This is possibly THE key question when launching a new site or rebuilding an old one. But the answer is not straightforward. It’s a bit like asking ‘how much does a car cost?’…….it depends what you want it to do.
If you’re an airline wanting to sell open seats up to a year in advance, car hire, hotels and insurance, collect and protect data, encourage newsletter sign-up, recognise 000s of individual returning customers, remember their preferences and account history, a lot.
If you’re, say, a one-person photographic business that simply wants to showcase previous work and have people contact you, then not so much.
What essentials should you plan for?
You will easily find cheap ways to create your organisation’s website but this is not a place to skimp. You can almost guarantee any customer, prospect, trade journalist or potential employee will visit at some point. It has to work and look good.
Your website needs these absolute essentials:
- the right content. You need the content required to ensure your users complete their user journey. No more, no less.
- a well-organised structure with clear navigation. Structure comes before design and must involve some type of wireframing.
- good design. Good design will enhance content, structure and navigation but you should not commission a designer until you have agreed wireframes.
- a flexible and future-proof tech platform which enables your site to run securely and can easily be updated. You will need expert advice on this, it is not a trivial decision and get it as early in the process as possible.
- Fast upload. Users will start clicking away if your site takes longer than 3 seconds to load and making it load fast is a combination of a number of factors, including what kind of host you choose.
Smartphone/tablet website access overtook desktop in the UK last October so your site must have high level mobile functionality. Google has introduced a mobile-first strategy which favours mobile-optimised sites in search results.
You should spend as much as you have available in getting these areas right.
What adds cost?:
- Selling something.
A good e-commerce site requires each of these processes to work well and you’ll also need to deal with security of data, traffic peaks and troughs and ensuring site availability 24/7.
- A large volume of content:
Creating content, structuring content and updating content all have cost attached and will have an impact on server capacity and site speed. If you are a company like B&Q, this will be necessary and vital but if you’re, say, a news organisation, you need to have a disciplined archiving system which limits the content displayed.
If any part of your site is built from scratch by a developer, this will increase build costs and, most likely, site maintenance costs. There are perfectly good off-the-shelf tools for almost any site functionality and they generally come with a lifetime of free upgrades.
There may be circumstances, such as high level security or customisation needs, where a customised build is justifiable but off-the-shelf will normally future proof the site and have cost and compatibility benefits.
- Using the wrong design firm:
Design can make a huge difference to the effectiveness of your site but good web design requires a different set of skills than, say, print design. For instance, websites are interactive and a good designer will build in features like rollover colour changes and click confirmations to emphasise functionality and improve the user experience.
Assuming you have a company logo and colour palette already established, your site design should look as consistent with your other communication materials as possible.
A contemporary website platform will be responsive (so the content will adapt to screen size and format) but this does not mean it will be optimised for mobile screen sizes. It is worth paying more for a designer who can tweak the wireframes to improve the mobile user experience.
- Content upload:
Compellingly telling your story with video, imagery and text, adding this to the site’s content management system and properly optimising the content for search are vital to the site’s success but often underestimated when creating a new site.
In the long term, adding new content to the site is something that should be managed internally so consider using the content upload process to train your people with the skills needed.
- Image rights:
There’s an assumption that imagery found on the web can be used at no cost. This is untrue and using a stock image on a website should cost around £40 for a 2-year license.
What should not add cost?
- Updating the site content. Agree in advance with your site builder how much of your site will be editable and you’ll then be able to make these updates yourself. Some of the site will have to be ‘hard-coded’, only editable by someone with highest level access, as you don’t want site navigation or other major site features accidentally compromised.
- Security updates: as part of your tech platform spec, these should be automatic and free.
- Plugin updates: as above.
- Data capture: integrate your eCRM system with the site during build and new data entered by users will automatically be captured.
- PDF downloads: these are an efficient way of supplying site users with detailed content if they want it but the tech to host and download them is not complex.
You now have some idea why ‘How much does a website cost?’ is an impossible question to answer and what some of the pitfalls can be when planning a new site or rebuild. As with almost any project, a strong brief is fundamental, starting with answering the question: ‘what do we want the site to do?’