How Much Does a Website Cost – Part 2

What they don’t tell you

burning money
Do you feel like your burning money online?

There are many unexpected costs involved when creating a website or new online business, many of which come as a shock to business owners.

Often it can feel as if you are burning money for no result.

As my friend Richard Keeves at Smarter Web Strategies keeps saying:

"When it comes to online business, many business owners simply don’t know what they don’t know."

And the things they don’t know, often come with a huge financial shock attached to them.

In my last post How Much Does a Website Cost? I attempted to outline the basic options any business has for getting online, and the costs associated with it.

I may have been a little too ambitious with the post as it stirred up quite a debate on Linkedin, and I took a bit of heat for all the things I left out. (This is just one of the discussions.}

My old university colleague Craig Reardon, now at the eTeam in St Kilda pointed out some of the other things that make up the cost of a website: you mean a fully planned, prepared, wire framed, copy written, optimised, extensible, future-proof, easy to maintain, secure, supported website which is where the real costs of a website lie?

Graham Knowles of Digital Guerrilla pointed out that I’d missed the whole issue of outsourcing and some of the other tools available to help business owners run their online operations.

And Miranda Harrison from Securus Global pointed out to a huge omission on my part about security.

So in this post I will cover off on the very valid points made by Craig and Miranda. The issue of outsourcing highlighted by Graham I will have to detail in part three.

This is a long post but the gist of it is:

  • You Get What You Pay For
  • You Don’t Know What You Should Pay For
  • Not Knowing That is Going to Cost You
  • You Probably Haven’t Budgeted Enough
  • Know Your Options

What They Don’t Tell You Will Cost You One Way or the Other

money egg timer
Do you really know where the money's going?

Why is it that some agencies can offer you a website for around $1,000 while IBM can charge David Jones $160 million for one?

In a nutshell, for $1,000 you get a website; for $160 million you get a business that sells - a lot.

Yes, that is an oversimplification, but I’m deliberately trying to make you think about it and what the likely differences are.

Often when I and my peers are just talking to business owners one of the greatest sources of frustration for them is that they can’t get a clear idea on not only what things should cost, but what they should actually be spending their money on.

If they speak to 10 different consultants and agencies they’ll get 10 different answers and the costs can vary enormously.

That’s partly because the more professional operators know what needs to be done and account for that in the budget. The less professionally experienced are often completely unaware of some of the things that need to go into a website to make it actually work as a business.

These omissions can reduce the initial cost greatly, but ultimately will cost the business owner in the long run in terms of poor performance, lack of sales and results.

Having said that I’ve seen plenty of high end agencies completely oblivious as to what’s really needed to make a website and online business work, and I’ve seen lots of small agencies who are absolute geniuses at doing things the right way.

So while price may be a factor, a bigger factor is knowledge.

The rest of this post will give you a detailed list of many of the things you as a business owner must consider when developing your online operation.

Professional Business and Marketing Planning

dartboard marketing
Proper planning will get you better results

Before you even go near a web developer you should have already worked out and detailed your online business plan and online marketing plan.

If you don’t know what your business objectives are and how you are going to achieve them, well then there’s really not much point going any further.

There are a number of reasons for doing this first. Proper business and marketing planning will determine how your website should be built, what technologies you require, how the site should look, how it will function, how it should be structured, who the users/customers are, what their motivations are, what they like, what they don’t like, what language (words, tone) to use and much more.

In other words the business and marketing plan gives you a detailed guide on how to build the website. It dictates and determines the key things that need to be done. Without it, crucial business decisions are often left to technical developers and creative designers, and as talented as they may be, they are just not business or marketing professionals.

Doing proper business planning also helps you the business owner better understand how the website is going to work. You’ve got a business framework in which to judge it rather than a technological or design framework.

The other reason to do this work first is that over the past two decades I’ve seen countless marketing campaigns and online ventures fail because of poorly constructed or poorly thought out websites.

How any website is put together has a huge bearing on its online marketing effectiveness.

It doesn’t matter if you try AdWords, email, seo, social media or whatever, if the site is poorly thought out, no amount of marketing spending is going to fix it. This is what I mean when I said at the beginning you’ll end up paying one way or another.

The final reason for proper planning is so that you can measure your results and success properly, and then make informed business decisions on what to do next. Without proper planning you’ll just be floundering in the dark

Cost: Obviously getting professional business planning and marketing planning is going to cost you. Usually it can cost just as much as the entire web development, it’s an upfront cost and I’m sorry to say it is just the first of many costs you may not have considered.

Expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 for small to medium sized plans and more for larger scale projects.

Search Engine Optimisation –Do It Now, Not Later

SEO Planning
Getting found starts at the beginning

Another key thing you should do before racing off to the web development agency is search engine optimisation.

