How Much Does a Web Page Cost?

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Most clients would look at this and say, “Hey, it’s just a page! That should take about five hours to build, right?” Not even close. Here’s why. The team that builds this page is made up of the usual suspects:

  • A “Web strategist” who might be an owner-level person offering strategic guidance: $80,000 a year
  • A “senior producer” who’s the account manager: $54,000 per year
  • A “creative director” who leads the creative development: $80,000 per year
  • An “art director ” who does the heavy design lifting; $61,000 per year
  • A “Web designer” who puts the page together: $48,000 per year
  • A “Web developer” who’s really the programmer who makes the form work and integrates it with the database: $60,000 per year
  • A “copywriter” who writes the copy for the page: $65,000 per year.

Those numbers come from the AIGA, and the team seems like a reasonable mix to get the job done. The salaries seem low to me but represent median salaries across the country for these positions. Your mileage may vary.

How much do these people need to be billed out at to make a decent profit? If we assume the average reasonable billable time for people is 1,428 hours per year (the Tortorella article offers detail), agency overhead amounts to about 67 percent of salary (again, a reasonable number according to Tortorella), and a 25 percent profit is reasonable (an assumption, but a percentage many of us shoot for), then following billing rates make sense for the positions above:

  • Web strategist: $107.56 per hour
  • Senior producer: $49.85 per hour
  • Creative director: $73.85 per hour
  • Art director: $56.31 per hour
  • Web designer: $44.31 per hour
  • Web developer: $55.38 per hour
  • Copywriter: $60.00 per hour

These numbers seem conservative, but they’re what we’ve got for this exercise. We’ll assume an average hourly rate of $63.89, just to keep things simple and conservative.

Now let’s look at the tasks necessary to get this single page completed. There’s the concept phase, when the page is planned. We need account management of the project, page design, page production/layout, copywriting for the page, inquiry form production, and the programming that goes into the form. Makes sense, right?

There’s not enough space here to go into all the details of individual tasks and hours, but let’s assume these are reasonable numbers for the tasks if you include client meetings, a couple revisions, and the usual back-and-forth that always takes place:

  • 5 hours of creating the concept = $319.47
  • 5 hours of account management = $319.47
  • 6 hours of design = $383.36
  • 7 hours of production/layout = $447.26
  • 12 hours of copywriting = $766.72
  • 7.5 hours of form production = $479.20
  • 4 hours of form programming = $255.57
  • 46.5 total hours x $63.89/hour = $2,971.05

There you go. Nearly $3,000 for a page and about nine times the number of hours the client assumed when they first heard about the project. Amazing, huh? You may quibble with some assumptions, but I’ve tried to be pretty conservative. The hourly rates are probably about half of what most companies I’ve encountered actually charge. Heck, when’s the last time you ran into a creative director at a midsized to large agency who only makes $80,000? If you have, please have him contact me. I may have a job for him.

The bottom line is Web development is expensive, involves lots of people, lots of management, and lots of back-and-forth with the client. Except in the rarest of cases, none of us ever builds just pages but complicated applications and Web presences that often involve hundreds of pages, databases, multimedia, tons of content, multiple forms, and lots and lots of client meetings and approvals. Unfortunately, few of us walk our clients through really understanding the process (and the hours) that make it all happen

The next time you encounter someone with sticker shock when handing him an estimate, don’t dismiss him. Walk him through what needs to be done and see if he still thinks that page can be whipped out in a couple of hours. It’s an educational opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

By Sean Carton

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