What do websites really cost?

websitemoney“What does a website cost?”  I have been in this industry in one form or another for more than 15 years, but to this day, I still cannot answer this question.  I found an article on Forbes that made some really great points and will hopefully clear up the hesitancy some might have when asked this question.

Here is why a one-off website quote is nearly impossible:

1.  Website design and development should be viewed as a service, not a product. It is hard to shake the idea that websites are not a commodity. Websites are something that someone, often multiple people, have to put together. Viewing it as service based will help you to better understand why a on- off price is not simple to give — building a website takes continued time and effort.

2.  Building a website involves a complex level of planning. Detail is an integral part of web development and this greatly affects pricing. Case in point — you may want a feature on your website for users to upload an image. There are 50 questions I could ask you and, based on your answers, I can either build the feature in one hour or 10+ hours.  For example, I may ask you: What is the size limit of the images you are uploading? What file formats does it support? Do you need the ability to crop the image? The list can go on and on.  So if I asked you all of these questions in order to figure out how long it would take to develop one feature, are you willing to answer 1,000+ questions for the potentially 100+ other features that your website will have? Also, are you willing to pay for the time it takes to go through this process, essentially making the quote no longer free? Or is it better to simply find a trusted team that works for a fair rate, and you set the budget and objectives, and they do the best possible approach to get there? Buy trust, not line items.

3.  Quotes are far too subjective. Building a website can be accomplished hundreds of different ways. Don’t believe me? Go out for a quote and I guarantee by asking just a few companies for a price, you will get responses all over the map. I have had clients tell me over and over that they received quotes ranging from $3,000 to $100,000 for the same set of requirements. How can that be possible?

4.  The definition of success for your website may vary from person to person. The web development industry is full of opinions, and no one is right or wrong. For example, a designer may think a great website should look like a piece of art, while a developer may think it is best if the site has been created using the greatest and latest code built from scratch. A marketer may pride the site on being simple, direct, and SEO optimized, while your perception may be a site with a lot of great features. The real success of your website comes down to the business goals you want to accomplish with it, not what is in it or how it is made.

5.  There is more than one way to price a website. There are two ways you can end up with a price for your website — fixed bid or hourly. For fixed bid, you will receive a figure like $5,000. With an hourly price tag, you will pay someone $100 an hour for as long as it takes to complete the project.  I used to offer fixed bid pricing and have moved away from that. There is too much gray area (as you can see above), and it becomes somewhat of a gamble. Pricing that is hourly or even weekly allows clients to see the website as a service that involves numerous elements to effectively and efficiently complete — like people, brainpower, and time. This way, when you buy time, you are also buying trust and essentially an augmented team for your business. If the focus is too much on the billing component, we tend to lose focus of why we are building the sites — ROI, amazing work, reaching and surpassing business goals.

There’s truly no good answer to the question, “How much does a website cost?” But understanding the subjective nature of this service will help you in the future.