If you’re looking at the website cost of building or modifying a site, your head might just be turning inside out at the range of options for your project. The low end is really low, the mid range work is clearly better (but how much better? We’ll talk), and high end websites can be either dazzling or puzzling depending on your viewpoint.
So what gives? What’s the difference between the cheapies and the premium products?
Your Website Cost Will Reflect Craftsmanship
At the heart of the issue is the fact that amazing products – from books to homes to websites – take real skill and effort to build. When we want the best results, we need excellent people on the task. Professional mastery requires years of practice and execution, those skills don’t come easy.
Take the old story of the napkin logo billed at $X,000. When the client asks for a per hour breakdown, the line items are “15 minutes drawing time; 15 years experience of drawing logos.”
What Craftsmanship, Exactly?
High end web services will revolve around both the aesthetics of the final product as well as the stability and efficiency of the site long term. It would also not be unusual to weave the website building process in with a larger marketing/success plan (and meeting/milestone plan), since the agency may also be handling your entire advertising or marketing as a package.
I’m not saying that ritzy agencies have a monopoly on excellent websites – far from it. But that is often where you’ll find the largest price tag. Your website cost may be a separate line item on a greater plan of action.
Even in a web-only shop (no capital m Marketing), your high end team will want to know a lot about your business and its plan for the year. They’ll want to strategize with you and make maximum impact upon launch. More time together will be required, but you’ll probably receive a solid plan for months after launch.
As the price scales down, “big picture” talk does too. Next to go is generally development (level of expertise that is), then in-depth strategy, then design. There will be fewer meetings and planning sessions. At the tail end of this line you the site owner will be responsible for much of the site’s plan and assets, so success depends on how much expertise and work YOU can put into it.
Quality Web Design
Here are a couple of targets your web design might need to hit:
- Impress customers
- Convey your brand
- Convert a prospect to a customer
- Change someone’s mind
- Make action easy and clear
Now you may be thinking, “Well of course I want it to do all those things!” and I completely agree.
I’ll go as far as to say that any design, if it does all the things on that list (or the ones that apply to your business) to a high level, is probably a quality web design.
At the other end of the spectrum though, problems occur. Incidentally, this list if flipped to the negative also represents the problems with low quality web design. It doesn’t engage people – maybe they aren’t impressed in that three second window that is a first glance. Perhaps they don’t understand what they are looking at, and click off.
Poor quality web design makes it hard to take action, either by not properly highlighting important links OR by inducing choice paralysis. Given a choice of about five obvious things, we humans are confident. But if too many options are available (think of 100 different types of jam at a supermarket), we start to back off and make no choice.
Let me be fancy for a second here and give you this little gem that will greatly impress your web designer:
Instead of adding more to this page, what elements can we take away?
You will be the toast of the office and possibly the first client they ever had who requested subtractive design. Generally site owners trend towards clutter and “jam all this stuff on there” syndrome. But not you!
Choose the level of service that works best for your website cost plan, but don’t forget the opportunity costs of going cheap.
Quality Web Development
Like we did above, let’s set some goals for web development done well.
- Site is stable
- Appropriately fast/performant
- No observable bugs
- Few or no “asterisks” (my term for critical notes on avoiding specific doom)
- Easy to work on
- Easy to deploy
- Easy to adjust or administrate
- Tech up to date
For everybody except web developers, this is decidedly unsexy stuff. But owners and management know the real cost of keeping technical hardship at bay. What’s the impact of downtime, lagging pages, or security problems? If your blood runs cold at the thought of a site that doesn’t work at all or becomes compromised, then congratulations. You’re a leader! And you understand how important it is to not fall off those cliffs.
Some problems on this list are fixable at a later date, while others have a cost to fix that is hard to swallow. Point being, yes you can always start with something inexpensive – and this is better than not starting at all. But I can’t promise that it will be viable for the next incarnation of your website.
Imagine you have a Ford Focus but you need a bulldozer. Well, that econobox isn’t really helping, now is it? Having brand new tires on the Focus doesn’t bring you any closer to a real solution, unfortunately. Web development can be like that. Sometimes you can retool and revamp, but other times a new start is the best path forward.
There are also plenty of times when the technical scope is so enormous (ever think of the problems that Netflix has to solve?) that the big budget is mostly in the invisible line items. You’ll wonder “how did they spend $XXXXX on this?” and often the answer lies below the surface.
It all hinges on your specific business needs. The good news is that usually there is a solution for you at any website cost point. Weigh all the pros and cons before leaping on the low cost product, but there really are some winners out there.
Website Cost Reflects Our Modern Times
It’s interesting to note that as time goes on, the time and resources needed to build an incredible website have stayed stable or even increased.
I’ll Opine: Websites Used to Be Simpler to Build
As a sign of the times we live in, device size alone has cracked the web design and development fields right open.
Back in my day: We planned for 600, 800, and 1024 pixel wide monitor sizes. That was it!
The biggest pain point of all these different screen resolutions is certainly the loss of control the designer has over the final product. Designers love consistency and making a big splash, and not knowing how much information could fit on the screen at any one time really pulled the rug out from under them.
Responsive design of course is the answer to that, but it also left its mark on the digital landscape. No longer can delicate layouts be shown and then sliced in guaranteed “as-is” high fidelity. Everything needs to be able to shift and move around.
Neither did the problem exist yet of delivering multiple sizes of image/video content for phones vs desktop. To be fair, internet video was nonexistent for some time — not until connection speeds improved dramatically over dial up. (Yes, I am an oldie but a goodie, all right?!)
Today there is a delicate balance of speed, legibility, and retaining creative interest across all sorts of screens. You’ll see this reflected in your website cost because of course your site needs to be mobile friendly, it’s not even a question anymore.
Web standards for browser authors are also being updated at a good pace these days, changing the codebase for new sites while trying not to break the old ones. Products and solutions come in and out of favor as we all evolve.
Search engines get savvier as the years go on, and competition in the digital marketplace is very healthy. At one time it was enough to simply have a website, and now a lot more goes into good SEO and user experience – not to mention accessibility. All around there are more aspects to be handled.
I’m not saying that we don’t have wonderful solutions today that weren’t around in the past. Automation, third party service tie-ins (APIs), testing practices, and deployment strategies are all lightyears away from where they were 10 years ago. No, the old days weren’t the good days.
What I’m getting at here is that to be competitive, you need that higher level of craftsmanship. There’s a lot more moving parts today.
How to Get the Best Web Designer For You at Any Website Cost
My hope for you is as always to get the best solutions for your business. Every business has its own unique situation, so I’m going to pass on to you a series of questions you can ask a prospective studio. These work for every budget, although I can’t promise you that every level will have an adequate response.
- What’s your process to building a new site? (Take particular note of how many steps and phases it entails)
- What are your thoughts on my brand (bring assets) for the market of: __(niche)__? (Say who you want to sell to)
- Do you have prior experience with this niche or one similar?
- Do you have any design samples that are in any way related to my company or my industry?
- Do you have any previous projects that are similar on a technical or scope level that you could walk me through?
- What do you think would be a big mistake my company should avoid on this project?
- Do you have any examples of project you did for an existing brand that shows good brand continuity? (eg Looks like that brand, not something different)
- Here is how I want my business to grow in the future, can you talk to me about forward compatibility?
Lauren Grey is a lady web developer, business-focused web designer, and a todo list whisperer. She enjoys helping businesses reach that next level online with strategy-first creative and technical solutions. Need a hand? She is for hire.
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