Why a Custom Website is so Expensive (Part 2 of 2)

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This is Part 2 of a 2 part series, Why a Custom Website is so Expensive?  Check out Part 1.

The Big Ticket Why

So, why can’t you just have what you want, for cheap? Your website idea seems simple. Maybe it is simple in the grand scheme of computer science. Or maybe it is a truly difficult problem you’re trying to solve. Either way, Go Media is being tasked with getting you there. For us to be able to do so at a world-class level, in a reasonable amount of time and stand behind our work, we have honed a process over the years. It has become so defined, it almost much delineates the departments of our firm.

  • Account Services
  • UX Planning
  • Design
  • Development
  • Deployment
  • Payroll

The teams at Go Media have become highly specialized. They’re not bogged down by having to juggle all of the above like a freelancer. This allows us to engage with many clients, at once, in various stages of their projects. Each process in this system is devised to ensure quality, client satisfaction and accountability.

To give you an idea of how time and costs add up, I’ll touch on what each project phase entails.

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Account Services

The Account Services team interfaces with our clients from inception to completion. They’re on the front lines in the battle for customer satisfaction. When a client reaches out for their next campaign, the Account Managers work up an assessment, make recommendations and conclude a project outline. They collaborate with department managers to communicate client expectations, identify solutions and analyze feasibility. We are then able to provide a comprehensive proposal and fee estimate. Negotiations and changes to the scope of work are common until we find the best alignment between client goals and budget. It isn’t unusual for this process to take several hours a day for days or weeks at a time.

Once an agreement has been reached, Account Services kicks things off with the production teams. Meetings and conference calls bring all parties up to speed as to the project details and any noteworthy items that may deserve additional scrutiny. Here, Account Management reiterates timelines, deliverables and gives you a good understanding of what to expect from us. From this point forward, your Account Manager keeps everyone focused and on point. This includes things like cross departmental communication, tracking asset needs and serving as the client advocate. And then there is the proverbial cracking of the whip.

UX Planning

Now that we have a full sense of what you need accomplished, we begin with the end in mind. What are your business objectives? What are your user’s objectives? How do we align your goals with theirs in a way that is intuitive and engaging? All this and more is fleshed out during User Experience (UX) Planning. We identify your priorities and allow them to inform the user experience. We achieve this through Storyboards, Use Cases, Sitemaps, Information Architecture, Wireframes, Effects Planning, Interactive Prototypes and more. The results provide a nearly complete visual representation of what we’ll be designing. This process helps clarify many things for our clients and the designers. In many ways, it becomes like a roadmap of how we’ll get there.

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Design

With all of the UX directives in hand, the design team is able to begin concepts quickly and not let nuanced business objectives stifle their creativity. They get to focus on branding, themes, concepts, UI, photo manipulation, typeface selection and all sorts of other visual concerns that make your custom website or web application design stand out. Designs are crafted to meet the specifications for how they’ll be delivered and proofs are provided as each piece comes to life. Clients are given ample opportunity to provide feedback on each version along the way. The design team makes revisions accordingly until awesomeness is achieved. High fives are then exchanged.

Development

By and large, development is always happening. It starts almost as soon as your deposit check clears. Modern Web Development is essentially Software Engineering, a discipline of Computer Science. It seems to become more complex by the day. The expectations of the marketplace typically mean most custom web development projects include features or functions that don’t exist yet, or don’t quite exist in the way you have in mind.

Web Development typically includes two major workloads, Frontend Development and Backend Development. The Frontend portion is what you see in your internet browser. It is predominantly HTML, CSS, Images & Javascript. This is the User Interface (UI) and UX you interact with. Often our clients are presented with static versions of the frontend as it comes together. Static means it isn’t “wired up” to the Backend yet.

