As website designers we're asked this question several times a week so here's a quick look at how we might be able to work this out. The first 'answer' many web developers would give is 'well… how much does a car cost?'. Not very helpful but it does underline the vast range that a website could cost - anything from nothing to millions.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide but will hopefully give some insight as to how we tackle this tricky question. I've tried to give an honest account that I hope will be useful to both designer/developers and those businesses or individuals looking to have a website produced.
Is there a formula for how much a website will cost?
There are basically two ways of looking at this - from the developer point of view and from the client point of view. The most important common denominator in either case is Client Expectation.
The client will expect a certain level of service and professionalism / knowledge / skill from the developer. The client will also have some idea, no matter how thin, of what they want and through discussion, the web developer should be able to work out an estimate (or at least a scale of prices) based on the client's wishes. So getting to the bottom of the site features is paramount.
From a developer's point of view…
Something to take into account, and one that some 'one man' developers sometimes overlook is how do they know how much to charge by either hours or as a total project estimate? The ability of the developer to deliver efficiently, all the required site features is something that will affect price and time scale but every developer has overheads, whether they choose to ignore them or they are sensible and take them into account as part of their business plan.
A cursory look through business forums will see long debates about how much a website should cost. I've seen costs vary (for the same brief) between nothing (i.e. someone will do it for free) and then onwards and upwards past £250 and onto £10,000 and wildly beyond. So why do we have this variation? It's basically down to experience, location, working circumstances, market forces and overheads. Anybody who is building your website and says they don't have overheads is very sadly mistaken.
Sometimes an indicator of how serious a developer is about producing your site can be their long term commitment to equipment, dedicated premises, online presence, durability and keeping up with new technology. On the other hand there are some great developers working from home or from multiple locations, so don't rely too heavily on premises - but all developers will have overheads whether they realise it or not.
There is a great deal of information available on how to work out your business overheads and it's really beyond the scope of this article but developers should not assume that sitting in front of a computer, texting, emailing, and talking on the phone costs nothing.
Watch out for the big Yes
There are two rogue elements we must not ignore and that can crop up from time to time. The first is the developer that will say yes to anything and the second is the client that will say yes to anything. This can result in a really bad experience for all involved and must be guarded against if a project is going to be completed at a satisfactory cost and within an agreed time scale.
Where do we start?
Very generally speaking, whether we're talking about an e-commerce site or a catalogue or a general business website, the site will normally have a set of pages that deal with the core of the business - things like: home page, about page, contact page, location page (also a set of pages that deal with legalities such as terms and conditions). Beside that they will have a set of pages that deals with their products or services - even the simplest of businesses will have a set of products or services.
Talking to the client and asking key questions will get us a long way. After getting an outline of the project, it's good to talk about budget. If the client isn't forthcoming about budget (i.e. they genuinely don't know or won't say) then it gets just a little more difficult but all is not lost. This is where our list of possible features comes in, along with our experience of similar projects. We do try to stress to potential clients, the importance of setting and being straightforaward about a budget - it really does help in terms of understanding the scope of a project.
With that in mind we can begin asking some general questions to get the ball rolling:
- Do you have a logo? If not do you want us to design one as part of your website build?
- Do you have any text, product/service descriptions and supporting (or stock) images or printed material? If not do you need us to supply any of these?
- Do you have any ideas about how you want the site to look or do you want us to produce mock-ups based on a following sub-set of questions?
The above set of questions should enlighten us as to what we're expected to do creatively. The next set of questions should help us to ascertain the scope of the site both at the outset and in the future:
- When is the site required to be live?
- How important is the website on a scale of one to ten in terms of the over-all marketing strategy for your company?
- How many products or services do you currently offer / expect to be offering both initially and within the next year?
- How often do you intend to updates the website?
Which of the following features do you consider to be essential / desirable (leaving aside the features necessary for an e-commerce site):
- A content management system (such as MODX) important to you so you can update the site yourself
- Custom Contact Form
- Responsiveness (easily viewable / navigable on handheld devices / adaptable for different screen sizes)
- Blog with commenting
- Image Gallery
- Google map
- Multiple languages
- Set up and integration of Facebook, Twitter, Google+
- Calendar of Events
- Newsletter / Newsletter subscription (incorporating Mailchimp or similar)
- Google analytics (see further below about on-site Search Engine Optimisation)
- On-site search
After this it is a good idea to agree the following:
- Level of 'follow-up' service included in the initial quote and whether any further follow-up or promotion is required.
- Technology used: Note a great indicator of what the end result will be but knowing that latest standards and an up to date CMS are being used does give confidence all round.
- Commitment by client to provide information (text / images) within a reasonable agreed time limit and for this to be acted on promptly by developer.
- Agreement of over all time scale.
As a follow on to the above it should also be agreed what level of on-site Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) will be carried out by the developer and how this can be used effectively by the client on an on-going basis.
So in conclusion what is the formula for the cost of a website?
Accurately assessing client expectation will give a developer an idea of scale.
Level of creative input required should be translated into projected time.
Required features will give a developer an idea of time (provided they have the experience to be able to deliver those features efficiently).
Circumstances (overheads) will give a designer/developer an idea of their hourly rate.
Assuming we know our hourly overhead rate the developer should now know how much it will cost to take on this project. The 'profit' (and there has to be a profit) is up to the developer and how efficiently they think they can work the project. There is always a risk that projects can slip into loss in real terms, especially if the guidelines above aren't clarified between client and developer.
A good developer will get a feel for when something is right and if a project is likely to creep into the unknown. Maybe we're lucky or maybe we're just good but we haven't made a loss on a website yet!
Hopefeully if you are looking for a website designer/developer this article will provide you with some useful information and if you are a developer ot might just give you some ideas to help you get accurate quotes together.
By Chris Fickling