How much does a website cost?
How many times have you heard or even asked yourself this question? The answer is a spectrum that ranges a few thousand dollars. And no one can really agree on a standard.
It depends, of course, on the goal of the website: selling product, branding, content creation or sharing, promotion and advertising… Name your goal and I will tell you who you are.
The main characteristics that separate the mentioned categories are related to who the user is, and how you intend to interact with him/her. Therefore, the best approach to fixing a budget is to focus on your typical customer. If you don’t have one yet or haven’t gone through market analysis, data is the answer and data is your starting point.
E-commerce (online products)
Are you selling product or services? Do you have or want to reach a specific user profile?
Look no further, if your online experience includes a payment gateway you need an electronic commerce website. These have a unique goal: expand your reach to increase sales. Along with a marketing strategy, it’s the best way to track a sales funnel, increase your income and understand your clients.
In this category, we can also include the Hospitality and F&B Sector. Carefully though, because the business model for the HoReCa segment is quite particular. Thus, be sure to identify your monetization as well as your client’s value for the service.
Branding (Showcase website)
You need an online presence. Social media channels can increase drastically your internal and external communication capabilities. But those channels are filled with fake news, rolling cats, fail of the week and other products pages. You need your users to be led to your main repository. A showcase website it’s much less expensive and potentially less complex. With a landing page, the costs associated with brochures, leaflets, mailers or paper in general, are reduced. As is the time you spend on the phone answering queries.
Product information, company values, corporate social responsibility, mission statements and brand image are available for everyone to see. Keep it simple: remember that an average user spends 16 to 34 seconds on a web page unless they actively searched for your product category.
News and Content (Magazine Online)
Are you going to generate original content? Link it to your facebook group or Youtube community? Your most important value lies in the content’s creators: you and your collaborators. This is a typical model for the online Magazines, which survive on advertising and generates income from the readers.
Video games, platforms, forums, apps, … If you are not in the previous categories you need a specific project plan, identify risk and opportunities and possibly have at least one internal resource to follow the development.
So let’s talk budget? Nope!
There’s one more thing you need to know before throwing all your money at the first online bidder or your good friend’s cousin. A very specific distinction that can help you reconsider your needs: How big is the effort needed on your website and how much is it going to help the business?
There are mainly two paths.
CMS and Builder
CMS stands for Content Management System. In potable terms, it defines an interface where multiple users can handle the website’s contents (ie: posts, pages, products, media, etc…) and display them online. It allows us to handles graphics and main functionalities too, which reduce the costs of development from scratch.
One of the most successful CMS for websites today is WordPress. Other well-known brands are Joomla, Shopify, Magento, and many others. The features and the core services of each CMS are different and each one varies from the other in different ways.
Over the past 10 years, we observed the rise of Website Builders. This particular category offers more or less the same possibilities of a CMS, but they focus on the graphic, layout, and responsiveness of the elements. The interface is usually simpler and amendments happen “live”, without any code intervention. They also offer e-commerce solutions, email services, and usually include the hosting services in the fee.
CMS is more flexible, on average more expandable and most important they are opensource. In other words, free to install and use. Some Builders start with a free plan that can be upgraded on a monthly or yearly payment.
Who are they made for?
Nevertheless, the real difference lies with how the website development is achieved. Both CMS and Builder can be used regardless the familiarity with the code. Nowadays the plugin availability and related utilities have grown so much that you can find whatever you are looking for.
That said, a Builder is specifically thought for the non-developer, so if you don’t like writing or logic, this is your go-to option… Be prepared to sacrifice most of the common functions though, such as user login area or plugin-marketplace.
CMS was born to speed up the core development of the website, accelerate the integration and avoid bugs. Developers know very good what we are talking about here. Despite needing a deeper knowledge of coding, today even CMS is used by designer or marketer, or any non-technical figure: having an open platform allow coders to implement user’s requests, In order to enhance the usability, we ended up having a quite powerful hybrid product. Do not feast just yet… You still need to install the CMS (server doesn’t come with it) and face some technical problem along the way.
According to your project, you will select the most cost-effective solution. If you are developing your website externally, trust the agency or the freelancer as they will be specialized in one or the other.
Oh, a bonus here for you: never, never, never trust anyone who tells you “I can do better than [insert CMS name]” or the classic “You need to start from scratch, don’t you want to own the code of your website?”. Well, no! Your business is most probably in a different market than IT, so what the hell do you need the code for? Focus on your core business, your website is a tool.
never trust anyone who tells you “You need to start from scratch, don’t you want to own the code of your website?”
Which one is better?
We are of the opinion that more is better. And by that we mean the more people using one platform, the safer it is to develop in that environment. Why? Because this way you gain access to a plethora of resources, support options, compatibility, and alternate vendors. Data on hands.
We do prefer an open or partially open system, where the support comes not only from the provider but also from the community of developers or users. At the time of this writing (2018), almost 60% of the websites are made with WordPress (here the community is so strong that we can count more than 4 parallel marketplaces for compatible services) making it a clear top choice for web development. As a reference, the following top 5 just surpass 15% of the market share. Combined!