The absolutely crucial reason for this is that organic search traffic (that’s the free stuff you get from the search engines) is going to account for anything between 25% to 50% of your traffic and revenue.

And it is going to do so for the life of your site. In short it’s a big deal and you need to get it right, right from the start. Get it wrong and you seriously impede your chances of results.

Much like proper business planning, proper SEO will determine how to put the website, online business together. What words to use, what types of content people are searching for, who’s searching for it, what’s being shared etc.

All this is critical information that will be used for your menu and navigation structure, page titles, file structures, image names and on and on.

A good SEO consultant will also tell you how to structure your documents and content correctly for maximum results. This needs to be done before you start building your site. Often it is impossible to do this after the site is built.

Here's what Search Engine Land has to say about trying to do SEO after your site is built:

"It is an SEO nightmare.We’re called in too late. A lot of adjustment and re-coding is required. Even then, some online stores won’t be able to meet the market’s needs without a complete make-over of the website. This is time consuming and expensive."

And again, proper SEO advice will have a bearing on what technologies and solutions you choose.

Now, often your web developer will say that they do SEO, unfortunately I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen high end development agencies completely miss even the very basics of SEO when building sites for clients.

Search ranking factorsI strongly recommend you seek out a specialist, someone who does only search engine optimisation work.

To get an idea of just how complex this is have a look at this infographic from Search Engine Journal on the top 200 ranking factors for 2013. If this doens't convince you that you need a specialist, nothing will.

Cost: Again upfront and unexpected. Expect to pay the same as you paid for the business planning and marketing planning guys.

Professional Copywriting

barbed wire pens
Good copy writing sticks

Using the right words can boost your online results by many 100’s of percent.

It is one of the easiest things you can do to improve your website, and is always the most overlooked and ignored. If you want to get great results, invest in a good copywriter.

And by good copywriter, I mean someone who knows how to write words that produce bankable results, not somebody used to work in PR or the media. Good copywriters are hard to find and cost a lot.

Cost: Expect to pay as much as you paid the planners and seo guys combined. Most of you won’t be able to contemplate paying that, which is why your websites won’t work as well as they could.

Content Production

Following closely from copywriting is the whole area of content production and content marketing. If you want leads from the search engines and you want people to share your stuff in social media, then you will need to produce content on a regular basis.

You may be able to get your staff to do it, but more than likely you’ll need to hire someone to do it for you. Cost can vary greatly from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per month.

Professional Design

I’m a great believer in professional graphic design. Done well it can differentiate you from your competition and communicate the right messages to your potential customers. Also, web design brings with it its own set of challenges and a good web designer will know how to design for the medium.

Again, it is another service worth paying for. Expect to pay around $2,000 for a good design, depending on the size and complexity of your web project.

If you’re just starting out then you can buy pre-existing templates for around $50-$100 from sites such as Template Monster.

Conversion Rate Optimisation

This is yet another item that gets left to the very end when it is essential that it is done at the start. Conversion rate optimisation is simply the process of making sure your online asset produces the maximum results.

A CRO specialist will work closely with the planners, SEO, designers, developers and copywriters to make sure things are put together in ways that maximise your results.

Cost: As much as the planners, if not more.

Security and Risk Management

Secure Card Yet another item often overlooked or ignored. If you’re running any business you need to secure it and protect it from a whole range of issues.

Online is no different.

If you’re a medium to large business you should at some stage been called before the company’s risk manager and been asked to explain, in detail what the risks of your project are and how you are going to protect the company and everyone involved from those risks.

Having said that, I’m often amazed at how many such companies have managed to avoid this process.

Even if you’re a small business, you still need to manage the risks.

Online there are obvious risks from fraud, hacking, intellectual property protection, compliance with Federal laws on discrimination, abuse, accessibility, fair trading, defamation, complaint handling, refund policies, asset protection, asset ownership and on and on.

While technology can provide certain solutions and protections for some of these issues, others are a matter for human resource polices and company policy. As such they are not something you can get from your web development agency. You need to work them out yourself with your internal staff members and your company lawyers.

Cost: I don’t know, how much do lawyers cost? Just kidding, but you get the idea. There are guides available on what you need to consider, and a good web agency or consultant should at least be able to give you some idea of what needs to be covered off on, but ultimately you can’t escape going to see the legal beagles.

Analytics – Your Key to Better Everything

analytics chartWhile this is something that can be done after the site is built, again ideally it is best started at the beginning.

It will follow on from the work done by the planners, the seo team and the conversion rate optimisation specialist and incorporate all of that into the goals and reporting of your analytics solution.

The reason for starting it early is that there are always technical issues when implementing analytics and it’s better to discover them as you go rather than trying to fix them retrospectively.

