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Web development

There is an old “joke” in the web development world that is both funny and sad:  What is the difference between a $20,000 website, a $200,000 website, and a $2 million one?  Answer:  The gullibility of the client.

In 24 years of building websites, we have yet to meet a gullible client, which is why this joke is so offensive.  And if we did, we expect that they would “smell a fish” if they were presented with a nonsense proposal.

Yet surely there are differences between the cheapest websites, and the most expensive?  Should you look at your website as a commodity, or as your most important strategic asset?

The cheapest sites are templated sites from consumer or small-business web hosting providers. These are offered “free” to serve as a barrier to cancelling the hosting contract; no one but the smallest solopreneurs use this option.

Next up are sites built on proprietary content management systems: rarely is there custom design here either. Special functionality (email lists, blogs, calendars, e-commerce) are usually sold as upgrade modules.  The downsides of this approach include little design flexibility, the inability to add special functionality beyond the modules that are available, and vendor lock-in.  Security is also a risk point.  While this approach was popular 15+ years ago, most organizations don’t see it as a viable approach today.

At the “bottom” of the business-class website barrel are basic brochure sites:  This usually means 5-10 pages, a blog, custom design work, basic site analytics and a site that is built on an open-source social platform such as WordPress or Drupal.  Beyond this, it is simply a question of adding options – here is a partial list:

  1. Add responsive (eg mobile friendly) design
  2. Add compliance with accessibility  legislation (eg WCAG 2.0 Level A or AA)
  3. Add strategy
  4. Add content creation (writing, or editing, or both)
  5. Add usability testing
  6. Add built-in SEO
  7. Add basic functionality (lead gen forms, calculators, etc)
  8. Add a separate development server
  9. Add connections with Social Media
  10. Add security and firewall
  11. Add stress-testing
  12. Add e-commerce
  13. Add multilingual support
  14. Add more advanced site analytics
  15. Add a persona-based strategy
  16. Add a staging site
  17. Add separate database and content servers
  18. Add members-only area and user management
  19. Add distributed content management and roles
  20. Add micro-sites and landing page management
  21. Add geolocation services
  22. Add a content delivery network
  23. Add training
  24. Add workflow and content approvals
  25. Add integration with Marketing Automation and/or CRM systems
  26. Add integration with ERP and/or financial systems
  27. Add advanced tracking and monitoring
  28. Add personalization, contextual content delivery
  29. Add advanced usability testing
  30. Add integrated analytics
  31. Add page-based optimization
  32. Add advanced SEO
  33. Add mobile app integration
  34. Add omni-channel support
  35. Add locally-hosted versions of the site in different continents
  36. Add advanced security and user authentication
  37. Add integration with an Extranet and Intranet
  38. Add monitoring and technical optimization
  39. Add consulting on governance

Beyond the specific features of the site, another driver of cost is the content: who writes it, who edits it, and who approves it.  Connected with this is the total page count of the site: more pages mean more templates, more content loading time, more site testing and more graphics that need to be created, optimized, and loaded.   Finally, the largest sites may be part of an organization’s digital transformation strategy.  In these cases, the website is really the vector to drive process change, both internally and externally.  All of this takes time and incurs cost.

Generally speaking, as more is expected of the website, the “optimal” platform changes to an industrial-strength – and significantly more costly – platform such as Adobe Experience Manager or Sitecore Experience Manager.

Yes, the simplest websites are fast becoming commodities; but user expectations, competitive pressures, and legislative requirements are also forcing many organizations to re-look at whether their current site is pulling its weight.

This week’s action plan: Except for the largest organizations, a $2 million website makes no sense.  But a $20,000 website will also omit many key capabilities, dead-end others, and likely expose the organization to undue risk.  This week, compare your website with your competitors:  have they made a different investment decision than you did?  And what has been the result?

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site Web strategy, technology, and design
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders




Every organization has its group of trusted partners: accountant, lawyer, banker… and web developer. They know your history, strategy, and people, and are available to help when their special skills are needed. But how do you know when it is time to move on from the relationship? While we can’t precisely help with the other advisors, for your external web developer, here are some clues:


  • When their designs are uncreative, or begin to all have “their” look – not yours
  • When they are not using cloud-based collaborative tools for wireframes, design, development, etc.
  • When their technical abilities have reached their limit (or don’t match your internal architecture)
  • When they have not invested in the latest technologies, design capabilities, or social media
  • When they have not invested in certifications on related technologies (CRM, Marketing Automation, etc.)
  • When they are not “up” on the latest legal compliance requirements (CASL, AODA, etc)
  • When they are not demonstrating thought leadership in the public sphere
  • When they shy away from helping you build internal knowledge and capability

Service level

  • When they are not resolving issues in a timely manner (if at all)
  • When they don’t keep their promises on deadlines or budgets
  • When they are not responsive to your requests
  • When they stop pro-actively suggesting new ideas
  • When they don’t work collaboratively with your other partners – or your staff

Account management

  • When the relationship is more transactional than strategic
  • When they have a significant staffing change and you are not notified
  • When their invoices are often incorrect
  • When they show signs of being unethical or dishonest
  • When they take you for granted

One of the more important aspects to review when considering a change is the nature of the relationship itself. Is your interest in having a vendor, or having a partner? A partner is an extended part of the team: an outsider that you make to feel to be an insider, who reciprocates by also investing in the relationship. A vendor is an outsider who is “procured”, then delivers a service for a fee – no different than a barber or a plumber. Both arrangements can work, but often will not when there is a disconnect between the expectations between the two parties.

This week’s action plan: Changing an external advisor is not costless, so any decision needs to balance the learning curve costs with the expected benefits of the new arrangement. This week, using these ideas as evaluation criteria, do a reality check on your external web people: How did they do?

Service insight #1: It is too easy to forget that your service providers are also evaluating you, using their own checklist. What responsibilities do you have to add positivity and value into the relationship? (Hint: without this, your provider will become demotivated, and eventually will move on from you – no matter what the fee level.)

Service insight #2: With a few changes, these criteria can also be used for internal web resources as well. The only difference is that if the answer to some of the criteria are negative, your requirements might be satisfied by investing in training – or supplementing with external resources.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


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