Rethinking the Cost of Websites

I've written before about the cost of websites, which is really hard thing to nail down. Like building a house, it depends how big/how fancy that house/website needs to be before a price tag can be attached. That said, we've been doing this a long time now, and recently we've been talking about rethinking our development model at Raised Eyebrow, which has some ramifications for our pricing and would allow us to answer the "what does a website cost anyway?" question a bit more directly.

On the development model side, we're moving towards more of an Agile Development framework, which aligns really nicely with our company approach and philosophy quite nicely. For those of you that aren't familiar with Agile development I do recommend following that link, but in a nutshell I can tell you that it means a more nimble process, more responsive to needs (in our case our clients' needs), and generally means slower growth over time all of which fits really nicely with our vision of the web, community building and organizational/business sustainability.

I've written before, and waxed poetic over many a cocktail about new shiny features in the world of the interwebs taking priority over actual use value. Often we have clients coming to us, enticed by the latest cool new web tricks, and wanting to implement them -- an understandable impulse. Often, we talk our clients down a notch when we know that they don't have the internal resources to support said cool trick, or that their (let's face it often limited) funds could be better spent elsewhere. In an Agile development model we'd be helping our clients focus on a smaller and defined set of features, rolling those out initially and then working with them to monitor the value and strategic impact of those features before we undertake further development. We already pride ourselves on having long term relationships with our clients where we're happy to act as their trusted advisors when it comes to all things web, so tying that consulting relationship to a plan for a phased feature rollout is not a big new step to take. The new part, is the scaling back of initial specifications.

You may ask, why would a business (that is looking to make some money afterall) want to scale back specifications and features off the top? For us, it's about doing our best work and supporting our clients to do their best work. It's about making sure that clients are spending funds wisely so that they have something left over for features and consulting they'll want in the future. Websites are fantastic in their ability to evolve and change, making sure our clients approach the work we do with them as a starting ground for a longer conversation, rather than a race to the finish line is one way that we feel we can better serve our clients and the non-profit sector we work in.

So what does a website cost under this model anyway?

For the first time ever we feel like we really truly have an answer to this question. In our case $15,000 (plus GST if you're in Canada). And what do you get for that?

  • You get a website. Not just any old website though. A website designed and birthed by a team of experts with many, many years of experience in this field.
  • You do get an original design process.
  • You get a rock solid Content Management System (Drupal), with an integrated search, that can be extended to add all kinds of cool features in the future.
  • You get a site that is optimized for SEO both in its overall structure and its technical framework.
  • You also get Information Architecture/Interaction Design consulting and ongoing strategic advice throughout the project.

You also get two features, things like:

  • A basic events calendar, kind of like the one you see here at the Chan Centre.
  • A standard publications/resources catalogue like this one at Pivot Legal.
  • A news listing like this one for the Ending Violence Association of BC.
  • A customized blog.
  • An image gallery.
  • A video carousel like the one on CaroleJames.ca.
  • Something else that your organization needs specifically (that can be defined within a basic scope) like the integrated custom Job Applications form we did for Covenant House.

Why only two features? Well two features fits within our budget limit of $15,000 (obviously if you have more budget, we can expand the features), and two features is a great place to start. With two features up and running on a website we can work with you to make sure that they're actually being used by the organization and users (through statistics monitoring), and we can then create a roadmap for building out new features or further customizing the existing ones to do even more for you.

The idea is, that we start with $15,000, get you an excellent and useful website that helps to meet your short term needs and helps you build on your long term communications goals. And then, ideally, we set up a retainer contract with you to have regular check-ins (quarterly, bi-annually, etc whatever works for you), and we help you plan out future feature roll-outs, strategies for enhancing the website and your online communications in general. We play an ongoing role in your communications strategy by regularly monitoring your website statistics and usage patterns, and we help make sure your budgets are being wisely spent over time.

But what about Social Media, is that a feature?

Yes, and no. Adding a link to your Twitter profile or integrating your latest Twitter posts into the website is easily done, and would be included in the project price. Ditto for adding Facebook links or integrating an RSS feed from the site into your Facebook Page/Group/Profile. By default (where applicable) we can include a Social Bookmarking widget that allows people to bookmark, repost, or email your site to a friend/social networks. Ditto for adding an existing email list signup box. Actual online strategic planning is another story. If you need help with creating a strategy for online communications, we'll do that with you as well, but that would be a separate project.