If you ask ten different web designers, “how much does a website cost?”, you’ll get ten very different answers. This doesn’t sit well with us. We’re consumers, comparison shoppers. We expect to see products of a certain type fall within a narrow price range. We pick the flavor we like the best from the retailer we trust the most, we swipe our credit card and we go about our day. And therein lies the misconception. Websites aren’t a product. They’re a service.
Products vs Services
Picking a web designer is more akin to picking a car mechanic than buying a box of breakfast cereal. Cereal is an impersonal, take-it-or-leave-it product. You pull it off the shelf as-is and hope for the best. Froot Loops are Froot Loops are Froot Loops.
Services, on the other hand, are offered by people willing to focus their time, knowledge and skills on your particular needs. The skills, specialties and available services vary from mechanic to mechanic. So, too, will the price. A dent removal isn’t going to cost the same as a transmission replacement. Asking “how much does a website cost?” is like asking “how much does a car repair cost?” It all depends on what type of website you need. Just like a skilled mechanic, a good web design company provides you with the specific type of personal service you’re looking for.
What You’re Actually Paying For
This is where an understanding of the products vs services concept is vital. When you pay a web designer, you’re paying for his or her time. It’s important to keep this in mind as you consider the elements that comprise a web project. A rotating image carousel, for example, may look simple but might actually have taken the designer ten hours to design plus four hours for the developer to implement. The most simple looking items are often the most complex under the hood.
Breaking Down the Price
What are these time consuming elements I’m speaking of? There are four lesser ones and one major one (keep in mind when I say “lesser” I don’t mean less important, but rather less impactful to the website cost). The four lesser ones are: responsive design; quality of the design; search engine optimization; and content management. I’ll briefly explain each of these.
Responsive design – websites that adapt (or “respond”) to the size and shape of the user’s device are said to be “responsive”. Another common term for this is “mobile friendly”. Ensuring a website looks good and functions correctly on every device takes additional time and skill on the part of the designers and developers.
Quality of the design – like all service-oriented purchases, you’re paying for the skill and experience the designers bring to the table. Your teenage nephew might know some HTML, but does he understand user experience design, web standards compliance, modern styling trends and all the other principles that web designers spend years mastering?
Search engine optimization (SEO) – websites can’t just look nice, they need to show up in search engines. While page content is a big factor, the technical aspects can’t be ignored. It takes a lot of time to tweak the code to ensure it’s optimized for Google.
Content management – a content management system (CMS) allows non-technical website owners to perform site updates without the involvement of a web designer. It’s an invaluable tool. But, of course, it takes a lot of development time to implement.
Those four are sort of “no kidding” factors and don’t increase website cost nearly as much as they used to; even inexpensive templates are typically mobile friendly, professionally designed, search engine optimized and include a CMS.
So, then, what’s the big determining factor? Customization.
Why Customization Increases Website Cost
Professionally designed templates look really nice. In fact if I showed you a template based site and a custom site side by side, you’d likely be hard pressed to tell which is which. So to understand why a custom site costs so much more than a template site, you have to remember the product vs service rule. From the perspective of a web design agency like Caiman Web Design, the difference in man hours between installing a template based site and designing/building a custom site from scratch is huge. It’s like the difference between purchasing a family sedan and building your own. Creating a professional, attractive, intuitive website requires a great deal of design skill, technical knowledge and time.
Did I mention time?
Why Customization is Valuable
I’ve pointed out that template sites and custom sites both look great, they’re search engine optimized, they respond to mobile devices and they typically come with a CMS. So why would anyone choose to pay more for a custom site? There are two important reasons. The first is the functional limitations inherent to a template based site. When you purchase a pre-made template, you’re stuck with the features that came in the box. You get what you get.
For example, your firm might need to display a dynamic news feed on the home page, but if the template you’ve chosen doesn’t support a news feed, you’re out of luck. On the other hand, a site that’s been custom designed for your firm would include your news feed along with all the other features you need. A template isn’t designed to grow with your firm the way a custom designed website is. And retroactively customizing a template with new features can be costly, and sometimes not even possible.
The second reason is the fact that your template based website won’t be unique. Because these templates are available to everyone, lots of other law firms have probably chosen the same one. While colors, images and logos can be altered, the overall design and layout cannot. Many businesses striving to carve out their own unique branding identity dislike the idea of having a website that undermines that goal.
Here’s a demonstration of three different law firms using the same template:
See any similarities?
How Do You Decide How Much to Spend?
No matter the ultimate website cost, the basic requirements should be met (quality design, responsiveness, SEO and CMS). What you really need to figure out is how much customization you need. In many cases no customization is required. For example, a small single-person law firm that just needs a simple brochure-like website might do just fine with a template based site, at least for now. Conversely, a larger firm might require a Live Chat feature on their home page, in which case a custom designed home page would be necessary. Or they might want each of their practice areas to display a uniquely designed page, which would require a fully custom website. Or, even more realistically, a firm might need a whole slew of unique features, the exact combination of which can’t be found within a single template.
Caiman Web Design breaks our website creation into three tiers of increasing customization:
- Essentials – our template based websites start at $3,500
- Pro Design – a custom home page plus template based content pages, starting at $11,000
- Fully Custom – our 100% custom designed websites start at $16,500
These are base prices. Any advanced features will increase the price, but this should give you a good starting point. You can read more about our pricing, including the other services we offer.
Remember, determining website cost is about more than just looking at the size of your business. It requires clear expectations of what you want your website to say about your firm. For better or worse, your website is a representation of your business, and in 90% of cases your website is the first impression the public gets. The question to ask yourself is: how important is it that you stand out from the crowd?