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Website costs: How to plan your budget and why cheaper isn’t always better

There are a whole host of factors to consider when looking at website pricing. Naturally, you want the most bang for your buck, but not at the cost of your website's functionality. In this article, we'll look at website costs and the importance of being open and honest about your website budget.

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When you're having a conversation with your prospective web design agency, it's the question that you dread: "do you have a budget in mind?".

Naturally, you always want to get the most bang for your buck.

But although most people happily walk into a car dealership and announce what they're planning to spend, when it comes to a website, they're not so forthcoming.

So why is it that are we all so afraid to be upfront about how much we expect to spend on a website? 

In this article, we'll look at the reasons why providing a budget will help both you and your agency, so both of you know where you stand. We'll also talk about how to work out your web design budget, so you know what you need to think about before deciding what price point is going to be right for you.

In the end, your agency is always going to find out how much you're willing to spend.

Nobody wants to waste time working out plans only to find your budget expectations are wildly different. Better to be upfront about what you expect to pay, so you can both see if it's going to be a good partnership.

How much does a website cost

How much does a website cost?

Unless you've had a website designed and built fairly recently, there's a good chance that you don't have any frame of reference for how much a website costs to build.

So it can be really hard to know what you should be setting aside for your new project.

Website pricing can be difficult to work out because there are just so many variables that can impact the answer.

It's similar to asking how much a car or a house costs.

Imagine you walked into an Estate Agency and said "I need a house with 3 bedrooms, how much does it cost?". 

The price of that house is going to vary depending on all the other factors, location, style, size, condition, so it puts your hypothetical estate agent in a difficult position.

Should they show you the cheapest houses they have - even though they might be in the wrong location for you, or need too much work? 

Do they show you the luxury houses at the top of their range, ones with tennis courts and designer fittings, even though they might be so far out of your budget you'd never consider them?

In reality, when you speak to an estate agent, they need to know as much as possible. The location you're after, the number of bedrooms, whether you need a garage or want a big garden, if you prefer new builds or period properties.

And most of all, you give them a budget to work with.

That's exactly what your design agency needs to get you the right website too.

Bespoke web design vs packages

Bespoke design vs website packages

It might feel like a bit of a chore to put all that thought in so that you can give your design agency a budget. Why can't they just come up with a price FOR you?

Some agencies will provide you with an upfront web design cost by offering packages, where for a set fee you get a specific number of pages, functions and usually some other stuff like hosting and a domain too.

But it's important to remember that this way round you're asking for a price and being told what your website can and can't have, instead of telling your design agency what you want, and them coming up with a figure for you.

When you've got a set list of prices, it really draws you into viewing your website as a cost, so it's important to look at the pros and cons of going with a straightforward package price instead of getting a quote for a fully bespoke website design.

Having everything set out for you in one package does make things easier in some ways.

It gives you a set structure to work with, but that does mean you'll have to do the heavy lifting by creating all the content, planning out the structure, managing the marketing and getting all the assets in place. 

It also means that there's no real room for anything too out-of-the-box. 

Your site will have the features included in that package, and they'll have to work in a specific, set way.

But if you see your website as an investment in your business - if you want to use it to grow your company, your client base and your profit margin - then you need to think about whether a standard website package is right for you.

Package pros

  • Clear price and parameters
  • Usually fast to set up

Package cons

  • Even if you're told this is a "bespoke" design, they're often actually an existing theme that's tailored to you (as opposed to a theme that's created for you from scratch, or a full bespoke design), and there's no guarantee you won't end up with something really similar to your competitor down the road
  • Set structure and layout - the plan is made before you start, and is the same for every client regardless of what you actually aim to get out of the site
  • Limited flexibility in functionality - you get what's in the package
  • Poor user experience - a set format and structure means that any planning for UX, SEO or marketing is going to be your responsibility, even if it's not your area of expertise

Whilst it feels nice to have an upfront website price, without any knowledge of your business, your customers or your aims with the website, your website builder is offering you the same exact package as they're offering every other company. 

Whether that's a plumber, management consultant, clothing designer, online community, tech startup or tea shop, your package builder is offering you all the same basic website with design tweaks on top.

That might work for you if all you need is a basic online presence, but if you want results from your website, how is a standard package going to achieve them? 

Is your business just like everyone else's? 

Isn't the plan to stand out with your website - not blend in?

