While cleaning out my office, I went through one of those boxes stuffed away in the corner since a move over a year ago. In one of them I came across a folder of job proposals from seven years ago. Leafing through them I was surprised that most of them were equal or higher than what I would expect similar projects would cost. Wouldn’t my years of experience I offer to my clients lead to a higher value? Maybe my pricing estimates are more competitive now (I do get awarded a larger percentage of my proposals) but I think there is another reason. Does a website cost less to build than it did seven years ago?
It’s true that the way websites are built have changed dramatically. Long gone are the days of building each page, table by table. And, even if the ways of sites are built, the tools certainly are more advanced. So why would a website be cheaper to build? Here a few main reasons.
Some of us may not even remember a time before CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, but there was a time when typefaces, background colors, and page layout had to all be done in HTML for each page and for each individual item. If you wanted to make a change throughout the site, increase the font size for example, it had to be changed for each item. CSS of course changed all that by separating the formatting from content and allowing site-wide revisions by editing one file.
This Content Management System has revolutionized the way sites are made. There is a reason why over 1 out of every 4 sites are being built with it. It is free, open-source, and there are thousands of inexpensive pre-built themes that allow a novice to create a good-looking site in a short amount of time. Though it doesn’t offer the flexibility that some web designers were used to, understanding its basics are still within the reach of the most users. Since it put control of the website in the hands of the average business owner who previously could not afford expensive CMS solutions, it might have eliminated the job of webmaster for many companies.
These easily installed extensions of WordPress have saved even experienced web programmers lots of time. What used to require endless hours, often at expensive computer programming rates, now can be done in a fraction of the time. For example, a photo portfolio with thousands of photos which used to require hours of cropping and resizing can be created now by dragging and dropping files into a portfolio plugin. Other timesavers are form builders, event registrations systems, even shopping carts, all of which can be built by assembling pre-built blocks.
This might be one reason for variations in web costs. There are more web designers offering their services on the market, so less demand for their services. Sites like Elance have created a world-wide pool of talent. Having web designers that charge as low as $10/hr compete against a project would tend to drive down rates.
But why am I paying more?
In spite of more efficient methods to build websites, many website owners might be wondering, why am I paying more? The fact is, though most web designers are passing along the lower cost of building a website, there are lots of additional factors that can increase the costs. The average web project now involves more features. Why? People have higher expectations from their websites and understand the work that needs to go into a site that will actually help meet their business goals. Here are some factors that drive up the cost of the average web site.
It’s no longer enough to just take your brochure and put it online. If you want to grow your audience outside the group of people who already know you, you have to rank on the first page of search engine results. And with more websites out there, there is more competition for page one. There is a strong demand for SEO specialists who can tweak their client sites to leverage ever-changing search engine algorithms. However these experts are out of the reach of most website owners. But the basic rules are within everyone’s reach. Web designers are now expected to know these basics and identify keywords and use them where appropriate.
The basic tool that the website owner has to improve SEO is to create more and better content. Many website owners turn to outside services to write content, update their blog, and provide a constantly changing flow of information that will attract new visitors.
Web security is an increasing concern. Hackers have been able to break into and cause havoc with many sites. They can inundate a site with spam comments or log in as an administrator to steal data. Installing and configuring additional precautions adds to the web designer’s workloads. And web hosts that provide robust security charge more.
It is interesting how the tools and methods used to build a site have changed over the years and how they have affected overall costs. But whether the price for building and maintaining a site have gone up or down, one thing remains the same: it is not how much your site costs but the value that it provides to you that counts. And that value, as more people go online more often to connect, to become informed, and to make purchases, continues to rise.