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Part 2: You Get What You Pay For!

by Chris Tong, Ph.D.

Dr. Tong

In this 2-part article, Dr. Tong promotes ideas that you just won't read anywhere else about the intimate connection between web design and web marketing, based on his 20 years of experience with the Internet. (If you missed Part 1: Some Powerful Trade Secrets, click here.)

You Get What You Pay For

Two of the most common questions we get asked are:

  • Why shouldn't I just do it myself? There are wonderful tools (FrontPage, Dreamweaver, etc.) that allow anyone to create web pages.
  • There's someone down the street who is offering to build me a website for $500 or even better FREE. Why should I pay you a higher price or anything - for that matter.

If you've read everything up to this point (Part 1 of this article), you've probably already anticipated the punch line of this section! It's pretty obvious. Let's put it all together.

You don't want just a website. You want a profit center. And for a website to be a profit center, everything has to work well together - like a well greased machine, a Marketing Machine. Just doing some of it sort of well is not it -- in this business, a miss is as good as a mile. Such as:

  • The keywords someone types into the search engine have to bring up your site in short order. (We're just using search engines as one example of a starting point in the process.)
  • The description they read there has to be enticing enough to click on.
  • The page they arrive at has to draw them into the site.
  • The site has to be designed like a sales argument so they reach the place you want them to at close.
  • Because most website visitors need 5 visits to a site before they make a purchase, the site needs to be constructed to help draw them back again. (Again: our QCS email system supplements a marketized website in achieving this purpose.)
  • The means for making a purchase has to mesh with the way they prefer to make purchases. (For example, did you know that, on the average, 60% of the sales of sites with e-commerce capability come through electronic card orders? Imagine how many sales you'd be losing if you didn't provide that means.)
  • The means must be provided for contacting and attracting them to return again. The biggest source of income for most online businesses is repeat customers. Means such as member registration, website personalization, "frequent buyer" discounts, email reminding them of your site (such as our QCS email system), etc. are among the means for helping to cultivate repeat customers.

Now you don't get all that right with your favorite web design tool. In fact, you don't get all that, period. It's like someone thinking purchasing a canvass, brushes, and paints will instantly turn them into a painter! There is an incredible amount of expertise involved in making all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. And -- guaranteed (we know this from the actual experience of designing many, many sites) -- you are not going to get it all right yourself the first time. And that is going to cost you -- because when you decide to get it right, you'll have to start from scratch again.

Also -- no one who charges $500 is going to possibly be able to provide you with the necessary expertise to do everything right. Or to do everything, period. Either they are shortcutting in terms of the time and creative energy they are investing in your site; or they (or the college students they hire to keep costs down) plain old don't know or don't care about what is really involved in creating an Internet profit center. (Read our criteria for choosing a web designer.) You can even give them a short quiz, based on this article, including such questions as:

  • Does the design of a web page impact the ranking of that web page on the search engines? Are they optimizing web pages with respect to those issues as part of their $500 package?
  • Do they know how to build sites that are highly interactive? Is that part of their $500 package?
  • Do they understand niche marketing? Do they know how to work a company's Unique Selling Proposition into the design of the site? Is that part of their $500 package?
  • Do they know how to structure websites so that they function as sales arguments, with a clear opening, elaboration, and close? Is that part of their $500 package?
  • Do they have any sense of the signals that cause visitors to "reject" a website within seconds? Do they design sites that get past these rejection filters? Is that part of the $500 package?
  • Do they build sites with e-commerce capabilities? Do the sites support the entire range of purchasing options, particularly secure credit card purchases? Is that part of the $500 package?

You will get a website from them, no doubt! But you won't get an Internet profit center. Or anything that could easily or cheaply be converted into one.

So -- the upshot is: you get what you pay for!

Secrets for Keeping Costs Down and Quality High

That having been said -- let's spin the coin.

How much does doing all this right cost? Here's the report of one reputable and current survey:

Costs for Web development are up substantially in 1999, according to this month's NetMarketing Web Price Index. For the first time, prices have increased across the board for small, medium and large sites. Median prices for small sites posted the most dramatic increase -- 75%, from $44,500 to $78,000 -- since the most recent Web Price Index look at costs for developing full sites, in June 1998.

February, 1999
(monthly survey of Web
developers in six markets
by NetMarketing)


Well, that's the bad news. But here are two statistics drawn from our own web design experience that you may find interesting:

  • the primary source of design time (and therefore of design cost) is re-design
  • 70% of all re-design effort is unnecessary, and is the result of client ignorance, poor communication, or poor management.

A significant part of the reason our costs are nowhere nearly this high (more typically in the $3000 to $15000 range) is because:

And then there are a couple of other factors:

  • We make use only of the technology necessary to achieve our client's purposes. (The web database technologies used by the largest companies' websites -- by themselves-- comprise tens of thousands of dollars of the overall total; most small to medium size companies don't need anything so sophisticated for their web database needs).
  • We use affordable means for shifting the responsibility for updating the website onto your own staff over time (the goal of many companies), rather than requiring you to pay for expensive, high-end interfaces.

