There are lots of promotions and gimmicks out there when it comes to getting a website up and running. You can find deals on all kinds of build-it-yourself solutions that rely on templates, as well as thousands of one-person design shops competing with the more established companies.
If you need a new website and are considering several web design solutions, it is important to compare project pricing "apples to apples." Assuming you don't want to cobble your website together yourself, you probably have multiple agencies offering you different deals, and it can be hard to know what's important and what isn't.
What should a website cost?
There are many, many factors that go into pricing a website. If you are searching for the perfect partner for your project, here are a few important features to ask about that can help you make a real, useful comparison! Just click on any one of them to see the answer below.
- Is the website software used to build your website proprietary or open source?
- Will you be able to update or change your website once it "goes live"?
- Is your website made with a pre-designed template or is it custom-designed?
- Will you own the website once it's complete, or are you only "renting" use of the design and content?
- Does your website project include any marketing or content consultation?
- Will your website design and content be Responsive?
- Will your site need to sell things?
- What functionality will your finished website include?
- How many pages will your website include?
- Does the website cost include the blog?
- Is social media integration included?
- Does the cost include installation of analytics tracking?
- Is copywriting included or will you provide the copy?
- What SEO features are included?
- Will the agency be providing "on site" SEO as part of your project?
- Are blog email subscription, RSS, newsletter subscription, or other marketing services included?
- Are there other outside costs outside the website design and development you need to take into account?
- Does the project cost include training on the website software?
- What type of free support period are you provided after training for questions?
- Is a puppy included?
Open source solutions do not typically have licensing fees, along with other benefits. Our favorite solution of this type is WordPress, which is free to the public under general public license GPLv2. Web design firms should not be charging for WordPress software. Instead, you should be paying only for the time and expertise it takes to design your website and install the functionality required for your business needs. Be aware that with open source solutions, your webmaster will need to keep your software updated with the latest security releases and backed up regularly, unless your website design company provides support plans to handle those services for you.
Unlike open source website software, proprietary software is not free to the public and will include license fees. These are typically paid annually or quarterly. Our favorite proprietary website software is HubSpot, which offers some advanced features that WordPress does not. Some of these features include the ability to integrate directly with your contact database, track your visitor to lead to customer conversions, display different content to different visitors dynamically depending on their stage in the sales funnel, and incorporate email marketing automation, just to name a few.
With proprietary software such as HubSpot, you will not need to back up your website or install software updates, and if you ever choose to move to a different website software, you are able to export your content and contacts. With a 99% retention rate, we don't see many clients moving from HubSpot, but wanted to include that note just in case you wondered.
If you have a website powered by a Content Management System (CMS), you will have full control of your website content. That means you will be able to change or update your website text, images, and menu items at any time in future without the help of a web professional. If your website does not use a CMS, you will have to call on and pay a "techie" to make changes. Paying for every website update and having to wait for an outside party to make critical updates will not only be costly, it is inconvenient and won't allow you to make the most of your website as your marketing machine. Be sure when comparing providers that your website will be managed through a CMS such as WordPress, or even better a Content Optimization System (COS) such as HubSpot!
There are many free and low cost pre-designed templates available to create websites today. Be sure to ask questions of your website designer or agency to ensure you are not charged for custom design if you are not getting custom design. As web technologies get easier to use, "website designers" are cropping up everywhere offering pre-designed templates at custom design cost. If your designer is only adding your logo and changing background colors, the cost should not be the same as for a custom designed website.
Limited template changes do not require the same time to execute as truly custom website design. How do I know? We offered this approach in 2008 when the economy tanked and business owners needed an inexpensive option. When using this approach, we were completely transparent with our clients as to how we were saving them money. We no longer offer this option because we found we couldn't provide the best possible end product with the best possible ROI. Once a web designer changes a pre-designed template enough to meet the unique needs of a business, they have spent about as much time as it would take to create a custom solution.
The bottom line is, if you are happy with the limitations of a template, you will save money as long as your web designer is ethical and honest. Don't pay for services not rendered, and if you want to be delighted with your website and the revenue it will bring, go for a custom design!
Check the fine print. If it seems to good to be true, it is. Ask your marketing or website firm "Will I own this website, or will it be owned and controlled by someone else"? Some marketing firms are now catering to specific business types like dentists, chiropractors, veterinarians, and pool companies. They pull in these businesses with an offer of a "free website" lumped in with other marketing services, or they offer a per month payment for the website. These options can get you in a pickle and cost you more in the long run. You won't own your website design, you won't own your content, and you may not even own your domain. I run into these situations all to often, and it kills me because the customer always loses in the end.
Some agencies and freelancers price websites based only on design and content entry, but don't include much more. Ask if your project will include expert advice on user navigation, marketing messages, Inbound Marketing best practices, and other critical guidance which will result in a website that attracts visitors, converts leads, and closes customers. If you aren't going to get expert marketing advice as part of your project you may pay less, but your website will not lend the same results. How can you tell? Ask questions about the process you should expect and get a firm commitment on what is and is not included for the price you were quoted.
