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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




If you are a service provider, how do you set your price? And if you are a buyer, how do you know whether the price that you are given is reasonable? Beyond the obvious, price itself is an indicator of a number of factors: value, credibility of the service provider, work effort on the project, and risk.

While some may say that pricing is an “art”, it isn’t: it is bound by three specific factors:

1) Cost of delivery: Beyond the cost of labor, there must be sufficient margin to pay for staff training, technology, rent, and all of the other overheads involved in running a business. If these aren’t covered, the business will eventually become unsustainable.  What to look out for:

  • Expensive offices and other signs of excess? (costs will be higher)
  • Senior staff on the engagement, vs junior staff? (costs will be higher)
  • Little investment in professional development, or reduced project scope? (costs will be lower)
  • Corners are cut (costs will be lower; more on how to avoid corner-cutting.)

2) Competitive dynamic: Setting prices too high usually results in disqualification. Setting prices too low breeds suspicion: has the work effort been estimated properly? While it may seem that this factor might not apply when there is no competition (eg for a unique service or a monopoly) there is always competition: the project can be executed internally, or it can be shelved.

3) Budget: If the budget is lower than the price, then the cost of delivery and competitive dynamic make no difference – there won’t be a deal. What to look out for:

  • Unrealistically low budgets: To win an engagement with an unrealistically low budget, either scope must be cut or more junior staff must be used. Or, the project will end up with a greater number of “change requests” and a higher total price.
  • Very high budgets:  If the budget is higher than price, it will be harder to justify the project’s ROI.
  • No budget provided: This is a no-win situation for everyone, as some service providers will deliver a Mercedes Benz-priced proposal, others a Toyota, and others a low-end Ford.  The truth is that each service provider can deliver the engagement at all three price levels: without budget guidelines, it is impossible for the buyer to tell which is best.

This week’s action plan:   If you are a buyer, this week look at your procurement process from your service provider’s perspective: how does your process influence pricing?  And do you provide budget guidelines?  If you are a service provider, this week look at your pricing process: when was the last time it was updated?

Marketing Insight: Price is also an indicator of risk. A low price typically means less work effort, more junior staff, and higher risk. Price is also an indicator of brand equity, which, again, is connected to quality, assurance, and risk. Build your brand, and it is easier to justify a higher price, notwithstanding the cost of delivery, competitive dynamic, and the budget.

Marketing Insight #2:  The best buyers understand that price is only one factor: experience, references, availability, and terms and conditions are all part of the equation.  How do you compare on these, relative to your competition?

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


Avoiding costly web development corner cutting (Part II: 15 ways developers cut corners)

by Randall Craig March 28, 2014

Have you ever received proposals from several vendors for the same web project, only to see a significant difference in their fees?  While a tightly specified RFP is supposed to guard against this, when it happens, there should be no real surprise. Here’s why:  Every respondent will go (or should go through) a detailed costing […]

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