I just got an email from a client whose website we just started designing that essentially said "you guys were the most expensive option we reviewed, but it was clear that SPEAK! knows what it's doing." This led me to think... can you evaluate the quality of your website designer by the amount he or she charges?
My conclusion: pretty much.
Every website has many areas of cost, and whether your designer is providing services in these areas or not, trust me, you're paying for them (more on this later):
With website design, you're paying for expertise and process. An inexperienced designer will (should) cost less than an experienced designer, and a firm producing a one-off proof and implementation will (should) cost less than a firm that works through a structured proofing process with multiple options and progressions.
Once the proofing process is complete, your website will be built using code. A designer who disciplines himself/herself to learn the latest version of code (such as XHTML or more recently HTML 5.0) and writes it in valid format should charge more than someone using Microsoft FrontPage to write his or her code. How your website is built makes a tremendous difference in its accessibility through multiple browsers and its friendliness with search engines.
Depending on who you are working with, testing may be lumped in with coding, but be sure you ask! Building a website using valid code does NOT guarantee that it will work in all browsers. Microsoft's Internet Explorer has always been a non standards-compliant browser and is especially notorious for displaying code differently than intended. A designer who will test and correct browser display issues for the major browsers (IE 7, IE 8, Safari 4 and Firefox 3) will cost more than a designer who drops the ball and doesn't test and/or correct browser display issues.
Content (Initial Load):
Where is the content (text, photos, video, audio, etc.) of your website coming from? Are you writing or providing it, or is your designer/agency? A designer that provides this service will obviously charge more for a designer that doesn't.
How will content get updated on your website? Will you need to call the designer every time that an update needs to be made, or will your designer be implementing a content management system like SiteWrench™ or WordPress™? A designer who doesn't have to spend the time building a content management system into your website can get away with charging less on the front end. However, you'll end up paying for his/her continued updates to the site. This situation will lead to either a stale, generic website or a continuing stream of invoices
If your designer implements a content management system for you, you should receive training on how the CMS works. A designer who is willing to spend the time to teach you the ins and outs of the CMS that has been deployed is probably going to charge you more than a designer who hands off the website to you and wishes you luck.
Each of the previous categories have been services that occur and are completed. However, these last two categories are (should be) ongoing. That's why you could make a case for them being two of (if not) the most important categories to review with your designer before you get started. Once the CMS has been implemented, who will vouch for its continued growth and functionality? Who will answer your questions and provide the information you need to implement best practices? Who will squash the bugs as they pop up (a CMS is software, there will be bugs)? These are questions that are answered by ongoing support. A designer unwilling or incapable of providing ongoing support better be charging you less than a designer who does.
The CMS that your designer implements should be constantly growing. It should be providing new tools for you to use on a regular basis. If your ability to edit and maintain your website is the same 6 months after it first launched, you are falling behind the curve. The web is constantly changing, and you need the right tools to help your website lead the charge.
Ask your designer who will be providing these tools. If the answer comes back as no one, you should ask him/her to lower your price drastically (or better yet, find another designer). If the answer is that tools are added by an open-source community, you should ask if training and implementation of new plug-ins are included in your design price. If the answer is that continued development is provided by the designer/agency ask if it is truly their CMS or if it is a canned system that is being resold under a different name. The answers to these questions are not intended to qualify or disqualify a designer. The answers are meant to help you have the best view of what is being provided for the amount of money you are spending.
So getting back to the point - is your designer charging you enough? It may feel like a steal to get a website for $500, but what are you actually getting? Do you have the time to learn and inclination to implement the categories that your designer is leaving out? You'll never get a custom designed website from SPEAK! for $500, but we can (and do) address every category on the above list.
When you work with us, you get everything you need to own and maintain an incredible website. We even provide services to carry your presence into the web further: search engine optimization, Internet marketing and social media management. Give us a call - we may not sell you a website for $500, but you'll be surprised by the intense level of service and value you receive for the amount you pay.