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Oct152009
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How much should my website cost?

By Vicki Ball

If you’ve ever contemplated getting a website for yourself or your business, I’m sure the first question that’s popped into your head is “How much will it cost me?”. Maybe you’ve received a quote or an estimate from someone and been surprised at the figure being much higher or lower than you expected and wondered if you’re getting the right advice.

This article is about helping you figure out what the answers to some of these questions might be and why.


The most honest answer is, of course, it depends. It depends on what you want your website to do, it depends on how many people will visit it, it depends on what your business is and it depends on how much you’re willing to spend.

Who are you?

How much your website will cost you does depend to some extent on the size of your business and the industry you are in. If you have a large product line or a well-known brand, if you have a global customer base, or if you are a high profile business, then your website may need to be larger, shinier and have more functionality than, for example, a website for a locally-owned maternity clothing store.

The same can be said about the image you want to project- if you want to compete with “the big boys” then your website needs to be on par with theirs… and so will your website budget.

What will your website need to do?

This is probably the most important determinant in how much your website will cost… what exactly does it need to do? Ask yourself what your business goals are, and be honest about how your website can help you achieve these goals.

In our (very humble) opinion every business needs a website for the simple reason of it being another way for people to find out about your business- of its existence, location and what it does.

If you don’t have a website now, then your first step is to establish one asap. The basics you’ll need are:

  • A good domain name (make it easy for people to find you)
  • A professional and suitable design (don’t settle for something off the shelf)
  • Two or three pages that include information about your business, how to contact you, and descriptions of your products or services
  • A blog (blogging about your business, products or services keeps your site fresh and interesting)
  • A form for people to make contact or give you feedback via your website
  • Installation of a visitor tracking tool (like Google Analytics) and some search engine optimisation and marketing

A website that includes all of the above should cost between $1,000 and $3,000. Of course, you could get it for less, but there can be pitfalls (see my article “But I can get it for less!” coming soon). Keep in mind that if you need anything in addition to that, like a special design or extra modules like a product catalogue, online store or content management system, then the price will go up.

The most important advice I can give you about what your website should do is to a) make sure you’re addressing a real and immediate business need, and b) don’t be afraid to start with the basics and build from there.

Who is your developer?

Who you choose to develop your website for you can also affect the price- and it’s not just all about markup and overheads.

At the bottom end of your price scale (probably less than $1,000) you’ve got the freelancers and hobbyists. They’ll be able to make a website for you fairly cheaply, but since they’re probably working on it in their “spare time” you may have to wait a while to get it. Depending on their level and type of experience, it may also lack polish and be a little clunky. And while they may help you organise hosting you’ll have to manage your website and monitor its health.

At the top end of the scale you’ll have large website and application development companies. Their prices will start at about $20,000, for which they will build and entirely manage your website, hosting and monitoring it for you. While their size and price tag is no guarantee for quality, where things can get sticky for you is in updating your site. Even small changes are likely to be expensive and, if you’re not one of their largest customers (who spends in excess of $250,000 per year on web development), you might not get the kind of attention you need.

Between those two ends of the scale is a range of different kinds of web development companies. Depending on their specialisation and capabilities, your immediate benefits are an established business, inexpensive hosting and monitoring services and less overheads. Then it’s simply a matter of finding the right fit- see my article “Finding the right developer for you”, coming soon.

After the honeymoon is over

A meme that pops up often in tv shows and movies is that, when a new website goes live, the business will start receiving calls straight away. The site never needs to be maintained, changed or updated… somehow it just keeps magically bringing in customers and money!

Sadly, in real life, such things as road trip dalliances with Brad Pitt and miraculous websites like these, just don’t happen.

Once your new website is live it needs further commitment from you, in terms of time and money. You need to spend time keeping your website up-to-date and fresh, fine-tuning the content and performing search engine optimisation and marketing.

You should also expect to spend as much on your website every year as you did getting it created- and this is a good thing. If your website is successful, then it is attracting more visitors, encouraging return visits and generating revenue for you. It needs to grow, and you need to fund this growth. Time to crack open the champagne!

