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How to calculate the true cost of a website

The cost of a website can vary greatly. Knowing which website functions will help, not hinder, your organization can save you money.

You need a new website to better engage with customers before and after the sale. But there's one big barrier to even beginning to plan: How much should the cost of a website be?

Researching this topic might leave you with more questions and feeling uncertain how to proceed. All-in-one services such as Wix or Weebly tantalize you with the prospect clearing your to-do list that day. Yet you might also require more control -- or desire a more tailored user experience -- than those site-in-a-box services might be able to deliver.

Figuring out where price meets performance on your organization's budget might seem intimidating until you break the decision making process into smaller pieces.

Finding value in your site

Let's start with the first problem. You may as well be asking how much should a house cost? How many bedrooms do you need? Do you want a garage? Do you need a garage? The same logic applies to creating a website. What you need to ask first is "How will my website be used?" Then you can ask "What is the best value to accomplish that goal?"

A website needs three things to be successful: Serving a purpose with content; embodying a brand with style; and operating efficiently with smooth function.

Begin by making a priority structure. Complexity increases the cost of a website, so separating each element into need-to-have and nice-to-have categories will give you a better end-result at the lowest price possible.

Also, keep in mind that different-sized organizations have different needs. To provide some rough estimates, I identify three general levels of websites with some basic priorities associated with them.

Very small businesses

These sites encompass online portfolios and virtual storefronts. They consist of three to five webpages, and may not use SEO. Their URL is attached to a resume, business card or social media page and is often forgotten. The goal is to entice the visitor to see your location or respond to the call-to-action.

Websites in this category are ideal for all-in-one hosting products. Companies such as Squarespace handle many of the administrative tasks for you with relatively little overhead. For $12 per month, you can create a website and not be bothered with regular maintenance items. Not a bad bargain. The alternative is finding a web host and domain registrar before making it yourself. Assuming you purchase a theme, plan to spend $150 for the entire year and 10 to 20 hours setting it up.

Budgeting SMB websites

These sites consist of five to 20 pages, and require some SEO integration. This level of business site complexity may come with community forums or an industry blog.

The look-and-feel needs to be consistent with the company brand and should be built on a responsive platform so content resizes correctly across all devices. HTTPS with a security certificate and some form of image optimization are best practices when sites reach this level. All of these little tie-ins require someone with current knowledge of design as well as how best to execute it and can increase the cost of a website.

Paying for professional design help and coding will benefit you in the long run, because having a poor website can be more detrimental than not having a website at all. Poor sites diminish credibility or make you appear dated in general.

Good designers use the latest web-display programming standards and typically charge between $3,000 and $15,000 depending on the list of requirements. They may even offer to maintain the site or update the content as needed. Look for ones that have a good portfolio and ask lots of questions before progressing to the design stage.

Beyond SMBs

These sites usually have more than 20 pages and require full CRM integration with analytics -- the lifeblood of business. Functionality needs to be flawless as well as having a captivating style and content that is tailored to deliver front-page SEO results.

At this scale, the ability to track the effectiveness of email campaigns and conversion rates is expected. You may even wish to monitor what pages a particular client is spending time on or enable input fields that change based on the information you already have from them. All while maintaining 100% uptime and blazing fast load times.

Because of the focus on analytics, the goal for the website should be precise. For example, setting a goal such as, "We plan to funnel 100,000 visitors through our homepage every month and provide a 5% conversion rate for marketing and inbound SEO lead generation," will help prove the value of the website long after the launch date.

You may also want to track the success using different metrics. "We intend to reduce our call volume 35% by providing a publicly accessible knowledge base and integrated chat feature," is still a viable goal with completely different execution paths.

The cost for this type of website is entirely subjective. If the cost of a website is five figures to create, aligning that cost to your original goal allows you to defend its benefit. Did it facilitate six figures in sales? Has it generated more than 10,000 leads? This cost analysis makes it an asset instead of a responsibility.

So if you find your budget spiraling out of control, consider flipping the question. "What would be the best ROI for a website that costs $10,000, $20,000 or $50,000 over the next five years?"

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