Why (Truly) Custom Web Design Cannot Be Done for $5,000 or Less

Posted by ImageWorks Creative Team October 04, 2012

We take dozens of call each week from businesses of all sizes, and although 95 percent of them have no idea what it costs to build a website, they somehow come to the conclusion that is should be in the $5,000 range … maybe $10,000 to $15,000 if they are a “bigger company.”

In this article we are going to show you what it takes and costs to build an effective, well-branded website, and explain why it can’t be done for under $5,000 if you want any type of high-quality results.

  • Discovery and Planning – You want the firm you hire to understand your company, your needs, your market, etc. You need to set conversion goals, plan engagements and develop a content strategy. This will take a few good people working in collaboration – and not the type of people who work for $75 an hour. Figure 10 total hours or so at a rate of $150 to $175 an hour for a quality firm. (This is actually less than your local plumber would charge hourly.)
  • Site Architecture – Are you going to plan this in-house? Do you know what buckets work best for the latest usability studies? How you organize your content and how it’s perceived are two of the most important factors that establish your brand’s impression. We usually spend 10 to 15 hours on each site discussing possible scenarios, categories, subcategories, tool tips, menu functionality, etc.
  • Sales Strategy and Conversion Goals – What is the goal for your home page? What actions should happen … and what action should happen after click-through? What actions should occur after an interaction? What’s your nurturing strategy? All this needs to be determined BEFORE you design anything, or else you are designing in the dark.
  • Content – What are you going to say? How will this fit into your imagery and conversion strategy?

The above are required elements before any site can be designed. You can certainly provide your agency with everything above or have them work with you collaboratively to come up with a strategy that makes use of their expertise. Typically when the above is generated internally it fails to make the right impression and get results. Why? It was developed internally, from the inside out, when what is truly needed is an outside-in perspective – the customer’s perspective. This has been shown in study after study and is why you should seek an agency to collaborate with – one that can help develop your message and strategy.

OK! Now we are ready to design.

We will keep this short. Once all the above are done, it takes between 30 and 100 (or sometimes even more!) hours of design time to create all the multiple layers of graphics and effects that will make up the “styles” that are used to code your site. The main styles are:

  • Home page – This is where the bulk of your time is targeted, as this is where impressions are made.
  • Subpage – Usually you will need a style for content and another for more visual pages. This can take 10 to 15 hours, on average.
  • Form style – These are your contact mechanics.
  • Animations – These can be simple to complex. This can add substantially to your project’s cost.
  • Menu styles – This can be a simple list or a complex mega menu with interactive features.

Certainly you can hire designers for $75 an hour, but top-tier designers and design firms are going to command at least $150 an hour for a senior designer in a team environment. This is how exceptional design and results are truly created. A little quick math will show you that this phase can cost between $3,500 and $10,000 on average, pending options.

OK! Now we are ready for CMS implementation and coding.

We are often surprised to hear that customers have no idea what it costs to code a site that works in four different browsers with three versions of each inside a CMS. So we will share with you the honest truth. Once you have the above design files approved in Adobe Photoshop, they need to be coded into HTML and CSS. Even if you send these to an offshore company to take advantage of their alleged lower costs, you would spend $1,500 to $5,000 getting your site coded into a Drupal or WordPress theme with interactive carousels and animations. (This is not a ready to launch code, the site still will need assembly after this) We know; we’ve tested it! You may get lower quotes, but it will never COST you less. And 99 percent of the time, the code will be full of errors and misunderstandings.

A reputable US firm will cost you at least twice as much, but you will get a quality product for what amounts to your MOST IMPORTANT “brand asset” – your website. Even after the initial theme is created in the CMS of your choice and all the styles are set up, you still have to put together all the pages and link them to your site map. This takes A LOT of time, depending on the complexity and size of your site.

Obviously a 10-page site is much easier and less time-consuming to produce than a 300-page site is. Expect to pay $200 to $350 per page for coding, putting together page content and imagery, and testing.

So what should you spend? What should your budget be?

In a perfect world your website is part of your start-up costs. However, that almost never happens, since most companies are constantly updating their brand image. Therefore it falls into your marketing budget. Your marketing budget usually is a percentage of gross revenue, between 4 percent and 12 percent, depending on your industry. So a $5 million company should have a budget on average of $350,000 for all things related to marketing, sales and brand promotion. You can read more about marketing budgets here.

What percentage should you spend on your website? That’s up to you — but we suggest you spend enough to make sure your site is the best in its class and that your visibility and outreach are better than that of your competition. In our experience, many small businesses with under $5 million in sales invest $50,000 or more in their brand strategy, website and online marketing because they know how important it is to their brand perception and their plans to grow revenue. More customers will find, visit, interact with and form an opinion about your company on your website than through all other media combined. Make sure your impression is extraordinary.

To discuss your brand, and get a free review of your currently site and search visibility contact [email protected]

CEO ImageWorks Creative

Back to Main Blog