The real question you should be asking

Don’t ask “How much will it cost me?”, instead ask “What am I willing to spend?”. Changing the question changes the whole dynamic of the situation.

Firstly, you can choose the developer you want and go to them with your budget. Knowing what you’re willing to spend, and understanding what your business needs are, the developer will be able to design a website that meets those expectations. Secondly, having a budget for web development helps you think about your website as a continuous project, allowing you to start small and build it in response to your business needs. Having a budget also lets you plan your spending and more easily measure your return on investment.

Most importantly, it takes all of the guesswork out of the equation and lets you be in more control of your spending and your website.

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But I can get it for less!

By Vicki Ball

Chances are, if you look hard enough, you can always find a cheaper price. Sometimes we go into this situation with our eyes open: we go Virgin Blue not caring about an inflight meal, buy something second-hand, or obsessively search and bid on eBay for the chance of a bargain.

Sometimes, though, we don’t go in with our eyes open…


Maybe we’re inexperienced with a particular topic or product, trying to cut costs without really being able to afford the drop in service, or we’re persuaded by a slick salesperson.

If you’re not familiar with the industry or product, it can be hard to tell if someone is over or under charging you. It even happens in the web development industry- and it’s not necessarily deliberate.

In my time as a web developer I’ve seen it all- from mailbox pamphlets promising a website for less than $100, to developers drastically under-quoting because they want the job, need the job or undervalue themselves, all the way to the other end of the scale where the customer is viewed as a blank chequebook.

While it always pays to shop around, especially when it comes to your website, it pays to think about why a quote is less than another- and what it’s going to end up costing you.

The sting is in the tail

Sometimes a developer or service provider will drastically discount the initial costs because they plan to recoup the difference later on. This could be either through hosting fees or charging significantly to update your website. An unscrupulous developer might even be aware that the current proposal isn’t adequate for what you need and is banking on later development charged at a higher rate.

So if you see someone offering to build you a website for less than $100, be sure to ask about the costs of hosting, and how much it will cost if you need to change something. If you’ve received a quote that is significantly less than others, ask about charge-out rates for future work.

Get what you pay for

The old saying is true, even when it comes to web development: you get what you pay for. Found a “friend of a friend” who makes websites after hours? Sure, he’ll charge less but he’ll have a narrower skill set than a web development team. He might be more of a programmer than a graphic designer, so your site functions well but lacks polish. Or vice versa might apply: the site will look beautiful but be difficult for your customers to use- and you better not look at it in Firefox or Internet Explorer because it’s just incomprehensible!

If the quote is much less than you expected, or much less compared to others you’ve received, ask yourself what you’re not getting for that price.

Wait for it, wait for it…

A freelance or hobbyist web developer will often charge less than a web development company to produce your website for you. While you are still likely to get a good result and excellent customer service, you might have to wait a while to actually get your website. Freelancers and hobbyists often work after hours, in their spare time or are juggling a full schedule with no one to delegate to.

Alternatively, a web development company that really wants your business might discount the price but extend the development time. After all, they’ll need to keep paying the bills while making your website, so other (better paid) work might get prioritised higher.

If you’ve received a cheap quote, then ask for an estimate as to when it will be delivered. Double or triple that estimate and ask yourself if that’s still an acceptable time line. If it is then go for it! Just be sure to keep on top of the project and ask for regular updates.

Starting all over again

If you’ve received a surprisingly inexpensive quote, carefully considered all of the consequences, and are still happy to proceed, then perform one final check: what if it all goes wrong? What if you never get your website? What if it’s built using some obscure tool that no one else uses? What if the developer won’t hand over the code or your data?

Of course, there are always legal avenues you can pursue, but ask yourself if your business could survive a setback like this. If not, don’t just go with the cheapest quote- it’s not worth it.

Money trail

Of course, a higher quote or paying more isn’t a guarantee for quality, or that you’re getting the best. You could be paying for overheads that you don’t want: your developer’s rent, large retinue of staff, proprietary technology.

