Having spent several years working with web technology, I often get asked what’s involved in setting up a new website; what’s involved, what are the different components, what needs to be thought about, and – importantly – how much is it likely to cost?
You first need to understand that your website is a business asset. Like all other assets it is an investment – so the money you spent on the site should be commensurate with how much return it’s going to generate for your business or organisation. Your website is one of a number of digital properties your organisation is likely to have, and together these form your digital portfolio. You need to consider your digital portfolio as a whole, and how it ties back to your marketing and overall business plans. For instance, if most of your customers are on Snapchat, do you have a Snapchat presence?
Like all other assets, your digital properties require maintenance over time – just like real estate requires upkeep and painting. Websites are not ‘set and forget’ – they require refreshed content, and technical maintenance from time to time. These need to be factored in to your website development plan.
Takeaway: Your organisation’s website is a business asset, in a portfolio of digital properties. Understand how your digital portfolio is going to return value to your organisation, and be aware that like all other assets, it needs to be maintained.
What do all the terms mean?
When you’re confronted by all the options for a new website it can be overwhelming. Here’s some of the terms you need to know to make sense of the alphabet soup.
- Domain name: A domain name is a unique URL or web address for your organisation. You may already have one, or you may be acquiring a new one. Domain names are registered with a company that can register domain names, often called a registrar. Often, website companies will bundle domain name registration, hosting and web development services into a bundle. Domain names have different meanings depending on what they end in. For most Australian businesses, this will be .com.au. Your domain name is registered for a period of 1-2 years, and you will normally get reminders when it’s time to renew. It’s important that you renew your domain name on time, otherwise it will become lapsed, and other businesses may be able to register it. For a .com.au domain name, you will normally need to provide your ABN. You can expect to pay $30-$50 for a two-year registration of a .com.au domain name.Every domain name has a domain password or EPP key. In order to move your domain name from one hosting company to another, you will need to provide this password. So, it’s important that you keep it in a safe place. Ensure that if your hosting company registers your domain name on your behalf that you get the domain key.
- Hosting: Each domain name translates into a unique internet address, called an IP address. The IP address resolves to a server somewhere on the internet. That server will usually belong to your hosting company. The server is where your website’s files, and any supporting software, are held. The hosting company will usually charge you a monthly fee for hosting, and there will be different elements that make up the costing of the hosting package;
- Bandwidth: This refers to the amount of data that is transferred between the server and the website user, or vice versa (for instance if the website user is uploading files to the website). For static, or low volume sites, the bandwidth requirements will be quite low, but if your website is going to be hosting files which are large, such as videos, then you may need additional bandwidth. Often, hosting companies will display a message on your website like ‘409: Bandwidth exceeded’ if you run out of bandwidth with your hosting plan.
- Storage: This refers to the amount of data that is stored on the server. Again, for a static or small site, this is likely to be small, but for a larger website with lots of images, videos and attachments (such as PDF files) then you may need additional storage.
- Databases, subdomains and other technical features: These may be required if your website will be database-driven (such as with WordPress). Your developer should be able to give you a good indication of the bandwidth, storage and other technical requirements for your website.
- Web design: Web design usually refers to the design or visual appearance of your website. Before embarking on a new website for your organisation, it’s very useful to understand your overall branding, and how the website will fit into that. Preparing examples of websites that you’ve seen that fit well with your brand will save time in the development process. Most small websites will not have a bespoke design. Instead, you’ll normally start with a template or theme, which will be altered with your organisation’s name, your imagery and logo. Bespoke web designs can be prohibitively expensive.
- Web development: Web development usually refers to producing the website, and creating any customised components, usually through code. Here, the theme or template, your organisation’s branding such as logo, colours and imagery are applied, and the website is tested – functionally (is it working the way it’s supposed to?) and for acceptance (is it what I expected?). Web development will normally be the largest cost component in your new website project.
Takeaway: Understanding what key terms mean prepares you to have an informed conversation with a website developer.
How involved is your website going to be?
The next key decision you have to make is how much investment you’re going to make in your organisation’s website. The levels of investment can be summarised as follows:
- Introductory: This type of website is usually a few static pages of content, usually 5 or less pages, and will often be generated from a theme or a template, often using a build-it-yourself approach. Key examples of this type of website are Wix, Weebly and SquareSpace. Plans for these sorts of websites start at around the $USD 10 per month mark, and go up to around the $USD 30 per month range. You can expect to pay extra for additional features, such as eCommerce, and you may have a limited range of themes or templates to choose from. Support is usually built in to these packages, but expect it to be email only support.
