We’re often faced with prospects who are looking to revamp their current 50, 75, or even 100+ page website with a brand new conversion driven website and have it live within 3 months. They’re then immediately shocked when we let them know that delivering what they truly want is really going to take a minimum of 6 months and maybe longer depending on a number of factors ranging from total scope of the project all the way down to their ability to keep pace with the large number of review cycles required for such a major project. Because of this I thought it would be useful to produce a post to clarify the process one can expect to go through and explain what why a firm should plan for these longer lead times.
For those of you who aren’t interested in all of the detail and do not want to consume this entire post (I won’t be offended because it is a longer one), you can simply follow this model:
- Planning: 2 months
- Design and Copywriting: 2 months
- Development: 2 months
- Testing: 1 month
So, why does it take so long?
Well, this is where the answer gets long so you’ll have to bear with me. To answer the question involves understanding the importantance of each phase of the engagement and understanding what is involved.
At Rattleback we blend our planning with our prototyping process. We consider it the most important phase of the entire engagement. It takes a minimum of 6 weeks and could take as much as 8 weeks to prototype a full website especially if integrating a responsive nature to it for mobile.
Our goal with building out a prototype is to guide our clients through the process of thinking through the entire digital experience. This involves thinking about every angle ranging from the structure of content, to the required functionality, down to the meat of the site, which is the conversion process. The end result is delivering a very bare bones functioning version of the end website.
What we’re after in this phase is thinking through more than the content architecture and diving down into the functional requirements such as content tagging systems, the entire conversion process including CRM and automation platform integration, use of dynamic CTA’s, static CTA’s, and progressive profiling. We also aim to think through the best way to convey expertise through presentation of past work and aligning team bios to their original insight driven content and even their past work. And when thinking through a mobile site, we’re doing this all over again in a separate prototype where we again think through with our clients how to deliver these exact same needs only through a mobile experience which is a totally separate experience for the user.
The point I’m making here is there is A LOT to think about when building a website that goes beyond architecture and design. For our clients benefit we make sure they have enough time to think through each component of the web experience their brand is offering and to do so in a process that ensures they give it their full attention. Because the decisions made are going to impact their brand, their user experience, and not to mention the overall scope that drives the end budget and timeline for delivery. More on exactly what prototyping is can be found here.
Design and Copywriting
These are the two areas we’re all most familiar with when it comes to web design, as it’s what we most relate to. It’s where the “look” of the site is established and the words that appear on screen are originated. To get through the design and copywriting phases effectively we plan for another 6-8 week process from start to finish. The reason is because the process is actually split into three separate phases:
- Copywriting: This is the phase that can happen in tandem with design and development. However, it takes an extremely long amount of time from start to finish. To explain why can best be done through an anology. If you think of how many pages your site has (40, 60, 100, more?) you can look at your site as a small book. And every page needs some amount of content and all of that content needs reviewed, edited, and approved. It takes a very long time to think through the exact tone of voice and message you want to represent your brand on each of these pages.
- Concept Design: This again is one of the more important stages of the entire process as it’s the phase that establishes the entire look and feel of your site as well as the user interface your users will engage with. In this phase the design team only focuses on 2-3 key pages but does so in an extremely thorough process. They’re taking the time to explore layout, photography style, image treatment, fonts, navigation menus, rollover states, stylizing of forms, etc. To get through this process effectively the design team needs a minimum of 2 weeks to think through each element before presenting you with one or two full design concepts. You should then plan for another week or two in order to work through any revisions you have to ensure the end design concept best represents your brand and provides an easy to use interface for your users.
- Template Design: The template design process involves taking the approved concept design and applying it across each template the website needs to render out content effectively. This stage establishes the entire user interface and often involves creating 10-20 separate templates or even more if creating a responsive or mobile version of your website. Because of the sheer number of templates often needed it takes another 2-3 weeks to think through every visual component of the site across each template plus another 2 weeks to work with your team on revisions.
This is the process that will start to feel is moving slow because in the previous phases (prototype, design, and copy development) you were often seeing progress at least once a week. But once your site moves into development, the development team will work non-stop for 6-8 weeks before presenting you with anything. But what they do come back with is a fully functioning website.
So what exactly are they doing that takes so long? It involves a large number of tasks, which are all equally important to the other. Without one of them the whole puzzle falls apart. Specifically your development team is building everything the site needs to live and function. This involves establishing the databases needed to house the content, writing the search queries needed to tell the site when, what, and where to pull content from based on user behavior, setting up the server environment for all of the foundational elements of the site to live within (databases, HTML files, the content management system, etc.), connecting and customizing your content management system so your web administrators can effectively perform easy site updates on the fly, and slicing apart the design files and writing the necessary HTML needed to reference all the visual image assets so users are able to “see” the website and tools available to them. And on top of all of that the development team is also integrating all necessary 3rd party systems your sales and marketing team needs (e.g. CRM, automated marketing platforms, social media, webinar tools, event management tools, analytics, etc.). And that’s not even everything, but I think we’re getting the point.
Because of everything your development team does that quite frankly few people are aware of, I always consider them the unsung hero of the entire process. Nobody likes the time it takes to go through the process especially since you can’t see anything functioning for such a long time. However, you can be assured your development team is working their tail off for you the entire time. And once they’re done what you first see is a functioning website that is beautiful in design, optimized for your sales and marketing efforts, and easy to navigate for your users.
Testing is the one area prospects undervalue simply because “it should just work.” It would be great if it were that easy but at a minimum you should always plan for atleast 2 weeks for testing and it’s recommended at least 4 weeks. The reason is exactly what I just talked about in the development phase. There are a lot of working parts to a website including architecture, content, design, and functionality. Every component needs to be accurately tested and re-tested as adjustments are made. This is because sites at their core run on code. Each browser (Firefox, Chrome, IE, Safari) and all of their individual versions all prefer their own variations of code to display the website to a user. And when code is re-written to make something work one way, a browser that preferred it the other way will no longer display the website the same. This is what you’ll commonly hear referred to as “bugs” in the website. Bugs will always be present at first review and it simply takes time to work them out. And on top of that, testing is the last time for you to catch errors or make edits whether it is text changes, image changes, or catching functional issues before your visitors do in order to protect the quality of your brand.
If you’ve gotten this far I have to give you credit. You officially just read my longest blog post to-date. It’s my hope you found it enlightening and has better educated you on the entire process needed to deliver a useful and powerful website for your brand. Comments and even questions are always appreciated below.