Just consider blogs or magazines, über-powerhouse Google’s Blogspot is powerful enough to touch WordPress, which stands at 89% of the blogs out there. Joomla and Drupal are losing ground to Squarespace and Shopify. A special mention to the last one, which is covering most of the online selling functions required on any e-commerce worth its salt (multi-currency, multi-language, checkout, Facebook integration…), along with a lot of powerful and good-looking templates for less than 100$ per month.
Internal or external?
Now we are entering the highlights of the game. Regardless of the type of activity, you can choose to either handle the project in-house or outsource it to a professional/company. In both cases, there are 3 issues to be considered:
- Never underestimate the effort
Some things take time and resources no matter how much money you throw at it. To quote Warren Buffet: “putting 9 pregnant women together won’t get you a child in 1 month”. As such, choose skilled developers that will produce a high-quality code, but the functions need a certain time to be implemented. On any one site, investing on a bigger team could prove not to be the most effective solution… once the documentation is written on paper and the site’s logic is flawless, you’ll probably need a team that counts at least one for each: developer, UX designer, graphic designer, and copywriter.
- Don’t be overconfident
The fact that you know what you want your website to look like doesn’t mean that it is clear for everyone else. Keep the communication constant and, if you haven’t prepared any documentation (because you didn’t, you lazy ass!) be ready to explain the whole process over and over again.
- Do not assume anyone has any interest in your project
That’s why you pay. The less you pay, the less quality or professionalism you get. That’s why you only see NBA players in street-ball games on Pepsi commercials. Bargaining on service price is good until you pay less than the service is worth; at that point, you’re just throwing your money away. And it’s not even a matter of market price, different countries having different salary brackets may seem to work out great, but keep in mind that there are many developers, and also many people looking for them. Therefore, a couple of $ per hour may bump your project from priority 1 to priority wastebasket in one day. Being professional should come from both sides, so be serious if you want to receive a decent treatment.
Once you are fully aware of this gentlemen’s rules, here is your breakdown.
A junior front-end developer may cost up to $60k per year in Western Countries. The lower end of the distribution graph (consider that East EU countries are quite low on salaries), starts at around $44K according to Glassdoor reports and we consider this data quite in-line with the described task’s requirements and one which allows us to expect the consistency and the cleanliness of a coding process above or within standards.
Then, and assuming 40-hour weeks with a more-than-optimistic 80% efficiency on the project, a single resource can deliver the above types of websites in the following timeframe:
E-commerce – 60 to 90 working days
Showcase – 30 to 40 working days
Magazine – 25 to 35 working days
Custom – between 4 and 12 months, depending on the complexity
Be mindful of these schedules. You want to evaluate the effort and investment that your company will need to undertake to get the work done. Other than the developer, you need someone for the copywriting, the communications, the brand identity and the user experience. You could transfer some task internally, say if you have a marketing department or a creative figure involved in your product/service development. Expecting the salary for each individual to be higher accordingly to their experience in the company, it may be more cost-effective to outsource the project or get a junior resource.
You want to evaluate the effort and investment that your company will need to undertake to get the work done. Other than the developer, you need someone for the copywriting, the communications, the brand identity and the user experience.
Outsourcing / Freelancing
First of all, consider benefits against risks.
Freelancing is the riskiest path. It is known that freelancer is usually slow in response, faces problems and may not be available in reasonable business time. This doesn’t mean that it’s not worth considering as an option, but be aware and ask about the availability, how many hours are going to be dedicated weekly, discuss the ETD (estimated time of delivery) and set a communication strategy to handle delays and along-the-way amendments.
You know you are going to change your mind every day anyway, so why not acknowledge it? Set a limit to the changes you may ask and the number of reviews you may consider. If you can’t get to a ceiling here, consider definitely hiring someone full-time.
Apart from the ever-indispensable developer figure, consider additional budgets for some of the mentioned resources as follows:
- 300$ for licensing and paid contents (images, icons, videos, etc…)
- 500$ for the copywriter
- another 200$ per year for the hosting and the digital assets
- 20$ to 30$ per hour for the developer (yes, this much)
It leaves us with a simple formula, ETDs multiplied by the cost per hour of the developer, plus the contents, licenses, and media.
E-Commerce: (90 days x 25$) +1,250$ = 3,500 USD, delivered in 12 weeks
Showcase website: (40 x 25$) +1,000$ = 2,000 USD, delivered in 6 weeks
Online Magazine: (35 x 25$) +625$ = 1,500 USD, delivered in 4 weeks
Another avenue is dealing with a specialized company. Timing will be different as they will assign resources according to your timetable and budget, and manage your project efficiently within. They will guide you to the most sensible solution and you will have the difficult task of letting go and accept advice from highly technical individuals. And trust ain’t the best thing people are good at.
Consider a good 50% increase in the price. This is where the know-how and experiences lie. Other than that you will probably also get 6 to 12 months maintenance and a free consultancy wherever you have doubts or requests, useful especially if the website is something particular. The chance to get a working product in a reasonable amount of time won’t grant you that the users will like it. So never underestimate these factors when it’s decision time.
As you can see there isn’t a right or best answer. Think about where it is you want to go and who are your customers or readers. Being digital can broaden your horizons, but sometimes is not worth to dive into it, especially if you don’t have a clear purpose or need to solve a specific problem.