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How much does a website cost?

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Unless your web designer is some shady website selling ready-made HTML templates, this question can only be answered by one number: 42.

"42 what?" You ask. Dollars? Pounds? Quatloos?"

Well, yes.

That's because there's not enough information for a meaningful answer. The cost of a given website depends on what goes into producing that website. This is related to, but not entirely dependent upon, an hourly rate for the concept, design, coding, and administration.

"Great!" You exclaim. "What's your hourly rate?"

Hold on, there. Let's suppose a designer uses a rate of $10 an hour. As a designer gets more experienced, she will create better designs, and at a faster pace. What used to take an hour now only takes twenty minutes, and the quality has improved. As time goes on the designer realizes that she is making less money for creating higher-quality websites. So she does the obvious thing and raises her hourly rate to $30.

Now how much does that website cost? For the quality and amount of time it takes, not much more--because our more experienced designer is much faster now and the quality of her design has gone up. But you don't know that, all you know is her hourly rate is more than that other guy ($10), and way more than those generic HTML templates where you can get 12 for $25.

So our designer then decides to charge on a bid basis and not use an hourly rate except internally to aid in estimating the project. This way her clients can make more reasonable comparisons between designers based on a total cost for the project, and they want our more experienced designer because her designs will tell their marketing story much better. And with her added experience, she may have suggestions on how to improve their marketing message.

Which brings us back to the original question. How much does that website cost? Once you know what you're doing with your website you can begin to find meaningful answers. If your site is just a few static pages, it probably won't be as expensive as one with a lot of programming, which adds to the cost depending on the complexity. If you want a really exceptional design that will win awards, that will take longer to develop and might cost more. But the designer needs to know what you want to do to figure out how long it will take, and thus what your site will cost.

"OK," you say, "I want a website like yours. What would that cost me?" So I break down what was involved in designing my company website: the marketing copy, the conceptual design, coding the blog, contact forms, portfolio page and Flash navigation...

"Hey, I don't need all those things," you say. And you're right, unless you are me. And even then maybe your marketing message doesn't require a blog, or a Flash navigation. You may need similar elements, but customized for your applications. "Just give me a ballpark range," you say.

42-ish.

There can be a lot of variation even in a website that just needs a few static pages of content. Will you need stock photography? Do you have your copy written, or will you need a writer? Maybe your copy includes a lot of complicated tabular data that needs to be translated into HTML, or it turns out that you really need something entirely different from what you thought.

A good design firm will walk you through a process where you can answer all those marketing, design, and technical questions in a straightforward, step-by-step manner. You can then compare pricing from different design firms based on the costs for creating the same content, and when the costs are different you can factor in the quality of design or whether or not you think your designer will be loads of fun to work with, and will offer you creative solutions that will make you stand out from the crowd.

And when you've gone through the process, you'll finally know it won't cost 42.

It's probably closer to 43.

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