Articles by Nina Litovsky

How to evaluate web design proposals

Whether you want to redesign your existing website or need a new one built for your practice, the first step is to find the right web design company that matches your needs and your budget. When evaluating proposals for web design services from different companies, there are a number of key factors to consider that can help you make the right decision (and save you significant money).  Because doctors and dentists are not well-versed in web design, many companies working with them think that, just because the websites they build are doctor/dentist-specific, they can charge significantly more for their work than if the websites were built for any other profession. Also, there are companies that misrepresent their products in an effort to sell you something that is significantly less valuable than what you are being charged for. The following overview will help you make the right decision regarding the services and costs, so that you can get your website built or redesigned cost-effectively.

Same Words, Different Meaning with Different Companies

Marketing and web design proposals often don’t tell the whole truth and use inaccurate terminology to mislead you into thinking that you are getting one thing, while in fact you are getting something else entirely. “Custom website” is a good example. Some companies will set up your site on an off-the-shelf template, lightly customized with your logo and colors and not much else, and sell that as a “custom website.” Other companies will bring in a graphic designer who will work with you to understand your practice, target market, marketing goals and objectives. The designer will then create a completely unique website design that matches your needs and requirements.

For the sake of clarity (and honesty), we will call the former “customized template” and the latter, a true “custom design.” Ask the web company which one they really do. Read here why templates are not recommended for a professional website.

Typical price ranges*

  • Customized template: $2,500-$5,000
  • Custom design: $5,000-$9,000.

Our prices

Our firm offers exclusively custom design, and a typical website cost is between $3,000-$4,000, which is what many other agencies charge for a customized template.

What’s Included?

Similar-priced proposals from different companies may include different things. Some companies include less, while others include more for the same price. For example, one company may include only web design in their base price, without any additional services such as SEO (search engine optimization) or mobile-friendly design. Another company’s similar proposal may include SEO and mobile-design for nearly the same price.

What our proposals include

All our proposals include custom web design, development, SEO and mobile design.

Padding fees

Proposals from larger agencies often include agency markup to cover overhead costs. With a larger agency, you will likely pay a higher cost, but will not necessarily get a higher value. You may be able to get similar value and quality from a smaller firm with less overhead, at a lower price.

Do we pad fees?

We minimize our overhead and pass the savings to our clients, and that’s how we are able to deliver custom web design for the price of a customized template and include more in our proposals, as discussed above.

Vendor Reliability and Professionalism

Above, we discussed typical price from domestic small- and medium-sized agencies. Solo freelancers and foreign companies are a different beast altogether. Their proposals may sometimes – though not always – feature lower prices. However, there are some important factors to consider:

Reliability

Solo designers often freelance on the side, in addition to a full time job, or between full-time employments. This may cause interruptions or delays during the project or later in the future, when you need help updating your site. We have seen many cases when project was left unfinished because the freelancer or the foreign company simply dissolved or stopped responding.

Quality

Designers who try to underbid to get business often lack professional skills necessary to complete your project, which may result in additional costs and wasted time when you have to hire someone else to finish, or repair, the work. Besides, companies that outsource work overseas often do not have adequate quality control process.

Legal liability

If you choose to work with a company that’s located overseas, at least make sure that the company has a legal representative who is located in the United States and is subject to domestic laws. As the end consumer, you want your rights protected and you want the company’s liability to you be enforceable in court. If a company is located entirely overseas, your options will be very limited, should there be any legal difficulty. You risk losing your money and all the completed work.

What about our company?

We are a domestic firm located in Sarasota, Florida. We work hard to deliver a high-quality service, and we always respond promptly.

‘Canned’ vs. Custom Solutions

When soliciting quotes from a web design company, it’s important to consider the company’s model and the kind of solution you are looking for. Many agencies offer ‘canned’ service packages and products at fixed prices. Other agencies provide a concierge service and fully custom solutions tailored to the needs of each client. Their proposals may include hourly rates or estimates for a specific set of deliverables.

If one proposal includes prices for a ‘canned’ product, while the other proposal includes fees for a fully custom service, comparing the two proposals will not give you the full picture. You need to decide which model you prefer – ‘canned’ or custom – and compare proposals for the model you choose.

What is our model?

