As a company that plans and produces Web content for clients, our business hinges on accurate estimates of how long that content will take to create. Project timelines, budgets, staffing assignments, and hiring decisions all rely on this formula, so getting it right is crucial.
Here are the numbers we use, based on averaged freelance rates, experience with past projects, and time spent in various former jobs that could be categorized under “in-house writer-type person”:
Everything is relative, of course. For all but the feature article, we assume we’re looking at a writer/editor’s total time spent on an “average webpage” — a fictional construction that’s useful for estimating purposes, but can be pretty hard to define for an actual website.
Refining the Numbers to Fit Your Site
If you know a little more about the content, you can tweak your estimation to reflect your content reality. These are all going to be factors in per-page time:
- Density of information
- Difficulty of subject matter
- Amount of research your writers will need
- Writers’ skill levels (Do they know how to write for screen reading? SEO?)
- Number of interviews required
- Details of your editorial review process
If you’re assigning an intern to edit a 1,300-word compendium on graduation requirements that needs to be proofed to 23 senior committee members, then your sense of self-preservation should tell you to round your estimate up.
Individual pages will deviate wildly from these numbers, but we’ve found them particularly useful for calculating expected work on a big redesign or content overhaul.
Estimating Work from a Content Audit
Let’s say you conduct a content audit on your existing 300-page website. You find that 52 need comprehensive editing, seven need significant rewrites, and 12 need minor updates or reviews for spelling and grammar. That’s about 127 hours of content work.
You’re in the middle of a redesign, so you add plans for six new routing pages to support the new information architecture, four new informational pages of middling difficulty, and 10 research-heavy profile stories to populate a new homepage feature. We’ll say that’s another 176 hours, for a total of 303.
Divide that up by the number of writers you have on staff and how much time they’ll have to dedicate to their portions of the project, and you can extend your estimate into duration, or the number of working days it will take your content team to complete.
Is it absurd, assigning fractions of an hour to highly idiosyncratic fragments of communication that you haven’t even thought through yet? Yes. Does it help you develop a strategy with which to attack, however unscientific? Also yes.
Free Example Template, No Math Required
While imagining the future in hourly increments can be cathartic, we still prefer to put it in a spreadsheet that simplifies the work for us. If you’ve read this far, you might be interested in estimating content production yourself, so here’s a sample Google Spreadsheet template you can update with your own site’s parameters.
It links your recommended actions in the content audit tab to a tab that applies our time estimates from the table above. You can make a copy, add your own site audit data, change the types of recommended action to suit your project, and adjust time based on your own editorial situation.
It won’t be perfect, and the process won’t make the writing and editing any easier. But it might help you convince colleagues and decision-makers of the real time it takes to produce Web content. Or at least get you sympathy baked goods when they ask for another new webpage by tomorrow morning.