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The Hidden Costs of Building a Website

Photo by Claudia Viloria on Unsplash

Do it right or do it twice is an old adage. Doing it right isn’t always quick or cheap, but neither is doing it twice. A quick solution might be easy and cheap initially, but is often fraught with hidden long-term costs that inflate the total cost of ownership.

It’s important to note that a low upfront price doesn’t mean low quality, and conversely, a high initial price doesn’t imply high quality or low long-term cost of ownership. Regardless of the correlation, let’s examine the factors that should be considered when analyzing the initial price and total cost of ownership of a website.

Revenue Potential

If a website is designed or built improperly, which in turn restricts sales, ad revenue, etc then the lost revenue is part of the true cost of the website. Depending on the scale of the revenue, this could quickly dwarf the price of building it right. Opportunity costs are very real, and while sometimes difficult to quantify, must be considered.

Stability

A website that is always broken is as useful as a car that is always in the shop. The cost of downtime will vary greatly site by site, but even if the impact is not directly correlated to lost revenue, downtime has a negative and lasting impact on your brand and erodes user confidence. A poorly built website will often have reduced stability due to poorly structured code or unneeded complexity. The ability to deploy new features and quickly adapt to user needs may even be hampered.

Design

While you may love the visual appeal of sites serving up immersive experiences with photography and custom illustrations, there are cost considerations to the creation and maintenance of those assets. Functionality that leverages new browser features or requires complex interactions may be more brittle and prone to cross-browser compatibility issues. Special consideration should be given to finding a visual approach that aligns well with your appetite for updating and creating design assets. Tasks such as swapping/sourcing photography, updating infographics, or creating additional custom icons when a section is added can all add long-term costs.

Ongoing Development

Your new website might be complete, but it will undoubtedly require maintenance over time which can vary greatly in cost depending on a variety of factors. The choice of framework or lack thereof can create vendor lock or require the hiring of highly specialized developers. The quality and amount of custom code will also influence the cost of ownership. Adherence to best practices with the initial development also affects the complexity of future maintenance. When best practices are followed, developers should be able to work more quickly. This reduces incremental costs for maintenance and new feature development.

Longevity

Well-built products typically last longer, and websites are no exception. Every additional year that a website can stay in service reduces the total cost of ownership. The web moves quickly, making things obsolete in short order, but a well-built website can at least be future-ready, even if it can’t be future-proof.

Editorial Control

The struggle between simplicity and configurability is often on full display in web development. Understanding what elements can be hard coded and controlled via code vs what needs editorial interfaces for easy management is important to the success of a site. Continually incurring development costs due to the inability to manage content is a sure way to increase the long-term cost of ownership. The inability to quickly edit content to respond to user needs may have hidden opportunity costs as well.

Risk

An insecure website can expose private user information, reveal sensitive business data, or allow other nefarious activities. Depending on the nature of the website, building it securely and keeping it secure isn’t just best practice, it may be business-critical. Additionally, when new security concerns are inevitably found, having a solid foundation that allows for security patches to be quickly and confidently applied is essential. Finally, ensuring that your site is accessible is not only the right thing to do, it is a major source of liability if not done correctly or at all.

Performance

A poorly optimized site not only causes slow page load times, it can waste server resources, which may increase hosting costs in a substantial way depending on the scale of your traffic. Slow pages will also contribute to your bounce rate, driving customers away before they even get in the door. Performance is also a factor in Google search rankings, creating a strong incentive for a performant site. The direct impacts of page speed and the associated opportunity costs will quickly make the cost of slow apparent and add to the long-term ownership costs.

Choosing the Right Partner

Everything above and more factors into the total cost of a website, and is not reflected in the initial development price. When evaluating proposals for your website build, consider a potential partner’s commitment to help you make informed decisions upfront, considering all of these factors to minimize the long-term cost of your project. This can mean questioning and cutting features right away to achieve a lower initial price with enhancements later, a higher upfront price with lower costs later, or some combination thereof.

The key is to find a partner that provides value not only in the form of design and code, but also in the form of advice about pitfalls to avoid. Hopefully this helps you go into the process of crafting a website with a better understanding of what goes into an initial price and the potential costs hidden behind it.

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