Published: 13 June 2014

I like to think of websites a bit like cars. Fundamentally, all cars are the same – 4 wheels, one engine, some body panels and some kind of seating and storage area. However, even within a single class of car (e.g. medium sized family cars – a class close to my heart) there are a range of similar but different cars, with loads of different options and they are never the same price as one another.

Websites are the same. Just as you can buy a Mondeo or a Bentley you can buy a website or customer experience platform (i.e. a website). What makes a difference are all the same things that make a difference with a car:

1.     The expertise of the Team that build it
The amount of research and testing
The level of experience planning and design
The core platform
Value features beyond the standard model, including

a.     CRM capabilities
Marketing capabilities
Bespoke features
Integration with other systems

6.     Lifetime running costs (i.e. on-going hosting, support and development)

Let’s pick out a few of these and assess them in more detail. Sometimes the most difficult one to determine for a customer is the expertise of the team that build it. It’s not just a case that bigger teams have bigger overheads and therefore cost more (although this is true), however, the value of a large team always outweighs the cost. For example, at Sagittarius any website project is assessed in the research stage by individual experts in design, user experience, search engine optimisation, technical development, hosting and infrastructure and digital planning and strategy. That’s seven people who have dedicated their careers to specific parts of the process of creating a successful website – you can’t get that level of expert focus in smaller one or two man bands.

Research and testing is another area where websites can differ greatly. Depending on budgets we have run everything from internal sign off sessions to international focus groups as part of the planning stages. Testing can include eye tracking, focus groups, low fidelity prototyping (with or without focus groups) and beta launches for brand loyal customers.

The core platform is also an interesting area given the rise of Open Source platforms such as Magento (Community Edition) and WordPress over the last few years. These are great platforms and can be a very cost effective way to get started but there is a common mis-conception that these are ‘free’. Any platform cost should be considered in the context of lifetime costs for development, hosting, support and value to the business. When you consider that a Magento/WordPress site still needs user experience planning, design, development, hosting and support as a normal website does then there are clearly still costs. Also, consider the support model – if the WordPress core has a problem who is responsible and what’s the SLA? Feature development can sometimes cost more with open source platforms as opposed to bespoke platforms so again, consider your features and functional requirements first.

The technical ones above such as bespoke functionality and third party integrations are fairly self-explanatory – more bespoke/integration development means greater effort required and this usually means increased costs.

CRM and Marketing features should also be considered though. Most commercial websites have either ecommerce transactional KPIs or lead generating KPIs and so a good platform should have some level of Customer Relationship Management and Marketing functionality. Again, all open source platforms do but they are usually quite basic admin tools for simply exporting user details and managing passwords.

Enterprise platforms, such as Sitecore, have far greater CRM and Marketing capabilities and include automated marketing, email broadcasting, web to print, engagement analytics and personalisation based on profile metrics and engagement value attribution.  These are far beyond the reach of Open Source platforms and should be at the heart of any commercial website.

So there you have it, a website, just like a car, costs as much as you can afford. The trick to buying a website, just like buying a car, is finding a supplier and brand you can trust and making sure you get enough of the right features, design and on-going service for the budget that you have.

Nick Towers

Managing Director


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