What’s a Professional Website Worth?

It is pretty commonly known among web designers and developers: people want a website that looks cool, has great functionality, and can be found easily in the search engines but…
they don’t want to pay for it.

Well actually they know they have to pay for it, but they have no idea what it is worth.  Today there are a bazillion websites on the Internet so it must be easy to do, right? Hmm, we’ll delve into the “easy” aspect in a minute.  If you do a search on “web design pricing” or something to that effect you’ll see ads for “$10-$20 per hour web design” or “Free Websites” or the like. 

In doing some research for this article I came across this really good explanation of how website development pricing can add up (How Much Should a Web Design Cost).  The author’s pricing ends up between $1200 to $20k depending on the client needs.  Then I see an ad next to that article: “Website designs from $499.”  I think that’s ironic; it would be confusing for the average client trying to research reasonable web design pricing.

This is another really great explanation of what is involved in the website design/development process (How Much Should a Web Design Cost?). (Same title, different article.)  The fact is you CAN get a website priced anywhere from $0 up to and exceeding $20,000. 

So why not go for the free one?  You know what I’m going to say next, right?
Let’s say it together:   you get what you pay for. 
Very good! You have a lovely voice.

Seriously, you can use the free tools out there and if this is all your business can afford for now, it is better than having no web presence at all.  What you will find down the road, however, is all the limitations that these sites have.  Some make you pay for extra pages, many cannot be found in the search engines because you don’t get your own domain name or the code behind the scenes is bad. Something I see frequently is when people add their content it doesn’t always lay out right. 

I have a few clients who have these “cheap” websites, but they have trouble using the editing interface. In one case, the pages are made out of sliced images placed in tables. What that means is when they try to add text, the background graphic splits apart and the page looks awful. Also, some of these website providers appear cheap at first when you may only pay $200 up front, but then they charge you $50 or more per month for “maintenance.”

(Did you notice I said I have clients who have websites through these “cheap” website providers?  They have called me after they become sick of struggling with the interface, or just can’t get it to work right. They pay me to do the editing.)

Having said all that, I will recommend, on occasion, that a free website on WordPress.com is just what’s needed.  This is for someone who is just testing the water in a new business and has no capital, or needs a site for personal use. I advise that they purchase their own domain through WordPress for $13 per year rather than using the free domain. This is as cheap as it gets – for a website and a unique domain. Then there are free templates WordPress offers for the layout.  Another popular tool for a free website is Weebly.com.  It’s not bad for free, but you have the Weebly name in the footer which you can only remove by paying a fee.

Of course, making your own website for cheap or free comes with a learning curve, the steepness of which depends on how well you can work with the interface and web concepts. How much time and desire do you have to devote to this? Also, many of the available templates look, well, templatey.  Yup, made that one up. What I mean is that it’s pretty obvious this was not a design made specifically for your business.

So what if you want more – custom design to get the look and feel to match your logo and collateral materials, certain functionalities, interactive forms, true search engine optimization?  And what about a contact person you can call with questions?  These require a web professional. And a true web professional has studied and learned the methods, techniques and requirements for a truly professional website.  There is no getting around this. 

I guess this is where I address the “easy” aspect. It’s not easy. If it were, people like me (and those even better than me) would not exist.  Why would we bother? A professional web designer knows a successful website contains:

  • aesthetic value,
  • correct functionality,
  • an intuitive interface,
  • robust search engine optimization,
  • an appearance of conscientiousness of the creator (attention to details), and most importantly
  • easily understood communication of the business, product or service of the client.

Creating even a small brochure website (a website of 7-12 pages providing information about a business) can take 20-40 hours depending on the client and their business needs. Referring to the “Handbook of Pricing & Ethical Guidelines” published by Graphic Artists Guild Inc. (13th edition), prices for static websites (basic HTML websites) run between $3000 and $100k depending on size.  The Guild prices content management system (CMS) websites, such as WordPress, between $2000 and $5000.

What all this means for the web designer is that they MUST educate each and every client on the value of a professional website, what is involved (without the techno-jargon) and what it will do for them. What it means for the client is if they want a great representation of their business to be seen by many people, they have to pay for it.

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