SWF Seeks Basic Website – must be attractive, clean and open to sharing…

In the past year or so, I’ve been asked a particular question,or had people ask people to ask me a question, or people tell people to ask me a question to ask other people. I hear it  by phone, in person, via Twitter and Facebook:

Does anyone know how much it costs to set up a basic website?

I have yet to answer or hear anyone else answer this question with a figure as end-of-disussion. So I pondered a bit and thought for the New Year it would be a lovely start to answer this  question by turning to colleague and local expert Avery Swartz. The answer is in here, but there’s so much more to think about.

I love working with Avery – she’s responsible for the banner at the top of this page, my business cards, my font choices, my ads in print and online. She’s awesome. So off I went and asked her. read on and be illuminated!

What exactly is a basic website – what does that phrase mean to a designer?
I like to think of websites in terms of functionality.  What do you want your website to DO?  Note: a website’s functionality shouldn’t be confused with its purpose.  The purpose of a website is to sell something, offer information about a company, give directions to an event, etc.  The functionality of a website is HOW you achieve your website’s purpose.  

For me, as a website designer and developer (I both design and build websites), a BASIC website is one that has very very limited functionality.  We’re talking about words and pictures, and that’s it.  Very few webpages (under 5), and nothing changes often (i.e. – no updates needed).  That kind of website is sometimes referred to as a “brochure website”, since its main purpose is to offer information.  There will probably be an “about” page, a “contact” page, and maybe one or two more webpages.

Also, if a client comes to me asking for a “basic website”, it means that all the content for the website (the text, the images, the client’s logo or any other graphic elements needed) will be supplied.  If I need to design a logo, any special graphics, do any photoshop work on your pictures, or help you with your copy, then it’s not “basic” any more.

So how much does a basic website cost? 

If you work with me, it’s going to be about $1000 (or less for arts groups and charities).  You can also find a student or a web designer who is just starting out, and they might charge you $300-$500.

What in your experience does that mean to a client?
Usually, a client thinks the same thing as me for a “basic website”.  Text, images, and just a few webpages.

But, if a client does have a different idea of what a “basic website” is, then it’s usually because they think a “basic website” includes more functionality.  Any time you want something beyond text, pictures, and a handful of webpages (that all have the same layout), then you’ve stepped outside the realm of “basic”.

Extra functionality can include: more than just a few webpages, the ability to update the website yourself, blog integration, e-commerce or online shopping, photo galleries, video, any kind of user interaction (forums, the ability to comment, membership areas), anything that requires enhanced security and encryption, websites that look great on mobile devices as well as desktop computers, social media integration, etc etc etc.

More often than not, when a client comes to me asking for a “basic website”, I help them understand that they probably want more than just the basics.  Most of the fun stuff on the internet can be found in the extra functionality I listed above.  And of course, all that can drive the price up.  But, I’m guessing that your company/business/show probably isn’t “basic”, so you probably don’t really want your website to be either.

If a client is just starting out and is working on a shoestring, are there free or inexpensive ways for them to create their own site?
Absolutely.  But don’t necessarily expect it to be painless.  There’s a reason why people like me are in business.  The DIY options for websites have come a long way in the last 10 years, but there is always at least a small technical hurdle or two.  If you’re not internet savvy, you might find you’re in over your head.  But, there’s no reason not to try, and you might find you can make something pretty good-looking just by rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty.

You can definitely set up your own website through WordPress.com.  You can even have your own domain name.  My suggestion with WordPress though – keep it simple.  Choose a really clean theme (aka template), and exercise restraint.  Wordpress is pretty powerful, and I’ve seen people go nuts trying to “enhance” their website, and it ends up looking like a giant mess.

