Budgeting your website

What you want versus what you need versus what it will cost.


I get regular inquiries for the design of new websites, and/or the redesign of existing ones. Inevitably, within the first paragraph of an email, or the first four minutes of conversation on the phone, the question comes up, “So, what is this going to cost me?” I am unsure how to answer that question. Usually I don't have enough information to answer the question with any certainty. I will mention my dilemma and the usual response is, “Well, you know... a ballpark figure, something to just give me an idea about the cost?”


At this point in the conversation... I have no idea of the website's content or how large it will be. I have no idea if there are any graphics or images to be used (or if they even exist). I have no idea of how complex the website might (or might not) be. I have no idea of what you are expecting from the website as far as goals (or if there are even any particular goals in mind). I have no idea if search engine ranking is important to you (or whether you are aware of what is involved in making that happen). I have no idea... how to answer the original question with any authority!


To put a perspective on it, it's sort of like you go to the grocery store, go immediately to the checkout cashier, and ask him/her... “What's my grocery bill going to cost today?” They might reply, “Well, you have to pick some groceries before we can answer that question.”



Before Website Pricing


At New Milford Web Design there is no easy pricing menu. You can not pick Column One, Column Two, or Column Three, pay the amount on the bottom of the column and have a website the next day. I totally realize that frustrates some. It makes others suspicious. However, deciding on the cost of a website is just as much a collaborative effort as gathering the materials for building the website itself. Your initial concern should not be centered on how much money you may need to invest in your website. More important than cost is deciding “what do you want to accomplish with your website” and how involved you will be in that process. I can not stress how important these simple facts are.


Let me elaborate.


Client One will inquire with all their content ready, photos and graphics in digital form, domain registered, hosting in place and they already have a particular layout in mind. They want a simple informational website.


Client Two will inquire (with the same type of informational website in mind) with an idea about what they want to include on their website – their “idea” is a concept of what they think they may like designed, but none of the materials to be included in the website have been created or gathered. No real goals or objectives have been established.


It makes no sense that because each of these potential clients wants a five-page website both would pay the same “Five-Page Website Price.” Before offering a cost estimate for your website, we need to discuss (at least vaguely) how much time will be used to compile it, if the project is intended to be on-going (or once-and-done), and the full-intend of your use of my services within your project plans. I do not like creating obligations that I can not keep.



Free Initial Consultations


The task of finding someone to build your website can be a daunting one. You usually start by shopping for the most experienced designer at the most affordable price. An initial consultation is a good opportunity to meet, exchange some thoughts, and express your expectations and question your designer's abilities. It is also an opportunity for me to see if I would be a good match for your project, business or organization. The last thing I need (or want) is to take on a project that I can not fulfill or add value to. I will be totally blunt about that. I expect the same in return. My client list is not long. But, once someone is on the list, they tend to be there for years! That is their decision, not mine. I am grateful for it.


During an initial consultation we can discuss if your project is long-term, short-term, or simply a “once-and-done” website. I enjoy sharing what knowledge and experience I have. I enjoy learning about client's experiences in the past, and their plans for the future. If a formal proposal is required before work begins, we will discuss a schedule for implementing the project. For smaller projects – it is usually a matter of determining what materials we have available for the website, and – if necessary – how we will acquire materials that may be needed. We can discuss social media, page ranking, search engine optimization, online marketing, and general (or specific) other topics that are appropriate for your project. And, of course, we will review the costs elements involved in your project/website. I cover many of these points on the website, see Getting Your Website (and intentions) Organized.



What to expect


Regardless of your budget, there are always website maintenance considerations that are worth reviewing. I've had many clients say they were not interested in long-term commitments to the development of their website, and they are now part of my monthly (even weekly) schedule. And, I've had clients that expressed their interest for long-term site development which have become a simple once-a-year update.  All I can say about it is that we roll with the punches.


For those that want to aggressively build a web presence for their product, service or organization, getting involved in social media and a more in-depth website SEO – it is often a best practice to establish some sort of agreement before we launch your website. If your aim is Page One Google, there are few other choices that I know of. The only other option I give people interested in building a strong website, and it's not really advice, is to build it as the need arises. This is taking the backdoor in, but it works. It works especially well if you have gained from the initial website, or if you start to see the potentials of a website. In either scenario, I leave that choice to you. My only other advice is to consult we me before you just jump ship. I've had clients leave because they felt they could do better elsewhere. Most of them return. Unfortunately, they return with thinner wallets and bank accounts, and seem surprised to find out exactly what I am capable of doing for them. They didn't ask before they left. They come back and find out they lost not only time but money in the process. If a particular website is going to need a particular expertise that I am not confident in, I will tell you. And, I will even make recommendations on who you should contact. The goal is to make your website a success, whether I or someone else is making that happen.



The basics of “best practices’


Unless you are requesting a “naked website,” I include a very sound, organic approach to building your website. You can/should use these as elemental points even when creating a website yourself. By following these practices, you are setting a very sound foundation to build on. I didn't make these things up. Below I have listed a capsule version of what the search engines themselves tell website owners they should do for proper indexing. Keep in mind, computers index your website, not humans. It makes sense to smooth the way for the “bots, spiders and crawlers” to read your website properly. The search engines want to ready access to your pages. They give you “the rules of the road” to help make that happen. Not following their advice can be considered a little crazy.


Below are some of the essentials:


  • Clean Page Title (preferably under 50 characters)
  • Clean URL
  • Avoid Thin Content (minimum 300-500 words, but use common sense)
  • Always Add Value: Don't regurgitate, don't plagiarize and don't duplicate
  • Include Title Tag (under 50 characters, it should not always include your company name)
  • Include Meta Description (under 50 words long including spaces)
  • Add Title and alt image text to your images to make them readable by search engines
  • Don't link your images to attachment pages unless absolutely necessary
  • Include smallest image file needed to decrease page load (particularly for mobile)
  • Use H1, H2, H3, to structure your content logically
  • Check spelling and grammar
  • Never create duplicate content
  • Link to other great content where it makes sense, on your website as well as on external websites


If you are interested in learning more about these principles, refer to Google's Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, and Bing's Webmaster Guidelines.