Without taking into account the amount of time and effort required to properly plan, research, photograph, record and write for a website, the cost to design and develop for the web is much higher than it probably was when you built your first site. Hopefully, you’re on site 3 or 4 by now … and it’s not getting any more affordable. The price of websites seems to be going up and up.
Why is that?
Its Simple: Expectations are higher.
Today, people and businesses want options, customization, and the ability to manage their own content — and rightfully so. Users (and site owners) have expectations for highly-interactive functionality, for mobile (or responsive) design, for bells and whistles and personalized experiences. Demands and requirements are more complex and expectations are much higher than they were as recently as two years ago. This makes our process far more laborious.
You’re probably used to (and enjoy) the experiences you have on million-dollar websites like Apple.com or Facebook or eBay – and you expect similar experiences for your own site’s visitors. Unfortunately, this comes with a larger price tag. This level of “simplicity” is difficult to achieve and takes time to plan, code, refine, and test.
We love this InspiredMag article that compares building a website to building a new home. If you think about it, that’s exactly what you’re doing with a website…building a new digital home for your business. You can choose the contractor-grade laminate or the finer granite countertops – but it comes at a price for our time and consideration.
Not to mention that there are so many more design choices available today. Let’s take a look at the essential (and some of the not-so-essential) elements to creating a highly-functional website that will still be relevant two+ years down the road (unlike many others)…
The design elements that comprise the aesthetic face of your site are not just happy accidents. We spend time finding, creating and experimenting to arrive at the perfect textures, shades, palettes, flourishes and design treatments that will communicate most effectively. It is a designer’s job to consider details such as branding, themes, concepts, design flow, user interface, image manipulation, typeface selection, and more.
The elements that our design team spend more time on include:
Initial concepts. These include research into your industry, exploring your existing brand elements and/or creating new brand aesthetics. We have to dig through libraries with thousands of typefaces to find web-friendly fonts, palettes with subtle, nuanced color shifts and layout elements that number in the dozens.
Revisions. The design team will have revisions from the project manager and creative lead before we present them to you, and you’ll have revisions. Just how many revisions you want will influence how much time we need to spend. Sometimes, what you think is a “little change” actually involves many layers and masks that need to be altered.
Multiple screen sizes. If we’re designing a responsive site or app, we need to design not just one – but 3, 4 or 5 (or more!) versions of each page so that the developer understands how the site should react on various browser and screen sizes. Don’t even get me started on retina displays. We’re not just designing down any more – we’re also designing up.
Interactivity. Because websites can move and change when you hover or click, we need to consider what happens from an aesthetic perspective for each button, link, image, or element and design those too.
Page layouts. Every site needs a homepage, but unless you’re looking for an off-the-shelf generic WordPress theme, we can’t make every other page look exactly the same. Your blog post shouldn’t look exactly like an event calendar page, for instance. The designer needs to create page layouts that help tie the copy and imagery together visually, in a creative and useful way.
The back-end is where the magic happens. It is the software behind the content management system, the e-commerce platform, and any other function you can think of. The back-end is what connects your database to your website. Each different web application connects to a database through programming languages such as PHP or Ruby. Each feature of a site can require anywhere from five to hundreds of files, and hundreds to thousands of lines of code, which must be crafted to perfection.
Some elements that influence the cost of development on your website include:
- Hosting. There are a variety of options here and it’s a crucial decision as it often determines the security and speed of a website.
Project objectives and scope. What is the purpose of the site? What does the client hope to accomplish? Who’s using the site, who should be using it? These are all questions that need to be thoroughly thought out and well-defined before even getting started on a concept.
- Choosing device support. How important is it that your site is accessible (and enjoyable) across all devices and screen sizes? We need to consider, plan, design and develop for many, many more screens, browsers and visitor settings than ever before, using responsive website design. (You can now surf Facebook from a screen on your refrigerator, folks. The future is now.)
Choosing a content management system (CMS). Will the site be created on WordPress or ExpressionEngine? Magento or Shopify? This decision is based on our research for your project, how much customization your project requires, and how well the platforms fit your needs. Which one we choose will determine how much integration and custom code we have to write.
- Third-party integrations. Do we need to integrate with your merchant account and gateway processor to accept payments? How about a calendar of events? Google maps or Facebook? Do your users need to login and be remembered? We can plan for our own code, but when we are relying on third-parties, we are dependent upon their documentation and ability to integrate in the way you want them to – which can drive up the time we need to spend to make it right.
Content and Optimization
Your site is beautiful and functional, but chances are it isn’t finished yet. You need content – and you’re usually looking to us for that too. Copywriting, photography, videography – all elements of creating useful content for your website that take time and experience.
Content is a very important component of your site that is often glossed over. Telling your story is what ultimately sells your product or service. We’re not talking any plain old words here: this copy needs to be optimized so that your site is shown in search engine results. This involves keyword research and careful incorporation of the terms that are relevant to your audience. And like all other elements of a custom site, this too takes time and effort.
What’s With The False Perception?
Well, with SaaS (software-as-a-service) offerings such as WordPress out there that remain sustainable by selling a high volume of sites built on automation and templatization, people now think it’s “easy” to build a website… and that’s probably fine if you’re Joe the Plumber or Sally the Seamstress.
In reality, an effective, modern website requires a lot of planning, time, attention, effort, and skill. If you’re looking for a branded site that tells your story, reaches your target audience, and is easy to manage, then you should be ready to pay a little bit extra – but keep your expectations in check as well.