The Backend resides on the server. It is the logical brains and database that give your site functional value and allow it to scale. The Backend is the software behind Content Management, Ecommerce and just about every purpose-driven system online. Web Software, more commonly referred to as Web Applications, are built to leverage Databases. They access the data using Programming Languages, such as PHP. Each special feature of your website may require a new component to be developed. Each new component might entail a handful of files and a few hundred lines of code or potentially hundreds of files and thousands of lines. This code must be carefully crafted to serve its purpose.

Every component of the Frontend and Backend must play well with others as they’re typically only a part of the bigger application. This requires immersive, critical thinking every step of the way. The development portion of custom web projects is almost always the most workload intensive. It isn’t unheard of for development of one project to take thousands of hours. Innovative websites like Facebook or Zillow, spend thousands of hours in development every single month, year after year.

Deployment

“Going live” may seem like a trivial matter after everything we’ve mentioned, but it is another one of those steps that adds time to your project. You’ve likely heard it said; You never get a second chance to make a first impression. This concern is a big deal when it comes to your new website. Everything has to be just right. If you have features like News, Ads, Products, Ecommerce, Video, Blogs, Slideshows, Carousels, or something new, it can mean a lot of brand messaging, photography, multimedia or any number of other assets need to be prepared. This equals hours of content population. We also may have to concern ourselves with a launch strategy such as a marketing campaign. Even something as simple as welcoming your new visitors or inviting them with a newsletter can take a bit to put together.

Next, the servers and domain need to be ready. They must be properly configured to ensure a seamless migration. If this is replacing an existing site, proper considerations need to be given so systems like Email aren’t interrupted. We continue to stand ready after deployment because you never know what may be in store. Oprah could name your product one of her favorite things and throngs of fans could trample your website. It will sink or swim in success only if it is done right. And to do it right takes a lot of time and care.

Payroll

When you boil this all down, what you’re really financing to have a custom website designed & developed is payroll. Service business’ most significant overhead is paying their professionals. Creative and Technical Knowledge workers command wages in the upper spectrum of income. You’re buying chunks of their expertise and that time is money. For example, a nice custom website with relatively common features, such as a CMS with custom component integration, takes between 150-300 hours from start to finish. This is real, nose-to-the-grindstone production time specifically applied to your project. In addition to those hours, there are people who indirectly contributed by allowing our specialists to focus on serving you better and faster. These are the team members behind the scenes who handle IT, HR, processing, bookkeeping, marketing and other expenses of doing business. All said, the operating costs for a service business like ours might be around $75/hr. If we were to only break-even on a 200 hour custom website, we need to command $15,000 for it. And if you know anything about the ebb and flow of business, you can’t just charge enough to break-even.

So there you have it. Like I said in the beginning, it is because these things take a long time. I touched on a lot in this piece and really only skimmed the surface. There are many talented individuals that play a part in producing an attractive and functional custom website. Each phase is riddled with nuance and obstacles that have us starting early and working late. It is really about the people who care enough to do exceptional custom work and stand behind it. The very talented and dedicated team at Go Media embrace the challenges of each day and do so with poise and professionalism. That’s really what this is about. You may pay a lot more to have exactly what you want, but when you hire the right people, they get it done right.

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About the Author, Wilson Revehl

Wilson Revehl is the co-founder and CTO of Go Media. He is a website & rich internet application designer & developer specializing in HTML, CSS, Javascript & PHP. Go Media is a Cleveland website design and development firm specializing in custom Wordpress websites, creative visual communications and resources for the graphic design community. Mr. Revehl runs the Fort Myers Technology Studio.

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Discussion

We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • http://www.designfacet.com/ Sean Jamshidi

    Well written and a good read. But I feel prospects do not really care for all this technical detail or justification. As a matter of fact not many even have time to read blogs. Bottom line to prospects is who can do it cheaper and solve their problem. Sadly due to some bad practices by junior and overseas providers, people have come to value less of what goes into making a website and what companies like yours can offer. This is what every designer is facing right now. The industry is saturated with I wannabe a graphic/web designers.