Good education. In our experience, there is often no better starting point for educating our clients about what's involved in doing high-quality web design than to provide them with our list, sources of added design cost. Check it out and see if you don't learn something too!

Cooperative communication. Website design involves people working together in creative and effective ways, as a team. This means that, not only do the participants in the process have to be good "technicians" at their respective roles (see effective division of labor), they must also know how to cooperate with each other, communicate clearly, and put effort into pre-solving problems together. An integral aspect of our design process is getting every participant to understand that the earlier on they communicate what their role requires them to communicate, the easier and the briefer (and the less costly) the overall design process will be. So the company should communicatee as clearly and fully and early as possible what they are looking for in their website; the designers should communicate as clearly and fully and early as possible how they are going to render what the company is looking for. A lot of painful re-design cycles can be avoided by such early-on cooperative communication. Yes, it's obvious! But not by any means always practiced.

Effective division of labor. The process of designing a website is complex, as we have seen. Here are some possibilities to consider:

  • If you already have an in-house graphic designer, add him or her to the team, and let the design experts manage the activities of this valuable team player. This will help keep the cost down, without splintering the design process.
  • If you have an in-house computer technician, or even simply someone who is not computer-shy and willing to learn a couple of new tools, such a person can be trained in a couple of hours to make straightforward changes to the company website. The combination of an in-house computer technician with an in-house graphic designer can cut back on a lot of the expenses that would otherwise by incurred by many re-design rounds at a distance, between the client company and the design company.
  • If your business is large, and more than one person has a say in the decision-making associated with website design, than we strongly recommend appointing one person website design project manager for your company. This is the person who will be responsible for arriving at a concensus when a decision must be made. And this is the person who will act as the primary contact point on your end in communications between your company and the design company.
  • Most important of all: let the design company direct the process; they are the ones with the experience, who know the pitfalls, who know the goal and the best way to get there.

It's worth adding that -- with the right design process, the right division of labor, and effective use of all the means of communications channels available in 1999 -- design at a distance has become perfectly possible (and in our experience commonplace):

Sadkhin website: old version

I wanted to thank you for both your time and your efforts in developing a wonderful, fully interactive website complete with e-commerce. I came to you with a goal and you fulfilled it both in time and with minimal disruption. I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to work with someone, without ever having met them face to face, and have them do a great job.

Marsha Gekhtbarg
Business Director
The Sadkhin Complex

(USP: "The Seasonal Approach to Health")
Sadkhin website: new version

An intelligent design process. If everybody is playing their right role (see Effective division of labor), and everybody has understood ahead of time the importance of cooperative communication, then we can add the third key element to success at meeting goals while keeping costs down: a well-organized design process. We're not going to give away all our secrets to our competitors here, but we will mention two key elements of the process we use:

  • Top-down refinement. Authors rarely write a book by starting at page 1 and just writing until they are done. This is particularly so if the book is non-fiction, with a commercial purpose. Instead, they: do research for the book; collect lots of potential elements for inclusion; let these elements (as well as their commercial goal) inspire an outline for the book; refine that outline; then incorporate their source materials into this carefully reasoned high-level plan, to flesh out the details of the book. Just so, we practice top-down refinement of our websites, doing research and high-level planning before diving into low-level detailing.To start off by creating detailed web pages is a sure way to guarantee many re-designs (because of the mismatch between what's on a particular page and what you later discover you want the overall website to achieve).

    By the way, for the same kind of reasons, we highly recommend starting off your website marketing endeavors with a MAP (Marketing Action Plan), rather than simply "shooting from the hip", so to speak.

  • One-way sign-offs. When I was a young graduate student writing my Ph.D. dissertation in Computer Science at Stanford, I fell into a pattern that traps many people engaged in large, creative endeavors: every month or so, I would get a better idea for what the thesis could be about, and start the whole process again. Being a wise man, and understanding that I was very new at this, my Ph.D. advisor let me play this out for a few months, and then, in the midst of my latest brainstorm for a thesis topic, he gently made the following point: "Your Ph.D. thesis is supposed to be your first major work; not your last!" He waited for the point to sink in. It was such a great line that I got the point immediately.

    Just so, the first version of your website is important, but keep in mind that it is your first appearance as an Internet presence; it is far better to get out there in a reasonable time with a great website, than to "perfect" a website that is as yet invisible to everyone else. There are a few things that do have to be done well (read part 1 of this article for details); but that doesn't require a "perfect" site -- don't fall into the "perfectionist" trap!

    We incorporate this idea into the phases of the design process. Once the phase of researching other websites has been completed, everyone signs off on it, and no one is allowed to casually start the process all over again by saying, "Hey, I just saw another great site out there that gives me a completely different idea for how we should do our website!" This simple device ensures that progress continues to happen, launch dates and budgets can actually be met.

Here are some further readings that elaborate on specific points we have made:

Choosing your web designer
Your Unique Selling Proposition
Creating an effective Internet product presentation
Our web services
Guiding your Internet marketing efforts with a MAP


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