Five Reasons why similar-looking websites cost different amounts

“Wait, How much is it going to cost?”

If you've ever asked someone what it would take to build you a website and then were shocked by the price, I'm going to try to explain it to you. Maybe you've even asked two different people (or companies) for quotes and got two numbers that were staggering far apart.

What gives? Is one lying? Does someone think you're rich? Who do these people think they are?

To be clear, I have no agenda here other than to try to explain why these numbers can be so far apart.

So, in no particular order, here are several reasons why two sites that may look very similar may have, in reality, really different price tags associated with them.

Reason One: There are more people involved

One of the simplest reasons for the cost differential is that there simply are more people involved.

Want to see money burn really fast? Invite 10 people to a meeting. Regardless of how much each is paid, the cost will go up simply because they're all there.

Now, to be honest, different kinds of projects require different kinds of teams to build what you want.

But let's assume, for a second, that we're talking about a pretty simple site to build. A couple of pages. Some bit of design.

Why might you need more than one person to code it up?

Well, if you're a small business and you just need a couple of pages coded up, one person might be able to do the work. It's also likely that you'll be busy running your company. So you'll have a limited amount of time and energy to bother that developer (or designer) with phone calls and meetings.

So they'll head to their computer and work for a few days.

But what if you're a larger company and you have one person who is dedicated to talking about the project often. That person may want daily or weekly updates. And that means meetings. And that means that either the developer will come to those meetings (and not code), or that a new person (Person #2) must be involved as your account manager. To answer your questions.

And if the project is bigger than a few pages, you might even have a project manager (Person #3). And you see how this can escalate.

So if you get a quote from one person, and you get a quote from a company that will assign three people, you can imagine that there will be a difference in budgets.

But is there any other reason why that simple site might need more than a person or two? That takes us to reason number two.

Reason Two: Your needs were misunderstood

Let's assume that you have a need for a simple two or three page site. It has a header image. And on the second page it has a form. The third page is the thank you / confirmation of the form being accepted.

Seriously, how hard can it be?

Well, if you're talking to someone who doesn't ask too many questions, this might sound like a $500 or $1500 project.

But what if you're talking to someone who has been around a bit longer or notices that your business card comes from a serious company.

Then they ask one additional question: is this part of a campaign that will see a ridiculous amount of traffic?

A novice won't think about it because they're just focused on writing some simple code for you. But someone who catches that this might be a site that really needs to scale? They'll ask a few more questions because it's going to dramatically change what you need.

You didn't know it. And that first developer didn't even know to think about it (much less ask).

But trust me when I tell you that you'd be happy to pay more, if your campaign required 99.9999% uptime (after all, there's no such thing as 100% uptime, right?).

The difference in cost will come when someone teases out your real needs and understands that someone else has misunderstood them. The result could be a pretty large difference.

Reason Three: You're getting quotes for two different scopes

I once was asked to quote a project where we were invited to submit a bid long after everyone else had. I asked my set of questions and then began formulating a response.

When we submitted the bid, the reaction I received was swift and alarmed. My estimate was more than 100% larger than all the others.

Yes, more than 2X my competitors' bids.

That made me wonder if either I, or those competitors, had misunderstood the job. Like I already pointed out, reason number two happens. A lot.

And I was willing to hear that I had misunderstood things.

But it wasn't the case. As I clarified in excruciating detail what was included in my quote, the client discovered that the other bids had left off one major part of effort.

The other companies weren't offering to migrate all the data that the client needed moved over to their new site. That meant these other companies were going to deliver a beautiful but empty site to the customer and call it a day.

That's apples and oranges, when it comes to costs. Because the scopes are actually different.

(And that's a good reason why hearing what your friend paid for their website isn't always a trustworthy approach, unless you get details of the scope of what was done for them.)

Reason Four: One is creative, the other is derivative

I have some friends that do freelance web design and development together. One does the design work, the other development. They split the job 50/50. And every time I talk to them, I highlight how unfair that feels to me.

The designer is doing the harder of the two (don't tell my developer friends I said this).

That's because they are taking an unclear concept inside of someone's head and turning it into an actual design they appreciate and approve. That's work that is fraught with indirect and miscommunication if you're not good at your job.

The developer, on the other hand has a lot less risk because it's clear what they have to do. The risk has been absorbed by the designer.

Now, the same is true when it comes to different kinds of designs. If you ask a designer to dream with you, to co-create a brand new site that is new, novel and creative—it's going to take work.

If you approach a different designer and simply tell them, “I want that site – same thing, but blue instead of orange,” it's a lot less work. And you know what that means? You'll get two very different quotes, because one approach may be focused on a creative solution that's unique, and the other will simply apply a pre-made look onto your new site, or copy someone else's.

Reason Five: One looks good, the other performs

Now, let's get to the heart of the question in the title. Let's say they're both very similar. They both look good. Why should one cost more than the other?

The difference likely comes from the fact that what went into one was how to make it look good. What went into the other one was how to make sure it performed in line with your business needs.

The difference may not be much in terms of look and feel. But little things can mean a world of difference when it comes to driving the kind of behavior that you want.

And when it comes to the actual work, the first requires effort to make something look good. The second requires a completely different kind of effort to make sure what's understood is your customers', their needs and expectations, and the context for the conversion that they're trying to build into your site.

Two sites. They both look good. They both have roughly the same page count. But only one will perform. That one will be well worth the budget. The other? Sunk cost.

Websites cost different amounts…here's your job

Your job is to ask questions.

  • Make sure you know how many people will be involved.
  • Make sure your vendor is clear about what you really need.
  • Make sure you know what work is being proposed, in detail.
  • Make sure you're clear about how much creativity you're looking for.
  • Make sure you're clear about the role you want your website to play (in your overall business)

In other words, make sure you're not showing up and saying, “I just need a good-looking website.”

Because if that's how you're approaching it, you'll get wildly different proposals (even when no one is trying to rip you off).

The better you define your success criteria, the smaller the difference will be between quotes from similar freelancers or agencies.