Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Affordable Website Design - What You Get

(Part three in a five part series.)

by Dustin Schwerman

The true measure of a website's affordability is its value, not its cost. You can get an affordable website design for a thousand dollars, and if it includes powerful programming, custom graphic design, even some e-commerce and SEO, it is quite a value indeed. On the other hand, its title immediately changes to expensive if you only receive a few web pages, a stylesheet, and a site map. So how do you know how affordable a website really is? How do you decide what you should get to ensure that you are getting what you paid for?

Ever notice how a lot of web designers sell their services in packages? Take a look at the packages they offer. Are they looking suspiciously similar? Are you noticing that the main difference in the package is number of pages or improved hosting services (such as email accounts, bandwidth, and storage)? I've used packages like this as examples in a few of my articles; I like to call them "value meal" web design, not out of any actual value, but because they remind me a lot of a fast food restaurant where you buy for the burger but pay by the french fry.

Now of course, you aren't going to want to limit yourself to only a few pages or a few hundred megs of monthly bandwidth. You have ambitions! And that's how you wind up losing money. It looks impressive, and it's meant to, because you see how it already costs a hundred dollars or so just for a basic ten page site or a hosting plan with 10 MB storage and 100 MB bandwidth and 10 email accounts, so when you see that the $1,000 plan has a thousand pages, a gig of storage, 10 gigs of bandwidth, and unlimited email accounts, well, that's a pretty good value. Ten times the price for a hundred times the stuff.

It's a clever tactic, and it's no doubt a tactic intended to catch people who don't have experience with web design and web hosting and don't realize the actual value of the services being offered. First off, what are the chances that you're actually going to use a thousand web pages? Just so you know, that probably doesn't mean they write a thousand quality pages for your website. It means you can give them a thousand pages of text and they'll format it and link it up and lay it out. Not individually, of course. They're web designers; they have stylesheets and php inclusions and databases to do all that for them. But chances are, by the time you actually have a thousand pages worth of information, you're looking for a database-driven site, which dynamically creates individual pages, so the actual page count is irrelevant.

But what about that storage and bandwidth? A gig of storage and ten gigs of bandwidth may very well be required; you can manage with less, but if you plan for your site to grow, that's a pretty solid amount. The thing is, in the grand scheme of things, that's dinky. Bigger web hosts often offer hosting packages for under ten dollars per month that offer - ready for this? - thousands of gigs of storage and bandwidth. Not to mention unlimited emails, a few add-on domains, and a variety of extras. These small web design companies are offering you something called reseller hosting, where they buy a package from a big host and sell the hosting to their clients. The packages they provide are smaller than those the main hosting company, but will probably cost more, because they need to make a profit. It's a typical middle-man addition that saves you nothing, unless you really want to only pay one company.

So what should you be looking for in an affordable website design? You should be looking for a flexible pricing system that allows you to put what you want into your site, be it graphics or programming or e-commerce. You should look for a designer who has the experience to figure out how to build your site the way you want it and the creativity to show some style while doing so. You should look for companies that don't charge by the page, and you should look for a full-service, dedicated web host to house your final site (if your designer can recommend a good one, all the better!) In short, you shouldn't purchase a website that charges based on a systemic package that you probably won't use to its fullest. You should buy the site with a price based on what you'll use and what you get.

About the Author

Dustin Schwerman is the head web designer for Truly Unique - Small Business Website Design. Truly Unique works on sites of all varieties, from office supplies to men's designer jewelry.