We've all experienced the downside of that cliché after buying something cheap. You think to yourself, "If I had only paid a few bucks more for the other one..." You know the feelings that can result. Not pleasant.
Paying for a website is no different. I often look back at the websites that we didn't get the opportunity to work on – the ones that got away. I want to see what the client got for his money. Morbid curiosity I suppose. There are many factors that determine a client's decision to use a certain web developer, but it often boils down to cost and capabilities.
I am going to give you the consumer buyer's guide to website development, without naming brand names of course. I believe anyone who is looking for website service providers should, at the very least, know the difference between the economy model, the quality or custom model, and the luxury model.
Let's start with the luxury model. These highly complex, very technical, programming-intensive sites are great when the potential payoff can be large. We've created several of these, and every one started with a client's great idea. Every one was successful. And every one cost over $20K to put together. If you've got a great idea, website development is not a good place to cut corners. The economy model seems to be the one most local website designs end up using. These are websites that typically cost under a thousand dollars and are created by one of three types of web developers.
The first of the three is the fly-by-night developer. They post ads on the web or send you a spam email talking about a $299 special. They claim to give you around 5 pages, custom built, and promise to launch you into the world of e-commerce. What you really get is the same 5 web pages that hundreds of other companies have already gotten, with the name and the colors and a few paragraphs of text changed. Tech support is limited or non-existent, and if you need upgrades or changes, you may be out of luck.
The second class of economy developer is what we call the "cookie cutter". Cookie cutters are usually larger companies (out of town or out of state) that specialize in industry specific websites. They typically gravitate to associations and convince the association members that they give the best value because of the volume they do. These sites range in cost from $299 to $599 and almost always have a "monthly maintenance" fee attached. The maintenance fee is usually $20 to $60 dollars and covers your occasional updates. This is not a bad value for some, if you don't mind choosing from a predetermined color scheme and layout that you may see on another association member's website as well. Cookie cutters rarely offer any flexibility, though. If you need some functionality or design element that is outside of their standard offering, you may be out of luck. Or you may end up paying as much as you would have if you had gone the custom route to begin with.
The third class of economy developers is the independents. They are usually graphic designers. They often work out of their homes. They probably have a moderate understanding of things technical, but they use 3rd party solutions to provide the functionality you need. You can expect to pay from $599 up to around $1,200 for a decent site from these developers. For the most part, their designs are custom, and they work well if all you need is a static website. This is the most common type of website in our area, although not necessarily the most effective. The benefit to using these developers is that they usually bend over backwards to please you. The downside is that their resources are usually limited and their technology tends to fall a bit behind as the cost of new software, equipment and learning time are generally high.
The quality or custom developer is almost always the best choice for businesses that are serious about market penetration (more sales). The cost of using this developer is usually in the $1500-$15,000 range. Typically these firms have several employees, each with specific expertise. You can expect a dedicated designer, a programmer and a marketing expert, at the very least. Oftentimes a photographer, copy-writer and project manager are also on staff. Beware of firms where the same person does both graphic design and programming. We've yet to find an individual who excels at both. It's a left-brain, right-brain thing.
An average custom website should cost you between $2500 and $5000. This will get you a well planned design and layout, functionality such as content management and online purchasing, and a database to collect info from your customers and to help display your web pages in a dynamic fashion. Professional photography is often recommended, to provide the best look for your service or product. Tech support is readily available.
The custom developer will take the time to capture the personality of your company, and will provide effective copy – copy that can turn website visitors into customers. You can expect a developer in this range to have the ability to provide the latest technological bells and whistles for you.
But matter which website developer you choose, check references! Don't assume that you'll get what you're paying for just because they tell you that you will. website development is complex, and some of the technologies used are fairly new. Most of us have very little understanding of the inner workings of a website. It's not uncommon for companies to find out that they made a bad decision choosing their web developer, and then have to start all over again. Compare, budget and ask questions. Talk to several different developers.
And don't try to scrimp and save too much if your website is going to be an important source of income for you. It's amazing how much of a difference a few hundred dollars spent on a website design can make. Sometimes it's the difference between success and failure.