When it comes to web design pricing I have long known there is some mystery to it. It's not uncommon to find ads and offshore companies plugging $199 for a five page website to top brand agencies, only to hear later there is a "it costs $5,000 to even talk to us" retainer. Clearly it's anyone's guess as to how much it should cost to build a website, or is it? What goes into putting up a website? How much work does it take? Do they charge hourly or by the page or maybe even by the cheesy stock photography image? The fact is that there are many ways that companies sort out the pricing of a site project, and while some companies are on the up and up, some merely just shoot the moon. I think the age old motto still applies, "You get what you pay for!" Ultimately, the industry is diverse enough where there are a million different ways to categorize each company and likewise their pricing mechanisms. I can't write that long and it's almost my bed time, but I have done my due diligence to provide some insight to a few of the major categories that most web providers can call their own.

For $500 or less you too can have your very own personalized website. That is of course as long as you don't mind there being 1.2 million others just like yours, albeit maybe with a few color variations. These types of offers basically have a few catches:

  1. You have little to no say in the aesthetics of your site.
  2. While you may not get charged a staggering amount for extras, these deals are for bare bones. It is essentially the car with no air conditioning.
  3. I leave it to personal opinion as to whether this is a good thing or bad thing, but the odds are extremely high that the work is being outsourced.
The positive side of these providers is you get to have a billboard for your business for a relatively small expense. This is great for start-ups, small businesses and local business. It accomplishes just getting some basic information on the web and likewise gives people a fair chance at finding out who you are, what you do, and how to contact you. If you are trying to receive and/or market to a national audience this type of website will stand to hurt before it helps. Essentially, if you are driving traffic to your site that would otherwise never have heard of your business, it is essential to make a first impression that sticks.

The next main category is the "custom" web designer. Many companies attempt to exploit the word "custom" and essentially the word itself means little in regard to the context of the company that uses this moniker. At a minimum, a "custom" website should never mimic either the designer's portfolio or any other website on the web for that matter. A custom design takes good and bad aspects of existing design trends and combines them with the client's wants, needs, and objectives. Now what comes out on the other end depends on any number of potential factors from the company and/or designer's artistic interpretation to the client's desire to micromanage the process. As stated there are many companies out there that coin themselves "custom web designers." To separate the gold from the dirt you have to consider one or all of several factors.

  1. What is the process they use to get the final product? What kind of information do they gather? Do they do interviews, questionnaires, or a combination of both?
  2. Do all of the websites in their portfolio look the same? Did they actually do the designs in the portfolio or just update some text on the page at one point?
  3. If needed, how is the revisions process handled?
All of the answers to these questions play into the final product you will eventually pay for. A good solid process backed with a company that has the skills to produce a truly unique web experience is going to cost more, but likewise it is the difference in separating your online presence from others. While a site my not always convert the masses that are only there to seek its beauty, a quality designed website creates an online branding and PR campaign not equally matched by alternative means. Pricing in this genre can really run the gamut. If a company is charging on the low end in this particular sector, there is usually a catch. Either they are a $499 web company in disguise or you are not getting the benefit of a process or team of skilled professionals behind the effort. If the price is on the high end, then it is important to make sure they have the portfolio and case studies to back it up.

The next and final iteration of a web industry sector is the full blown Interactive Agency. If the agency truly is representative of its place in this realm, this isn't for the faint of heart, or pocket for that matter. There are very, very few agencies that are worthy of this categorization. With a true interactive agency a web site is no longer a project but a multi-faceted marketing campaign combined with print, social, branding, and traditional marketing elements. To get the most out of the cost of this type of company your place in the market share is now about brand awareness rather than traffic and conversions. You want the target audience to see and know you are there and the web is only a small part of this overall vision. Costs are a minimum of six figures if not seven and chances are about 99.9% your average five year old can name the companies that use a true Interactive Agency.

To make the best decision it is important to understand there is a return on investment through a carefully thought out combination of quality and budget. In the end with true Interactive Agencies aside, you are paying for quality, expertise, and current disposition regardless of their "marketing position". A volume based company cannot truly fit in to the custom web design industry and an Interactive Agency can't meet the pricing demands below that of a Fortune 500 company. In today's web world you have traditional marketing companies experimenting with web, design firms pretending to be development firms, development companies pretending to be design firms, hosting companies offering websites, IT consulting and more, all trying to get their piece of the action. I circle back to the point that there are million of different factors that go in to web design companies and their pricing mechanisms. Any prospective web site client should hopefully understand the relationship between desired quality and budget, the rest is finding a prospective relationship that fits within those two elements.