How long does it take to build a website?

This is one of the most common questions I hear. It’s also one of the key factors in the success of your project.

The short answer is: longer than you would expect, but don’t rush it. There are three main factors in a project’s timeline:

  1. How soon can they start?
    High quality WordPress developers are usually booked, so can’t start on your website immediately. There could be some delay from when you first hire the developer to when they actually get started.
  2. How long before a website is ready for review?
    Most designers and developers have a clear process for building a website, and can describe roughly how long it will take to get a website in your hands.
  3. How long before you can launch?
    This final factor is the biggest variable and depends largely on you, the client. It involves reviewing the website, making change requests, and finalizing content.

This information applies to the creation of a custom WordPress website. If you don’t need a custom website, there are faster and more affordable options. Here’s how to setup a WordPress website yourself. With a few hours of work you could have a basic website up and running.

How soon can they start?

If your initial inquiry contains something similar to “…and I need the site live in the next month”, you’ll get fewer responses. You’ll eliminate many great designers and developers because they are booked up so can’t begin immediately.

A better approach is to share your needs and let them describe how they would solve it and in what timeframe. You can then make your selection based on many factors, including their recommended solution, quality of past work, timeline and cost.

There’s no “standard” amount of time that developers are booked up. It completely depends on the individual (or company) and their current workload. My team is typically booked 1-3 months in advance, but it varies. Right now, we’re scheduling projects starting Mar 30th, 2020.

Last year an agency I’ve worked with before reached out to discuss another project. The client was in a rush and they were trying to accommodate. They ended up using a different developer who was available a few weeks before me. When I followed up a few months later, I heard they ran into many issues with their developer, launched later than they would have using my timeline, and are unhappy with the quality of work. My agency contact said: “We so missed your expertise on our last website. I won’t make that mistake again.”

How long before a website is ready for review?

My team uses a three stage approach to website development. We begin with discovery to examine your needs and define a solution that meets your goals. This includes a sitemap to identify the overall content structure, and documentation describing the features and user experience on all key pages. For existing websites we also perform a technical site audit.

We then move to design, where we mock up exactly how all the pages will look across all devices. The completed designs are like pictures of your future website. Finally, we move to development, where I build a website that matches the approved designs and functionality described in the discovery document. The completed website is then sent to you for review, beginning the modification period.

The three stages typically take twelve weeks. Here is a sample timeline:

Discovery Phase

(3 weeks)

Design Phase

(6 weeks)

Development Phase

(3 weeks)

Modification Period

(2 weeks)*

Migration and Launch

dependent on Modification Period*

How long before you can launch?

The final item in the timeline above is “Modification Period”. We don’t limit it to a certain number of weeks – it can take as long as you need to perfect your website. This typically includes change requests for minor bugs or design inconsistencies. I recommend budgeting at least two weeks for modifications.

The best way to get your website launched in a timely manner is to be prepared. This means:

  1. Block out time in your schedule to review and test your website. You know when it will be delivered, and it’s obviously a high priority for you. Schedule it like any other work in your day. The quicker we can iterate through changes, the sooner the site gets live.
  2. Know what content will be needed and have it ready. Planning to have 10 case studies on your website? Write the content while we’re designing and developing the site so they can be added immediately.

The number one cause for delayed launches is incomplete content. No one wants to launch a half-finished website, and content creation is difficult. Consider including content strategy and copywriting in our project’s scope.

Summary: How long to build a website?

A typical website will take 14 weeks at a minimum from start to launch. This includes 3 weeks discovery, 6 weeks design, 3 weeks initial development, and 2 weeks of modifications. It could take much longer if you wait until the end to start writing content.

We will provide a list of dates we will have deliverables ready for review, and the date by which we’ll need your feedback to stay on schedule. Add these to your calendar so you’re ready. If there will be any conflicts (ex: you’re gone on vacation), let us know as soon as possible so we can adjust the schedule accordingly.

