4 out of 5 inquiries from new customers begin with some form of the question, “How much does a website cost?”

I think they would be most happy if I could open up the magic website price book and provide them with a useful answer.

Instead, we usually say … “well, that depends upon the type of website you would like to build.” (How’s that for helpful?)

Actually, it is helpful because such a question begins a discussion that allows both parties to thumbnail out the actual scope of the project at hand.

Here is Stone’s approach to collecting the information necessary to provide initial pricing estimates. It is a four quadrant model that includes: scale, features & functionality, content development, and interactivitiy.

Scale – How many sections and pages are we thinking about here? Is it a redesign of your current site whereby the size of the site might grow by a foreseeable percentage? Is there a competing site that does a good job capturing the information we’re hoping to capture? Have you jotted out a preliminary sitemap? The more thoughts the client can provide on the scale of the site, the quicker we can provide helpful budgetary information.

Features & Functionality – Basically this means “what do you want visitors to be able to do on your site?” – and – “what type of management control and integration are you looking for on the back end?”. Front end features are usually more obvious. Are you looking for basic forms, links, and a search feature? Do you want to post jobs, manage news & events, and host a forum? Is ecommerce involved? (If so, get ready for a good many more questions.) Back end features are typically not as thought through. What degree of content management are you looking for? Does the site need to integrate with any other software, servers, databases? One atypical feature request can easily add 50% to the cost of a web project.

Content Development: Content covers both the copy (words on the page) and the images (photos, illustrations, video). Will the client be providing final website copy? Or, will you be in need of copywriting and/or copyediting services? To what degree? Is there any video production needed for the website? Will we be using stock photography, client-provided photography, or custom photography?

Interactivity: How much interactivity are we wanting to incorporate into the website? Hold all other parts equal (scale, features, content), a website with a high degree of interactivity (transitions, multimedia presentations, flash integration) can easily cost 2-3 times more than a basic static website.

To make the “how much?” question even more interesting, the “how much” often depends upon “who” you’re asking.

As you move across the scale from part timers/freelancers/students/friends to very-large-agencies, the cost of a similary scoped project can increase by a multiple of 10 or more. Experience, team size, and overhead all get factored in and influence the pricing. On the plus side, you do usually get what you pay for. Not always. Usually. Also, it’s sometimes comforting to know that your web resource will be reliable and won’t be moving/leaving the industry/graduating/you-name-it any time soon.

Technologies used to create your website certainly influence price. Microsoft licensing costs can add up. Open source web technology provides a major value, though is not welcome in all organizations.

Lastly, certainly not least, is the degree of search engine optimization effort that is provided with your website. If a web partner is going to invest the time and effort to identify how people find your business and then incorporate that knowlege into the architecture of the website, be prepared to see at least a few thousand dollars added to the cost of the project.

Stone has delivered websites for $6,000 and we’ve delivered websites for well into the 6 figures. There’s no one price for a website, only a series of trade-offs.

So there we have it, right?

You’re still very welcome to call us and ask “How much should a website cost?”. We’ll help you figure it out.