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Why Your New Website Design Might Cost $5000 Or $50,000

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This post is actually an updated post from two years ago which we’ve decided to revisit because:

  • It still seems relevant.
  • Some information has changed and required a little updating on our part.
  • Very few folks read it the first time around. Maybe the second time’s a charm…
  • We’re short on time this week and can’t write original content. (Meatloaf again???)

Running a website design firm in a big city like Philadelphia and an economy that knows no geographic boundaries brings a constantly changing set of challenges. Ever since the advent of Social Media, the importance of Search and the down economy, we’ve noticed an irony in the demands of our clients.

Despite having less, they want more.

What do I mean by this? Well, let me explain…

When we began designing websites in 2003 or so, content management systems were a luxury available only to clients with a sizable online budget. Now, though, even our most inexpensive sites feature some sort of CMS. Part of me wants to ascribe all of the increasing popularity of content managed sites on the “zeitgeist” of the age which is all about topicality and user generated content. But part of me thinks the down economy has made our clients cheap. They got sick of paying us to make changes to their sites and they’re taking a more DIY approach to things. Whatever the real reason is, demand for CMS is here to stay and I thought it might help to not only say a few words about CMS but also talk about some of the other programming-dependent capabilities our clients ask us for and how they affect the costs.

First, some thoughts:

Adding Content Management to a Site is Not Free.

We’ve written a lot historically about our use of WordPress and the affordability it offers for our clients. Because WordPress is a piece of open source (read, “free”) software, there is an impression out there that it adds no cost to the development of a website. The reality though is that installing WordPress (or any one of the other open source CMS’, like Joomla or Drupal) requires, invariably, programming time from us. Sure, you can slap something together from a pre-existing theme, in theory. But theory seldom ever holds up in practice.

WordPress is not your only option.

Yeah, we dig WordPress here but largely that’s because it works well for small businesses who don’t have a lot of tech savviness and want to incorporate blogging and social media into their sites. For businesses with some level of in-house technical skills or for businesses whose needs aren’t exclusively social media driven (such as a client with ecommerce needs) we very well might recommend using another CMS.

CMS is only one of, potentially, more custom development needs your site might have.

When we develop quotes for our clients, CMS systems are only one of sometimes two or three supplemental programming needs we have to price. Content Management, it is important to understand, is simply the functionality that lets the end user change images, copy, etc within their new site. But many of our clients have additional needs too, such as the need to tie-in to self-hosted or external databases. Take a Real Estate brokerage, for example. We’ve designed websites for Real Estate brokers where they have both wanted the ability to update their site on their own and also needed to have links to regional or national property search databases. In this example, the parts of the site that the agent changes (such as blog entries, agent listings, etc) is part of the CMS, while the tie-ins to a database of local or national properties is database-driven. E-commerce sites are another example of a site which might feature both a CMS and a database-driven module.

Now, a conclusion:

I wrote this post originally because I’d been writing a number of proposals at the time where clients had come to us with a list of needs for their new website but a very tight budget. Often this list included many of the items listed above, such as a potential CMS, ecommerce or other database-driven modules. It’s my hope that, by explaining what these components are and how they impact budget, customers can gain a clearer understanding of how we price our work and, ultimately, decide for themselves whether the initial cost of their development is worth the initial investment.

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