Buying a website is more akin to buying a house than buying a pizza. I don't mean that websites are astronomical, over-inflated and bordering on a national obsession (though some definitely get close to it).
No. Buying a pizza is a one-off cost whereas buying a house comes with many different costs - there's the one-off cost: the purchase price, but then there are a host of other decisions to be made and costs to be considered as well, such as maintenance, DIY vs. a decorator, insurance, utilities etc. And then there are costs before you even get to the point of purchase - legal fees and conveyancing, surveys and due diligence. The list goes on.
Much of the same can be applied to websites. They're not a perishable end-product like a flyer or a leaflet or a printed programme. Instead they're a living, breathing communication channel that needs tending to. And if you really want it to flourish then the frequency, range and quality of that tending to is as crucial to its success as the purchase price.
Let's start with the direct costs. These fall into 3 main categories:
- Design and content modelling
- Technology platform requirements
- Level of expertise, resourcing and strategic input needed
Design and Content Model requirements
Brand, design, structure, content and interactivity come together in what we call the design and content model: AKA the user experience of your website. Lots of questions feed into the scope and costs of this, for example: the quality and extent of your existing brand and brand materials, the level of design sophistication and interactivity required (e.g. interactive elements on scroll, modal layers, XXX and more) and the depth and breadth of your content i.e. will the new site have events, blog posts, media pages, shop products, landing pages, team pages, membership and support pages or just event and blog post pages?
In answering these questions you're already painting a picture of the type of website you're looking for. Broadly speaking, you have three options to choose from:
- Ready-made designs, fixed structures, interactivity and templates
- Adapted designs and more flexible structures, interactivity and templates
- A fully tailored solution of bespoke design and interactivity, flexible structures and templates
This has a big bearing on the cost: off-the-peg and readymade will be cheaper (but far less flexible). Adapted will be more expensive but more flexible. Bespoke more expensive again but more flexible again and a lot more tailored.
So what about costs:
- Off the peg: £0-£2,000
- Mid-level work: £5,000-£10,000
- Fully tailored: Upwards of £10,000
Technology platform and functional requirements
This is the part of the spec that makes sure the site works perfectly and efficiently. Essentially, what's going on under the hood.
Costs depend on the technology choices and functionality you require as well as how much control you want and how much you envisage its capabilities needing to expand in future.
There are different ways of building and hosting a website, all of which affect the final figures:
Option 1: Website building apps
An increasingly popular option, especially for smaller organisations, is a website building application, sometimes called a SaaS platform (which stands for Software as a Service). There are lots of website builders available with very low associated costs (e.g. Wix, WordPress.com, GoDaddy and Squarespace) and the whole idea is that they look after all of the software installation, setup and maintenance for you.
It offers a quick and easy solution, especially for small organisations and is very low cost although there’s far less flexibility and customisation and you’re dependent on the makers of the app providing upgrades and new functionality. There are currently no platforms specifically focused on the needs of the arts, heritage and not for profit sector and you can’t transfer the site to another host (though you can export content).
Option 2: Content Management System - open source
Open source content management systems (CMS) like Drupal, WordPress and Joomla are all technically free (anyone can download the source code), you just pay for a developer’s time to optimise the content management system for your needs.
This means it’s highly flexible and there’s a lot of existing functionality that can be leaned on and leveraged for any new site meaning you can do all sorts of things e.g. search, registration, media libraries, ecommerce, multilingual content, forms, SEO optimisation etc. It’s a good idea to have some budget set aside on an ongoing basis so you can make any customisations you might need in the future.
Option 3: Content Management System - closed source proprietary
In our view, closed-source CMS' are the least attractive option and are incredibly disadvantageous to your needs - you are typically locked in to one vendor, there is no easy exit path and there is invariably less flexibility (in terms of design and functionality).
Cost of ownership (setup and support) over 4 years
- Website building apps: £0 - £5,000
- CMS - open source: £7,500 - £60,000
- CMS - closed source/ proprietary: £15,000 - £75,000
Strategic Input, Expertise and Resourcing
The third key factor affecting cost is how much external strategic input you need. The different stages and tasks of a digital project will require different levels of input and resources from you either directly or indirectly.
Just looking at brand and content requirements (copy but also images, video, attachments, floor plans etc), often you are best placed to own and supply these but equally we know there are instances where you don't have the resources so these are better supplied externally. As well as brand and content requirements this could also extend to user research, consultancy (for procurement or even project management) and XXX
Option 1: Self service
Some organisations are blessed with super talented communicators who have done this all before, or are quick to learn. Obviously employing these kinds of people is an investment in itself but once you have them it can really cut the costs of your website project to use their expertise to guide it. If this isn’t the case but still want/need to keep the guidance in house, there’s loads of free resources out there to help proactive marketers build a great communications strategy e.g. CultureHive, ArtsProfessional etc. This self service approach is the most compatible with website building apps that are designed to put you in the driving seat straight away.
