We get this question all the time as website developers and for good reason.
The timeline is critical to the success of any website rebuild—especially if you’re moving to a new Content Management System (CMS).
The short answer is: it depends, but it’s typically longer than you’d expect. It takes more time to develop the strategy behind the rebuild than to actually do the rebuild itself.
Site rebuilds that involve CMS migrations take time. But if your organization needs to reach across multiple user journeys, channels, and touchpoints, then replatforming may be key to offering a personalized and consistent digital experience.
In any case, you can’t rush the process. Output equals input for all website projects. Efficiency is important, of course, but you don’t want to save up for years to revamp your website only to compromise on the time that’s required to build a valuable investment.
Now that you’ve got the short answer, let’s look at the time frame and factors impacting it.
How long it takes to develop your website:
It takes an average of 12 months to develop a website for a medium to large-sized organization that requires end-to-end services including user research, design, CMS implementation, content migration, and integration. In contrast, smaller website redesign projects could be completed in as little as 3-4 months.
But before anything else, let’s clarify some important points:
- The timeline for full-scale, end-to-end website rebuild projects could be quicker, could be longer, but 12 months is a safe average, give or take.
- The end-to-end services involved in a full-scale site rebuild includes digital strategy, user research, information architecture/UX, content auditing and optimization, design, CMS implementation, integration, testing, and launch.
- Small association website rebuilds that take only about 3-4 months on a CMS platform like Higher Logic are outliers. This is because there’s no "building" involved, you’re just skinning what's there.
- There are 11 main factors that affect how long it really takes to build a website in the association world. We’ll look at the variables that impact the project schedule below.
The 11 factors in how long it takes to rebuild your site
1. The availability of your staff
It’s important to be realistic about the availability of team members because it plays a huge role in determining how long it’ll take to complete your site.
For example, association staff often have blackout periods prior to conferences. Those blackout periods extend the target completion date and need to be accounted for.
You also need to be realistic about holidays and vacations as well. Your organization may have four-day work weeks in the summer, close the week between Christmas and New Years, and have “use-it-or-lose-it” vacation time.
And, of course, staff turnover is huge. In fact, staff turnover is the greatest type of project delay.
All of that needs to be realistically accounted for in the website project timeline.
2. Turnaround time
Rebuilding your site is a back-and-forth process between the developer or company who is building your new site and your organization.
This means that your association staff will need accountability in the time frame as well. Do they need one business day to review milestone deliverables? One week?
This turnaround time plays into the timespan.
3. Other tech projects
What other technology projects are in play? Are they contingent on the new website or vice versa?
For example, let’s say your association is replacing your CMS and association management system (AMS) at the same time. Doing so is common but very difficult because of scheduling issues and availability of both your staff and the vendors. You’d have to ask yourself questions like:
- Do we have enough internal staff to support both projects?
- What’s the timeline of the AMS project?
- Will our website project launch get delayed if the AMS company delays on their end? (yes, it sure will).
4. Third-party vendors for integration
Speaking of vendor delays, you must consider the availability and reliability of all third-party vendors that may need to integrate with your CMS or push data to your CMS.
This includes your learning management system (LMS), community platforms, email marketing system, e-commerce, journal or magazine platforms, and beyond.
5. Type of website rebuild
Does your organization want to redesign your site when you migrate to the new CMS? Or are you looking for a “lift-and-shift” in which you migrate the content and assets to the new CMS without doing any redesign?
You really don’t save any money with a lift-and-shift migration, so we don’t typically recommend it. There are definitely times when a lift and shift without a redesign is warranted, but in general, it's not our recommendation. Some clients request it though, and it does shorten up the project timeline a bit.
Related: How to create a budget for your website redesign
But given the ever-changing digital landscape and user expectations, we recommend updating the design of your website and adding new features every two to four years to keep up with web standards, design trends, and any technology changes that should be integrated.
6. User research
Do you want to include user research? For example, do you want to survey your members or constituents?
User research is extremely valuable to the success of your website and association, but it can add two to four months to the timeline.
A simple survey, for example, still requires writing the survey, distributing it, waiting for feedback, and analyzing the results.
7. Upcoming events
Do you have any events coming up? When we do any website development project for our clients, we like to leverage live or virtual event opportunities to gather user research.
For example, if there is an annual meeting during a website project, we always try to draft the website project time frame so that we can go to our clients’ conferences and gather feedback from their users face-to-face.
Doing so though can obviously affect the projected deadline if we’re holding the design phase to wait for next month’s meeting.
8. Other transactions on site
Consider the transactional activities happening on your site. We don’t recommend launching a new site in the middle of dues renewal or peak event registration, for example.
Working around those things can affect the expected launch date.
Related: What is the ROI of a Content Management System?
9. Content migration needs
After staff turnover, content-related needs are the second greatest types of issues that affect the timeliness of your site redesign. In a nutshell, there are three main phases of content migration:
Content Audit → Content Optimization → Content Migration
In our experience though, organizations NEVER realize how long it takes to audit, optimize, and move all written and visual content. It doesn’t matter how many times all of the processes are reviewed, people always underestimate the scope and time.
For one, the manual movement in itself involves cutting and pasting thousands of pieces of content.
And if you need to reorganize any content or redirect any URLs, you have to be very methodical to not negatively impact your visibility on search engines. You want to preserve high-performing content and ranking signals including backlinks and on-page Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Plus, you also want to look for ways to revamp low-performing content when you’re doing the auditing and optimization. For instance, are you effectively targeting your audience and speaking to each unique user persona? Is your content engaging? Are you inspiring conversion and recurring users? And what about the organization and findability of everything?
Related: The Ultimate Guide to Websites for Associations
This is why your content auditing, optimization, and migrating needs play such a HUGE role in deciphering the project schedule and how long a web rebuild will actually take.
Website rebuild projects often require staff training. The extent of training varies by department and role.
So you’ll have to consider when the best time is for your staff members to step away from their day jobs to get trained on the new CMS. Thorough planning is vital to deciphering the duration of your website development project.
11. Project management resources
Some associations hire a Project Manager (PM) to lead the website rebuild project from their side. While a dedicated PM helps to move the project forward smoothly and keep the schedule on track, outsourcing this role (or fully dedicating an internal staff resource) just isn’t realistic or within budget for many associations.
In such instances, an internal team member—such as the marketing manager, communications manager, or IT manager—is often assigned as the project’s PM responsibilities - on top of their regular responsibilities - from the organization’s end.
This assigned PM is rarely given a pass on their regular duties. So he or she is often torn away and unavailable to keep the wheels turning.
Again, it’s important to be realistic about staff availability when scheduling deadlines and setting expectations for how long it’ll take to complete the rebuild.
Summary: How much time should it take to rebuild your site?
A typical website rebuild for organizations that want end-to-end services will take about 12 months. Smaller site redesigns will take about 3-4 months, but these are less common. There are 11 main factors that affect project timeline, of which staff turnover and content migration needs are the largest.
In order to set your organization up for success in the short- and long-term, you can’t just consider what’s easiest or fastest. It’s about developing a cleaner, more impactful website that allows you to more effectively manage workflows, engage your users, and scale your business.
At Brightfind, we do full-scale digital experience makeovers for association and nonprofit clients with one or multiple websites and a range of touch points, user personas, and software. Get in touch to learn how we can help take your website to the next level.