Why a Custom Website is so Expensive (Part 1 of 2)

Why is a custom website so expensive? In short, because it takes a lot of time. More time than most outsiders can imagine. But why?

Web 1.0

Go Media’s founders started building custom websites in the 90’s. In those days, a typical website was comprised of the standard Home, About, Services & Contact. This is commonly referred to as a brochure site. It was often static html and rarely changed in a year. There was very little thought going into SEO. There were rarely contact forms. It might have had five graphic images, total. Publicizing your email address was considered perfectly safe. JavaScript, on the other hand, was feared by the industry.

Web 2.0

Times have changed. Today, content is king, JavaScript is required and sites are more complex than ever. Each new one is competing for attention in a field of nearly 1 billion. Did I mention the internet is everywhere? For all you know, I might be writing this from my phone… at a cafe… in Timbuktu. Or, at the least, someone in Mali might read this article and hundreds of others on gomediazine.com. Articles made possible by dynamic, database driven content management systems that no longer require a ‘webmaster’ to deploy. Desktop publishing has a new meaning thanks to the internet. The lines between broadcast and the web continue to blur. Nearly every form of communication is being virtualized for websites, and everyone wants it for their own.


How Much for a Website?

We often muse at Go Media about folks who call wanting a new site, saying things like “Ya know, like Ebay but with that Facebook feature but more like how Google does it…”… ‘Um, yeah that’s a great idea. Did you have a budget in mind?’ “Oh, well… we were thinking in the $1,000-$2000 range.” Hmmm, well… CLICK! Ha, no, we don’t actually hang up on people. We courteously try to explain that computer science is complex and those examples provided spend millions of dollars on research and development every year to make those features possible.

We can imagine some jaws drop when they receive a quote from us. We have had people become irate, as if we were trying to bamboozle them. Why the confusion? Or rather, why would anyone assume what they’re asking for wouldn’t cost tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars? The internet products and services marketplace is almost an anomaly in the way it skews perspectives about what things should cost. I’ll explain some of the reasons why.


First, computers are systems and systems can be automated. For example, you can find e-commerce platforms, such as Shopify or BigCommerce, for which you pay a small monthly fee, fill out some forms and have your own store in no time. Or you can sign up on WordPress.com and start publishing your own blog in minutes, for free! You could do any number of things online with services like these, all without ever talking to a single human being. These are known as software-as-a-service or SaaS. Many can be quite robust. Their business model is built upon a one-to-many equation where they need a volume of customers to spread the costs of developing this one service.


Not unlike automation, templatization is reusing the same parts over and over again. Here, a website developer has to sell their templates enough times to cover the cost of production. You can find website templates AS-IS, typically cheap file downloads with little-to-no technical support. You can also find SaaS services where you pick the template for your website and go live for a nominal monthly fee. This is a huge segment of the marketplace because a lot of entrepreneurs are thrifty and cavalier enough to be “DIY” and do the work.


Then there is the amalgam of commoditization. This is where companies give away a “free website” as a value-add to their actual product or service. You’ll find this offered by major hosting companies, search engine providers, telecoms, publishers, etc. where their primary revenue comes from elsewhere. They’re willing to eat the cost of producing SaaS systems like the aforementioned as a way to keep their customers hooked into them. These offerings are typically ugly and the service abysmal, but you can’t complain for the price.

Free, inexpensive and nominal monthly fees for “a website” make for a conflated marketplace riddled with confusion, bordering on delusion. However, we can’t blame the lay observer. People have no idea how much time goes into developing a great website. Consumers have unprecedented means to publish their thoughts, photos, videos and more online. It all seems so easy to them. But it is far from the reality. The technical complexities and demands of the modern website only continue to expand. I’d love to say my job as a web developer has never been easier, but it is quite the opposite. Those SaaS offerings and templates continue to become more powerful and competition in general is fierce. The internet is global, meaning my competition has no borders. We must always be innovating.


With all these options, why would anyone need or want a custom website built anyway? And with all that competition, why the heck is a custom website still so expensive?! For starters, one-size-fits-all doesn’t necessarily mean it fits your organization’s needs. With almost a billion websites online, businesses don’t want to show up to the party wearing the same thing as everyone else. A lot of companies also value control. You’re different. You want to exude that. You might have a niche or some market differentiator you want to emphasize and need the right platform to do so. Maybe you need a system that suits the way you operate. Perhaps you have devised a unique new way to engage with your audience. There is so much out there, but that doesn’t mean everything already exists. This is where the real work begins…


Continue – Why a Custom website is so Expensive, Part 2