A successful website redesign project requires the proper investment of resources and ultimately time—from both the client and the agency. However, when setting a launch date, clients can sometimes fail to take into account all that is necessary to cross the finish line.
When meeting to discuss a website redesign initiative with potential clients, we always ask them for their desired launch date or an ideal schedule for the project. Not surprisingly we regularly hear things like “yesterday,” “as soon as possible,” “next month,” or something to that effect. While usually said tongue-in-cheek, these statements are often made with some level of truth to them. The fact is, by the time a decision has been made to move forward with a website redesign, clients are extremely eager to get the new one up as soon as possible—and that’s understandable.
But one of the costliest website redesign mistakes a client can make is to try to force an unrealistic launch date on the project schedule. Timelines should be based more on how long it will actually take to get the project completed (with excellence), and less on what seems ideal to the client. Unfortunately, there is no easy button when it comes to website redesign projects and to do them the right way takes time. Here are several factors that greatly impact the project duration and should be taken into account when setting a schedule and launch date.
Upfront planning and strategy is vital to the project’s success
I’ve never met a client whose motivation for a redesign was simply “just for fun.” Obviously, the decision to redesign is driven by a business objective and ROI is an expected outcome. Today’s websites have evolved considerably, moving them away from being an online brochure, and towards being a tool for marketing and business development. But this doesn’t happen without upfront planning and strategy, which takes time to do it right. Identifying your goals and objectives, understanding your target audience on a deep level, developing a content strategy to meet their needs and creating a site architecture that will provide an exceptional user experience are all critical to the project’s success.
The design process is iterative
If you’re designing a custom website, with many unique page layouts and complex features, it’s going to require time. The design phase of a website redesign is an iterative process, with multiple rounds of edits and often delays in getting appropriate approvals. And because design is incredibly subjective, achieving the client’s vision, while also obtaining buy-in from many internal stakeholders, is something that has to be accounted for in the schedule. You certainly don’t want to rush the design process, nor fail to get proper input from stakeholders. This is all a normal part of the website redesign process, but it does require sufficient time in the overall project schedule.
Content development can be challenging
If there is one particular aspect of a website redesign that clients underestimate, it’s content development. Content is arguably THE most important aspect of your website. It is, after all, the reason that visitors are there and it will be the only reason that they return. This is why we advocate for a content-first approach to redesigning your website, because it requires content to be the basis for strategy, design and development. Regardless of how amazing the design and development of the new website is, without the right kind of content, your website redesign will fall flat.
Once the site architecture and content strategy are in place, developing the actual content—the key messages, copy, photos, infographics, videos and whitepapers—can be a challenging task. Whether you are tackling the content in-house, outsourcing to a copywriter or working with your redesign partner, it’s to be expected that the process will require significant time and energy, so plan accordingly.
Testing, tweaking and optimizing shouldn’t be rushed
Today’s content-managed, responsive websites are complex creatures compared to the static websites of the past. One of the greatest challenges is handling cross-browser compatibility, which requires significant time for testing and tweaking to get it right. Along those lines, responsive design also requires a substantial amount of testing and optimization to ensure a consistent user experience across various devices. There are a lot of critical last minute items that need to be crossed off the punch list before launching a new website, so it’s important not to rush this final phase of the project and allow time to thoroughly test and fix any bugs that might exist.
Project management, meetings, conference calls and emails add up
A website redesign project demands a great deal of project management time, on both the agency and client side. While your agency partner will be leading the project and executing much of the work, the project can’t happen without ongoing collaboration and input from the client. Some clients fail to realize going in just how much is going to be required of them (and their assigned point person) from a time commitment perspective. Most website redesign projects involve many meetings, conference calls, back-and-forth emails and require a lot of internal coordination. It’s highly unlikely that the website redesign is the point person’s only responsibility during the project duration, so the client’s overall internal bandwidth has to be taken into account.
Expect the unexpected
Inevitably, there are going to be unexpected delays and bottlenecks along the way. While they don’t always impact the project schedule, they can. In fact, it’s not uncommon for website launches to get pushed by weeks or months. Whether it’s internal bandwidth challenges, delays in content development or expansion of the original project scope, the schedule can change over time. The point is, setting a fixed launch date in advance is helpful for having a goal to work towards, but announcing the date or planning a launch party around that date can be problematic. It’s always safe to assume that there might be unavoidable setbacks along the way, so you should plan for more time than you might think is needed.
So how long should a website redesign project take?
This question (along with how much does a website redesign cost) is one of the top questions we get asked. And the answer is always “it depends.” Just like a construction project, the schedule will depend on many factors, including the scope of work, the magnitude of the project and the schedules and availability of all parties involved. From our experience, a typical custom website redesign project takes anywhere from three months on the very low end to nine or more months on the longer end. And I would say that for most website redesign projects, six months should be expected as an average project duration.
Now, clearly websites have been completed in shorter amounts of time, but when you account for strategy, planning, content development, custom design, content management system development and testing (as well as the client’s other priorities and responsibilities), you can’t expect to turn it around in less than three or four months and it’s safer to assume six.
Be realistic and flexible
The truth is, to design and build a custom website the right way takes time—and lots of it. While launch dates do matter, a schedule should be set that is realistic and allows room for flexibility. The desire for a new website shouldn’t trump the necessity of getting it right.