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The Art of an Accurate Website Development Estimate

July 25, 2018
Larry Vollmer
Larry Vollmer
ROI'er
Larry Vollmer

Website development can be incredibly expensive. You can save a lot of time and money if you know the right questions to ask, and know what questions should be asked of you as you start to plan out your website project. In hopes of keeping you from breaking the bank, here are some tips on the art of obtaining an accurate website development estimate.

I liken web development/rebuild projects to real estate construction and fixer-upper projects. Hear me out on this one.

In both web development and real estate development, you hire engineers to build out your project. The engineering skills vary greatly between the two, but the final outcome of each project is still an engineered “product.”

In a fixer-upper project, your construction engineer will be working with elements like wood, nails, plumbing, and electricity. In a website redesign or rebuild, the web engineer will be working with technology stacks, HTML, CSS, Javascript, Server Architecture, versioning, CMSs, frameworks, and third party sales and marketing applications like Salesforce and Marketo, just to name a few.

I watch a lot of fixer-upper shows on TV, everything from Property Brothers to This Old House. Typically, a client will have a certain budget to renovate a piece of real estate, and the hosts of the shows will estimate what that renovation might cost. However, once construction gets underway and walls are being ripped out, there’s always an issue with the bones of the house that was not accounted for in the original renovation estimate. Whether it be shoddy plumbing, toxic mold, termite damage, foundation issues, or construction that was not built to code, all of these items eat into or add to your renovation budget. Sure, you can get an inspection beforehand to help point out some of these things, but more often than not you can’t identify certain issues until you start peeling back the layers of the house.

The same can be said for redesigning or rebuilding a website. Perhaps you have a website that is in sore need of a face lift–it needs better UX, or maybe you need it to perform better or be responsive for mobile devices. You are in the process of choosing an agency to help overhaul your website, and you’re seeking estimates from those agencies. As developers, we have a slight advantage in the estimate phase because we are able to see the bones of your website if you grant us access to poke around a bit first. This might entail granting us access to your GitHub/Bitbucket account (if you don’t have one, it’s time to get one), hosting platform, CMS, and appropriate database(s) for starters. You may not know what any of this is, let alone know where it all lives, but a good developer or agency can help you track it down.

Once we have some of this information, we can start to peel back the layers of your website and identify areas of concern for development. For example, if we see your website is using WordPress as a CMS, and the previous developer was modifying the core install and throwing plugins at very simple development implementations, we know there is going to be a lot of extra development time to reverse engineer that work and get those items standardized. This is like finding toxic mold after ripping out the walls in your construction renovation project, except we were able to identify the issue before providing an estimate and diving into the project.

Being able to analyze and identify these areas of concern in the beginning keeps web projects on time and on budget.

If the agencies or developers you have selected to submit bids for your website rebuild are not asking you some of the following questions, you might want to double check that they are indeed experts in the field of web development.

Some of these questions might include:

  • Where is your website hosted?
  • Who worked on it previously? Are they still contributing to the project?
  • Are you using GitLab, GitHub, or another Git repository?
  • Do you know what technology stack the codebase is developed in? (Hint: GitHub access can reveal this answer to developers if you don’t know the answer)
  • Are you on any CMS (Content Management System)? Is there any back-end component to your website?
  • What pain points do you have with your current website?

Need a project estimated out? We can’t rebuild your house, but we can help you rebuild your website for an amazing “after” reveal!