Honestly, this is probably my least favorite blog article to write in this blog series on Business Website Success. This is because, unless I’m talking to you about your specific website project, it is impossible to actually provide accurate pricing for you. Everything we do, and this is the case with most professional website development firms, is custom built.
Whenever I talk to a new potential customer who is inquiring about a website, I can usually tell pretty quickly if they are a good candidate for us based on if they start off the conversation by asking the following question:
“How much is it for a website?”
If you start off by asking this question first (or if it is the only question you bring to the table), you are 95% likely to not be someone we end up doing business with. And you are not likely to do business with any other professional website firm either. If you ask this question first, you are price-oriented and you will probably be best served with a simple, out of the box template site. It is my opinion that if you don’t see the value in a website, and subsequently don’t spend a lot on it – you are focused on dollars and not performance. Or, hold off on a website altogether at this time, and educate yourself on the process of website development and how online marketing impacts your business before selecting a developer.
If you have already read my previous blog posts in this series on planning a website, I wouldn’t expect this initial question of “How much is it for a website” from you. You are already focusing on results and building a website that is a solution for your specific needs (Do you need a minivan or a Corvette?). But regardless, at some point in the process, you will need to know how much you can expect to spend on the site you need, so you can budget accordingly.
So let’s start off by looking at some of the things that impact the price of a website.
Differences in Web Developers That Impact Price
When it comes to price, I’ll admit, no one has ever said to me the phrase, “Wow, your price is cheap.” Actually, I take that back, as I think it happened once, when we were compared to another provider that severely over estimated a project we were bidding on. But, regardless, we’re not in the “cheap price” range for websites. However, from customers that understand the value of a custom designed website project, I typically will hear, “that’s better than I expected,” or “that sounds about right” when providing a quote.
Budgeting can be confusing when you ask one developer a quote on a website, receive a $500 quote, get a $15,000 quote from another developer, and are then told $8,000 from a third developer. Why is there so much variation in pricing? Here are the main reasons:
- Templated Sites vs. Custom Sites – Templated sites have really proliferated over the years, mostly due to the popularity of the WordPress platform. While there are many good templates available, most template sites lack identity and direction – a result of both you-get-what-you-pay-for and one-size-fits-all website solutions. Custom sites, as the name implies, are sites that a developer specs out, designs, and programs to your unique branding, product/service offering, and target audience. In addition to better presenting your business online, custom sites tend to perform better in SEO and in converting traffic to customers; however they require more development time, and thus more cost.
- Single Developer vs. Development Team – A single developer working out of his/her house will naturally have a lower operating cost, giving them the ability to charge considerable less than a design firm. However, they will be limited in resources and without a depth of knowledge in all the facets of modern web design and online marketing. A development team has staff in place for all the different roles involved with a project, including designers, programmers, search engine optimization specialists, online marketers, network administrators, copy writers and consultants.
- In-House Developers vs. Outsourced Developers – Outsourced developers tend to cost less, but have less accountability and typically don’t interface with clients. They also may be overseas, speak a different language (or the same language, but not as well), have little understanding of how your business works or how it needs to be marketed, and can disappear at a moment’s notice. In-house staff work as a team, consulting in person with one another and complimenting each other’s abilities. They are invested in the company they work for, can interface directly with clients, and not are not located in different time zones.
- Cookie-Cutter Output vs. Solution Oriented – Creating the right solution for a client involves more work than implementing a cookie-cutter approach. A low cost quote from a developer usually means they are not planning anything different for your site than what was already done for their last 10 clients.
- Quality and Experience of Developer – A cut rate price on a website usually equates to sub-par quality of work. There is a premium for the top talent.
- Availability – Low cost developers need to stamp out projects as quickly as possible in order to make their margins. When you ring their phone, it means extra time they have to spend with you, which cuts into those margins. Most low cost developers rely on voice mail or are email contact only, and responses can take days or weeks.
- Best Practices – The web has changed dramatically over the years. The process for building a website now is not the same as it was in 2007. Small development companies and independent developers have a much harder time trying to keep up with all the current best practices they need to adhere to. This is why many of these developers are still creating websites the same way as they did in 2007. Investing in a developer that is developing iwth current best practices will return better results and a site with a longer usable lifespan.
- Quality Control – Attention to detail is crucial, but not something you get with bargain-priced developers. Ask your developer what kind of quality control measures they use to ensure coding and content mistakes are minimized.
- Location – The physical location of a developer will impact development fees. Big cities have a higher cost of living and doing business, which will be reflected in the fees from a big city developer.
Website Features That Impact Price
Even when talking to only one developer, there are numerous website variables that impact the final cost that they will quote you for your website. Here are the main variables that a developer will refer to when determining a price for your website:
- Content Management System (CMS) – A content management system (CMS) allows the owner of a website to make their own content updates in-house, without having to pay for (or wait for) a web developer. Most websites are built this way now, but the added convenience and future cost savings a CMS allows does impact the initial cost of the website.
- Visual Design – The extent and quality of the design work impacts the final cost of a website. A visually stunning site will naturally involve more billable design labor than a generically simple design.
- E-Commerce – Adding the ability for customers to buy products on a website changes its structural foundation. There is more groundwork that needs to be laid for an e-commerce site than one that simply displays informational pages.
- Unique Functionality / Custom Site Logic – The more unique your website’s function needs to be, the more labor is typically associated with its creation. For instance, do you have a proprietary accounting software that you want to interface with? Do you have a brand new social commerce idea? Then a programmer will need to start from scratch for your project.
- Total Scope – The scope of your project has an obvious impact on its final cost. Like the blueprints of a house, a bigger scope will increase the final cost.
