When I tell a prospective client about how much a good website should cost, sometimes they react with surprise – mainly I think because it can be hard to compare like-for-like, especially if you don’t buy a new website very often.
A website’s a website, right? How could it be that expensive?
Maybe a better way of looking at it would be to consider the damage you could do to your business if you get it wrong…
So, what’s the cost of a bad website?
How about £240,000?*
As with most things in life, with website design you get what you pay for, and going cheap can end up costing you more than you’d think.
Businesses usually get quoted a wide range of prices for a website. So what’s the right amount to spend? £1,000? £5,000? Our clients invest on average £20,000 in their websites – is that the right amount?
It got me thinking about one of my favourite quotes about design, from Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover:
If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.
Likewise, if you think a good website is expensive, you should see the cost of a bad website.
So in this post, I’m going to point out some of the differences between a low-cost website and something more expensive (like the kind of website you’d get from Tomango).
I’ll show you how each of these elements of good website design has a direct impact on your business, and why it’s usually a false economy to go cheap.
*This a real-life story of a client that came to us having done just that; and ended up nearly £240,000 poorer as a result.
Calculating the cost of a bad website
You might not think that the quality of your website is that important to your business.
But when you break it down, the costs really start to add up.
When you cut corners with a cheap website, it affects your web traffic, your conversion rate and your ability to charge higher prices – and that’s just for starters.
We’re going to look in more detail at the cost to your business of a website that:
- Isn’t built properly for search visibility
- Isn’t built for optimum performance
- Provides a poor customer experience
- Has a poor conversion rate
- Has poor positioning, messaging and design
- Needs lots of input from you, or worse, goes horribly wrong
Meet our example businesses
For the purposes of this exercise, I’ve used two fictitious businesses as examples of how good website design can impact your own business’s bottom line;
Fictitious Business #1: Cavendish Wilkes Luxury Handbags
Cavendish Wilkes sells luxury leather handbags and purses. Established twenty years ago, the company has grown quite nicely into a business with a turnover of £500,000. Their handbags sell for around £200 each.
Fictitious Business #2: Bellman IT
Bellman provides managed IT services to small and medium-sized businesses across London and the South East of the UK. Founded ten years ago, the business has a turnover of around £2m. A new client will typically spend between £5,000 and £10,000 per year.
Let’s take a look at how the fortunes of these two businesses are affected by the quality of their websites…
1. The cost of a website not built properly for search
Over time, website developers have agreed on best practices for the layout of the code that makes up a website. Search engines understand these standards and are designed to look for content in specific areas of that code.
A poorly built website may look OK to humans, but to Google, it could be a confusing mess where nothing’s in the right place. This can lead to your pages ranking poorly against your competitors.
Really poor practice could even get you removed from the leading search engines altogether.
3 common issues are:
- Missing meta title and description – without this, the search engine has to guess what the page is about
- Incorrect markup and misuse of headings – without this, search engines won’t know what the main content of the page is. For example, it could think the text in your site footer is more important than the main article
- Incorrect robots.txt file or sitemap – one small mistake in these files could make Google ignore your website completely
The commercial impact of a website that has limited search visibility may seem obvious – but when you break it down into numbers, you can really see the difference it makes to your bottom line.
Fact: Websites appearing in the top 3 of search results enjoy from 34% (#1) to 11% (#3) of clicks, compared to 5% (#6) or less for those further down the page.
Source: Smart Insights
The cost in numbers of poor search visibility
Let’s say Cavendish Wilkes has an average order value of £200 and gets around 200 orders each month, from various sources of advertising and marketing. It appears in the bottom half of page 1 for one of the main search terms they want to target. What difference could it make if they were in the top 3?
If that one search term gets 1,000 searches per month, they have an average conversion rate of 10%, and their average sale/order value is £200, this is the impact it has:
|Search position||#1||#3||#6 (current)|
|Click Through Rate||34%||11%||5%|
|Lost sales PER MONTH||-£4,600||-£5,800|
So lifting the ranking for this one search term by a handful of places could result in additional sales of £5,800 per month or, if you prefer, £69,600 per year.
What about our example B2B business?
