Affordable & Custom Web Design: How to Get the Best of Both Worlds

In 2016, there were nearly 35,000 Google searches for the term “affordable web design” and roughly 12,000 searches for the term “custom web design.” And it makes sense that businesses would add terms like “affordable” and “custom” when looking for web design services.

When your website is the online face of your business, of course you want it to be unique to your brand. At the same time, spending a fortune to create one can be out of the question — especially if you’re a small business with a small budget.

The solution is to find a balance. You don’t want a budget website that can’t help your business grow, and you may not be able to justify dishing out tens of thousands of dollars for a website that does. Let’s explore how you can get the best of both worlds.

The Downfalls of Ultra-Affordable Web Design

One of the main downfalls of super affordable web design is that it can be surprisingly unaffordable. Once you factor in hidden fees and mediocre functionality, a super affordable website can actually drain your business’ value time and resources.

There are two main ways that small businesses find ultra-affordable web design options: making one themselves and working with budget web design companies.

Making a Website Yourself: Is DIY Actually Cheaper?

DIY platforms are popular alternatives to hiring a web design team. We recently wrote an article with an in-depth look at the downsides of DIY websites, but here’s the summary of points:

  • Flash elements leading to slower page speeds
  • A clear DIY look that can turn off potential customers
  • Slow, difficult, or nonexistent technical support
  • Restricted (or nonexistent) access to analytics

Many of these can come as a surprise to a small business, and many of them are lessons you only learn after you’ve gone through the work of setting up your new site. While some of these downfalls are merely inconvenient, most of them either mean more money or lost sales opportunities for your business:

  • Slower page speeds cause customers to leave your site before they even consider working with your business
  • That clear DIY look can send the wrong message about your business and the quality of your products/services
  • Without proper support, you’ll likely have to spend time reading manuals, dealing with bugs on your website, or even hiring a freelance developer to assist you
  • Restricted access to analytics gives you no knowledge of the specific strengths and weaknesses of your website, preventing you from making small fixes that could keep customers on your site longer

All of these don’t account for the fact that many of these DIY routes aren’t as affordable as their companies advertise. Sure, some of them are free — but only if you don’t want a responsive website, an awesome template, or plugins that improve the functionality of your site. Meanwhile, other platforms’ prices skyrocket as soon as you want to add any e-commerce abilities, and others keep their prices low by plastering extremely unattractive ads for their company all over your website.

Keep in mind that one of the most crucial things your website needs to accomplish is to be found by your target customers. This is accomplished through search engine optimization (SEO), and the DIY builders seriously lack in this department. Whatever money you do pay for a website like this, it doesn’t translate to increased sales for your business, and it will very likely need to be replaced with a proper website before a few years’ time.

Budget Web Design Companies: Too Good to Be True?

A budget web design company is probably ultra-affordable for a reason. The most common causes for this are: they aren’t experienced in web design, or they take a templated approach to their web design efforts.

  • Inexperienced web designers/developers. It’s so common to know a guy who knows a guy who can develop your website for a couple hundred bucks. Much like the DIY solutions, he can create some sort of online interface for your business, but he doesn’t know how to hand-code a flawless website, launch your site with a strong SEO foundation, or adapt to Google’s algorithm to inform the decisions he makes for your site. This typically leads to a drawn out (and frustrating) project, underwhelming results when the site finally launches, and extra costs as you dig deeper into the specifics of what needs to be done.
  • A templated approach to web design. It’s a lot more common than you may think, and it isn’t something that web design companies will advertise about themselves. As their business grew from its initial startup stages, they needed a way to scale. This can sometimes manifest itself in the form of templates. Over time, the company created a batch of templates, which they tweak slightly for each new client. It’s what enables their business to bring in a larger profit.

Whether it’s an amateur developer overestimating his abilities or a web design company taking a less-than-honest approach, your business takes the brunt of it.

The Downfalls of Highly Customized Web Design

The most well-known downside of highly customized web design is that it often comes at a very high price tag, but that isn’t the whole story. As a small business, there is only a certain level of customization that you really need, and a web design company that’s only focused on customization can lose sight of the main purpose of your site.

