One of the obvious questions asked by any prospective client when they get in touch is ‘how much does a website cost’? For the uninitiated, this can be a complete unknown quantity…if you have not been in charge of website budgets, then how could you know what a website might cost?
Costs can really vary dramatically depending on who you speak to - at one end of the spectrum you will find freelancers offering to build a website for £450, and at the other end companies are paying hundreds of thousands for a website. The client’s reaction when given a ballpark cost can range from “that’s what I was expecting” through to a shocked “how much?”, “that's five times what I expected”, or the more comical “I just fell off my chair!”
So how can there be this variance in price for essentially the same thing - a website? What more is being offered? What is the tangible difference between the two?
Simply put, this is all about how much time and input is going into the project and whether you have an individual/freelancer or a web design agency working on the project. An individual will naturally be able to offer something more cost effectively than an agency, however the kind of input and results you get are likely to be quite different.
The key here is how much time is actually going into planning, designing, programming and building a website. How much time is needed to build a website?
To work this out, you really need to look at the the key tasks / activities that can typically go into building a bespoke website.
Time to understand the client
Site-mapping & information architecture
Planning what content is required and where it lives
User journey mapping & use cases
Understanding how best a user would find and interact with the site
Plan the content, functionality and actions required on each key page in a site
Prototype development & user testing
Test how intuitive a user would find the new site and functionality before its built for real.
Brand positioning & refinement
Work out how best to implement an new or existing brand into the new site, using style tiles & moodboards
Creating mock ups of top level site pages
Refine the selected design option based on feedback
Designing specific page components and content unique to the site
Development / Coding
Install and configure chosen Content management system
HTML template coding & CSS styling
Front end JS coding (the sexy bits)
Custom feature development
Layout pages & populate content
Hand craft each page, adding CTA’s images, and other components
Review and refine site
This task list is quite simplistic and different designers work in many different ways. There are certainly many other tasks/process that could to be included (SEO strategy, Social media engagement, content writing, conversion optimisation, photography, video production, client meetings etc), but you get the idea.
So - if you budget £5,000 for a project (which for a small company can be a significant sum), you will only be able to allocate a few hours to each task, but realistically most of these task require significantly more time. If you expand the budget to the £15K mark, then you have approximately a day per task which again is still falling short.
Realistically most of these tasks/processes require multiple man days and often the input of multiple people - in practice this means the time required can quickly add up to, easily reaching 30 to 70 man days depending on the complexity of the project. Day rates will vary from £350-£500 for a freelance contractor, through to £650-£850 per day (per person) for agencies, the potential budget/cost is easy to work out…I will let you do the back of the envelope maths on this one.
The reality is that the low cost projects do not run a full project cycle (as outlined above), as these low cost projects can only be achieved by rapidly building a website using pre-built frameworks or off-the-shelf design themes, which are then customised to a client’s needs….this is just like painting by numbers.
This type of approach would look something like this:
Agree sitemap & information architecture
Define a visual style (Style tiles or alike)
Initial design - Select an appropriate theme & customise (logo, colours, typography, photography etc)
Final Design - Final Tweaks to design
CSS styling, applying design to templates
Layout site structure in CMS
Snagging and refinement
Such a process can deliver a very professional looking website which is attractive and also provides lots of bells and whistles, however the fact that this is based on a template will in all likelihood mean this looks like many other websites which have all been based on the same template. The other risk in such time limited process is that this new website superficially looks good, but that it lacked the input (thinking time) required to really deliver.
So when working out a project budget, the key decision is whether you:
want to employ a freelancer/s to get the job done, or whether you want to pay for the benefits of an agency
need to run a full planning and design process or whether you are happy to fall into template based approach, where a pre-built theme is customised to your needs
Whilst the cost can really vary depending on these factors, ultimately you are going to need to evaluate whether a significant increase in budget (£8K vs £40K) is going to pay for itself… does the potential ROI justify the additional expense.
Finn is a founding director of Liquid Light, and he still (after 22 years of web design) likes to get involved in projects. When he is not worrying about the clients, he is studying Chinese medicine, working with young criminals and doing spartan challenges.