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Why the Huge Range in Web Design & Development Pricing?

When discussing a web design quote with a prospect recently, he said, “Faith, to be honest I have three quotes here ranging from a couple thousand to $20,000 and I have no idea why. I don’t know what to do.”

This has come up many times before, and here’s my thoughts on why:

Price ranges from freelancers to web specialty firms.

These different sized cupcakes represent the three levels of web developers

Higher prices seem to come from web development companies – specialists.

In the early days of websites, when it was a mysterious new skill, firms had to specialize in it. It was often done separately from branding or advertising as creative firms didn’t yet have the service in-house. These web development companies were in high demand and charged a lot of money. Web Development companies still have a very strong place as specialists in large complicated websites. Although everyone involved (web developers and creative) soon realized traditional creative and writing skills were still needed and incorporated, it’s often a minor add-on and therefore not a core competency. Believe me, when I have a very complicated back-end website project, I sub-contract to one of these companies myself.

Some clients think they still have to go to specialty web development companies – often by-passing their creative firm – who need to charge a lot to support their business infrastructure, which is just too much to spend for small or mid-sized clients.

Low prices are usually from freelancers.

On the other hand, there are a lot of freelancers out there, especially in developing countries, who can afford to build websites for much less. The downside in my experience is that they’re doing both design and development. Since these are two very different skill sets, they often are not doing one of them well. Plus, they may not have the resources needed to fulfill a robust website; like copywriting and photography. Freelancers are a great resource for start-ups, early-stage or very small businesses, but they often find their company outgrows the freelancers’ abilities. This is how my company grew – I could not meet the demands of my clients by myself.

How to Choose?

I wrote an article a while back that addresses this issue with graphic designers in general, but the same advice applies here.


Look at their portfolio and make sure the samples they show are up to the level of sophistication and standards your business requires to meet your goals, remembering we all show our best work in our portfolios. Look at similarities; with development specialists you often see templates used. This often means a strong back-end, but not necessarily tailored to your brand and strategy. Don’t get caught up in whether or not they’ve worked with your kind of business before, but do look for evidence of similar businesses.

Business StructureBusiness structure – does you web development company have the right team members to create a robust and compelling website to suit your needs and goals?

Don’t be sucked in by a low price or overly-impressed by a list of large, impressive projects. If they don’t have the experience range or manpower to match what your business needs, it can be a waste of money that doesn’t get you what you need, whether the bill is in the hundreds or thousands. Experience range and manpower means design, development, strategy, writing, photography, video, etc.

Natural Rapport

We’re all about rapport and I often tell prospects they should go with who they feel most comfortable with. Do they ask you questions about your business strategy? Do they make you feel you can discuss things openly? Good communication is essential in web projects because they can easily go out of scope. Does it feel like a good fit and you can trust them? Whether it’s your company or just your responsibility, rapport is essential.

Shop Around

We had a client come to us after having a $50,000 site built that they were not happy with (the look of). They asked us to consult and we made vast improvements with what seemed like basic design skill. The site had no special functionality at all, it was a static brochure site that we would have built for $5,000, plus copywriting. The truth is, based on the quality of what they originally got, they could have found someone on eLance to do it for $500. I have no idea who built it originally. We’ve helped rescue web projects from both ends of the spectrum. Not all freelancers are unable to fulfill, there are some excellent finds out there. Not all web developments overcharge and under-deliver. But, if you don’t get at least three quotes, you’ll never know.

Compare Apples to Apples

We all price out websites differently so it can be hard to tell if you’re comparing things fairly. A good firm will not just quote on what you ask them to, but make suggestions that will make your website more robust and useful to people, or add things you may not have thought of like team photography. Ideally this is shown separately and clearly communicated. Disparities arise in situations such as one has proprietary software they rent out, while another quotes the same functionality using open-source code.

Comparing apples of different colours is one thing, but If there is a huge price difference in the ‘same’ solution, they’re likely not both apples, so ask questions. It’s not ethical or legal to show the competition each others proposals with dollars, but you can copy and paste descriptions to request apples.

One final tip: never treat a website as a stand alone piece

Remember that a website should never be done in isolation from the rest of your brand and marketing materials. It is a very important stop in your marketing map and must be considered in relation to how people got there – is it consistent in the message and look, and encourage them to take the next step – which is often the very important pre-sale action step.

Good luck!

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7 Responses to Why the Huge Range in Web Design & Development Pricing?

  1. Beth Parker says:

    You know the saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same….

    Companies insist on letting a web development company “design” their website are like companies that used to give the design of their annual report to a their print shop to layout and “design” – ug! (no offence to my printer friends). And there have always been freelancers willing and able to undercut the prices of studios – okay, it may be cheaper, but at what risk?

    When comparing the cost, compare apples to apples – or oranges. Freelancers give you a lower cost, but you’re in the hands of one single supplier, with no back up, and an even iffier connection to additional resources like copywriting, etc. And the difference between copywriters? Don’t get me started…

    For companies that want to guarantee that their customers have a positive experience of their brand, PLEASE use a design firm that simply won’t let you do it wrong. This means a company that knows back end, front end, and all the ends in between. Why only yesterday I received a special “market update” from a client. I knew she was sending it, and opened it enthusiastically, only to find out that with my browser (Safari on a Mac), I couldn’t read it!

    My reaction? I clicked away and when it was resent didn’t bother opening it.

    In this age of ADD client attention, never risk that your customer, or potential customer leaves with a click. Go with a supplier you trust that gives you full service and operates by honorable pricing and quoting principles. Believe me, the difference will show in how your website works and how your customers experience it!

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  3. Hey Bro, I’m not certain that I agree with all the stuff in this article, but darn do I repect it!

  4. Lin Hanohano says:

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  5. Marcus says:

    I had a small query. This might have been asked earlier in some forums but I might have missed it. How do you find out if you have Engage(now Crystal Dashboard Design) or Present (Crystal Presentation) or even enterprise for that matter.

  6. Hi Marcus, I’m not sure how to answer that question, but wouldn’t your developer know? If you’d like us to have a look behind the scenes and let you know, please email me.

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