There are a few calculators online that will give you a rough idea of how much your business should pay for a website. Unless you’re looking to add 50+ pages, highly customized CMS functionality, or a thorough SEO audit and strategy, the average calculation you’ll get is between $5,000 and $15,000. If you’re a small business, this is likely the right price range. Anymore and you’re probably paying for customization that you don’t need.

The other way that a highly customized website can be wrong for your small business is when the web design agency insists that you need to tack on all sorts of online marketing that doesn’t directly relate to your website. Some examples of this include a full content marketing and social media strategy, link building efforts, and a complete audit of your keyword rankings. While all of these are nice features to consider after you’ve got the heart of your online marketing — your website — in order, they should really be offered as separate services that your small business can opt in to.

When a web design company that acts more as an ad agency makes you feel like all of these are necessary to launch your website, they’re adding a lot of extra work and, therefore, a lot of extra costs just to get your website up and running. There’s nothing wrong with offering a wide range of online marketing services. But these should work in conjunction with a functional, phenomenal website — rather than mask one that isn’t.

Affordable & Custom Web Design: Finding the Right Balance

To strike the right balance of a customized website that’s actually right for your business, it really comes down to understanding which features are worth the investment. We’ve surveyed dozens of articles from a variety of web design solutions, SEO experts, and web marketing blogs to find the most commonly recommended features that your small business should look for in your website:

  • A full copywriting solution. Content is the #1 cause for delays in web design, and creating content with the right mix of SEO-friendliness and user-friendliness is one of the biggest challenges every client faces. A web design company that doesn’t offer a viable copywriting solution will leave you to deal with this beast on your own. Find one that offers in-house content work for your site and offers content marketing (blogging, PPC, social media) as additional services — not as something you have to dish out money for before your site even launches.
  • A website that’s more functional than creative. Sometimes, hyper-customized web design companies seek to completely reinvent the wheel with each new website they create. While creativity is good, the main focus must be on functionality. In a HubSpot survey, only 10% of users said a beautiful appearance is the most important feature of a website. What did 76% of them value more? A website that “makes it easy for me to find what I want.” It can be too easy for a web design company to get so lost in the innovative ideas that they abandon the tried-and-true best practices of usability and organization.
  • A web design company that asks enough questions. An extremely simple way to spot a bad web design partnership? If the designer doesn’t ask any questions, especially in the beginning stages. According to MySiteAuditor, your web design company should be asking about the 3C’s: your company, your competitors, and your clients. Before they even get your contract, they should be asking about the primary and secondary goals for your site, your target audience, your typical clients, and how much work you’ve already completed. Getting on the same page before the project begins is absolutely crucial.
  • A conversion strategy. Once you and your web design company have outlined those primary and secondary goals, they should translate to conversion points (or calls to action) throughout your new website. Together, you should define the main actions that you want visitors to your site to complete. Then, your web design company should create a site that actively encourages visitors to complete that action, which will lead to more engaged users and more sales/customers from your website.
  • A scope of work with frequent check-ins. It’s estimated that 80% of the problems that occur during a project happen because of communication breakdowns or because the two parties didn’t agree upfront on the work to be done. While it’s expected that your web design company will dive further into scope after the project begins, they should use the answers to those 3C’s to outline the work — and get your approval — before starting.
  • SEO work included in the price. A proper website launch includes three key areas: content, design, and code. Each of these areas has its own best practices for helping your site rank well in search. We’re not saying that the web design company has to completely manage your SEO efforts, but it’s impossible for them to launch an awesome website without a solid understanding of SEO and how each of these three key areas work to improve your business’ rankings in search.
  • A web design company with the right amount of clients. You will probably look for a web design company that has a good base of clients, largely so that you can look at their past work and confirm that they are as experienced as they say they are. At the same time, a web design company with too many clients at once won’t be able to give your site the individualized attention it needs.
  • A small business that understands your small business. In B2B, there’s a better level of understanding between two businesses of similar size. Choosing a web design company that’s also a small business will help you weed out a lot of the too affordable and too custom options out there. They tend to have the right mix of experience and pricing that lines up more closely with your budget.

Affordable or Customized? You Don’t Have to Choose

These features give you a great starting point as you look for the right web design company for your small business. You can learn about many of these traits before even signing a contract. With an open conversation upfront, the right web design company can strike that balance of an affordable, customized, and perfect website for your small business.

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