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May 14, 2018 BY Nick Weynand Agency Life

Websites: You Get What You Pay For

A rich relative offers you $1 million to make them the perfect sandwich.

Without any additional details, you go to work. At the grocery store, you marvel at the options. There are billions of potential arrangements of bread, condiments, meats, and veggies. You’re paralyzed by the range of options:

  • Does your sandwich-eater like meat or is he a vegetarian?
  • Does he like spicy mustard, plain, or none at all?
  • Should you cut the sandwich vertically or diagonally?

You do your best job, but when your eccentric relative arrives to try your sandwich, you’ve simply made your best guess. You may have missed the mark completely — who knows?

Building a website is a lot like building a sandwich. Allow me to unpack the metaphor:

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Websites Can Be Designed and Built in a Million Ways

The cut-and-paste website builders on the market — like Wix or Squarespace — have convinced many people that launching a website is a simple task. “Simply pick your theme, type in some words, and voila!”

And while that may be true for freelance photographers or fledgling cupcake bakers, it’s absolutely not true for organizations like yours. There are countless choices, both big and small, that will influence the long-term success of your new site. But unless you’ve built a website from scratch — or even better, built hundreds of them — you’re unlikely to know those choices exist in the first place, let alone which choice to make.

You don’t know what you don’t know. We do.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you’re a nonprofit organization aiming to provide fresh, clean water to sub-saharan Africa. Among many other purposes — including general awareness, demonstrating impact, complying with international charity regulations, etc. — your website is your primary fundraising tool.

But suddenly, based on this single need — to encourage and accept donations online — a thousand questions sprout:

  • Where should the donation form exist?
  • Is the donation form a single experience, or is it a multi-step process?
  • What happens when the form is submitted?
  • How is the donation info securely handled?
  • Does the donation form integrate automatically with your CRM?
  • What kind of autoresponder email is sent to the donor?

… and that’s just a sampling. One simple goal has countless solutions and dynamics. If your website design agency doesn’t offer experienced, custom work, you’re surely going to miss out on opportunities. And that can affect your bottom line in profound ways.

Websites Aren’t Just Websites

After nearly 20 years of designing and building websites, we can say this confidently: Designing an organization’s website is, in essence, designing the organization. 

Designing a website is an exercise in strategic reimagining.

That’s because the process of figuring out what goes onto your website, how it should be organized, and how it will be managed requires us to determine what an organization is about.

In other words, designing a website is an exercise in strategic reimagining.

When a client comes to us, they often arrive asking for a new website. To which we usually respond: “OK, but first, what are your organization’s long-term goals? What is your communications strategy? What about your daily operations and program goals?”

We can deliver a website that will make a tangible difference only if we first do a lot of other, fundamental work.

This additional work isn’t required. But it’s recommended. Strongly recommended. And if you’re going to spend the money to overhaul your website, you want to make sure it’s money well spent.

Project Management is the Hidden Hero

Reimagining your website may seem daunting. And it is … if you don’t partner with a project-focused agency. While some web design shops will attempt to razzle-dazzle you solely with bold aesthetics, others (wink, wink) will instead also invest in experienced, certified Project Managers.

We believe project management makes all the difference.

Because without proper project management, you’ll find yourself launching over budget and late. And along the way, you’ll have to spend plenty on Advil — because the headaches will abound.

Qualified project managers don’t merely ensure that your project hits proper milestones. And they don’t simply keep all the balls in the air. No, qualified project managers introduce details along the way — helping to expand and improve the finished project. They make sure you get every penny’s worth of your investment, and that at every step, you’re an equal partner in the decision-making.

So What Does It Cost?

Depends. You get what you pay for.

The $1,000 Site

These are “template” sites. You pick a theme, type in some words, add some images, and click Publish. There is little-to-no customization available without diving into HTML code. And advanced stuff — like integration with other software, modular content, a customized CMS, etc. — is usually totally unavailable.

Best for: Personal brands, one-person shops

The $25,000 Site

Perhaps the most deceptive price point because it implies that you’ll get something snazzy, when usually, you’ll end up with a slightly spruced-up version of the $1,000 website. There may be a few more “customizations” tossed in, sure, but you’ll be left with something that feels bland while paying a very un-bland rate.

Best for: Who knows?

The $50,000 Site

For this price point, your organization will received a well-functioning, customized, thoughtfully structured website on a usable, flexible content management system (CMS). Your site is designed and built with your particular goals in mind. You’ll also receive SEO consultation, ongoing support and security, and advanced project management. In other words, this is the ideal entry point for smaller organizations.

Best for: Small- and medium-sized organizations — e.g., newer nonprofits, local associations, etc.

The $250,000 Site

The custom experience — and then some. With this investment, you’re doing more than just designing and launching a website; you’re bringing major renovations to your marketing and messaging strategy.

You’ll get a robust, modern, highly interactive website — including third-party integrations, custom web apps, etc. But you’ll also select a bunch of additional deliverables — e.g., messaging strategy, user and market research, content audits and inventories, technical integrations, branding, print designs, etc.

Best for: Large organizations — e.g., state agencies, community colleges, state associations

The $1M Site

The works. Like turning everything up to “11.”

The website will have every bell and whistle it needs — apps, custom animation and illustration, extra layouts, modularized CMS development, workflows, integrations, etc. But along the way, you’re empowered with options: Every wireframe, design, and layout idea will be multiplied by two, three, four, etc. — giving you more options at each stage.

Plus, everything else:

  • Rebranding
  • SEO and Google Analytics consulting
  • User research packages — including surveying, competitive analysis, interviews, focus groups, persona development, and content audits
  • Content governance plans

In other words, for about $1M, any large organization can completely refresh, expand, and improve its presence both online and off.

Best for: Large organizations — e.g., national associations, state colleges, state and federal government agencies

The Gist: Custom vs. Template

I suppose the point we’re really trying to make is this: You can spend less money and get a paint-by-numbers website template or you can decide to invest in a fully custom solution. Which you choose depends largely on what you want your website to accomplish.

Templated websites — which are plopped down on the Internet with little consideration for your unique brand, needs, and audiences — can produce some results. But the missed opportunities will abound. Meanwhile, a custom approach will not only ensure a website that creates real, measurable impact, but will also empower your organization with a host of additional benefits that go far beyond your digital presence.

In fact, a robust website redesign can change how your organization communicates to the world, online and off.

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