If you’re a visual artist, you really need to have a Behance.net account.  If you put in the time to make it really nice, you can even have that as your website.  Consider getting a Behance Pro account.  It will make your Behance profile into a portfolio website, without the logos and branding from Behance.  No one will be the wiser, and it looks great.  Check out these examples:

You can do the same thing with Cargo:

If you make something handmade, there’s no excuse for you to not be on Etsy.  Even if you have your own website, you should still be on Etsy.  There are people who are actively looking for handmade goods, searching on that website, who would never find you otherwise.  It’s worth the slight fee it costs to put your products up.

And finally, more and more people are making Facebook pages for their businesses, and skipping a professional website altogether.  I don’t recommend this, mostly because Facebook business pages aren’t search engine-optimized (i.e. – it’s going to be harder to find your Facebook page on Google than it is to find your business website), but I don’t think there’s any harm in doing both (a website plus a Facebook page for your business).

Oh, one more note.  Don’t try and build a website using some silly program on your computer.  Microsoft Word is for writing a letter or a grant application – it’s not for building a website.  Even iWeb, the program on your Mac, is a mess.  It writes bad code that isn’t cross–browser compatible (i.e. It’s not going to look good in every web browser that people use).  If you’re going to try the DIY route, go with something mainstream, contemporary, and web-based.

is there anything a client forgets or might not think about including in their basic website that are essential?
The basics are the basics.  Good, clean layout. Readability.  Easy to navigate. Contact information up front (no one wants to search for your phone number or your address).  When in doubt, keep things simple.

So for the sake of comparison – is my website basic?
Nope! You have lots of fun extra functionality. Blogging (and everything that goes with that, including comments), the ability to update the site yourself, social media integration, contact form, and a flexible mobile version.

 I know WordPress did most of that for you. So there are DIY options for people that want even more than a “basic” website.

Any other thoughts?
Whether you’re using a DIY website option, or working with a web designer, make sure your website accurately reflects your business and your level of professionalism.  Just like it’s simply unacceptable in this day and age to not have a website for your business, it’s also unacceptable for that website to look like junk.  Think of how you behave when you’re online.  If you check out a website for a shop, or a restaurant, or a newspaper, do you judge the business by the way their website looks or behaves?  Of course you do.  We all do.  So just remember that people are judging you too.  Sometimes you get what you pay for.

I think people often confuse the idea of a “basic website” with a “clean website”. Basic = very little functionally. Clean = good design. Clean does not necessarily mean basic. There are oodles of very attractive (and very complex) websites out there that are clean, but definitely not basic.
Think of Twitter. Google. Apple. All very clean (design), but definitely not basic (functionality).
Somehow people have a kooky idea that clean design is easy, so it should be cheap. Clean design is NOT easy. It’s often the most difficult thing to do, because it requires great vision, clarity, and restraint. If clean design was easy, there wouldn’t be so much crap out there.
What are you up to next?
I’m returning to work after 9 months of maternity leave, so I’m ready to take on new clients and new projects.  I’m always working on professional development, and studying up on the latest web trends.  Right now I’m kind of obsessed with “responsive web design”, which is a technique for making websites look fantastic on mobile devices AND desktop computers (without sacrificing one for the other)

Thanks Avery! I repeat – you are awesome.

About Avery – Avery Swartz is a Toronto-based award-winning web designer.  A self-described design geek, she helps to demystify the web for small business owners, charities, and arts organizations.  Avery believes that designing websites should be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved.  She offers a friendly, casual approach and promises to use as little technical mumbo-jumbo as possible.  You can contact Avery and view her portfolio online at www.averyswartz.com.

When she’s not making websites, Avery writes the blog Stuff Avery Likes, featuring news and info on design, travel, internet trends, and living in Leslieville with her husband, dog, and baby girl.  Check it out at www.stuffaverylikes.com.

6 Responses to “SWF Seeks Basic Website – must be attractive, clean and open to sharing…”

  1. Sue, this is an excellent post! So clear and concise. I’ve sent it to people already!

  2. Nicely done Sue. I especially like the part about basic vs. clean design (as the later is a good way of describing what I do as a user interface designer).

  3. This is super helpful!!! Thanks Sue and Avery!

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