If you can download WordPress for free, then why is a website so expensive? Can’t it be done in a few hours with a cheap theme?
Does this sound familiar? Maybe you’ve heard a colleague or family member mention something like this. Perhaps you’ve even thought it yourself. Unfortunately, many people perceive websites, particularly WordPress sites as simple templates that can be set up and forgotten about.
I know that everyone is looking to get a great deal, and we entrepreneurs know that we have to use our resources wisely. With this in mind, most business owners view a website no differently than any other business expense. When given the option to buy a website for $500 or $20,000, which one would you choose?
Without the proper education about the actual process of web development, it can be very easy to fall into this way of thinking. When you don’t know what you’re paying for, one of two things will happen. Either you will end up being grossly overcharged for the service you’re actually getting, or you’ll pay for a quick site on the cheap…but it’ll look like what you paid – cheap.
Our job as responsible entrepreneurs (and online superheroes) is to change that perception. Let’s change our point of view and look at our website for what it actually is: A long-term investment in our business and future.
In order to construct that mind shift, we must educate ourselves on what actually goes in to building a quality website – specifically, a WordPress site. This will allow us to better understand what we’re paying for when we invest in our business, and it will aid in making quality decisions when it comes to that investment. And, perhaps most important of all, we can fall to our education and understanding as a safeguard against being taken advantage of by a low-rate developer charging for bottom of the barrel work.
To understand what goes into the web development process, we must first understand what it should not look like.
What website development should NOT look like (but often does)
Unfortunately, there are several freelancers out there moonlighting as legitimate developers. Sometimes they have fancy, vague titles like “online image consultant” or “brand expert,” and they tend to promote quick, easy websites to make a fast buck.
If you’re in the market for a website, beware of the following things:
- The developer advises you to find a cheap theme on ThemeForest or something similar. Usually these are around $50 and don’t require any existing website copy or artwork.
- The developer uses free Google hosting. Because, FREE.
- The developer can’t think of much to put in those placeholders and doesn’t consult you on what your copy should actually be.
- Your website ends up a little lackluster because you just can’t figure out what to say on the page.
- Over time, the website gets hacked either due to sheer negligence or lack of security skills.
- Your website has next to no visitors.
These are just a few of the many issues a web developer can present. But, hey! It was cheap, right?
What the web development process SHOULD look like
Now that we have a sense of some red flags to look for, let’s dive right in to see what a fully-formed website build entails from start to finish.
Before you get into actual website function and design, there are some questions you need to answer for yourself in order to get the best results out of your website. The discovery phase is where you ask those questions and create the foundation for your website.
Ask yourself what are the goals you’re trying to achieve with this website. Are you selling a product? Are you trying to drive traffic to an event? Are you building an audience as a future customer base? A good developer will ask these questions, so it’s important to know your business objectives beforehand. This will allow your developer to give you the functionality you need.
Another important thing to know ahead of time is who your target audience is. Assumably you already know and love your customer base, but in case you don’t or if you’re just starting out, this is a crucial piece to the website build. Your developer will need to know who he or she is aiming to please with the design of your site.
Seek out a development team that is willing to consult you through this process. You should look for a developer who is not only proficient in coding, but should understand online marketing and how to get your business where it needs to be with the website. Remember, this is an investment in your future, and without a solid foundation, no investment can grow. Believe me when I say it is worth the time and energy to seek out consultation prior to the website build.
*As a side note, 11 Online always verifies potential clients with a form that asks all these questions (and then some). Many people find it very helpful and it tells the developers exactly what they need to know in order to get you the best product. If you’d like a sample of the form to get an idea of some questions you should be asking yourself, click here.
Once you’ve sought out help, maybe done some soul searching, meditation, or deep sea thinking (whatever it takes, right?) you should have a very clear idea of your website’s objectives.
Next comes the work brief. The brief completely stems from the discovery phase and is a clear outline of the goals and objectives for your website and business. It acts as a reference for all decision making in the remainder of the build.
All the super important stuff conceived in the brief will be reformatted to show a simple layout of the information architecture. This is called a sitemap. It’s a visual component to help organize all your information in a meaningful and intuitive way.
From here, a developer will create a prototype. This is the skeleton of how the site will work. It is essentially all function and no design. It might be ugly, but good design (which is the next phase) is driven from functionality and content, not the other way around.
Copy and Design
This is the fun part! All the colors, logos, fonts, and designs are set into place to brand your website and create a unique online image for your business.
*A note about copy
Copy (or the text of the website) is the meat of your website, and without it, the site is just decoration on a blank page. Copy is what informs your audience, builds your brand, sells your message, forges relationships, and ultimately, makes you money. Find a developer who understands your copy needs and who will incorporate this into the build of the site. The best agencies have an in-house copywriter ready and willing to offer their services or consult you on a copy strategy if you want to manage this yourself.
Marketing and Beyond
According to Moz.com’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO, “SEO is a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results.” In layman’s terms, this means the higher you pop up on Google, the more traffic your website will get.
There are basic components of SEO that a good developer should always implement. Look for developers who include indexable content, strong keyword usage, on-page optimization, tags, and url structures in their SEO strategy.
Without good SEO, you’ll basically be swimming upstream. Set yourself up for success with a development team that can deliver strong SEO principles in the website.
In a previous post, Why Content Marketing is Crucial For Your Biz, I talk about the need for consistent content marketing in the online space. However, in short, a documented content marketing strategy is the game plan for your business. It will improve SEO, drive traffic to your site, create brand awareness, deliver your message, and convert visitors to customers.
Without a solid content marketing strategy in place, it can be very easy to let your content management fall by the wayside and create very inconsistent publishing habits. A good development team will help you develop a content marketing strategy that makes sense for your business and its goals. 11 Online offers content management as an additional service for those in need of someone else to do it.
Your website generates leads, sales, and customers. However, all software is vulnerable, even websites. More and more websites are getting hacked, from major corporations like Target to millions of small businesses everyday. Find a development team that can maintain ongoing things such as backups and software updates. It will be an additional cost, but trust me, the peace of mind knowing your website is running properly and safely will be worth it.
Ultimately, the cost for a website widely varies. A website for a local small business and a robust web-application will have very different budgets. Additionally, discovery costs can widely vary. Are you an existing business that already knows your customers and their needs? Or are you a brand new business that needs to do market research? Let’s assume that the discovery is done already by you and your team and you are able to deliver a detailed work brief to a development team. Depending on the functionality of your website, the development process may look like this:
- Copywriting takes roughly 2 weeks – $4800
- Includes static copy (home page, about page, case studies, etc..), long-term copy (blog, email marketing), sales copy (landing page, lead magnets, CTAs)
- Development takes about 3 weeks – $8000
- Includes Sitemap, Prototype, Functionality, Security, etc.
- Design takes about 2 weeks – $4800
- Includes, logo, branding, page design and layout, coloration, etc.
- Ongoing content management (optional) – $2000 to $5000 a month
- Website Care (optional, but highly encouraged) – $300 to $900 a month
This comes out to roughly $17,600, but you can see how much time, effort and customization goes into each website. A good website will meet your functionality needs, strengthen your brand, attract visitors, and convert visitors into customers.
So what do you think? I hope you can see the very real need for website customization and what the power of a professional team behind your brand can do. The difference is simple: you can get something a little faster and a little cheaper that ultimately will not give your business what it needs; or you can get serious about investing in your future, gain a huge return on your investment and skyrocket your business with a beautiful, custom website.