In the first part of this series, you decided AEC firm website update intent, goals, and who should be involved. In the second part we dove into the differences between website design and development, user experience, and considerations for hiring an agency or freelance consultant. Finally, we get to the elephant in the room – schedule and costs.
Timelines and Schedules
One of the two big questions is how long will this take? The other is cost which is addressed below.
Remember when I suggested that you create a website update committee and keep that to no more than five people, ideally three people? The size and availability of your committee will determine how long this effort takes. One of the pros of hiring an agency is that they typically have a schedule and push to keep you on schedule.
Below I list the different stages I have experienced in the website update process and typical timeframes. Of course, these will differ dramatically based on decision making speed, sticking with decisions, and your capacity.
- Intent and Goals – You document the website update intent and goals with the senior management team. You also get sign off on the website update committee. 1 – 2 weeks.
- Planning – This is where you identify your target audience and basic website function and information. This is also when you want to decide on your content management platform (WordPress, Craft, Drupal, etc.). The end result is a website sitemap and wireframe. 2 – 6 weeks.
- Design – Once the sitemap and wireframe are approved, the website designer can begin to sketch the website layout. This includes the look and feel. In my experience, the homepage is designed first and approved before other pages are designed. 4 – 12 weeks.
- Content Writing and Assembly – This can run concurrent with the design. Once the sitemap and wireframe are approved, you can start identifying the content that needs to be written and photos/videos to be produced. I also strongly suggest meeting separately to develop SEO strategies. It is better to have these before you begin writing the content. 4 – 12 weeks.
- Coding – This is when the website developer takes the design and content to code the actual live website. Special features, plug-ins, etc. are installed and tested during this phase. 6 – 10 weeks.
- Testing, Review, and Launch – Before the new website goes live, you will want to test, test, and test! Test every link. Test in various browsers (Internet Explorer, Chrome, etc.). Test on mobile and desktop devices. Test on different networks (at work, at home, at a neighbor’s house, etc.). Test every possible situation. Then when all of the bugs are worked out, plan for your launch day. 2 – 4 weeks.
Of course there are so many variables within your firm and the agency or consultant you are hiring. My last website update was for BRPH.com. It was part of a bigger rebranding effort to celebrate our 50th Anniversary. We officially begin (got the agency on board) in June 2014. The rebrand and website officially launched in March 2015, 10 months later. However, a few of the rebrand elements (stationary, business cards, etc.) held up the total launch efforts as opposed to the website. We were blindsided with the amount of effort it would take to develop all of the content for the website. Be prepared to provide nearly all of the content—writing and photos.
As you would suspect, this isn’t an easy answer. It is a “it depends” type of answer. There are a lot of factors that go into your website update. It also depends on your intent of the update. Website updates can range from $2,000 to upwards of $50,000+. This range doesn’t include any ongoing costs of hosting, content creation, plug-ins, security, and maintenance. So why such a big range? How can you determine what your website update is going to cost? I attempt to provide you with some guidance below.
Complexity & Function
The complexity and sheer amount of content on your website will increase the costs. Factors such as number of pages, unique designs on each page vs. using templated pages, integration with other programs such marketing automation platforms and email providers all add complexity to the backend of the website, which means increased design and development costs.
I would suggest starting out with the bare essentials to meet your intent and goals. Then pick a CMS and theme that allows for expansion later. This has a few advantages. First, your initial budget and effort (think creating designs and content) will be reduced. Second, by launching a minimal viable solution you will allow time to gather analytics and get people used to it. You may think you have the perfect user experience but users begin to actually use your site, you won’t know what is working and what is not. Third, your SEO is stronger when you make updates and changes to not only blog posts by changes too. Having a plan to update those 1-2 times a year will help your overall organic rankings.
Design or Theme Creation
We already visited the options of hiring an agency, freelancer or going DIY. This can increase your costs from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Starting with a theme and then having someone (agency or consultant) customize is probably the best route for most AEC firms. If your firm is a top 10 ENR design firm, you will most likely have a larger budget to create-from-scratch design.
This is sometimes a hidden cost. You think that the marketing team will be providing all of the writing and images for the website. This may be the case, but most likely you will need help. Video is king in content right now. Producing videos whether in house or using a production team, takes resources both time and money. I can almost guarantee that every website update in 2017 will include at least one video. Depending on the number of videos and how you produce will dramatically change the cost of your website update.
Do you want your website to integrate with your CRM, your HR recruitment platform, or your email marketing provider? Each integration will add to the overall cost. The amount of each integration will be dependent on the CMS platform you choose, the integrations you desire, and if they easily talk to each other. This is the biggest advantage of using more common CMS platforms like WordPress.
Web Design Calculator
I came across this web design calculator from WebpageFX. You plug in factors like number of pages, level of design, etc. and it gives you a high and low range for pricing. This might be a good start if you need to pitch a budget.
I have heard of marketers getting quotes for website design and development ranging $500 to well over $70,000. It is hard to compare numbers side by side because of the factors listed above. Each firm is going to have different intentions and goals for their website update. That will dictate the costs. However, I strongly suggest talking to other AEC firms similar to size as yours to ask about their website agency and estimate costs. Then I suggest doing your own research to find themes, agencies and consultants. Once you get a shortlist get a proposal and interview them thoroughly. Move forward only with the entity you are comfortable with.
If you have updated your AEC firm’s website recently, share you experiences, lessons learned and new website below. This way we can all learn from each other!