You should also look closely at what money is being spent on what parts of the project- and if those priorities match your own. Is more money being spent on the visual design than the functional “back-end”? That might make sense if you need your website to be visually engaging but not actually do a lot of complicated things; but make sure that this is the case.

If you want to cut back on your spending for your website, think carefully about the different components and how you prioritise them. Make sure you communicate this to your developer and, if necessary, negotiate a price based on a design you create together- then you’ll know where and why the cost savings are being made.

The bit where we blow our own horn

Yes, yes, we’re blowing our own horn here but really, this article is the reason we started our own web development business in the first place. Throughout our careers we’ve either witnessed, experienced or been unwilling participants in some of the above situations, and as a result, our guiding principles are being fair, open and transparent about what we do.

When we quote for a project, we strike a balance between the amount of effort we’ll need to expend, the skills we’ll need and the costs we’ll incur, with what the value of the project is to our customer. And if our customer can’t afford a lot, then we’ll adjust our prices or design to a budget.

And that’s what we call a fair price.

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How do I tell if a developer is right for me?

By Vicki Ball

Your website is important. Your time is important. Your money is important! So finding the right developer is important too.

Below I’ll explore some questions you should ask and things you should consider when finding a developer for your website.


Making the right match

A good match is about matching expectations. Small business? Then find a developer who can give you the customised service and dedication you need. Big national brand or company? Then find who has the resources to meet your needs.

Matching experience can also be a plus. Developers will often get work through word of mouth, most often through word of mouth in a particular industry. If you sell bmx bikes and the developer has done a lot of cycling-related websites, then they are likely to understand your industry and your needs.

Matching values is also important. Look at the developer’s website and what values they believe in. Do they value customer service? Speedy delivery? Economic or environmental concerns? Your return on investment? Your customers’ needs? Do these values match yours?

Analysing their portfolio

Take the time to analyse their portfolio. Does it include websites similar in nature to what you want? In a similar industry?

Visit some of the websites and really experience them. Do any errors occur? Is there anything that doesn’t look or work quite right? Really test the sites out- submit a query or use a feature: how did it feel? Was it clunky or smooth? Be sure to try out the sites in different browsers- do they still look and work OK?

Sit back and look at the general visual style of the sites in their portfolio. Do you like it? Does the style suit your business? Be honest about what kind of look/feel you want: classic or cutting edge? Does their portfolio have examples of this style?

Customer service

Good customer service is important not only while your new website is being developed, but later on once it is live and needs support or maintenance.

You can test and evaluate a developer’s customer service by making an enquiry. Send an email or website query and see if you get a response in a reasonable time frame. Create some important questions you want to ask and measure how quickly and how adequately they are answered.

Check out their website to see what their attitudes to customer service are, then see if you can determine how these words are put into action.

All the other things

Don’t forget the things you can’t necessarily see on a website or in a portfolio. Is hosting provided- what are the costs and services provided? Can the developer provide other services such as search engine optimisation and marketing, email campaigns, website and visitor stats and reporting?

If the information is on their website, take a look at the tools and services they use. Have they been chosen for a reason? If so, do you agree with those reasons?

You’re allowed to ask

Anything! If it’s important to you, then you should always feel free to ask your developer about it. Ask for testimonials or if you can contact one of their customers to discuss their service (be prepared to return the favour if you become their customer).

You can ask them to prepare a customised portfolio of their work that matches what you’re looking for. You can ask what their charge rates are, if they can give you a ball park figure or estimate for your site or idea. You can ask for advice or recommendations. If it’s important to you, you can ask to meet them, their team or to see their offices.

 

Because websites are important, we think it’s important to take the time to find a developer who is the right fit for you. And your developer will appreciate it too- we take our work seriously and we always appreciate someone else who does as well!

