This is a question I get asked a lot of the time in various forms:
“How much does a website cost?”
The answer I give is always different because it just isn’t straight forward. It is comparable to asking a builder “How much does it cost for a new house?”

 

No body asks this question because houses are very tangible things and many people have first hand experience of what goes on behind the walls of a house to make the ‘stuff’ work.
For example; most people understand that if you want a sink in a room then someone is going to have to put a water pipe coming in and a drain pipe going out.
The point is, things need to be specified to be able to provide a cost.

 

So, staying with the house analogy, how much does a house cost to build?
Well, for the builder to give you a cost he is going to have to do a lot of calculations and may ask many questions such as;
How many floors do you want?
How many rooms? and what sort of rooms?
Do the rooms need sinks, showers, how many plug sockets?
How will your the house be heated? Gas or solar?
I suppose you want your house warm in the winter so you will want insulation?
And then do you want windows that open to cool it down in the summer?
And how big do you want your windows?
Do you have permission to build your house where you want it?

 

The builder needs to know all of these answers before he can give you a cost for your house. From this he can work out what sort of materials to use, what sort of specialist contractors he needs (electricians, plumbers, carpenters etc.) and how long he expects the build to take. Indeed he may also need an architect to work out the layout and to specify the materials for him.
In a similar way, a web designer will need to know the specifics of your website and what functions you will want it to perform. How many pages do you need in your website and what do you want in your pages? You may want to specify text, images, videos, a form for someone to fill out or certain buttons. A web designer will be able to help you with the architecture of your website but he must be able to understand what it is the intended purpose of each element of content.

 

Going back to the house analogy; If you told the builder of your house “I would like two sinks at either end of the bathroom and then another in the second bedroom”, the builder may advise that it’s not going to be easy to have the sink plumbing in the areas specified because they are all going to have to reach the same external drain pipe to enter the one drain. It’s not impossible…but it will involve some ingenuity with the piping, involving several bends which may be prone to blocking and then of course with the extra labour and materials, it’s going to be more expensive. He can do it, but it will cost you in the short term and potentially in the long term because of the complexity in the plumbing.
How is this comparable with a website? Well, if for example you wanted to sell t-shirts on your website and you wanted your users to be able to apply a discount by entering a code on certain pages which then discounted only the “red t-shirts” throughout your site and for a limited time only, the web designers and developers are going to have to put in place some complex “coding-plumbing” to enable the changes made in every room (page) to all flow into the same drain (basket). This will take more time, is prone to get clogged here and there without proper testing, and therefore will cost more money.
If you want to know exactly how much a website will will cost then you need to be exact with your requirements. A full brief outlining all functions, pages, content and site structure will enable a designer/developer to give you a pretty accurate quote.
If you are not at this stage yet and just have an idea for a website then you are not at costing stage. This is what is called the “scoping stage”. A designer and developer will be able to help you scope out your website’s requirements no problem but they will charge you for the time to do so. Once you have your scoping document you can then produce a brief which will be accurate enough to cost.

 

I hope this helps to clear up some of the apparent mystery around web design and web building and why a designer cannot give an accurate cost based on a seemingly simple question.

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