Website Production; The Price of Professionalism
The process of professional website design & development is often a misleading concept, especially for small business owners and start-ups who can often be deceived by flashy online promises of the ‘website on the cheap’, the $500 business website…or they start the interview with the oft-spoken line “we just want something really basic”, which invariably translates as ‘we want to spend as little as possible with the expectation that our project or business will get incredibly professional and marketable results.”
Well, fortunately for all of us, there is some very consistent information we can rely on to illuminate the web design process and the average time involved. Hopefully, this article will help illustrate the subtle and not-so-subtle complexities involved with an ‘average’ website development project, and why for most professional businesses with an eye on longevity, brand recognition and customer conversion, a so-called ‘cheap’ website solution may be more, or less, than meets the eye.
Deconstructing the process of website development
- Initial Consultation; It might be meeting on the phone and an email or two, a meeting over lunch, or a more formal meeting with many people involved and lasting several hours. Either way you slice it, the initial conversations, analysis and scope of a project takes time. It takes an average of 4 hours of total conversation leading up to a decent website concept and it’s worth every single minute. As a business owner you might think, I just need a website built so I want to just slide my business card over to the designer and a talk about a few ideas, maybe give them a logo and they should be able to take care of the rest, right?Hardly ever. That’s not to say that a website developer can’t build a website with so little information, but I can promise you that every bit of information you give a designer or developer leading up to the estimate AND the actual build will only serve to provide a more efficient process for your chosen developer, a more complete and accurate representation of your business or project, and moreover it will save you money. Hundreds or even thousands of dollars of potential overages avoided, all because your professional web designer took the time to ask informative questions and acquire the proper assets. Most web designers offer this initial consultation and scoping for free where start-ups and small or medium businesses are concerned because of the more personal and casual nature of the meetings involved. It’s not common practice in corporate scenarios however, and initial project scope can run into the tens of thousands of dollars; rightly so when you consider all the professionals usually in attendance at said meetings. Fact is, these meetings are important and necessary to great development, they take time, and time IS money. So as a business-person, if you’re ever not-asked for a few by a developer for initial scope and consultation, consider yourself fortunate.
Average Time = 2 Hours
- Asset Gathering; I can tell you from relentlessly-frequent experience that clients tend to rush right off to the web designer with a clear-as-mud idea of what they want for a website, but zero idea of what it takes to get there. That’s not the clients fault, they usually don’t realize that text content, images and other information needs to be gathered prior to the conceptualization part of the process to save time and money. If the vital innards of a website are not available to start, or are provided piece-meal as the development process moves forward, vast amounts of miscommunication and overages in time occur. As professional designers and developers, it’s our task to efficiently coax that information and those assets out of the potential client prior to site construction or if possible, to gather an idea of the amount of those assets prior to giving an estimate, to provide the client with a more accurate scope. For example, if a developer were to quote a website at their base rate of $1500 after learning that the client wanted ‘something simple’, only to learn after the handshake and deposit that the client has 140 pages of text information and 500 images, they might be on the hook for developing a simple website that is in fact tens or hundreds of pages-worth of actual composition and hefty amounts of files to deal with. Great for the business owner who doesn’t know any better and probably thinks they overpaid anyhow, but for the web designer it meets a brutal gauntlet of web design process for pennies-per-hour. Bottom line for business owners seeking website development; save time and money, come prepared with assets ready.
Average Time = 2 Hours
- Conceptualization; This is where the artist or developer drafts the initial layout of the website. Time is taken, and all options considered when conceptualizing placement of information, images, navigation and other features to offer the intended audience the best possible experience.
Average Time = 2 Hours
- Asset Preparation; Preparation of client photographs and creation of digital graphic assets conceptualized in step 3 can take an incredibly long time, especially since most clients (in my experience and through tales of woe from designer/developer friends) have a tendency to just offload a flash drive full of high-resolution JPG or TIFF files off on their web developer, resulting in a tedious and lengthy process of renaming, cropping, retouching and compressing necessary to facilitate most web-ready content. The opposite situation also occurs from time to time, and more often than we’d like; the low-resolution content. Small JPG and PNG files that, when scaled up from their original size are blurry, pixelated or otherwise useless to the developer.
Average Time = 4 Hours
- Website Development; As long as all of the content is organized and ready to go, development of the actual website architecture begins. This part of the process varies in length by an almost infinite degree, since every web developer has a different method of execution. Some use WYSIWYG editors such as Adobe® Dreamweaver™, online tools such as Webflow, or even supposed ‘easy-build’ websites such as Wix™, and if a content management system (CMS) is involved the supporting technologies also vary (Joomla, WordPress, Drupal, and more). The length of time it takes to use any one of them varies of course, by the experience and skill of the developer using them. However, regardless of skill, experience or tool set, the process of an average website build remains about the same. Shortcuts are available, but because the text, images, and other assets available changes with every website, it’s a new build every time.Even with ‘ready-made’ or purchased templates, the process of installation and layout may be significantly reduced, but the process of removing or editing template content and transposing custom content can take just as much or even more time than a scratch-built website.
Average Time = 10 Hours
- Testing & Debugging; The entire website, it’s navigation, internal links and all other content is thoroughly reviewed and put through the paces of an average audience member visit, repeatedly. Scrolling, clicking, changes in resolution, speed tests, and basic search engine optimization checks are also performed to ensure website integrity and functionality.
Average Time = 3 Hours
- Cross-Browser Compatibility; cross-browser functionality and mobile responsiveness. This can take anywhere from an hour, up to several days of time to properly cross-browser analysis and editing for compatibility.
