By now, everyone and their brother, uncle, stepmom, and great-grandfather knows the importance of having a website. In a sense, it is to the modern business what a storefront was in the past: the way your prospective clients get a feel for your company. This is not revelatory news. What is more interesting is the question, “How much should I invest in my website?”

Many companies will tell you your website is your number one tool and you should be budgeting heavily in order to get every ounce of return you can from it. But is this always the case? I would argue each situation is unique, and your investment level depends on your unique business model.

Ask, “What role does my website play in my business overall?”

Before you ever begin to think about how much to spend on your website, ask yourself the question, “what role does my website play in the success of my business?” This is the primary question because it drives the return you’ll see on your investment.

For example, let’s imagine you are a single-store upscale restaurant owner (if you live in Indy, think St. Elmo’s or Bluebeard). You sell only to people physically at your location. Therefore, all of your revenue comes from people coming to your location and eating your food. In this situation, does it make sense to spend the money on a beautifully built e-commerce website? Probably not. Your customers are going to value knowing what is on your menu, and what to expect in your restaurant. They won’t expect to be able to make purchases online. Why spend on it? Now, this doesn’t apply to much of the restaurant industry—with the way things are headed, nearly everything will have an online ordering option. However, for upscale restaurants, the uniqueness of the experience of eating in the physical location is part of the value proposition, so making an e-commerce option probably does not make good business sense.

The “Online Brochure” Website

The restaurant example above is the prime example of what we call the Online Brochure Website. The main purpose of these websites is to display what the business does, and to tell the brand story. Going back to our interview with Jim Crowell from OPEX, which touched on how saturated basically every marketplace is, having a solid brand to broadcast online can be a huge advantage for your business.

Typically, the Online Brochure Website is dependent on having quality marketing assets and well-created content. The photography needs to be top notch, and the copy needs to be right on point with what you want your brand to say. However, you also need to be considering things such as user experience (UX) and user interface (UI). This allows each visitor to easily navigate your site and find the information they’re looking for. In the restaurant example, perhaps you make the menu call to action (CTA) prominent, the phone number clickable on mobile devices, and the location information easy to find.

The “Extension of Your Sales Force” Website

In contrast to the Online Brochure-style site outlined above is the Sales Website. The Sales Website does exactly what the name says it does: it helps your business sell more. Now, this does not mean it’s an E-Commerce site (more on that later). What it means is that your site is answering customer questions, displaying your services, leading people to designed actions via CTAs, and—perhaps most importantly—is integrated with outside technology.

What the Sales Website does is not the focus of this post, but suffice it to say it needs to do all of the things the Online Brochure Website does, and then much more. It has to tell a brand story. The assets have to be high quality. Your UX/UI needs to be spot on. Additionally, you need to be considering the user path each site visitor is taking. How are you going to turn them into a lead for your business? How is your site going to play the role an on-the-job salesperson might play? The answers to these questions are important, and they drive a higher cost.

If you’re not a location-based service and you’re looking to bring in leads to your company from your website, this is probably you.

E-Commerce Website

Finally, we come to the E-Commerce Website. A professionally developed and optimized E-Commerce Website is going to be the most important to your business—and the most expensive. Not only does it need to have all of the aforementioned aspects of the website (beautiful photography and assets, a well-told brand story, and great UX/UI and user pathways) but it also actually needs to close sales for your company. In essence, the E-Commerce Website is another salesperson at your company—and perhaps your most important.

For many companies with an E-Commerce Website, it is the avenue through which they make the majority of their revenue. Even if they are making a higher volume of sales through reselling sites such as Amazon, the margins are so much better selling direct that it makes sense to put a good deal of effort into driving traffic to the site, making sure visitors stay, and eventually getting the sale from the lead. A well-designed and strategized digital marketing plan certainly helps this happen, but that’s another post.

So you’ve determined what type of website you need. Now, what drives the cost of your site?