Bellman IT has an average order value of £5,000 and gets 10 new clients on average each month. It also appears towards the bottom of page 1 for one of its target search terms. Let’s take a look at what difference it makes if this started to appear in the top 3.
If their target search term gets 200 searches per month, their average enquiry rate is 20% (of which they convert 20% into orders), and their average sale/order value is £5,000, this is the difference it could make to their sales:
|Search position||#1||#3||#6 (current)|
|Click Through Rate||34%||11%||5%|
|Lost sales PER MONTH||-£10,000||-£13,000|
*Obviously you can’t have 0.4 of an order, but you get the idea
For Bellman, improving their search ranking by a few places for just this one search term could give them extra sales of £13,000 per month (that’s £156,000 per year).
So as you can see, investing in a website built properly to give you the best chance of being found on Google is money very well spent.
For more detail about how to build a website optimised for search, Google has put together this overview: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/beginner/seo-starter-guide.
2. The cost of a website not built for performance
A website that’s built poorly (and cheaply) is unlikely to do well when it comes to performance.
In simple terms, poor performance makes a website feel slow.
It could be more likely to crash – and as well as customers not being able to find you, search engines will penalise you too.
Even if your website is super-reliable, if it’s slow, it’s killing you.
Research shows that if there’s a delay in more than 2 seconds in page load, 87% of visitors are likely to abandon your site.
3 common issues are:
- Poorly written code – inefficient code means slow loading pages and, in worst cases, a website that continually crashes. People will lose trust in your brand if the website crashes, especially if they’re filling in a form or making a payment
- Reliance on pre-built themes and plugins – many people choose to use pre-built themes and plugins as they’re cheap and flexible, but the code used for these themes is bulky and often has large portions that simply aren’t needed. What you might not realise is that if you have 10 extra features in a theme but you’re not using them, all that code is still being loaded, which can slow down your site by x10
- Cheap hosting – if the servers running your website aren’t powerful enough, they may buckle under pressure. If you’re aiming to increase site traffic and sales, you need hosting that can stand up to the load, otherwise your investment in marketing will be wasted
A website that’s slow will have a significant negative impact on sales or enquiries. Walmart found that when load times jump from 1 second to 4 seconds, conversions declined sharply. Source
They also found that for every 1 second of improvement, conversions increased by 2%.
These seemingly small increases have a big impact on how much business your website can generate.
The cost in numbers of a slow website
Using the website traffic volumes from before, let’s look at how improvements in performance affect our two example businesses:
Cavendish Wilkes manages to improve its load speed by 2 seconds, and increases conversion rate by 4%:
|Average Sale £||£200||£200|
|Total sales £||£6,800||£9,400|
|Extra sales PER MONTH||+£2,600|
Here’s what happens when Bellman IT achieve similar improvements:
|Total sales £||£15,000||£17,500|
|Extra sales PER MONTH||+£2,500|
These numbers get even more significant for bigger businesses. If you’re taking £10,000,000 of orders a year, a 2% increase is £200,000 of extra revenue.
For more information, here’s the detailed guide from Google on page speed: https://web.dev/vitals/
3. The cost of a website that gives a poor customer experience
Websites with poor design can be confusing to navigate and leave users feeling frustrated.
If you can’t find the button you’re looking for, it might prevent you making a purchase or completing a contact form.
Here’s a great example of a terrible customer experience: userinyerface.com (have a go at filling out the form – it’s enormous fun).
3 common issues are:
- Confusing Calls to Action (CTAs) – links that aren’t in obvious places or do things you don’t expect can put someone off your website quickly and customers go elsewhere
- Poorly laid out forms – badly designed forms can leave a user confused about what data they should put into what field. Error messages can be as good as useless, users may get frustrated or even be unable to make a purchase
- Content that’s hard to get to – if your main goal is for a customer to buy a particular product or make an enquiry, it should be obvious how to do it. Visitors can feel lost and unsure where to go without clear design direction and abandon your website altogether
Conversely, when time and thought are given to the best customer experience, the opposite happens and you increase your conversion rate and achieve more sales.
4. The cost of a website with a poor conversion rate
Creating a good user experience is the first step, but if you haven’t given thought to how to maximise your conversion rate, you’re still leaving money on the table.