Benefits of bespoke design

  • A website that's set up specifically to achieve your goals - whether that's direct sales, more bookings, more enquiries, signups, better clients or more exposure.
  • Your site will work in the way you want it to - instead of trying to crowbar your specific needs and requirements into an existing template, the site will be planned, designed and built around your goals 
  • Unique structure and design, one that works for UX and looks fab too
  • A website that uses your money wisely - additional features that make you stand out, or leaving out elements that aren't essential to save your cash in the short-term
  • A long-term approach. Your website will need to grow and change alongside your business. You get a site that makes the most of what you do now, with an eye on future developments. This means that when change happens, your site is ready for it - or is the driving force behind it.

Bespoke negatives

  • Bespoke websites are usually more expensive, as of course it takes more work to create something unique than to tweak a design that's already created
  • More work takes longer, so if you want your website up in a week, it's unlikely a bespoke site is for you

In short, a package will deliver you an upfront price, but what you're offered is what you get. 

If you go bespoke, the possibilities are limitless.

So knowing your budget helps your agency work out where your money is best spent. Then they can create a website that works perfectly for you now, and will grow with your business in the future.

Cost or Investment

Cost or Investment

It's hard to work out exactly what you should be spending on your website, but one of the key factors is to think about what you expect your website to do for you.

How you see your project, and whether a website is a cost or an investment to you makes a big difference. 

The cost of something is the price for a mug, a desk, a filing cabinet. Something that is pretty much the same across the board, and whatever the price is going to perform the same function for you. 

An investment is what you spend on something that's going to improve, protect or get you more business, like advertising, insurance or software.

So the question you need to ask yourself is whether your website is a cost to your business or an investment in it.

If your expectation from your website is just to tick that box for "online presence", but don't expect it to bring you any additional business, then it's probably just a cost to you. 

In which case, you might be perfectly happy with a £100 template site. In fact, it might be all you need.

But if you're expecting your website to showcase your business brand, earn you money, to bring in a higher quality of client, or to win you more business, then it's worth thinking about what you should be investing in that process.

Your website is a key part of your advertising and marketing budget. For some companies, it's the turning point for a lead to become a customer, the point of sale, or is the whole business itself. 

Lots of companies understand the importance of investing in outreach and spend thousands on advertising and print marketing. 

But they often fail to realise that their website needs to have as much investment and thought - it's a key step in that process. 

Similarly, for clients who generate high value leads through their website, winning just one more could be a huge bonus for your business. So isn't it worth investing in a process that's going to win those big clients over?

But what should you be investing in your website - and what do you expect to get from that investment?

It's a difficult question to answer, but even if you've got a rough idea of what you'd be happy investing and the goals you're expecting to meet, your design agency can take that figure and let you know how best to spend it to get the results you need.

What impacts web design pricing

What impacts website pricing?

Now you've thought about the value of your site to your business, it's time to consider the big 3 elements that are also going to have an impact on the price of your site:

  • Functionality
  • Size
  • Design

It's really useful to set out your expectations for these in your website brief, to help you understand the scope of your project, but also to show your agency what you need. 

Functionality

It's fairly easy to work out that an ecommerce website will take more time to build than a site that's mainly content. 

So start with a list of all the essential functions you need, and put together a list of "would like" elements too. 

When your design agency knows what you need, what you'd like to have, they can help you work out where to focus your money to get the most out of your site and your budget.

Size

A small business website may vary drastically to an international ecommerce company. But, a 100-page website doesn't necessarily cost more than a 50 page one. The key thing to think about is "how many different TYPES of page do I need"? 

If you're happy to have a simple header, footer and sidebar design, with all your content plopped in the middle of the page, then your website won't need an awful lot of design. 

But ideally, your case study page is structured for your Case Studies.

Your About page is set out exactly how you need it to be to best showcase your business.

And your product pages are designed with your product information and selling process in mind.  

So don't write a list of "pages" but set out what content areas you expect to have, with a brief run-down of what would go in there. 

For example, an About section that includes biographies for key staff, and a timeline of the company's history. 

A designer can then organise that information in the best way for your site and its goals.

Identifying all your individual content areas will help you figure out the scope of your site, and allow your agency to see how many different types of page will need to be designed.

Design

This is always a bit of a difficult thing to try to attach a clear price to. 

Of course, any website should be beautifully designed, but you may have some special requirements for design that your agency needs to know about.

For example, do you expect this website to be the absolute cutting edge of design? 

Are you willing to sacrifice a little usability and ranking to achieve that goal? 