Ultimately analytics will tell you how well or how badly everything is working from a business perspective. Knowing this you can make informed business decisions on budget, strategy, tactics, product development, customer experience and more.

Analytics should help you run your business. If it isn’t, then it isn’t set up correctly.

Cost: Anywhere from $5000 -$30,000 to set up and about $2,000 a month at least if you want to get real value out of it.

Structured Data and Semantic Mark-up

You may have heard a lot of talk lately about big data, structured data, micro formats, rich snippets, semantic mark-up and other unfathomable names.

Simply put, this is all about organising your online content and data in recognized ways so that it can be better used by search engines and other applications.

Of to put it another way, it’s about data-basing your content so that it can be easily organised and retrieved.

For example by using a standard and recognised set of tags, you can specify what different parts of your content are. EG: This is an article, this is a product, this is a price, this is an event, this is an address, this is the phone number, this is the author and on and on.

There are a number of benefits to this. First it helps the search engines get a far better understanding of what your site is about.

You can also use it to specify what and how your content gets shared on social media.

More importantly it allows other applications to start doing some really cool and useful things with your content.

Google’s authorship verification is just one example of this. By setting yourself up as the verified author of your work, Google can then retrieve a list of everything you’ve ever written, not only on your own site but anywhere on the web. This enhances your authority and credibility and can improve search engine performance, lead generation, conversion rates sales etc.

A really good web developer will advise you to do this during development. It is a little bit of extra work, but really not that much. So again there’s an additional upfront cost, but the long term benefits are considerable.

An inexperienced web developer probably won’t even know about it or what needs to be done.

Professional Development and Coding

Good coding will have an effect on almost all of the items mentioned above. A good and experienced web developer will be aware of this and take them all into consideration when building your site. That's part of what you pay for.

However, some developers will be unaware of them, or the finer details and that ignorance can cost you in the long run.

As a business owner, you are usually not technically savvy enough to know the difference. This is why you need to seek out good, independent advice, but again that comes at a cost.

Ouch – You’ve Completely Blown My Budget

For those of you who have been keeping a tally, what I’ve suggested above adds up to somewhere between $50,000-$100,000 for things you need to do on top of a standard web project development.

Plus several thousands of dollars a month just to maintain some of the important services.

I know for some of you that’s a shock, and really completely out of your budget, but that’s partly the point of this post.

Thinking you are going to get fantastic results from your online presence and assets without investing in it and doing the work is somewhat naive.

I know one of the all pervading myths about the internet is everything is free and instant. Unfortunately there is no end to the number of unscrupulous people out there who prey on that belief and try and con you with promises of instant results for very little outlay.

If you’ve read this far you’re probably experienced and mature enough to know that there’s no free lunch.

If you want professional results you have to pay for professional people.

I Can’t Afford That – What Other Options Do I Have?


One of the great beauties of the web is that you can do almost everything yourself – if you have the time, inclination and aptitude.

If you’re running a business then you probably don’t, although you may be able to do some of the key tasks yourself.

Hosted Tools

There are also a lot of free and inexpensive tools out there which will do some of the work for you. Their costs usually range from $20 a month to $200 a month, and by the time you’ve signed up for all the ones you’ll need, it’s probably still going to cost you several thousand dollars a month.


With services like Fiverr, Freelancer, oDesk, Elance and others, you can outsource much of the work to lower paying countries. The savings can be substantial, but there are things to be aware of. I’ll have more to say on outsourcing in the next post.

Hosted Services

In the first post I mentioned a whole range of fully featured hosted services you can use to setup and manage your website. Prices start from as little as $5 a month. Many of these services are run by well known reputable companies.

Their solutions will cover off on most of the basics that you need, but they won’t cover everything. Still, they are a good place to start.

What This All Means for You

This has been a monster post and I hope it’s given you better understanding of some of the key things involved in a web project, what you should expect to pay and what’s worth paying for.

Also, just because I keep stressing using professional services, that doesn’t mean I’m recommending big agencies. Over the past two decades I’ve come across plenty of big agencies who don’t know what they are doing and plenty of smaller ones that are really on the ball.

Nor does it mean the most expensive option is always the best, quite often it isn’t. Smaller operators are often able to give better service because they are simply structured better.

That probably doesn’t make it any easier for you the business owner when trying to choose between vendors, and unfortunately that’s the state of the market right now. It’s hard to know who’s giving you the right information.

That’s what this post and indeed this blog is about – giving you the information to make informed decisions.

Further reading...

How much does blogging cost?

What does it cost to run an online business?

If Google Analytics is free, why does it cost so much?

What does SEO cost in Australia?

Remarkable Research on What Really Works Online

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