The time estimate above doesn’t include the time you spend selecting your WordPress developer, nor the potential delayed start due to their availability. You should be actively researching and hiring your designer and developer team 4-6 months before your desired launch date.

Bill Erickson

Bill Erickson is a freelance WordPress developer and a contributing developer to the Genesis framework. For the past 14 years he has worked with attorneys, publishers, corporations, and non-profits, building custom websites tailored to their needs and goals.

Ready to upgrade your website?

I build custom WordPress websites that look great and are easy to manage.

Let's Talk

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. DLS says

    You need another article titled “How Much Does a Website Cost?”

    …so I can share / post them both, side by side. LOL

    Donna

      • DLS says

        Thanks. I found that helpful also… I love developing and working on sites…but I REALLY dislike the business side of it, trying to close a deal, getting a fair price, negotiations, contracts…But, without the one, there isn’t the other. So, I’m trying to get in and see what others are doing. Thanks so much for taking the time to write. (I am getting better at it. I finally got someone to pay a rate I wanted, higher than another estimate they got and they still went with me, so I must be learning) LOL…even with my ‘unfinished’ site of my own…it’s a bitch finding time to work on your own site, you know?

        • Patrick Finney says

          Thanks Bill:

          I put a small clause into my contracts that allows me to bill if we’ve completed our deliverable and the client delays approval. We apply this whether it is an approval early in the project, or one of the final sign-offs.

        • Matt Whiteley says

          See if you can work on finding designers to work with. I’ve found it very advantageous to work with designers or agencies outsourcing the development process as they find the clients and usually provide the designs. I rarely find clients on my own but have a steady source of work from a variety of designers, small agencies and past clients.

  2. Richard Buff says

    How do you handle quoting with this system? Do you give a range estimate upfront, prior to Discovery, and then whittle it down to a fixed price after Discovery? If so, then is Discovery a paid-up-front phase, maybe with the option for the client to back out if the post-Discovery finalized price is higher than they want to go with? So that the flow from initial contact to finalized quote is: initial client contact > emails > phone call(s) > discovery > finalized proposal?

    • Bill Erickson says

      We provide a fixed bid for discovery, and estimate ranges for design and development. The more we know about the project initially, the tighter the ranges are in the initial proposal.

      On completion of discovery we provide fixed prices for design and development. While the client only commits to the discovery phase initially (waiting until after discovery to approve design/dev quotes), I don’t think we’ve had a client not follow through with design and development.

      • Richard Buff says

        Thanks. Though I haven’t yet done a true discovery phase on a project, I’ve been studying how others do them — typically I refer away something that would require it. Everyone I’ve talked to (or read) has the same experience as you, regarding the client always following through post-discovery. A followup: discovery is a fixed bid, but does the actual price vary based on the project? And are there any ways to introduce limitations or scope to prevent discovery from turning into an open-ended never-ending back-and-forth nightmare? 🙂

        • Bill Erickson says

          In the past year we have had only two sites built that didn’t go through a discovery phase. Those were projects where they wanted to keep the exact site structure and pages the same, just clean up the design.

          I think every custom designed site involves some form of discovery, but most people don’t separate it out. Our discovery consists of:

          • Sitemap
          • A few rounds of wireframes of the key pages (ones we’ll be designing and building)
          • Once wireframes are complete, I write a technical scope of work document, describing how I’ll build all the features

          Before we did the discovery phase, those were all done in the first part of design. But we found that the actual number of pages and features changed quite a bit during wireframing compared to our initial discussions, simply because early on the client doesn’t know exactly what they want. We were providing fixed design/dev quotes on Scope A, and halfway through design (the discovery part) things would change and we’d need to write new quotes for design/dev.

          Breaking it out into a separate stage allows us to understand the high level things and assure the client we can solve those problems, without getting too much in the weeds scoping out a project prior to it being booked.

