Without a doubt, the number one question our clients ask when they come to us to build them a website is "How much will this cost me?" It's a simple question but the answer is complicated.
The three elements of website development that have the greatest impact on price are: content, content types, and the design. However, if you read to the end of the post, I'm going to share an additional element that doesn't always apply but can greatly impact pricing provide for those with accessibility requirements.
Before we go any further, it must be said that before you build a website, you need to have a plan in place. Website planning is where you determine your site's structure and what features you require. Once that's done, you can turn your attention to what your website will look like, and that's called website design. We often complete both the planning and design parts of a website project for clients but for the the sake of this blog post, let's assume those parts are complete. So I will focus only on the cost to build or code a website.
One of the first things a web developer will want to know is: how much content do you have? How much content is a function of how many individual pages and how much content is on each page. Pages with lots of text content and pages with lots of different types of content can take a long time for web developers to build and this will increase the web development costs. Also, it's important to understand that how content is displayed on the page impacts the cost of development. The best way to understand this is to look at the website we recently built for CPRS (Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery). The news section of the homepage isn't static content, it's built by displaying the most recent news items from that section. As such, that section updates constantly as more news items are published, so it will take longer to develop.
Another factor that can impact price is how content is going to be uploaded to the new website. If your website is entirely new, the content will have to be entered or imported. In the case where you are migrating content from an old site to a new site, the web developer might have to develop scripts that grab the content from the old website and import it into the new one. While using automated scripts can be cheaper than migrating content by hand, the scripts will need to be developed and tested.
When we talk about content types, we're not talking about text vs images, we're talking about the different classifications of content. Product pages and service pages are a common content type for businesses, while non profits might have project pages that feature the impact of their work. We also build landing pages, thank you pages and data collection forms as clients embrace content marketing. Most organizations will also have news items, blog posts and press releases. Content types affect how much it's going to cost to build to website because the web developers will need to build out the templates for each of these different content types, and each one will require time to build.
At the same time, the relationships between content types can also increase the cost of website development, because the developer has to create those relationships in a content management system (CMS). For example, if you have an event (one content type) that is linked to a press release (another content type) the developer will have to create that relationship. Another common example is "related posts" feature commonly seen on a blog post. The CMS has to be built in a way that allows it to recognize that one piece of content is related to another and displays it properly.
As I said earlier, we have assumed your design has been completed but an intricate and complicated website design will take more effort to develop because the developer will need to translate the designer's vision into a functioning website. It's the same kind of process animators use to turn storyboards into animated videos.
Another design factor that impacts website development costs is the mobile design. It's not uncommon for over half of the people visiting a website to be on a mobile device (smartphone or tablet), so websites will need a very well thought-out mobile experience. In fact, many of today's websites are designed for the mobile visitor first (this is called mobile first design).
Here's a good example from the City of Ottawa's website. The "What's New" section includes images, headlines and a summary when you view the website on a desktop:
But when you visit the website on a mobile device, you'll notice how the whole "What's New" section collapses down instead of stacking each item on top of each other.
Not everyone is going to be concerned with browser compatibility and it doesn't often get discussed unless you have mandated accessibility requirements. If you require that your website be accessible to a wide range of browser versions, and in particular Internet Explorer version 11 or older, then you will likely be paying more for your website than somebody who does not require this level of compatibility. The main reason for this is that older versions of Internet Explorer simply don't display websites the same way as other browser versions and the website will therefore require lots of custom coding and extra time for testing.
My best advice for anyone looking to manage website development costs is to gather as much detail on the content, content types and website design as possible before seeking quotes. It might be in your best interest to complete the website planning phase before getting website design and development quotes so that you can get a clear picture of what the website designers and developers will be building for you.