As a web design and solutions development firm, we have faced changes in the market, technology, a growing sense of the importance of being online. We have satisfied a wide variety of clients, and have faced a large number of unusual questions. This body of experience is one of the main reasons why clients come to us.
The most popular questions which keep coming up over and again are listed below:
1. How much should a website cost?
When the industry was young, pricing was inconsistent and all over the place. One company go to a high-end agency and spends a few hundred thousand dollars, while the next would get the managing director’s polytechnic nephew to do it in his spare time. ComnetSolutions often took a loss on website projects where client promises future business and bargains for an immense discount or when certain projects were engaged to help build our portfolio. Other companies took huge cuts from a project, only to pass the work onto a freelance designer working in her spare time. Many companies were on the losing end and were left with part of the solution. A website they didn’t quite want nor like, run by a guy they couldn’t get in touch with, and usually a couple attachment students who spent all their time figuring out how to make very simple changes. Over time, the model of a full-service web design and solutions firm was widely adopted and pricing become more closely linked to the actual work that goes into development. Prices have stabilized to the point that you can reasonably spec out a site, propose a budget, and get a fair understanding of what you will get for your money.
The following sections show how best to think about the cost of a website. In some cases, we show you the costs of having a bad website, or no website, for comparison. Click on whichever of the following seems like the best way to answer your question.
Q.What are the elements of a website, and how much should I spend on each?
Websites rarely come in neat boxes with a yellow label showing the price and feature list. Website costs can be deceptive. If you are trying to decide how much to budget, or looking over a set of proposals, you’ll want to know what the bottom line really means. One estimate may seem low, but you might end up paying much more in the long run. Another estimate may include elements that you can more easily accomplish in-house.
If you are looking at completed websites, you may be able to judge the cost of the website from the quality and the functional elements, but some things might also be misleading. Good graphic layout and design isn’t necessarily measured in bulk. A lot of images and fancy animation can be found on cheap sites, while a very simple clean graphic look is often the result substantial planning and work by disciplined graphic designers. Often, the more natural a site feels, the greater the care and hard work that went into its construction.
In many cases an existing website will have something you really like, but the owner may have spent a lot on features that are less relevant to your needs. If you understand why you want a website, and have done a good job of prioritizing your needs, you should be able to confine the costs to those areas that are most important to you. The key is to spend the most in the areas that will bring you the best return.
We have broken out some typical website cost categories and thrown in a range of costs for each. In some areas, you will be able to get more value for each additional dollar spent. In other areas, there are certain value levels and spending much more will not bring any return.
Strategic Planning & Development
Good planning done prior to the commencement of actual design will greatly reduce the overall cost of the website. Redesign is costly, scope creep and loss of focus can derail a project entirely. Taking the time to get all the potential decision makers, in advance, to agree on the goals and process that will be used in development will give you the best chance of getting you what you want for the budget you have laid out. This preplanning is not free, of course. You should account for the time spent internally, including that by the top-level decision makers. And, you will want your design firm involved in the preplanning process to a great extent.
Creating a website involves strategic thinking, analysis of needs and audiences, awareness of where you want it to develop over time. Having the right information architecture and good design notes on how it should look before starting will save a lot of time and money later. How much you should be paying for planning varies widely depending on the size of the project, the type of firm you're dealing with, the management style of your own organization, and whether you intend to be more of a leader or an imitator in the market. Even a small site will require about 10 hours of pre-planning, though much of this may be accomplished in a well-thought out Request for Proposal.
Another element that will increase the cost in this area is the complexity of your organization. It is much more difficult to develop a site for multiple decision-makers than for one. If you have several departments, and each has a different set of expectations, then the strategy development is more complex.
This element will normally use at least ten hours. For every design and programming hour allot anywhere from a quarter hour up to an hour for management. Rates run from $30 an hour up to $200 an hour.
A complex website involves many elements which must fit together properly. Timing is also important, certain steps need to be completed before others can begin. Some elements may have to be redone if not coordinated properly. Even if you have a single designer doing a basic site, the communication between designer and client are a form of Project Management. One party has to ensure that all communications are tracked and nothing falls through the cracks. Not all designers are inclined to spend time managing their own projects, transferring that burden entirely to the client.
Assume that for every hour spent on design or program, at least a quarter hour to an hour will be necessary to manage the project. Project management hours will probably be billed at about the same rate as the design hours. Factors such as institutional complexity and functionality will increase costs of project management in ways similar to their affect on strategy costs.