Average Time = 2 Hour
- Mobile Responsive Testing; As with cross-browser testing compatibility, mobile-responsiveness is vital to a websites’ success. This involves testing of the website and the way that its graphics, text and other content display when viewed on mobile devices such as a smartphone, tablet or internet-equipped television, and usually involves multiple brands (Android®, Microsoft®, Apple®. Etc.) Errors, if any, or noted and development continues to correct the issues until no more remain in the website when viewed across the broadest possible array of devices.
Average Time = 4 Hours
- Website Launch; You’ve received final payment from the client (you did take a deposit, right?) and your creation is ready to be displayed live on the internet for all the world to see. This involves the actual transportation of all site content from a sandbox or local test-bed to the live hosting server. This can be a lengthy and sensitive process because not everything that works on a test-site works every time. Of course, experience and preparation, and most certainly attention to detail, can prevent glitches or errors from occurring on the live site, but more often than not it does not go off without a hitch. Once the site has been launched, it is scoured thoroughly once more in every browser type, across multiple devices and in various resolutions to ensure nothing has gone awry with the launch. Post-launch site checkups and search engine optimization are essential.
Average Time = 2 Hours
- Celebrate; If you’ve made it this far, then you’ve had a successful website launch. Whether or not that success maintains momentum is another thing altogether, please refer to our other posts ‘Zombie Websites’ and ‘SEO’ for some good information about how to keep that momentum post-launch.
There you have it. A rough, and for the most part conservative average of 31 hours of practical conceptualization, layout, development, debugging, testing, browsing and more testing, goes into every, even remotely decent, website. So, it’s no small measure of work. Now consider that design and marketing strategy was not even mentioned in the list above. When a website costs $500, one can’t possibly expect a high degree of careful thought, target market research and demographic analysis.
Just for fun, let’s dissect that into a payment structure and review the business reality of the $500 website model:
$500 ÷ 31 Hours (Indicated Average) = $16.13CAD/hr
Ask yourself; would you trust a first- or second-year mechanic getting paid $16.13/hr to work on your new exotic sports-car? Probably not. Would you hire a contractor for $16.13/hr to build your dream home? Would you trust the results were achieved with your interests at heart and precision levels of quality control? Again, the answer is [likely] a resounding ‘no’. That’s because these things are significant investments, in your future and you want to ensure they are built with the care and consideration in every step. No different from a website; it’s an investment in the marketing vehicle you’re putting in front of the world and hoping will drive customer leads and conversions.
Now let’s look at that same equation from a different perspective, that of an ‘average’ Canadian website developer with a couple years of experience:
$500 ÷ $23.92CAD* = 20 Hours
(Indicated Average Web Developer Hourly Wage; Canada 2017 1-2Yrs Experience) *
Well, now we’re saving 10 hours on the cost of building our website, right?
Not really. At this point we’re just asking a web designer with some relevant experience (and likely a thirsty student loan) to cram a 31-hour project into 20 hours and hoping for a 31-hour result. Either that, or you’re hoping that your first- or second-year website developer has attained some level of Jedi-skill after just a couple short years and can somehow condense the entire process, including some mystically-attained knowledge of marketing and design strategy, into a smaller window of time.
I wouldn’t impatiently want my Lamborghini blasted through my trusted mechanic’s shop in record time, I would appreciate the care they took in handling my investment, and I would trust in their knowledge and expertise to deliver a quality result by applying tried-and-true strategies they have accumulated through experience.
This is not to say that a $500 website cannot be accomplished, or that a website developed at or under that budget will be a disaster or a waste of time and money. It’s strongly recommended that business owners and project launchers strongly consider the kind of investment they are willing to make versus what they expect in return. For some, a one-page website or ‘quick-fire’ templated solution may in-fact be the best option, given development constraints in available time or budget. However, the small-business website that starts minimal will still require the same nurturing and care as a large enterprise website, and further investiture to properly grow and evolve, as a large website.
Consider your marketing budget, and the cost-effectiveness of your current methods of advertising and customer/client interaction.
In the United States, for example:
“The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends spending 7 to 8 percent of your gross revenue for marketing and advertising if you’re doing less than $5 million a year in sales and your net profit margin — after all expenses — is in the 10 percent to 12 percent range.”**
And in Canada:
“Companies that have between 20 and 49 employees invest around $64,000 in marketing and sales on average, while businesses with 50 or more employees have an average annual marketing and sales budget of $103,000, according to the survey.”***
So, all things considered, maybe $5,000-$20,000 for a strategic website development project isn’t such a stretch. A website is one of the most important components to business success, now, and for the foreseeable future. If you get sticker-shock reading your developers’ invoice or estimate, try investigating further to determine the level of strategy, market research and other considerations that are being made. Often for professional-level web design agencies, the cost factor is often dramatically hampered by overhead, since assigning multiple professionals with experience and talent to a project does not come cheap, and housing that effort in large offices increases the ticket-price. In certain circumstances, if you’re lucky, you can find freelance website developers who, in addition to having custom-coding skills, also possess a talent for design, and know how to construct and implement a winning post-launch marketing strategy, but it’s uncommon. Those fortunate enough to possess such a skillset usually command a price indicative of their talents, so even if a business is seeking to save money by contracting a solo web designer versus a larger agency, the resulting estimate price may have more in common with the ‘big studios’ than expected. Bottom line; professional websites take time and expertise, and should considered a vital component of any business, worthy of careful pre-construction consideration, strategic development and sufficient initial (and ongoing) investiture if one is to expect a quality return.