Or do you want to keep things as simple as possible for your audience, because you expect a lot of older users?

Another key design issue is how much control you expect to have over the content of your site. 

You'd always expect to be able to add new products or news articles to your website, but do you also want to be able to add new content pages? What about new functionality?

Web design is always a balance between beauty and usability, and all these factors will affect your web design costs. It's great to consider where you are on the scale, because the more control you want over your site, the simpler your design will need to be.

These big 3 elements are going to help you set out the scale of your web project. 

They provide you with a framework that you can use to work out what you think you'll need to invest in your site, and give your agency an idea of what you need too.

How web budget shapes your project

How your budget shapes your project

Once you've got an idea of the value of your site, the scope of it, and thought about your budget, it's time to come up with a plan for your project.

With knowledge of your budget upfront, your agency can help guide you through the most effective way to work.

With wishlists of essential features and things you'd like to have, your agency can find ways to include extra features that they think will bring additional benefits to the site. 

But without a budget, it's incredibly hard to work out what can be included and what needs to be left out, or put aside for future development.

This planning stage is probably the most important step of all because it's starting you down a path that it might be difficult to come back on. 

So it's here that we want to make sure that you're making the right decisions to spend your money wisely, and to get the very best website for your investment.

Minimum Viable Products

To ensure you go down the right path with your website, or to help clients who want websites with a lot of functionality, but don't have the initial budget for everything they dream of, we often use an agile workflow, starting with a Minimum Viable Product. 

An MVP is a website that performs the absolutely imperative functions, and in stages is expanded, refined and developed into a site that does everything you need.

It usually costs less upfront and enables you to use data to make smart decisions about how the project progresses. 

So when you're ready to add new features or functions, you're doing that based on what your business and your customers need and want.

When we start a project with an MVP, we work out what your website needs to achieve your essential goals. 

We design and build the MVP with those necessary aims and functions in mind. 

With this stripped-down website up and running, we monitor and research how users are interacting with it and come up with observations and suggestions for the next stage of development.

A good example of this working is the National Grid Data Community website. 

In this project, we built the initial website with the login functionality, then over a series of sprints, we added more functionality based on user feedback and National Grid's changing business needs.

After launch, we added user voting, interactive graphs, an online discussion board, and automated emails. All of which has really enhanced the user experience and improved the ability for users to interact with the site - which was one of this project's main goals.

Working in this staged way means we save you time and money at the outset. It ensures that we know and understand what users want before embarking on the next stage of the project. 

Starting with an MVP and expanding it in stages is particularly useful for social and community websites, or projects that involve a lot of functionality. 

It prevents time and money being spent upfront without any hard data on whether it will be successful, and gives a more stable, long term plan for growth.

Your agency can plan a site that is perfectly designed, built and positioned to bring you success either right off the bat, or over time as your project grows.

Additional website costs to consider

Additional website costs to consider

Of course, the website design and build isn't the only cost you need to think about, there are lots of additional costs that may or may not be part of your project. It's important to know what's included, and what may be charged as an additional fee. 

These can include:

  • Web hosting
  • Domain registration and renewal
  • Email hosting
  • SSL Certificates
  • SMTP server (for secure system emails)
  • CMS support and updates (particularly if you use an open source service like WordPress)
  • Browser support and updates (keeping your website up to date and usable on new versions of browsers and devices)
  • Development support
  • SEO audits or ongoing services

It's also a good idea to know what your agency quotes for additional work on request. Most will have an hourly or daily rate, or may offer support packages to cover additional work and/or some of the services mentioned above.

Overcoming budget panic

Overcoming budget panic

Being upfront about your budget can be daunting. 

There's always going to be that fear that the number you give out just so happens to be the figure your agency quotes you.

But if you want an idea of an agency's prices before sharing your budget - why not ask for examples first? 

We're always happy to send out some ballpark prices for previous sites, with links to them so you can take a look for yourself.

This can't tell you exactly what your quote would be, but can give you a rough outline of how much different websites with different features can cost with a particular agency.

That way if you have a budget of £4k, and your agency's lowest price is £10k, you know you're not a good fit. 

Similarly, if they're quoting £50 a pop, they're probably not good enough for you. 

Even a rough idea, ballpark or even a figure that's completely unthinkable, can at least put your agency on the path to understanding where you're coming from.

And that's the first step to getting where you need to go.

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Hannah Laird

Client Manager