That’s the first and most important question an entrepreneur can ask before building – or rebuilding – the company site. It’s a crucial question for two reasons: first, it will tell you what information to put on your site; second, it will tell you the cost to build it, and the cost to maintain it.
In this post, I’ll try to lay out a general way to think about the purpose of your site, and provide a few ballpark figures for the associated costs. Hopefully this will be helpful in terms of marketing strategy and budgeting, two areas of marketing that can be very hard to get a handle on.
The simplest type of site is a billboard website. Here, all the company is trying to do is lay out its credentials and give people a basic idea of what the company does and why it’s different.
Usually the main purpose of a billboard site is establishing credibility; a company without a website is going to look pretty sketchy when potential customers (or even current customers) decide to check it out on the web.
However, a bad billboard site can be worse than no site at all. For this reason, it’s important to budget enough for professional copy and design. Sites that look homemade make a company look amateurish, cheap, out of date, unreliable … it’s a long list with no positive entries.
How much should a billboard site cost? A lot depends on page count and platform, but a 10-page site built on an open source platform like WordPress is likely to fall in the $3000 – $8,000 range. That’s a wide spread, but there are many variables that come into play, such as the level of SEO (search engine optimization) involved, the amount of original content to produce and the complexity of the design.
A big advantage of the billboard site is low maintenance. Hosting and software updates are by and large routine, and there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong. The cost to maintain a billboard site could be as little $200 a month, possibly less.
Lead Generation Websites
A lead generation site takes things a bit further; now, the focus is on generating sales leads. With the new purpose comes many layers of complexity, including –
- The need for a carefully thought out conversion strategy: what are the offers, and how do we make them persuasive?
- The need for testing and lead tracking: you can’t refine your offers without knowing how effective they are.
- The need for more sophisticated copywriting, design and imagery.
How much should a lead generation site cost? Be prepared to spend at least $10,000, and the cost could be considerably higher based on complexity and site size. Maintenance costs will be higher as well, because of testing and tracking, and because more things can go wrong when a site becomes interactive. In addition, a lead generation site usually needs to be supported with an organic search and/or paid search campaign to pull in enough traffic to make the investment pay.
This is all a big step up from a simple billboard site.
An e-commerce site is an even bigger move, built for the purpose of conducting transactions online. When this is the goal, strategy, complexity, creative inputs and site maintenance increase substantially. Furthermore, ongoing marketing programs to drive traffic become even more important and can require monthly budgets of four figures or more.
How much should an e-commerce site cost? Some e-commerce sites can be built on a standard platform, but others require a lot of customized programming and/or design. Another big factor is the level of integration between the e-commerce site and the company’s other operating systems. For instance, if a site needs to be connected to a CRM or ERP system, programming costs could skyrocket.
A down-and-dirty e-commerce site can be built for less than $10,000, but doing things on the cheap seldom products results that move the dial. Done right, e-commerce projects can easily go from the $20,000 range into low six-figures. The key is to define your needs very carefully before creating an RFQ.
Avoid the Common Traps
Financially speaking, a lot of companies get in over their heads because they don’t take maintenance and marketing costs into account. This is a particularly costly problem in e-commerce, because under-spec’ing the site will lead to serious cost overruns that could force a project to be abandoned.
Strategically speaking, avoid a site that has a hodgepodge of goals. Firms will sometimes try to tack on a lead generation block to a billboard site, or start offering one or two items for sale on a lead generation site. This usually doesn’t work: throwing a bunch of content on a site designed for a different purpose will never be as profitable as having a clear purpose backed up by a strategic marketing plan.