Nearly all of the websites we design today are responsive. Why? Mobile devices are becoming more and more popular and we want our clients to have the most "future-proof" option. What is Responsive design? We have a blog post that explains Responsive website design in detail, but in short, a truly responsive site is mobile-first and will adjust appropriately to the size of the browser on which it is viewed. Non-responsive websites do not adjust for mobile viewing and require less time to design and develop, as only one desktop presentation has to be taken into account. When designing a truly responsive website, the developer has to plan out different designs and ways to change the presentation of the website based on how much room they will have to display. Below, we have an example of one of our favorite responsive design ecommerce websites created for Maggie Bags.
If you need an ecommerce cart integrated into your website, or you need for patients or customers to pay online, this will add time and thus cost to your website project. When comparing quotes, double check that ecommerce integration is included, and ask how many products or features will be included within the scope of your project.
Similar to the ecommerce example above, the functions and features of a website will dictate how much time is needed to install, integrate, and style each feature. I can't tell you how many times I've been told "I just need a basic website" only to discover everyone's definition of "basic" differs. We include lots of features in our basic sites because we know the site will not be successful without them. Some website design firms offer stripped-down options and upcharge for various features. Your initial sales consultation should include lots of Q&A to be sure the agency knows what you need, and isn't just telling you why they are so wonderful. They should be asking what you are trying to accomplish, what your business and marketing goals are, and hopefully will uncover things you never even considered. I never want to sell a client on features that aren't needed or won't accomplish their goals, and I always want to be sure they know about features that they may not have been aware existed. Don't ever assume functionality is included unless your contract or proposal expressly states that it is, and ask if you are unsure.
Many websites for new businesses don't require more than 10 pages, while others need many more pages to explain products and services in detail. It all depends on the business. Check your website proposal for how many pages your web designer will be creating for you and what the options and costs are to add more.
Do not, I repeat DO NOT buy a website without the ability to blog. Blogging is so important to SEO and lead conversion, we include them on every website as a basic feature. Even if you can't fathom ever blogging (and I hope our post about blogging for business will convince you that you should), at least make sure the ability to blog is there and ready for you and your team in the future.
We have always included social media integration in our websites because it is so critical to engage with your visitors. Make it easy for them to find your business on the social web and share your pages and posts out to social media platforms. Social sharing and engagement impacts SEO, and is becoming increasingly more important to inbound marketing. Double check any website proposals you are reviewing to be sure this feature is included in the price.
You cannot reliably improve what you can not measure. Ask your web developer if Google Analytics installation is included in your website project. This is a basic necessity for any website today to track visitor behavior, traffic trends, referral sources, and to analyze the ROI of your marketing efforts. Without analytics tracking you will only be guessing. Be sure your website has analytics and be sure to check your reports often once your site is live!
Website pricing usually does not include copywriting unless explicitly stated. Professionally written and SEO-friendly copy is not inexpensive, but can make a massive difference in how your website performs. Can you write your own copy? Absolutely. Should you? Maybe, and maybe not. If you are a talented writer with a marketing flair, writing your own copy will reduce the cost of your project, but will not be painless. Ask if your website company offers copywriting, if it is written with SEO in mind, and what the cost of the project is with or without it.
Strong CMS options like WordPress are built to be "SEO friendly" and you can install additional plugins (like SEO Yoast) to give you even more control, insight and feedback on your website's SEO value. The HubSpot COS and blogging tools have built-in SEO features to give immediate feedback as you type. When comparing quotes, check what SEO features are and are not included. Added features mean added cost, but some are so critical that your website platform should not be without them. Look for buzzwords like Site Maps, SEO plug-ins, SEO friendly URLs, image alt text, and meta descriptions. Check into whether your website software allow for these features and ask if population of the various fields necessary to make them work is included in your project cost.
As in the answer above, some website companies provide SEO services such as keyword research and “on site SEO,” meaning that after researching keywords likely to bring visitors to your site, changes are made on the site and within your copy to optimize it for search engines. This is usually a separate and additional charge.
Make it as easy as possible for visitors to subscribe to your content and become leads for your marketing efforts. Some of the features mentioned above should be included on any website (such as RSS and blog email subscription), while other marketing services or features will likely have additional minimal cost associated, such as integrating Disqus commenting for your blog. Adding Disqus is one of my favorite easy blog add-ons for getting more website traffic and building a community for your blog.
All websites require website hosting and may have additional hidden costs. Do your due diligence and ask questions such as these: Does your design company offer hosting or do you need to purchase hosting elsewhere so that they can implement your site? Are hosting costs charged monthly, quarterly, or annually? What are those costs and what features and services are included? Will your website designer implement your site for you, or does that cost extra? Do they have any knowledge of domains or are you on your own for that? And for heaven sake, be sure they have knowledge of and the ability to help with 301 redirects!
We include training at the end of all of our projects, but some companies charge extra to show you how to use your new website. Check your quote to see if training is included and how much it will cost if it is not.
Some companies provide a free support period after your website goes live to allow you to test your training knowledge and get used to your new site. Others may charge for help after training (if they provide training). Check your quote for any support period (ours is 30 days) and what other support options are available after your support period has ended. Some website design companies provide support plans with lots of great features to allow you to focus on your business and not your software updates.
No. Puppies are never included. If you really want one, head to your local pet adoption center!
If you have any other questions about comparing website proposals or anything else, just let me know in the comments below.