So, how can you improve your conversion rate?
The specific tactics will differ for each website depending on your offering, your positioning (more on this in a minute) and your customers’ behaviour.
But the key to improving your conversion rate is always in the detail.
These are the sort of questions you need to be asking yourself:
- What words should I use in my headline to get customers read on?
- Would it be better to show an image of a happy customer, or of my product?
- Where’s the best place to put the “Buy now” button?
- Is “Buy now” better than “Add to basket”?
- Which is my best case study and how should I present it?
- What’s the best number of fields to have on my contact form?
Working out the answers to these questions takes time and expertise; and leaving them unanswered means leaving money on the table. Paying for that time and expertise is money well spent.
The cost in numbers of poor conversion rates
Let’s take a look at how an improvement in conversion rate affects our two businesses.
When Cavendish Wilkes improves the user experience on its website it increases the conversion rate by 10%:
|Extra sales PER MONTH||+£6,800|
Here’s what happens when Bellman IT do the same thing:
|Extra sales PER MONTH||+£5,000|
5. The cost of a website with poor positioning, messaging and design
One of the most common mistakes I see businesses make is when a website doesn’t make it clear who the business serves and why a customer should be interested in buying something from them.
This comes from a lack of positioning; how a business positions itself in its marketplace, what makes it different and, most importantly, why the customer should care.
A good website design translates that positioning into clear messaging (what you say to your customers) and reflects your brand values – trying to sell a premium brand product on a cheap crappy website is extremely difficult.
But if you get your positioning and messaging right, you’ll be able to:
- Attract more of your perfect customers
- Eliminate competitors, by making your offering clearly different
- Increase the amount you can charge
And as our good friends at Pricemaker will tell you, it’s a well-known fact that improving your pricing is the #1 way to increase your profits.
The cost in numbers of poor messaging
Let’s look at how a price increase, brought about by strong positioning and messaging, can affect sales figures for our two example businesses:
Let’s say Cavendish Wilkes successfully improves its positioning and messaging. They attract more of their perfect customers, so they increase their conversion rate and they’re able to increase prices by 10%:
|Average sale value||£200||£220|
|Extra sales PER MONTH||+£8,160|
Here’s what happens when Bellman IT do the same:
|Average sale value||£5,000||£5,500|
|Extra sales PER MONTH||+£7,000|
6. The cost of a website project that needs lots of input from you or, even worse, goes horribly wrong
Website projects should run smoothly and be delivered on time, on budget and with the minimum of disruption to your business.
One of the key reasons why the price of websites varies so much is the amount of time and effort the client is expected to put into the project.
1. Content writing
Writing content for your website is easy, right? Surely it won’t take that long – hell, you could probably do it in a couple of weeks. And you know how to write, don’t you?
Well, let’s consider that your website’s probably going to have at least ten pages. If your content’s going to be any good, each page needs to be planned, structured, researched, written (at least 500 words), proof-read and have images found for it.
For a professional copywriter to do this would probably take about 2-3 hours per page. And they’re professionals – let’s be optimistic and say it will take you 3-4 hours per page. That’s 30-40 hours.
Or 4-5 complete work days. If you work 9-5 with no breaks.
What’s the cost of this time to you? Time you could spend meeting customers, working on your marketing, or developing new products or services?
More expensive websites will usually include all the copywriting (ours do), which not only saves you valuable time but also makes the end result much, much better.
Still thinking you’d be better writing it yourself? Read more about the benefits of using a professional copywriter.
2. Populating the site
With a cheap website project, you might need to add the content to your site yourself.
Again, that’s probably something you can do, and it won’t take long, right?
If you haven’t learnt the lessons from the copywriting, my friend, you’re going to learn them here.
You’ll need to be familiar with the Content Management System, or learn pretty fast. Then you’re going to need to be good enough to be able to add the content and make it look good.
A couple of hours per page, perhaps? That’s another 20 hours.
And if you do it yourself, is it going to provide the best User Experience, and deliver a good Conversion Rate? (see points 3 and 4 above)
More expensive websites will include populating the website with all that lovely content that’s been written for you. And every single page will be optimised for the best User Experience and maximum Conversion Rate.