Web Design and Graphic Design
This should be one of the most important elements in the creation of your Website, yet is often taken for granted. A poorly designed site will drive people away. A site that is difficult to navigate will only frustrate visitors. It is true that unless you're trying to compete in a very tight market, you don't need to spend as much as the major corporations. However, first impressions are sometimes the most important, and this is no less true of how a first time visitor to your Website. Of course, you want to convey a look that is a reflection of your organization's personality, mission, and goals. Remember that many times "less is more". To achieve the crisp, professional look, it might be wise to request a proposal from 2-3 vendors. More than likely, you will receive a range of prices, since each vendor may offer distinct features that will help you build your online identity. (Caveat emptor: Request and call references. There are a lot of fly-by-night Web developers who post information on the Web that is simply not true, or reflective of their organization's capabilities.)
Custom design web development firms typically start at $2,000 (just for the design elements) and can cost more than $20,000. The advantage of custom design is that you communicate a look and feel that is particular to your firm or company. As prices escalate for design, hopefully, you gain the additional benefits of advertising, creating a marked impression in the viewer that will result in some great benefit to the company.
More and more Websites are incorporating database functionality to provide added value to the visitor's experience on the site, and to increase the efficiency of in-house operations.
If your firm uses a database(s) that can easily be updated, maintained, or accessed over the web, your operational costs will almost certainly decrease as a result of adding database functionality to your site. Examples of database development that can help improve your site include:clearinghouse of all electronic media (newsletters, press releases, job listings, etc.);contact information for clients and vendors; product listings; photo galleries; etc.
The use of a database in combination with necessary programming that will allows your site to become "data-driven" will only further enhance the functionality of your Website by providing a means to maintain your site without prior knowledge of HTML programming or HTML editors.
Below are some average costs incorporating database elements/data-driven functionality into a Website:
- Jobs listings - $1,500 to $2,500
- Press Releases - $1,500 to $4,500
- Corporate Rolodex - $1,000 and up
- Corporate Calendar - $1,000 and up
- Advocacy/Action Center (Congressional Lobbying) - $2,500 to $10,000
- Shopping Cart/email processing - $3,000
- Real-time Credit Card Processing - $3,000
Enterprise systems that coordinate activities of wide-spread offices may run more in the $50,000 to $100,000 range.
Website Interactive Features
A Website that just sits there and displays itself may be fine for some people, but chances are you want to know more about what your audience thinks. You may want to know who they are and where they've come from. Some information can be gathered from statistical programs on your site's server, but you might want to et specific personal information from them as well. You might want to ask them what they think about certain topics. Perhaps you want a record of visitors in certain categories so you can e-mail them when news occurs in their area. Information collection can be done with respect to privacy, with plenty of notice, if necessary.
A basic form that would collect an e-mail address, a request or a comment, and a brief profile might cost as little as $100 to develop, while a more extensive set of forms with questions and differentiation that ties into a corporate database might run into the thousands. Interactivity can be enhanced with the addition of many fairly simple tools. Some, such as visitor hit counters have become hallmarks of amateurism, but others are often used and bookmarked by visitors, if useful. Mortgage calculators, phrase translators, on-line calendars, protein parameters translators, etc. are just a few of the thousands of tools that can make life easier. If your site has an audience that will be well served by some such tool, you might consider adding it so that people will come and come back.
Adding an on-line tool should be targeted. Generating fortunes might be interesting for a Chinese restaurant, but useless on a home finance page.
Some tools are available free. If you are building your own site, you might consider adding in a generic tool, downloadable from various shareware sites. The disadvantage is that these tools are often not customizable. Also, other similar pages may have the same tools.
Semi-custom tools are often available through your design firm. The tools may have been prepared for one client and are now in a library, easily customized for others. Prices for such tools start in the $500 to $2,000 range, and may include installation costs.
On-line tools may be custom designed for prices that vary, depending on the complexity of the tool. Say you want to add a function to your site whereby constituents can log on and write a letter to their Senator. Such tools can be programmed, complete with customized and customizable text options.
Multimedia Design: Selection and Usage
Basic Flash animation, which can be done for anywhere from $250 a page up to $10,000 for a medium site. Some Fortune 500 companies have paid up to $250,000 for a 30 second flash intro.
Streaming video clips can be added to your site for anywhere from $500 a clip on up, depending on the nature and the video production costs. It seems obvious, but many fail to realize that a long-loading clip of your executive director talking is not going to keep your visitors on the Website for very long. Animated gifs can be downloaded for free, or built for the project at prices ranging from $100 to several thousand, depending on the need and the type of integration. These can be a nice touch, but should be used very sparingly. Remember the phone message rule, if it's only funny once, don't make people listen to it every time they call.
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