We offer concierge service and fully custom solutions. However, we charge a fixed fee (listed above) for the type of projects that we have been doing for a long time and that typically include similar amounts of work, such as dental or medical practice websites or professional blogs. Sometimes we are asked to do websites with nonstandard features, or to do open-ended projects without a clear predefined set of deliverables. In such cases, we provide estimates for incremental work, or perform work at an affordable hourly rate.

Second Opinions

In an effort to increase profits, web design agencies sometimes push services that are unnecessary, or try to sell you a more complicated solution when a simple one would be enough. For example, we often observe cases when doctors are sold “monthly SEO” services. Often, doctors are not presented with a clear understanding of what the service includes and, more importantly, why it’s necessary to perform this service on a recurring monthly basis. However, SEO is such a buzzword nowadays that doctors think that they are getting value – even when they don’t. The reality is that successful SEO includes many online and offline aspects of your practice, many of which are beyond anyone’s – even your marketing company’s – direct control. Most practices need initial and then periodic SEO initiatives, but ongoing monthly SEO is typically unnecessary. Besides, we have witnessed cases when doctors were charged high monthly fees for SEO while receiving very little or no actual SEO service! This is why we encourage you to ask for second opinions on your proposals and have another professional evaluate whether you are being offered a service that will really be in your best interest.

What we think

We think that custom web design delivers a tremendous value to a professional website is that it’s certainly superior to any ‘canned’ template design. Since we – and possibly others – offer fully custom designs within the ballpark of what many agencies charge for a customized template (as described above), we know that price is no longer an issue when considering a custom web design service.

As for SEO, we think that initial SEO is very beneficial to the website, followed by, perhaps, 6-month or annual SEO checkups and/or periodic SEO initiatives such as cleanup of your citations (online directories) or link building. Such SEO initiatives should be billed on a per-project basis. We do not think that most practices need ongoing monthly SEO.

Vendor Lock-in

Another important consideration is the platform on which your website will be built. The term “platform” refers to the type of software suite used to build your website. There are proprietary platforms that belong to a single company, and there are independent (open-source) platforms, such as Drupal or WordPress, that do not belong to any single company. If your website is on a proprietary platform, you are “married” to the company and cannot leave them without losing your website. If you switch to another company, you will lose your website (though you may be allowed to keep your content if you own it) and will have to rebuild the site with another company from scratch.

If you want to have flexibility in the future, you will want to have your website developed on an independent platform such as WordPress. There are many web designers who work with WordPress and other independent platforms.

If you get a proposal from a company that uses a proprietary platform, the proposal will include a monthly fee to host your website. However, if you rather choose a web designer to build your website on an independent platform, you can likewise sign up with an independent professional hosting company and ask your web designer to set up your site there. There are many to choose from – GoDaddy, Bluehost, Siteground, Hostgator, to name a few – so it’s a big market with many customers and competitive prices. See our recommendations for a hosting provider here. If you choose an independent hosting provider, your monthly hosting fees are most likely to be much lower than if you choose to host your website on a company’s proprietary platform. Also, the quality of proprietary hosting is questionable because there are no public reviews and you cannot choose another hosting provider. With independent hosting, you can choose the best hosting provider, with the best reviews.

Hosting price ranges

  • Proprietary hosting: $75-100/month
  • Independent hosting: $5-25/month

What we do

We build our websites in WordPress and set them up on an independent hosting that our clients choose.

Cost Benefit Analysis of Monthly Fees vs. a One-Time Fee

A good custom website is supposed to last many years, without the need for reinvestment and major updates. When you receive your web design proposals, we suggest that you run a cost benefit analysis and compare long-term costs of renting vs. buying a website. In other words:

Buying a website: a one-time fee for a custom website, a low ($5-25) monthly fee for hosting the site on an independent hosting and on-demand updates,

vs.

Renting a website: paying high monthly fees and, in most cases, a considerable amount to initially set up the website. Most often, websites that are rented on a company’s platform are typically cookie-cutter customized templates. Further customization of your template will likely cost you extra.

A cost benefit analysis will show you clearly how your monthly fees accumulate, at what point the accumulated monthly fees exceed the one-time fee you would have paid for a custom site, and after what point you start overpaying for your rented site.

What types of fees do we charge?

We typically charge a one-time fee. We don’t charge any ongoing monthly fees. If you work with us, you will always own – never rent – your website.

* All estimates are approximate, based on our analysis of multiple platforms and vendors as of 2017.