At Austin Williams, we are asked, almost on a daily basis, “What do websites cost?” We can easily ballpark them, but the right answer can take a few days. Why? Imagine two vases sitting next to each other: Both are beautiful, both serve a purpose, both say a lot about their owners… so why is one worth $1.2 million and the other $14.50 after a coupon at HomeGoods? See where I’m going with this? That’s why quoting a website without a true, in-depth discovery is virtually impossible: You have a better chance of picking a winning Powerball number with your eyes closed and fingers stuck together with super glue.
Here are some of the things you need to know about web design and development before starting so you can sidestep those tank traps that can derail a web build in a heartbeat:
- Website design and development is an art, not a product sitting on a shelf. Well, that’s half true. If you need brochure-ware up online fast, go to Wix.com or Weebly.com, and with modest effort, you can have a site up in a few days. I guess the result would be defined as a commodity. (Disclaimer: If that’s what you’re looking for, this article is not for you). Taking nothing away from the technologists in the room, technology is technology. Everyone writes in WordPress or ASP or .NET or a boatload of other languages—but that’s not where the money is spent. The real dollars are spent in the strategy, brand, design, UX, copy and content that ultimately create conversions throughout the site, which equate to a better ROI!
- It takes a village (and seemingly a million questions) to plan, design and build a website.Will your site allow visitors to buy online (ecommerce)? Will it tie into a CRM? Do you need a full CMS or only for the main “hero” channels? Do you want to create or tie-in to an existing database? Have you thought about SEO? ADA compliance? And, of course, you need your site to be responsive, right? There are a million details that go into scoping a website—and that greatly affects pricing.
- There can easily be an extra zero or two between quotes: Quotes are far too subjective. There’s no standardized industry way to price a website. Everyone does it completely differently, and there’s a good chance that a “guesstimate” will come back to bite you if you don’t invest in a discovery session. Don’t believe me? Go out for a quote, and I guarantee you’ll receive ones from $3K and four weeks to launch to $350K and a year to build out. I’ve personally seen spreads of $300K in one apples-to-apples comparison—and that’s no joke! Keep in mind that there may be “site creep” during the build process—when the wheels fall off, and the project hits the skids. To avoid it, you must understand what you’re paying for and ask ALL the right questions before the SOW is signed.
- Know who’s managing and building your site. Did you get your best price because the code is being developed overseas? Are you still dealing with the A-Team that sold you the site? Are you providing most of the content, or continually reeducating a copywriter on your business and your USPs? You get what you pay for. Of course, you could roll the dice. If you luck out, you have a decent website at a great price, but in most cases, you’re back to Square One after losing a ton of time and money. Buy a firm with a reputation for continually delivering kickass websites, on time and on budget!
- Content is king! But who’s creating it? How often? Will it be optimized for search engines? Do I upload it or do you? All great questions that need answering before any work commences, because it’s tough to pull a plug in the middle of a build: You’re hostage to the build and the firm developing it.
- Start with the end. While selecting a firm and directing its build is a formidable task, the best place to start is by asking yourself what do you want this website to do for your business or organization when it’s done. What’s your success metric? To bring in new students? Drive in more customers, more patients? Strengthen your brand? That’s the starting point every firm should build their estimate around.
At launch, you’re either the hero or the goat, so how do you protect yourself? My suggestion is simple: Go to a reputable firm and pay for the discovery session. That discovery document becomes the foundation for your site’s architecture and the delivery of a formal RFP. The build may go to the firm that did the discovery (or it may not), but you have a rock-solid platform for an apples-to-apples financial comparison. You can’t build a killer site without one.