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Websites and security, what you should be asking your developer

By Vicki Ball

Every website and application has vulnerabilities, and each of these vulnerabilities can expose your site or business to harm- be it through the loss of valuable data or damage to your company’s reputation if the exposure becomes public.


Generally speaking, website and hosted application vulnerabilities fit into two categories: security and availability.

Security vulnerabilities introduce the possibility of public exposure of sensitive data, either through deliberate or accidental means. Loss of availability can mean either permanent loss of data, or the temporary loss of service, i.e. the website is unable to be accessed.

Both kinds of vulnerabilities pose a risk to your business. In particular a security breach or an extended loss of availability could damage your company’s reputation or violate your clients’ privacy. The loss of data (either through theft or equipment failure) can also be detrimental and result in loss of business and damage to your company’s reputation.

Below we’ll explore the various vulnerabilities and issues your website can be exposed to, and what questions you should be asking your developer to ensure that they are being addressed. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a strong place to start…

Security vulnerabilities

Security vulnerabilities can be physical (i.e. physical theft or breach of systems), or can involve the compromise of data or communications.

Physical security

Physical security relates to protection of the servers and components that host and support your website or application.

Physical security is important to ensure that only authorised personnel can access this equipment for approved purposes.

What to ask:

  • Where are your servers physically located?
  • What security systems are in place to protect them?

Data security

Data is the client and business data stored in databases and file systems. Data security involves not only access protocols (how the data is accessed), but also how the data is stored, i.e. encryption.

What to ask:

  • Is there a strict policy relating to password protecting all the systems and resources? Are both database and file system access protected by the use of strong passwords?
  • Is sensitive data, such as user passwords, stored in encrypted format using strong encryption algorithms?
  • Is sensitive data stripped out of log files, error reports and system support emails to protect the privacy of my business and customers?

Secure communications

When you or your clients access your website they are communicating with the application systems. Each time a user logs in, loads a webpage, fills out a form or clicks a link, information flows between the user and the web server.

While there is some level of standard security applied to these communications, they can be vulnerable to “eavesdropping”, i.e. when a third party intercepts these communications in order to discover passwords or other sensitive information. This vulnerability can be addressed by encrypting communications via https, a secure http protocol.

Another form of communication is when developers or support staff need to access the systems hosting your application.

What to ask:

  • Does my site need an SSL certificate and use of https?
  • If you access my website system and resources remotely, do you always use secure protocols such as ssh and scp?

Application level security

As well securing system infrastructure and communications, security policies can be extended to the application itself. These might include: implementing a password policy (such as requiring users select “strong” passwords that conform to certain rules), session timeouts that automatically log out inactive users, no sensitive information being stored in cookies, implementation of a security model that has well-defined user roles and access privileges.

What to ask:

  • If my website has user accounts, do we enforce a password policy?
  • What information is stored in cookies?
  • What features of my website’s security model help prevent unauthorised access?

Availability and service reliability

A web application is made up of several components: the application source code, the databases that store and retrieve data, the web services that serve the application via the internet, and the equipment that hosts these programs.

The equipment requires a specialised environment to maximise running efficiency, reduce the risk of breakdown and provide system redundancies so that a continuous high quality service can be maintained.

What to ask:

  • Does the machine my website is hosted on have redundancy systems such as RAID?
  • What is the machine’s bandwidth capacity? Are there any redundancy systems in place?
  • How has the environment been customised for these machines?
  • Are these machines monitored 24/7/365?

In the case of hardware failure or permanent loss or corruption of data, backups are required. Backups should be made of both data and source code so that the system can be quickly restored in case of a serious loss or failure.

What to ask:

  • Are there backups made of my website and data?
  • How often are these made, how long are they kept and where are they stored?
  • Do you keep backups of the source code as well?

Another important aspect of service availability is monitoring of the application so that those supporting the application can be made aware of any issues and take appropriate action. Monitoring should cover issues such as availability, performance and errors.

What to ask:

  • Do you monitor my website?
  • What aspects do you monitor- availability, performance and errors?
  • How soon will you know if something is wrong?
  • How will you respond?
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