The question “how long does it take to build a website?” is one of those inquiries that web folk get uncomfortable answering.

Because it’s such a loaded question, there’s enough variables in play that it’s almost impossible to nail down an overly accurate answer. If I give you a short time frame I risk not being able to back it up when I realize you want to recreate Facebook, and if I give you a long time frame you might become scared and take your business elsewhere. That being said, I’m not going to bait you in with a blog title like that and leave you hanging, so let’s at least look at some averages.

If we look at basic site, we can define it as a brochure style outlining what the business is and what it does. A basic website takes on average between 2-4 months to complete. Outliers of course exist on either side of that range, but most projects seem to fall into that area. On the quick end of the scale communication is clear and obstacles are few. On the higher end of the scale the project was perhaps larger, the scope changed, or there were some hiccups along the way.

One of the most tragically overlooked factors at the early stages of a web project is the amount of teamwork and co-operation that needs to exist between the client and the designer/developer. While the question is often posed “how long will it take you to build a website?”, it’s more accurate to ask “how long will it take us to build a website?”.

Real Talk

A healthy web project is only accomplished by a healthy relationship between you and whomever is building your site for you. Is it going to be bliss or will we return home to find our clothes burning on the front lawn? In order for any relationship to boldly sprint into the realm of “healthy”, we need to have some real talk. We need to answer some questions that might be uncomfortable to address right now, but down the road it’s these questions that’ll keep us humming like a well oiled machine made of people.

Do you procrastinate? Do you have a helpful staff? Do you let them do stuff? Are you stretched to the point that you are juggling 7 projects at the same time? What percentage of timeline targets would you say you meet? Are there any lengthy vacations scheduled? Does your business have a wildly busy period where you aren’t able to keep your hands on the wheel? How many people are involved in the decision making process? Fun exercise: take the answer to that last question and then apply every single other question to each individual.

While some of those might be uncomfortable to admit to, an awareness of them at the beginning of a project can be a huge benefit. A while back it took me 2 months to realize that a client hated taking phone calls because he needed the written record of an email to help him make his schedule at the beginning of each day. Communicating about little workflow issues like that can be the difference between missing a deadline and hitting it right between the eyes.

Target the Biggest Problem Area (Hint: It’s Content)

On the bell curve of web project problems, content is pretty much having the time of its life surfing atop the wave. Written copy, photos, and videos will quickly turn to quicksand if you let them. Getting content out of the way is key for a couple reasons. First, respect isn’t often given to how big of a task it can be. Attempting to tackle it at the 75% stage of a web build can be overwhelming and paralyze you. Secondly, content helps frame the design. A design created without content often uses filler-text (such as lorem ipsum, or some other gibberish) to manage the gaps where content will eventually live. Guess what we tend to do? We use the optimal amount of filler text so it looks perfect. When the content arrives, our perfect pair of 6 sentence paragraphs are suddenly obliterated either by 3 lines, or 50 (regardless, I’ll have to go find a hammer).

Creating content can be a nightmare for many, and the reasons are both plentiful and valid. The most common issue we come across is that many people that are tasked with writing, dislike writing. This ensures that not only does it take a long time to arrive, but that it also isn’t written overly well when it does. Throw in the stress that comes along with writing for their own business and suddenly they’re in a blender of disaster. They don’t like writing, they aren’t particularly good at it AND what they write is paramount to their personal success.

The solution here is among the most under-utilized tools available: the copywriter. Often times people get scared away from copywriters because they’re trying to be mindful of a budget, and as a business owner myself I completely understand. There comes a time however that you need to bust out the scale and start weighing some importance. Is your content going to take you 15 hours to complete? What do you value your time at per hour? Is this going to make you hate your life? Have you considered writing with Google in mind? If this paragraph made your pulse quicken even a little, please consider a copywriter.

Website timelines are hard to nail down because they involve multiple people with multiple skill sets and business styles. To successfully hit a timeline we just need to lay out some ground rules to set everybody up for success. By communicating openly we can prepare for potential issues before they arise, and by weighing the overall value of the tools at our disposal we can ensure some of the harder elements are completed with skill and delivered on time.

If you have any questions about your website timeline, I’d love to hear them.

This post was originally written by Russ Fee of FS Creative in June 2013. It has been updated to reflect new processes and tools.