It seems like I have this conversation about once a week:
Me: Hi, nice to meet you. How can I help you change the world with a new website for your association?
Client/Prospect: Hmm. Changing the world is nice. What I really care about is how fast you can design and launch my new site.
Me: Well, it depends. Your site looks like it has around 1,500 pages so that will take a while. Do you have committees or other stakeholders that need to review progress and give approval? How many systems do you have connected to your site? Are there any special functions or applications that need to be rebuilt?
Client/Prospect: Those are good questions. But I’m afraid I don’t know. What I do know is that I promised our board president we would launch the new site at our annual conference.
Me: Oh. I see. Well, when is your conference.
Client/Prospect: In three months.
Me: <blank stare>
To be honest, the answer is usually actually somewhere between 4 and 8 months. But that’s still not enough time.
Here’s what you need to know.
The average association website redesign takes about 9 months.
That’s from kickoff to launch. For a basic site. No frills. Yes, some are quicker (we’ve done them as fast as 3 months). And some take much longer (we’ve worked on some sites for up to 2 years).
So why does it take so long?
First, there are many phases to a redesign including discovery, design, development and more than just creating new color schemes. For a better overview of the steps and timing, check out this infographic of the redesign timeline.
But beyond the basic requirements of the project there are other factors that extend the project timeline including:
- Old Technology – The average association website has not had a redesign in at least the last 3 years. Many are much older than that with the last design being more like 5 to 7 years ago. This is going to require a complete migration to a new Content Management System (CMS) in order to deliver the features your member are looking for (and see in other websites).
- Lengthy Approval Processes – Associations are wonderfully collaborative institutions. But sometimes that collaboration gets in the way of the timeline. Instead of one meeting and a couple days of review/feedback turns into 3 meetings including all department heads, committees, board members, etc. One week quickly stretches to one month.
- Systems Integrations – Association websites need to at least integrate with an association management system for single sign on. However there typically are other systems to combine including private communities, journals, advocacy, event registration, etc. Most of these integrations are standardized but some require custom development (especially if the systems have not been updated in many years).
- Volume of Content – To quote Douglas Adams, “Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is.” You know what else is big? Association websites. While many corporate websites top out at 200 pages, an association website with 2,000 pages is quite normal. Each page needs to be moved from the old site to the new one. That doesn’t even take into consideration if the pages need rewritten or to have the layout refreshed.
There are also other potential project deliverables that add value and ultimately make for a better website. But these also add to the timeline.
- Research and Discovery – An investment in collecting user input and identifying needs delivers a truly engaging and resourceful site. This research includes surveys, interviews, focus groups and other research tools.
- Responsive Web Design – It is almost negligent to build a website in today’s online world that doesn’t respond to the wide range of mobile devices. However, this adds a level of development complexity to the project. (For more on responsive web design, see this blog post.)
- Usability Testing – The discovery process usually includes basic usability testing of your current site. However to ensure long term success, it is better to test your concepts and direction as you are developing your new site so you can quickly engage and deliver member value.
- New Content – Content is the main reason members come to your site in the first place. However given the age of most websites, the content needs to be refreshed and possibly rewritten. Also, you may need new sections and pages of content.
The bottom line is that this website redesign project is going to take a lot longer than most people expect.
Given all the elements that go into a website redesign it is best to start the process early, not over promise on delivery, and spend the time wisely with an eye on long-term investment rather than short-term delivery.