- Content Creation – If you don’t have existing content that can be used on the website, new content will have to be produced. Creating content and writing copy takes additional labor time that gets added to your project cost.
- Page Quantity – The size of your website impacts the final cost. There is a cost in time and labor associated with every page added to your site.
- Rush Fees – All developers have a production schedule already in place before you ever pick up the phone to call them or walk in the door to meet with them. They have projects with deadlines already established and in process. If your new project needs to be done immediately, usually the only way to make that happen is for development staff to put in overtime, which is an additional cost that gets transferred to you via a rush fee.
- 3rd Party Integrations – Integrating with third party tools, plug-ins, widgets and add-ons can impact the site development cost a little, a lot, or somewhere in between. Cost is determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the requirements by the third party and the ease of interfacing with their tools.
- Design by Committee – There should always be a single point-of-contact and a single decision maker on a project. Websites that are designed by committee have a bloated development process that adds considerable time to the project, and this time is billable. NASA figured this out in the 60’s and assigned only one person to speak to the astronauts on a mission, the CAPCOM. If the astronauts had to listen to and take direction from everyone in the control room, we’d still be trying to get to the moon.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Whether it is just making sure the proper HTML tags are in place, implementing a full SEO strategy with specialized landing page research and development, or something in between, the amount of time a developer spends on SEO impacts the final cost of the website.
- Mobile Responsive Design – In years past, before smart phones and tablets, web developers did not have to worry about mobile responsive design – everything was displayed on a desktop computer monitor and a 10 pound laptop was as mobile as it got. Now developers have to worry about desktop, laptop, small smart phones, large smart phones, and a huge variety of tablet sizes. Oh, and did I mention different platforms too? Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. To create a website that is flexible enough to adapt to all these screen and platform options – and look good in the process – requires more development time which adds to the site cost. So all things being equal, and taking inflation out of the equation, the exact same website built today costs more than it did 10 years ago due to the extra displays and platforms the site needs to work with.
- QC / Testing – Attention to detail is becoming a rarity these days. Quality Control (QC) and testing both deal with attention to detail, and are frequently overlooked, or avoided, by developers that need to keep their costs down or who underbid their projects. It is important that your site is right when it goes live, so ask your developer if this is included with the pricing you received.
- Consulting – If you need ongoing consulting as part of the development process, this can add billable time.
OK, so we’ve mapped out all the things that add to the cost of building the website, but now let’s talk about the costs involved with maintaining the website – the “hidden” costs. Most people don’t consider these costs, but they are crucial to know before you have a realistic idea of your website’s true cost.
- Hosting – The website has to exist somewhere. Much like a business has to rent office or store space for a physical location, hosting is the renting of server space so your site is available on the internet. Hosting costs can vary greatly. If you are paying under $20/month for it, you are on a bulk hosting service, which will negatively impact site performance. If you have an e-commerce website, you’ll need to pay more than hosting of a standard site. In rarer instances, if your site is complex and involves extremely high amounts of traffic, you may need a dedicated hosting service, which can be hundreds of dollars per month.
- E-Commerce Fees (SSL, Tax File, Etc) – If you have an e-commerce website you will have additional fees to contend with. As mentioned above, you will have a higher hosting cost for e-commerce, but you will also need an SSL certificate (pricing varies).
- SSL Certificate – While this was just referred to above as an added cost for an e-commerce website, it is also a good option for any website. Google is putting more emphasis on secured websites, so adding an SSL certificate to your site, regardless of whether you sell products online, is a good idea.
- Ongoing Maintenance – If it’s built, it’s done, right? Not exactly. Websites are never finished. Even if you never change your site content, you still will have to update it to keep up with changing browser standards, new technologies, updates to third party integration, Google algorithm updates, security updates, and a myriad of other external factors that can impact your site. While most of these items are minimal or gradual in their impact on your site, they do add up and are hard to accurately plan for in advance.
- Marketing – People need to know your shiny new website exists before they can go to it. Marketing is crucial to any business, and your website is your business online.
Why You Should Get A Rough Quote First
Whenever I talk to a new potential client, I always steer them to a rough estimate first before diving into a full proposal. It can take time for me to get a full understanding of their business and what they are trying to accomplish, so a rough estimate based on what I think the client needs helps me to first see if I’m on the same page with them. Potential clients also don’t always have a clear budget in mind, so a rough estimate can help clarify whether they even have the budget for the website they envision before I commit considerable resources to creating a detailed proposal. But the rough estimate is not just for my benefit, it also helps the potential client get a feel for the project and provide input before the formal proposal is written up, ensuring the proposal will reflect a more accurate representation of what they need.
Payment schedules will vary from one developer to the next, but some form of down payment is to be expected with follow up payments at particular project milestones. Make sure you know the payment schedule of your developer so you are prepared for the payments as they are due.
How to Reduce Development Cost
The best way to reduce development cost is to cover all the details in advance through the process of proper planning. Determine what you need and eliminate what you don’t, so the proposal you sign is appropriately spec’ed. While you still may have times when changes to the proposal spec makes sense, proper planning in advance can minimize the need for costly change orders during development.
Providing your developer with hi-res and/or vector digital copies of your assets at the beginning of the development process helps control costs. If a developer has to recreate your logo because the only copy you have of it is a scan from a business card, you will have to pay for the extra labor of creating the appropriate file.
As you can see, a lot goes into determining the price for a website. It would be easy to read this Blog post and become quite depressed at all the variables that can cost you money. But a properly developed website can be a valuable asset and a major contributor to your bottom line, repaying for itself many times over. Be wise, plan appropriately and you will make the right decision for your budget and your business.
As to how much your site will cost, now is the time to find out, by contacting us today.
This article is the sixth in an ongoing series! Be sure to visit us often to catch the rest of our Business Website Success articles.