With a cheaper website, you’re going to have do the testing as well, I’m afraid.
You’ll need to go through each and every page checking for typos or errors. You’ll need to learn how to check for the behind-the-scenes things that search engines will be looking for, or risk having a less effective website if you don’t (see point 1).
You’ll also need to check every contact form, to make sure the customer’s data ends up where it should, or the basket and checkout process of your ecommerce site to make sure they work properly. And have you stress-tested it with highly variable data (extremely long names, unusual addresses etc.) and for the common mistakes that customers tend to make?
Once you’ve done all that, you’ll need to repeat the whole exercise on various devices and on different browsers.
With expensive websites, thorough testing should be included. When the site’s delivered to you, all you should be thinking about are small changes – nothing more stressful than swapping a couple of paragraphs around, or whether to use a semi-colon in a sentence instead of a comma.
Having to spend lots of your own time on a website project is bad enough, but it’s even worse if things start to go wrong.
Not only does this mean you’re likely to have to spend even more of your valuable time on the project, but delays mean you’ll be missing out on the increased sales your new website’s going to bring you.
The most common causes of delays are:
1. Poor planning
A lack of attention to detail during the planning stage (or, even worse, a complete absence of one), means there’ll probably be a mistake or misunderstanding somewhere along the line.
The classic situation we hear of is when the draft website’s been delivered, all ready to go, and the client ends up with something very different to what had been discussed with the designer.
We’ve fine-tuned our planning process over the last 20+ years to make sure everyone involved in the project (you the client, the designers, the developers, the copywriters, EVERYONE) knows what’s expected right from the beginning.
Make sure your website designer has a robust planning process in place and that you’ve agreed on exactly what you’re going to get, and when, before you start.
2. Poor processes
Of course, the planning’s just the start.
A properly-run website project should follow a well-defined process to make the whole experience enjoyable and exciting – not excruciatingly painful.
There should be a series of clearly defined steps, including timescales, that cover:
- The planning (see above)
- The content – when does the content need to be provided or agreed? How will this be managed and how will you give feedback?
- The design – what will you see and when? How do you give feedback? How many rounds of changes are there? Is there a formal approval stage?
- The development – what does the developer need from you before they start? Do they have all the technical information they need? How long will it take? Are there stages, or do you just get to see the finished site?
- The testing – whose responsibility is it? If you need to do any, what will it involve and how long will it take? How long will there be between testing and the site being finished?
- The launch – who’s responsible for that? Will there be any downtime? What about domain names and hosting? Is there a go-live checklist?
Make sure you understand the stages of the process before you start the project and, if there seem to be gaps, make sure you’re comfortable with the consequences.
As we’re about to see, website projects that go wrong can be very, very expensive indeed…
A real-life example of a £240,000 mistake
I promised you I’d share a real-life story about how much a bad website can affect a business – and here it is.
This client has a very successful business with both B2B and B2C sales. They decided to have a new website built to improve efficiency with stock control and data entry – but the project ended up being an expensive disaster.
They did manage to make improvements to their efficiency, but the new website was coded so poorly that performance and search engine rankings fell off a cliff. Not only that, but the design impacted badly on their conversion rate and negatively affected their ability to attract good-fit customers.
Soon after the new website was launched, sales from the website dropped from £70k per month to just £30k.
When we got involved six months later to start putting things right, the new website had already cost them at least £240,000 of lost sales.
Please, please – don’t make the same mistake.
So, how much should you spend on your new website?
There will always be lots of options when it comes to investing in your new website and there’s no definitive right or wrong answer to how much you should spend.
The answer is probably (and inevitably) “It depends”.
If you need something quick and cheap, something that will “do the job” or get you started, then don’t go spending big bucks. You’re probably better off using what budget you have on digital marketing activity to generate business.
But if you’re an ambitious business looking to move up a level and start getting serious, putting a decent budget into your website isn’t an extravagant cost, it’s a sensible investment.
Tomango helps businesses grow by getting more of the customers they want. If you’re serious about building a new website to help grow your business, call us on 01273 814 019 for an initial friendly chat, or email email@example.com.