Your Digital Storefront

Reconciling Your Custom Website Spend with Your Business Needs

We get it. Websites range from dirt cheap DIY options, to expensive custom builds. Why the big range? It’s hard to understand why it’s expensive and whether it’s a good spend. For many businesses, it isn't appropriate to spend fifty grand on a website. For others, it’s not appropriate to spend any less.

This article is for any business owner or marketing director investigating their approach to a new website or site redesign. I’ll walk you through the questions I ask prospects before we move forward and the education we provide about how to make a good investment.

First, a little about us. We are a custom software and marketing agency with our headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina. We do things a little bit differently than our friends in the industry, which you can read more about here on our Whiteboard. Part of our core offering is to help customers make well informed decisions based on real information. We build everything from beautiful custom websites to big HIPAA compliant medical applications.

By the way, when we say custom website, we mean a website that is completely hand-coded and built from scratch to meet your requirements. It isn’t limited in functionality or design by anything besides good sense and the team’s imagination.

We are writing this post because of how often this particular topic comes up with our clients. Building a custom website isn’t cheap, so what are the tangible reasons for making that investment when there are so many options to go a less expensive route? We break it down like this:

Here are the circumstances under which it is not appropriate to build a custom site:

  • You are on an extremely tight budget or timeline, with no room for flexibility.
  • The spend is out of line with the size of the opportunity.
  • You are first starting out, and haven’t invested significantly in your brand collateral
  • The website is a lean experiment to push some content out into the world and test out your idea
  • You are managing all of your content, copy, branding, and digital presence yourself.

Here are the circumstances under which you should consider a custom site.

  • You understand the importance of investing in your digital storefront
  • You’re willing to go through a robust data collection and requirements gathering phase to ensure a smart spend and you’re ready to let the data decide the strategy
  • You have strict expectations for brand presentation
  • Your project requires advanced functionality like ecommerce, lead database, a customer portal, etc.
  • You’re building a web-based application
  • Your customers expect a high-end, truly unique experience and the opportunity matches the spend

If you’re not sure, talk to an expert that you trust will give you solid advice. At Anthroware, we’ve become excellent at talking ourselves out of work that doesn’t make sense. We won’t build a $50,000 website if a $5,000 website will do. We can’t provide value to you and there’s no way that engagement will end with a happy client.

Case Study #1 – 30 more clients per month.

Medical practice came to us for web development. They had paid a designer very little money to design the site and got what they paid for - unattractive designs without a strategy. We worked with them to make the right spend instead of developing a bad site.

Step 1: Define your goals. This can be high-level or granular. We had a client come to us and say “I want 30 more clients per month from the website.” Okay, no problem. We know that a certain amount of traffic with a particular conversion rate can generate an additional 30 clients per month. Once we figure those numbers out (which can take some time), we can make a good guess at what kind of spend is required to hit those numbers. But before we move forward, we need to make sure the spend makes sense.

Step 2: Define the size of the opportunity. In this client’s case, the spend would be approximately $40,000, give or take 15%. Seems expensive at first, right? But each new customer is worth about $1,500, so he’d get his investment back within the first month, doubled within two months. This is a case when you’d want to spend the money.

Step 3: Follow Through. Just building the site isn’t enough. We can build the most persuasive, beautiful site in the world, but if no one sees it, it’s not worth the spend. If you’re going to invest in a custom site, you need to ensure that the marketing strategy is in place to maximize the investment. This largely depends on your goals, but typically includes a combination of digital marketing, search engine optimization, and content marketing. For this client, the site needed to be beautiful to be successful, but we also had to ensure that the traffic numbers were where they needed to be so he could generate the clients he wanted. That meant ongoing SEO and SEM support, content creation, and social media management.

Step 4: Report, Optimize, Report. Finally, you should be willing to continue to monitor and tweak the site to maximize your return on investment. For this client, it was all about the conversion rate, so we continued to report on and improve upon the copy, calls to action, images, and strategy to gain higher and higher conversion rates over time. The more data you have, the better choices you can make.

Case Study #2 –Wedding Photographer Needs New Site

A local wedding photographer came to us requesting a fully new brand and site. We thoroughly investigated her needs and found a solution within her budget.

Step 1: Define your goals. This client came to us and said “I want a new logo and website. Mine is out of date and I think it needs an update. My budget is tight, and I can’t go over.” From the beginning, we had a hunch that she was not a good candidate for a custom site. She didn’t have clear expectations for the site (i.e. 10 new clients per month), nor did she have the flexibility that larger projects require.

Step 2: Define the size of the opportunity. In this client’s case, to build a fully custom website that would allow for the functionality she needed would cost approximately $60,000. She wanted a fully new brand, custom CMS, the ability for clients to order prints online, and a blog that would house lots of different kinds of content. It also needed to be fully optimized for search engine visibility. When we asked her how much a new client was worth, it was also $1,500. But, she could only accommodate two new clients per month, or about $3,000. She wouldn’t even recoup her investment until almost two years down the road, and she wouldn’t have the additional capital she’d need to continue to drive traffic and optimize conversions. There are many templates that would serve her needs that would cost much less and be much more in line with the opportunity. If she built more capacity or increased the value of new customers in the next couple of years, we could revisit the question of a custom site.

Case Study #3 – New Software as a Service Company Launching, Need Sales Site

As you’ll see, this case study is interesting. They have a large opportunity size but unproven revenue. The brand, sales copy, and marketing strategy are completely untested. There’s no data to gather, so we can’t predict the outcome of any marketing efforts. We can guess based on comps, but there are no guarantees. So, what do we do?

Step 1: Define Your Goals. The client came to us with the goal of selling the software. Because there were no existing numbers, we suggested a different goal: use the site to test your brand, copy, and marketing collateral to optimize it. Use it as an information gathering machine to inform any efforts moving forward. They agreed.

From the spec:

“Because XXXXX is a brand new product, we have a limited understanding of which messages will compel which audiences to opt in. While the product is still in development, we have a great opportunity to test different visuals, sales copy, headlines, and calls to action. With a targeted public launch in April 2017, we have from the time the site launches (tentatively August 2016) to public launch to measure and refine our strategy, maximizing our conversion rates.”

Step 2: Define the size of the opportunity. In this case, the opportunity was huge, but because everything was untested, it didn’t make sense to invest in a custom site. There are tools out there that make putting up multiple landing pages and A/B testing conversions much easier than doing it on a custom site. Here, the right spend was on generating the traffic so we could get as much data as we could as quickly as possible. Our solution was to leverage an existing tool to save money on design and development and spend on follow through.

Step 3: Follow through. We accompanied the templated site with a robust SEO, SEM, and email marketing/content marketing campaign to generate traffic so we could get the data we needed before recommending a large spend on a custom site. They’ll need one eventually, but we don’t have enough information yet to recommend the investment.

To sum it all up:

As you can see, all businesses have needs that differ greatly and it’s not always clear which path to take.