From a cost driver standpoint, there are four main areas, and the deliverables underneath each, which can influence the overall scope of your website:

  1. Audience
    • Website User Segments
    • Personas
    • Site Feedback
  2. Research and Insights
    • Keyword Optimization
    • User Demand-driven Content
    • Lead Generation
    • Shopping Tools Analysis (if necessary)
  3. Recommendations
    • User Stories
    • Sitemap
    • User Flows
  4. Visual Directions
    • User Interface (UI) Brief
    • User Experience (UX) Brief
    • Moodboards

Of course, there are other aspects which can affect your cost, but for the scope of this piece the four above cover what we need.

From here, we have to go back and evaluate your site like we did above—specifically for your company and your goals. To be 100% clear: regardless of how sophisticated or simple your business is, your website should be easy to understand and to navigate. Therefore, your UX/UI will always be a priority.

However, maybe you don’t need a lot of consumer-focused content—congratulations, your Research and Insights cost is less than the company down the road with a litany of user content. Perhaps you don’t sell anything on your site, so the Shopping Tools Analysis also doesn’t need to be executed, and you save money there as well.

The common theme across all four of the above categories is that the higher the quantity which need to be done, the more expensive it will be. Time is money, after all. If you need three different moodboards for your site, that will cost more than one. If you have 15 different types of users which need to be segmented instead of five, it will cost more. Understanding what you need and what you don’t is one of the best outcomes of working with a trusted website partner to build your site, rather than simply a vendor.

How much traffic does your website currently get, and can it handle this amount?

Website hosting is like the unfortunate truth in getting healthy: if you really want to look great and be as healthy as you can be, it is what goes on behind the scenes in your kitchen that will really impact you, not how amazing your workout looks on Instagram. Similarly, you can have a beautifully designed website and digital strategy, but if your website isn’t hosted properly you can still run into big problems, like:

  1. Loss of Revenue: Even if you aren’t an e-commerce company like we covered above, your website crashing can still lead to a loss of revenue. If someone is looking for directions on your site and it crashes, guess who isn’t walking through the door? That new business opportunity.
  2. Negative SEO: The quality of your web hosting can affect the page load time of your site. And if your site takes even just five seconds to load, your users might bounce, which can negatively impact your search rankings.
  3. High Security Risk: The more secure your website, the better. A solid web hosting option will make backups of your site in case it is hacked, and will be able to help you with security concerns as they come up. It’s like doing a backup for your phone so when you drop it in the toilet AGAIN, it’s no big deal.

Of course, there are many options for web hosting. You can check out this article for information on various hosting services and their differences, but suffice it to say if you have a highly trafficked site, you will need solid web hosting. Choose to skip this step and you may be setting yourself up for any of the three risks highlighted above.

You know what you need from your site. Now ask yourself, just how big is your website going to be?

This section is nice and short, because there isn’t too much detail to unpack. It is a simple question: how many pages is your site going to have?

If you’re going to have a website the size of McKinsey & Company’s, your site is simply going to be more expensive than the local coffee shop’s six-page site. Think about it from a time and work standpoint. For each set of pages on that site, a designer has to mock up the page with a wireframe, then actually design the page, then it has to actually, you know, be built. It is just a lot of work.

Therefore, the more pages you have, the more your site is going to cost. Which, in reality, is a good thing. This forces you to really evaluate what your site needs, and what would be fluff. You don’t want to have fluff in front of your consumer. Let them easily navigate and find what they’re looking for, and provide great information when they get there. Sometimes, the old cliche “less is more” really does make sense.

Don’t Get Hit with Sticker Shock

In all reality, there is no way to know exactly how much you’re going to need to invest to get the website your business needs without working with professionals to scope the work. However, sometimes scoping that work can feel like tearing a particularly sticky band-aid off—it can be a real shock to the system. Walking through the process outlined above and really considering how much you need to invest can help alleviate that sense of shock. Don’t go into your conversations blind. Have a plan for what you want to get done, and work with your website partner to make it happen.

P.S. Keep your eye out for our post on the questions we ask when scoping a website project, coming out soon.

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Joe Mills

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” This advice has served Joe well as he’s worn many hats throughout his career – from college soccer player to marketing expert to Business Development Manager. He’s passionate about using big ideas to build mutually beneficial partnerships, because “to help yourself is to help others.”