A few years ago you built an amazing website. Maybe it was 2009 or 2010. At the time, you loved it. You told all your friends about it and they loved it, too. But that was a few years ago and now it’s starting to look a little stale. It just doesn’t function the way newer websites function. It gets ridiculed and beaten up by other websites after gym class.
So you begin the arduous task of the dreaded *redesign*. You call it a redesign. In your mind, it has to look better. You want to reorganize some pages, maybe add some nifty ‘HTML5’ things you’ve heard about. You like the way this other site does their lead generation, and you want to incorporate something similar. And mobile phones. It has to look good on mobile phones.
Your business might put out an RFP, or you engage marketing firms on your own. Either way, you start the process of creating your new website.
That’s when you realize something.
This website costs more.
You had figured it’d be about the same price as the last time. You may have even factored in inflation. Whatever. It costs more than you thought it would. And you don’t know why.
This is a problem in the industry few want to talk about, but it’s something I get asked about a lot. Why does a website for the same business cost more now than it did back in 2009 or 2010?
It boils down to one simple factor: It takes more time. Here’s why.
Responsive design and development are perhaps the most costly changes we’ve made to the web since we went and made all the websites ‘dynamic’ with databases and stuff. I won’t go into a lot of discussion about *what* responsive is, but will mention that my colleague Ethan Georgi wrote a nifty article about responsive design and touch interfaces.
Today, the web is filled with responsive websites. About a year ago, we here at Overit made a decision that all of our websites were going to be built responsively (unless some use case negated that). It was a tough decision to make, but one that we felt was necessary. We made the decision based on mobile search statistics and other behaviors we were seeing.
Responsive design and development, however, have a cost associated with them. No longer in the design phase can you just make one design. We actually completely wireframe and design out the desktop version and the mobile version. We take a lot of care in this because it’s necessary. Responsive design isn’t just about shrinking down a website to make ‘viewing’ on mobile easier – it’s about scaling the website to whatever display size is necessary, and delivering content and functionality to a user effectively. This requires we understand all use cases involved. For instance, what is a mobile visitor looking for vs. a desktop visitor; how does content need to be prioritized, and how to effectively deliver that to each device so the user achieves the goal we’d like them to?
The development of a responsive website obviously takes more time as well. Layout has to function well on displays of vastly different sizes and in different orientations – both your tablet and your mobile device can rotate from portrait to landscape, and the website has to function well in both. With display sizes getting both bigger and smaller simultaneously on desktop devices, responsive development plays a large role.
But don’t think this is something that you can just write off. Not having a mobile optimized site is actually something that Google – in its efforts to make the web better for users – is now penalizing you for. With Google algorithms being more geared toward usability for the average user, they are demanding that websites take devices into account. Not having a mobile-optimized website can actually hurt you in search rankings.
Any web developer and designer who doesn’t understand the need for – and the implementation of – search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t a great developer or designer. Sorry – not just my opinion. Google’s too. Websites with bad development take longer to load, and make it hard for Google (and yes, other search engines) to read, and thus – they get down ranked. Proper placement of Header tags, using alt and title tags on images and links, schema markup, as well as myriads of other items can all have huge SEO value. Conversely, leaving these items out, or misusing, can have some serious SEO effects. What’s the use in building an awesome website if it can’t be found? In this landscape of the web, SEO of a website isn’t just an SEO’s job anymore. It’s the entire project team’s job, and it has to be thought about and strategized in every aspect from design, to content, to development.
This relates primarily to the redesign more than to a new website build. Your business has grown, or you’ve changed business practices. You have new needs and thus new functionality has to be introduced to match your business plan. You want to increase lead generation, or sales, or whatever. This is often a huge factor in the redesign scope inflation: you’ve realized what was working, or what wasn’t working, and now you need to account for these things.
Further – we may have years of statistics on how people are actually using the site. Things you didn’t know with the first site build. This can be an eye-opener for a lot of corporations, to learn the things you value most on your site are the least viewed sections, or the hardest for a user to understand. Knowing these statistics (using something like Google Analytics) is a huge step forward in understanding the behavior and the demographics of users visiting your site. Analyzing behavior patterns is critical, and optimizing the site so people can find things faster, easier and can understand them better is key. All of these things can change the scope of the site, and can even introduce functionality that you didn’t think about before.
Besides that, technology has changed. Simply put, we can do more things than we could in the past, and the things we did in the past may have changed. Granted, we can do things easier than before in some cases, but there’s a lot of really nifty stuff that you’re seeing on the really awesome websites, and you want that.
“That” is more expensive than traditional websites.
Over the past several years, we’ve learned some stuff about how we’re building websites. Four years ago, it was not uncommon for a WordPress developer to be able to create a stunning website without actually knowing a ‘server-side’ language. For instance – the ubiquitous photo slider found in the headers of just about every website out there can be achieved by downloading a WordPress plugin with all the functionality built in. However, we’ve learned that a website built like a Lego set is a security risk. Just piecing random things together produces a result that is slow, bogged down and unsecure. Every single plugin increases overhead to a website, and overhead can mean slow response times and frustrating website management.
Further, websites with huge amounts of code written by third party plugin developers can be a large pain to maintain and, as a result, aren’t being maintained once they leave the developers hands. This can often increase the security vulnerabilities and sometimes hurt the compatibility of the website with more modern browsers.
When we build a website, where on WordPress or another CMS, we’re always looking at that factor. We want to code as much of it ourselves as possible. Why? Because we trust us. When we build it, we know what the website can do, what it can take, and we can quickly fix a problem (should one arise). Not to mention – if I’m coding myself, I can tailor the functionality to exactly what you want, rather than searching for a plugin that does either 1) half of what you want; or 2) slow down your site by doing what you want + 59 other things you don’t care about. Today, when we use plugins, we review the source code first and make sure that we absolutely need to use it. And whenever we can, we want to code it ourselves.
There are a multitude of factors that go into why websites can seem more costly today than they did a few years ago. But making that investment allows you to buildi a web presence that will grow with you for the future. When we’re building a new site we want to make sure that we’re not just thinking about tomorrow… but a year from now, or three years from now.