How much should you spend on your website?

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The cost to build a website is a lot like the cost to build a house. The price range can vary wildly and there are many, many factors that make up the cost. Clients usually are ready to spend money on a website when they’ve got some kind of a problem: their current website isn’t converting leads efficiently, it’s difficult to manage or they are fed up with their unprofessional web agency. If this is the case, figuring out what you spend on your new website is as easy as figuring out what the current problem is costing you. I would never recommend spending $20,000 on a website if the problem it’s solving is only costing you $500.

Using this method to figure out what your budget should be will tell you how much to spend. However, figuring out exactly what you can get for that budget can still be a challenge. The rest of this article will discuss the things that most directly affect the cost of a professional website.
Custom design versus using a template

One of the things that can affect the cost of a website project the most is the design component of the project. If you’re going to pay to have a professional designer create the look-and-feel of your website, expect to pay quite a bit more than you would if you just bought a pre-designed website template off the shelf. A website template may be fine, unless one of the problems you’re trying to solve is to look professional or stand out from your competition.

Estimated cost: If you’re okay with an “off the shelf” template, expect to get those for less than $100. There are also many free templates if you use WordPress, TypePad or another simple content management system for your site. If you hire a professional designer or agency, expect the visual design phase of the project to make up 25% of the overall cost. So if you’re spending $50k on a website, expect the design portion to cost around $12k or so.
Complexity of the architecture

How complex your site is will greatly affect the price. If your site is simple enough to have one or two page layouts then you’re looking at spending quite a bit less than if your site needs 30 different page layouts. Not only do you have to architect and design each layout independently, but the programmer also has to code and integrate each layout with the content management system (if that’s part of your project).

Estimated cost: It’s hard to estimate the specific cost of this piece since architecture complexity affects so many parts of the project. When our clients work with our user experience director to create a custom architecture for each page layout, we estimate that this cost will make up about 25% of the total project price.
Custom applications

These days, all but the simplest of websites have some sort of application integrated with them. Contact forms, blogs, email subscription forms, discussion forums, resource libraries and member logins are all pretty commonplace on the web today and many consider them “applications”. If you’re website needs more than this, or if you need to develop some sort of custom, unique application, then be prepared to spend some money. Especially if the application you’re building is innovative or hasn’t been done before.

Estimated cost: The actual cost will vary greatly depending on the complexity of the application. Many content management systems have plugins and modules that should make the cost less expensive. If you have to develop something custom expect to spend quite a bit more.
Content management system

All websites need to be maintained and nearly all websites today are integrated with a content management system (CMS). If your site is simple and you can get away with a simple CMS then you’re going to spend less than a complex site that needs a more robust platform. At TradeMark Media we focus on open-source software, but there are many content management systems out there that come with a hefty licensing fee and ongoing support fees. If your site requires a complex or proprietary CMS, then budget in extra.

Estimated cost: If you’re looking at an open-source content management system then expect a very small licensing fee, if one exists at all. For example, Drupal is a very robust CMS and doesn’t have a license fee. On the other hand, if you need a very robust, proprietary CMS then license fees and ongoing costs can be up to six figures.
Content creation

One problem you may be trying to solve is that your content is outdated or fails to be engaging. Whoever creates your new content can play a big role in the cost of your new website. If you’re creating your own content then you’ll save money on the project but the cost savings may be wiped out by the toll it takes on your time and stress level. You can always hire a professional copy writer to create the content. This is usually the quickest and most professional way to go, but it definitely will add some additional cost to the project.

Estimated cost: A fair estimate for a professional copy writer is $100-$300 per page of content including messaging and consultation.
Search engine optimization

Many sites can be “optimized” for search engines during the development process, but that doesn’t mean that they will rank well. If driving traffic to your site is one of the problems you’re trying to solve, then search engine optimization (SEO) or paid search may be the solution. If you truly need to rank well then you’ve got no choice but to engage in an ongoing SEO program and this can add quite a bit of ongoing cost.

Estimated cost: Quality SEO programs will vary greatly based on complexity, but expect to pay at least $2K-$5K+ per month, ongoing.

As mentioned before, there are many, many other factors that go into the cost of a website project. These can include size, location and experience level of the information architect, designer and developers you are hiring. Hopefully this brief article has given you some insight into what affects the cost of a website project so that you can make a better decision when your time comes.


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