          Our proposal for discovery includes a description of the key pages and features we think we’ll be building (based on our initial conversations), and the discovery phase is priced accordingly. Projects with more pages and/or more technical review required (ex: auditing existing codebase to determine what we’ll need to rebuild) have a higher discovery cost than simpler sites.

          There are two ways we control the length of discovery:
          1. Our proposal only includes two revisions of the discovery wireframes
          2. The timeline is built around 2 revisions. Initial discovery lasts two weeks and revisions last another two weeks. If too much time is spent in discovery (too many revisions), the design and development will need to be rescheduled, which could result in a 1-2 month delay in the project.

  3. Max Koenig says

    I never thought of that idea. I personally deal with clients that want websites for less than $1000 (custom code) and they often expect a timeframe of less than two weeks, and I’ve had trouble really getting them used to the fact that a good website takes a long time. Thanks, this really helps.

  4. Pelle says

    Great article Bill!
    Have you done your own pagebuilder and themes? I´m real beginner of wordpress but I like it already, I try to find a great pagebuilder or maybe Genesis framework. Any tips/advice for a beginner to start?
    /Pelle

  5. Mary says

    Is a 4 week timeline for a site that’s more than 5 pages, needing custom dev. from scratch realistic?
    I received a quote for 24k . Is the timeline too short to create a really well thought out site?

    • Bill Erickson says

      Is it 4 weeks only for initial development, or does that include design and/or revisions?

      The large projects I build typically have 20-25 unique page templates, cost $25-35k to develop, and I schedule them for four weeks of initial development (site ready for review after 4 weeks). There’s typically eight weeks of design and revisions before that, and another eight weeks or so of development revisions after it. Basically double all the time periods listed in the sample timeline above.

      • Mary says

        They want the whole project completed in 4 weeks, custom design, custom dev, revisions, review, changes, testing, QA etc. I think it sets us up to miss the project launch date wanting a site done so unrealistically quick when they have more than 3 people reviewing and approving.

      • Bill Erickson says

        I think they are either being very unrealistic with the timeline or they are not doing custom design & dev, but rather tweaking an existing WP theme.

  6. NetSearch Perth says

    I have always thought of launch as completion. But, it makes sense to tie payment to deliverable. The time frame on when the modification period ends make sense too. Thanks also, for the link to the article, it was super helpful too.

  7. Nirav Dave says

    The completion of a project always depends on the scope of work and as such, the project delivery timeline differs. However, the general estimate that you have mentioned here is fairly accurate and can help clients get a better understanding of web design and development process. Great post, Bill. Also, thanks for sharing the sample timeline graph. It was really helpful!

  8. Benoît Chantre says

    Thank you for this great article Bill.

    It seems each new phase starts immediately after the previous one. Does it mean that you expect a immediate feedback from the client or did I missundestood something? How long generally do you give them to give you a feedback.

    I’m also curious to understand the differences between the initial design phase and the second design phase. Does it mean the following workflow: 2 different designs applied to a few page templates, then in the second phase all page templates from the choosen design?

    • Bill Erickson says

      Yes, we typically require 24-48hr turnaround for client feedback during discovery and design. We try to position the larger initial reviews on a Friday so they get the weekend plus 1-2 business days.

      Correct, the first design is usually a few key pages like home, single post, and archive. We then go through 2-3 revisions based on client feedback. Once those are approved (or the remaining changes are fairly minor) we move on to mocking up additional pages.

      When we book a project we put together a kickoff document that includes a more detailed timeline (example). We make sure the client is available during the specific days scheduled for review, and ask them to add those to their calendar. If there are conflicts (ex: upcoming vacation) we’ll rearrange the schedule to accommodate.

      Some clients look at the schedule and know they’ll need more time so we extend the process. While a normal project will have 6 weeks of design, we’ve stretched this to 9 weeks for a client with a lot of stakeholders who knew they’d need more time for reviews.

Leave A Reply