This is a tricky balance, and it takes time to get right. That’s why more projects are delayed by content creation than anything else on this list.

Remember the myth of simplicity

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

The fact that the Internet user experience keeps getting more intuitive often leads people to the conclusion that the process of building sites is getting easier. To some extent, that’s true; you can build a site using a template relatively simply and easily. But creating a simple, intuitive experience for your specific audience is a complicated process that takes significant time and effort. When it’s done right, you should never know how much work went on behind the scenes, but ignore that work at your own peril.

Think long-term

Remember your primary goal. When you ask many organizations about their goals, they start with functionality – for example, they may tell us that they need a blog, a client login, and responsive design (link). Those may all be important to your success, but only to the extent that they help you achieve your goals.

That distinction is important because your primary goal should be to grow your business. That’s never been harder; 2015 is the year we’re expected to hit a billion websites, so you’re competing with 999,999,999 other sites for your audience’s attention.

With that in mind, does it really make sense to sacrifice quality to launch a little quicker?

number of live websites since 1995

Typical Gravitate timeline

I can save you one call: at Gravitate, our average project is about five months. In the right circumstances, we can launch a project faster, and as you might expect, we’ve also had big projects that took quite a bit longer.

How to Set a Realistic Timeline for a Website Project

It’s not talked about often, but the timeline is the hardest part of the client/agency relationship.

If you asked most clients and most agencies about their biggest point of contention, they would almost always say it was the timeline. The client wants their site up as fast as possible, while the agency wants to do their best work and (let’s face it) has more experience with developing a realistic timeline.

This tension creates all kinds of havoc, starting in the sales cycle and continuing right through launch day.

To see our webinar and more discussion on this topic: