Building Better Websites

As Alexis Ohanian, Co-Founder of Reddit, says “All links are created equal”. That may or may not be true depending on how you define ‘links’. Throughout my career, I’ve designed all kinds of websites, from the early days of static web 1.0 websites to today’s modern responsive, retina-ready, SEO optimized websites. Websites come in all shapes and sizes and the costs really depend on the scope and purpose it provides. This post explores the process and costs of building a simple website for a start-up or a small to medium-size business.

What are the actual costs of building a website?

Today, almost anyone can click or tap a few links to create a free basic blog or website. Add in a few bucks and you can further customize and make your own. Costs start escalating with customizations or specific photography and video needs for the products or services the website promotes.Creating an engaging user-experience and an honest and professional look can be more time-consuming and resource-demanding than expected.

Just as in Real Estate’s mantra “location, location, location” a website’s mantra should be “user-experience, user-experience, user-experience.” From the content’s originality and understanding of the ease of use and screen size adaptability, the website is today’s first, and in some cases, the primary point of contact. How can we adapt content to any screen in an engaging experience?

1. Start Here

Do you have an idea for a website? Or, do you have a website but need to update it?

The starting point is registering a domain. With the recent expansion of Top-Level Domains to almost every word options will only keep expanding. Generic “.com” domains cost about $10 a year (but good luck finding one available), while new “.club”, “.online”, “.xyz”, etc. go from $200 to $3,000 and more. The challenge is finding a unique and memorable web address.

The next step is finding a hosting provider that can run for about $50 to $120 a year for a simple shared server. As the website’s needs grow, a more robust and private server can kick in with on-demand scalability, with a price tag attached to it. Today’s web hosting providers also offer a whole lot more than just a few years ago.

2. Building the Site

Assuming there’s an existing brand identity, the primary costs will be graphic design, copywriting, photography and programming. Some additional needs (and costs) for a successful website launch include connecting it with the CRM (Client Relationship Management), creating profiles in online directories for inbound links, and connecting with audiences throughout social media. For example adding the business profile in Google Maps, Facebook, Linkedin, and perhaps other more niche groups like GitHub, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. will help reach and interact with more audiences (think of it as the yellow books from the last decade).

The ‘easiest’ and the most expensive route is to have a design agency design and code a custom website which can go from $20,000 – $200,000. I know that’s a HUGE difference, but the options can vary as much as with building a custom home. Another real estate analogy is comparing the costs to a prefab home built by the masses and has limited customization options; while a custom home is built to address specific wants and needs.

A big chunk of the costs is deciding which CMS (Content Management System) to use. There are many open-source options such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc. that have lower entry costs, but also require more maintenance and security. A proprietary or hosted CMS takes away the burden of keeping the CMS up to date but will have a much higher cost directly corresponding with the amount of services provided or needed.

3. Do It In-House

Some online services such as, Wix, Squarespace, etc. have made it easier for non-coders to create professional-looking websites at a fraction of the costs of a custom website. These template-based websites can be tweaked a bit to match the branding and maybe the most affordable option for small and medium businesses to get started or update their website. But the same primary costs explained above are still required graphic design, copywriting, photography, aside from the time and steep learning curve on how to use the system and making it work as intended. The yearly costs for using these all-in-one platforms start at around $140  to $300, without adding any additional hands-on support or customizations.

4. Maintaining a Website

Once the website is up and running there are some essential maintenance costs. Who will be responsible for developing and updating content? How will audiences find the website? What actions do you want the visitors to take or what is the primary call to action?

Developing a web strategy is essential to keep a website running smoothly. Just like planning a road trip a website will require regular maintenance and up-keep. From making sure all links are properly working to creating compelling content for users to engage with, most of the costs involve human capital. Will you hire a dedicated person or team to develop and publish content on the website and social media?

The Bottom Line

Creating website strategy will outline the goals and process from start to launch. It can help narrow the options and select the best route for developing a compelling online presence. How much should you spend depends on the value you want the website to bring. If you can do it all yourself, hats off, however as a business owner you may be better off bringing in more business than spending too much time working on the website. I firmly believe in the value design brings to business.  Hiring the right professional can help position your product or service, and create a virtual home for your business which helps the bottom line.