In my years of running a Web design and digital marketing agency, I’ve found that when business people make the decision to build a website, they often have little or no clue as to what is involved in actually creating and marketing it. In many cases, they’ve seen advertisements for cut-rate websites, ones that cost less than a few thousand dollars. As a result, they make the assumption that the process is an easy one and that anyone charging more than that is ripping them off.
I’m not saying that every site has to be complex. Some people just want a simple brochure site. For this, you don’t need a content management system to edit copy and images. All you need is someone to plan out your site, use Photoshop to create the design and front-end code it to build the design into the site. However, for companies really looking to attract a targeted audience, drive business and take advantage of the opportunities offered online, a high quality website can lead to more conversions and create a level of “stickiness,” where visitors keep coming back.
What goes into the cost of building a complex website?
There’s a reason for the huge disparity in costs for a website. A large e-commerce site like Amazon.com, with developers and information architects working around the clock, will cost. A simple site for a solo doctor or lawyer might use a template site that will run them only a few thousand dollars. But there is a lot in between.
The cost of a website is determined by the amount of time needed to do the work and the quality of people who are performing it. To build a website that really drives business, you need to work with a team that not only understands how to design, but also recognizes the business principles underlying your website and the way Web users behave online. You also have to be really clear on your needs; however, you can’t expect them to read your mind. So do some prep work. Show some examples of other sites you like and why so there will be less chance of them disappointing you.
What should you expect to get for your money? Quality work performed by a quality team.
For a high-quality site, your design team may include the following roles:
- Account Director: A person who learns your business inside and out and who understands the competitive landscape. The account director is responsible for the overall success of the website, ensuring its overall quality and effectiveness. The account director works with all team members to make sure that the project is moving ahead in the most efficient way and that all specs are adhered to and that all deadlines are met.
- Project Manager: This person most likely comes from a development background and is the technical lead of the project. They manage the development aspect of the site, working alongside the frontend coders, backend developer and quality assurance team to ensure proper development.
- Information architect: This highly trained individual lays out the site map and all of the functionality behind the site. They are responsible for the user flows, wire framing and any feature specs. A quality information architect comes at a high price, because the work they perform is critical to the success of the project.
- Designer: The person who creates the look and feel, known as the user interface, for the site. A great designer creates a look that is not only pleasing to the eye, but one that helps to shape user behavior.
- Back-end developer: Builds all of the functionality into the site, which may include a database, and a content management system. Again, this is a job performed by a highly trained and skilled professional. A content management system is crucial for a site that requires constant updating of content, images and products.
- Copywriter: Having a strong copywriter who not only understands how to write well, but who understands how to generate business, is very, very important. Messaging is crucial to your business. Don’t put your messaging in the hands of a designer. Put it in the hands of a trained copywriter who knows how to sell your company’s value on your site.
- Quality Assurance Expert: Before any site goes live, this person tests all functionality and ensures the site works well across all browsers (i.e. Windows Explorer, Firefox and Chrome).
You pay more for a stellar team like this, but on the Web, your return on investment can be enormous.
If you are building a website with features like customer design, multiple functionalities, commerce, a content management system, blogging and video, it is going to take time to do the job properly. As I explain to prospective clients, the Web building process includes the following stages:
- Planning: Where all of the site features, design elements and functionality are planned out. This includes interviewing the company about their business and online goals, researching the competition and working out all of the site features. The planning phase can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few months.
- Design visualization: Where Photoshop is used to sketch out the design for the site. Again, the time frame here is completely dependent on the number of pages that require designing.
- Front-end coding: To “build” the design into the site.
- Back-end coding: Where developers tie your front-end coding to your database.
- Content creation and loading: Where copywriters work with you to deliver core business messaging, blogs, videos, etc.
- Quality assurance: Where all functionality and browser compatibility is tested.
- Launch: Your website is ready to be seen by the world!
Depending on the number of internal pages in a site and the functionality included, this process can take anywhere from two months to six months. For a more in depth look at the process, .
A great example of the results you can get with time and effort is one of our clients, the e-commerce site Tweezerman.com. This site combines seamless e-commerce functionality, beautiful and crisp design elements, intuitive navigation, clear messaging and social media integration. At one time or another, the project involved the work of a 13-member team and required over 1,400 hours of work.
Of course, the greatest site in the world won’t drive you any business if it’s not marketed well. Your agency should have expertise in search engine optimization, search engine marketing (pay-per-click) and link building (getting other sites to link back to your site). Also, you’ll need to take into account the cost of maintaining a site. There will always be tweaks to a site, design changes and content changes. An e-commerce site, for example, is going to require updating as new products come in and new offers are made. But rather than ask “what is this website going to cost me?,” ask “what will the return be on my online investment?” Then get to work.
OPEN Cardmember Gabriel Shaoolian is the founder and CEO of Blue Fountain Media, a results-driven Web design and online marketing company based in Manhattan.
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