April 23, 2015 | By:

Website Cost: A Day at the Ballpark

A question that I get on a regular basis (read: every day) is, “How much will my new website cost?”.

To which I typically say something like, “Well, that varies based on the amount of work that’s required to complete the website, and they’re all different.” and then I usually get a followup question like, “Well, can you give me a ballpark?”

So now, readers, I give you: The Ballpark!

There are a million people out there that will build you a website for a fee of your leftover Chuck E. Cheese tickets, but you probably landed here because you’re interested in what someone like Ilfusion, a real-life advertising agency who has real-live employees and works with real clients would charge you to make your company either ⓐ look appealing to your customers, ⓑ sell stuff online or ⓒ both. We’ve built websites for customers ranging from the Call of Duty® online store to Melt, the best ice cream shop in town, so we have a wide-enough swath of clients to talk about the intricacies of how websites are priced.

Estimating Costs

At Ilfusion, we’ve refined our process over the years and have a system that not only makes website builds relatively painless for the client, but also ends in a finished product that hits all the right targets. When talking cost, it all comes down to hours. At Ilfusion, we do a hybrid of flat-rate pricing and hours estimation that ensures we can hit budgets (not Chuck E. Cheese tickets) and still keep the lights on here at Ilfusion. This means that we estimate hours for the phases of the build (more about phases in a minute) and stick to that estimate, unless the client wants to add to the project after the estimate is given. “What if you wildly underestimate hours?”, you ask? We eat the cost. It sounds scary for us, but this is the cost of doing business and keeping clients and budgets happy. The only way we vary the cost is if the client changes something after everything is approved and we have to go back and redo something that’s already been approved and completed, or something is added to the project that wasn’t there from the start. We don’t want to be the agency that starts adding fees due to poor estimation. That’s not the client’s fault, it’s the agency’s.

The Process

Our web development process is pretty straightforward because we make it that way. The actual work that goes into it is pretty darn complicated though.

Our builds are broken into 4 unique phases. These phases are based partially on the team that’s handling the work and partially the type of work done for that phase. We have our clients sign off on each deliverable to make sure everything is approved before moving to the following steps in the project.

The Phases are:

Discover – The planning phase. This is where we create the roadmaps that we follow for the entire project. The deliverables include a discovery meeting, a project plan and a creative brief (our marching orders).

Design – The concept phase. This is where we start creating things you can see including the sitemap, wireframe(s) and comps (compositions; pictures that look like webpages but aren’t coded yet)

Develop – This is the implementation of the designs created in the design phase. This is where we start programming the website and making it functional.

Launch – This phase includes any last minute revisions, testing for cross-browser and cross-device compatibility (making sure it looks good everywhere) and launching the site into the world.

Nuts & Bolts

Websites themselves are fairly simple. The basic components of a website are:

A server – This is where your website lives on the internet.

A domain name – This is the text that people type into their browser to get to the server, also called a URL.

A Content Management System (CMS) – This is the software behind what people see in their browser, and the system used to make content edits and additions.

Plugins – These are extra bits of software attached to the CMS that do special things that the CMS doesn’t do on its own.

Integrations – 3rd party things that already exist in the world that people would use on their websites. You usually pay someone else for these services (like a concert ticket system, online banking service, or rent payment portal).

But I need SEO plugins!

No you don’t! There’s really no magic in SEO plugins. They only simplify SEO best practices for the average website builder. Most SEO plugins do things like making it easier for you to put unique page titles and meta descriptions on each page, which is typically not included by default on most content management systems. Someone would still need to come up with appropriate content to place in those areas. You would want to make the page titles unique, short, and related to the content that’s on the page. Meta descriptions can be the first sentence or a very short summary of the page content. Meta keywords have been demoted in importance and no longer have any affect on search engine ranking. Content is still king, SEO plugins or not. That’s not going to change.

Content is King, Huh?

Yes. For content- it needs to be relevant. We work with website content in several ways:
We can write 100% fresh content. We can pull existing copy from your website and make edits based on our discussion with you. We can take copy that has been written by your team, edit and finish it. We provide copywriting in support of the website including SEO and keyword research. Our writers have years of experience writing copy for the web.

Special Functionality

This is one of the things that most contributes to website cost. This can be anything outside of a standard informational website. When we start talking about the website doing more than providing information, the costs will increase because more hours are needed to program and design these features with user experience in mind. Things like 3rd party integrations, subscriptions services, microsites, password-protected user sections, video hosting, e-commerce and the associated functions, ERP integrations etc. will all increase the scope from a basic site to a functional powerhouse. I can’t comment on these costs in this article because it’s 100% case-by-case. Some 3rd party services will have datasheets about integrating their services into your website and these are a good place to start. If you need these features, it’s best to consult a professional.

The Ballpark

So with all the above in mind, we’re down to the ballpark. It’s pretty simple (really, it’s not) – you take a base number of hours for an informational site with an average page count, typical content and no extra functionality and you add to that. Ilfusion’s processes and best practices don’t change. We don’t cut corners and we build everything to order. It’s all bespoke.

So now, let’s make a ton of assumptions and build a website! A base website using our process that has 8-10 pages with a custom homepage design and a custom inside page design, social media integration, responsive design, a contact form, blog and custom graphic design will be about 40 hours of work from beginning to end.

Oh one more assumption- this site would be built on a LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) server and run WordPress CMS. I’m sure I’m leaving out some assumptions, but let’s pretend they are in there anyway. At our hourly rate of $150/hr, that’s about $6,000. Keep in mind, this is a basic, yet beautiful and custom website with a ton of assumptions being taken. This is just how much it takes to do it right the first time.

From that base, we then estimate everything else on top of that. This is where it becomes tricky. E-commerce alone can add anywhere from 25-50 or more hours. E-Commerce alone can add unlimited complexity depending on the requirements. This includes building the e-commerce platform, inserting products, hooking up the payment gateway additional features and integrations, testing, etc., etc. Other factors come into play as well, for example: how many uniquely designed inside pages will the site have? What will that functionality look like from the user’s perspective? What 3rd party integrations will there be? Any APIs we need to be aware of? Are you trying to run WordPress off of a Windows server? Do you want music playing in the background? Wait… No, you don’t. That would be silly. So the ballpark becomes more difficult to establish as we move along…

So here’s the big secret revealed:

Just like your favorite Kevin Costner movie- there is actually no ballpark. But as far as your customers go- if you build it, they will come.

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