- Intermediate: This type of website will usually have between 5-50 pages of content, and will usually be driven by a publishing platform, such as WordPress or Drupal. A basic WordPress or Drupal site will usually set you back around $AUD 3000 to $AUD 4000 if you use a commercial development agency. An initial build should include a contact form so prospective clients can contact you, the location of your organisation and other key information. The upside with this is that as long as you provide the content to the agency, they will do the initial build for you, which can be time-consuming. Expect to pay extra for an ongoing support package, particularly if you require telephone support.
- Advanced: This type of website will usually be driven by an enterprise-grade publishing platform, but will have significant custom or bespoke design and development, may require additional production such as shooting of video or photographic imagery, or integration with other systems such as booking systems, reservation systems and so on. Prices for this sort of advanced development usually start at around $AUD 10k and go up from there.
Takeaway: Understand what sort of website you’re in the market for, and how much you’re prepared to spend. Understand upfront as well as ongoing costs of having a website.
What you can do to prepare to meet with a web development agency
There’s lots that you can do before meeting with a web development agency. The better prepared you are, the less work the agency or developer has to do, and therefore the lower your costs will be.
- Bring a clear understanding of your requirements – what is it that you want the website to achieve, and how does this link back to your overall business strategy and objectives?
- Bring any logos, branding collateral, imagery you wish to use with you to the meeting. Bonus points if it’s in electronic format.
- Have a list of websites you like the look and feel of and a list of sites in your industry that you don’t like. This will help give the web developer a sense of what you’re aiming to achieve – and what you’re aiming to avoid.
- The web developer will usually have a platform in mind – as companies usually specialise in one or two platforms. It pays to do your homework and understand which platform the web development agency specialises in, and how common this platform is. For instance, what if the relationship doesn’t work out and you’d like another agency or developer to take over, but it’s a bespoke platform that only the first company has expertise in?
- Be prepared to talk about what ongoing maintenance or support you will require with the site, and have an understanding of what tasks are required to maintain the site over time. Explore what your organisation can do to reduce costs with ongoing maintenance.
After you initially meet with the web developer or agency to brief them on your requirements, they will usually prepare a quote. Read through this carefully to understand exactly what’s included, what’s excluded, and what comes as part of the package, and what features or services incur a ongoing or monthly recurring charge.
Some of the things I’ve seen web development agencies charge for are questionable, so here’s a list so you don’t get caught out;
- Analytics: Google Analytics is a free service that is easily integrated into websites to give you information on who’s visiting you, how many times, where they’re from and what sort of device they’re using. Google Analytics is a great addition, but getting an account itself is free, and integrating it with a website should take less than half an hour, and this should be priced accordingly.
- Software charges: Platforms such as WordPress and Drupal are actually free software. It costs the web development agency nothing to download this software, although they incur mainly labour charges in installing it on servers, paying for server equipment and so on. So do challenge any software charges where the platform software itself is free.
- Testing: Testing should be included in the overall charge for the website build. What carpenter doesn’t ensure joins fit correctly? What seamstress doing ensure that a dress is a good fit?
Ongoing maintenance and support
Once you’ve gone ahead with the website and it’s live and running, you’ll need to turn your attention to ongoing maintenance and support. The sort of tasks that can be expected here include;
- Content updates: Think carefully about who will be doing these, and what skills they will need to have. Does this person have content updates as part of their position description? Will they need training or guidance? Do they have time to be able to do the updates? Do they have an appropriate tone of voice and do they have a content strategy? Having a content schedule that matches the key business lifecycle of your organisation can be helpful, particularly in integrating all of your digital properties. One thing to consider is whether to have plugins or functionality that allow your audience or customers to help create the content on your site. This is called crowd-sourcing and is a rising trend among websites. Tools such as IFTTT allows people to easily submit content to your website based on certain attributes, but you should always have the final say in content that gets published on your site.
- Platform updates: Platforms like WordPress and Drupal require around-monthly updates to keep them safe and secure. This is usually a push-button process, but check what’s required with the developer of your site.
Anything I’ve missed? Leave your feedback in the comments below.