Option 2: Professional guidance and collaboration
More commonly, charities have some internal experience but are also daunted by the process of a website overhaul and are looking for confident, experienced external input to help minimise the myriad of decisions and choices. What you need here is someone to walk you through a process step by step. You are probably happy to do much of the content strategy implementation yourself but you want access to deeper expertise to define the process, review your work and suggest improvements.
Option 3: Complete outsourcing
Unusual though it is, charities and nonprofits do sometimes find themselves in the position of being cash rich and time poor. In such circumstances it can be really helpful to outsource the whole website re-build. This can quickly become expensive because the agency need enough time to get a deep understanding of your organisation so they can make decisions on your behalf and deliver a product that serves the required purpose.
So this tier includes time for an external consultant or agency to get to know your organisation, work with you to refine the overall communications strategy and then draft key messages, sitemap, user journeys, and top level website content.
- Option 1: Self service: £0
- Option 2: Professional guidance and collaboration: £1,000 to £5,000
- Option 3: Complete outsourcing: £5,000 to £20,000
Other things to consider
To really optimise your website, it’s also worth thinking about doing some stock-taking of your current suite of assets, in-house skill-sets and possibly brand, all of which could incur costs.
- Upskilling: We’ve already touched on this, but be sure to take into account the skill set you currently have in house. Will you need new copywriting? Any training on how to use the website or best practice etc. Cost: from £350 per day for relevant training
- Brand identity development: it’s very common to need a brand refresh alongside a new website. Some agencies will happily take on both tasks together but you may prefer to separate them. We've written elsewhere about how to prepare for a brand refresh. Cost: £1,000 to £5,000
- Search engine optimisation: the top level principles ought to be covered in the sections above but detailed page by page optimisation is a different matter and needs dedicated budget to do well. A lot of the work required will be relatively low skilled implementation but it will need experienced oversight. Cost: £500 to £5,000
- Commissioned photography: Great photography is one of the easiest ways to improve your website but it takes thought and investment. Cost: £500 to £2,500
- Content migration: Your website content will normally be your responsibility to write, add and manage. If you are moving from an existing website large chunks of content can often be migrated programmatically or can be outsourced which will save you time. The more diverse and complex your content, the more costly it will be. Cost: £500 to £3,000
- Security related services: this could include the purchase and configuration of secure certificate(s) but also extend to (external) penetration testing (often described as the most accurate way to know if you’re safe from a hacker). Cost: £250 to £3500
- Font services: We try and steer clients away from paid-for fonts (there's nearly always a near-fit in the 000's of free fonts) but if a specific font has to be used on your new site then it may require licensing on a yearly usage basis. Cost: £0 - £300 per year
- Domain registration: usually the cheapest part of any website it can be more expensive if using an unusual TLD (e.g. .art). Cost: £5 and upward per year per domain
Taking the costs against each section above, the total cost range is extremely broad:
1. Design and Content Model
- Off the peg: £0 to £2,000
- Adapted: £5,000 to £7,500
- Fully tailored and bespoke: £10,000
2. Technology platform and functional requirements
- Website building apps: £0 to £5,000
- CMS - open source: £7,500 to £60,000
- CMS - closed source/ proprietary: £15,000 to £75,000
3. Strategic Input, Expertise and Resourcing
- Self service: £0
- Professional guidance and collaboration: £1,000 to £5,000
- Complete outsourcing: £5,000 to £20,000
Plus other potential costs:
- Upskilling: £350 p/day training
- Brand identity development: £1,000 to £5,000
- Search engine optimisation: £500 to £5,000
- Commissioned photography: £500 to £2,000
- Content Migration: £500 to £3,000
- Security related services: £250 - £3500
- Font-services: £0 - £300 per year
- Domain registration: £5+ per year per domain
- Costs range = £0 - £105,000
However, for us, the majority of projects fall into a much narrower range of between £12,500 - £40,000.
You might still think that's quite a range but as outlined above, that's largely down to the specific needs and scope of the project.
Additionally breaking projects (and costs) down in this way really helps get to the bottom of what you might want and need. We can’t stress enough how much it really is worth getting these things right the first time around so that your website will stand the test of time and effectively support your organisation’s mission.
If you have any questions about the above, or want to get in touch about a project, simply drop us a note.