How Much Does a Website Cost? Rebuilding (Part 2 of 3)
In my last article, I addressed the age old question "how much does a website cost?" from the standpoint of initial purchase. Like purchasing a house, prices are all over the map, and perhaps more importantly the initial purchase price of a website does not include the cost of content migration from the old website or the cost of ongoing maintenance. This is a lot like buying a new house: buying the house doesn't include moving costs or home maintenance.
Beyond the initial purchase price of a website there are two major factors when you are rebuilding that most new buyers and even most professionals forget:
If you are building a website from scratch you don't have to worry about migration costs. New businesses and start-ups rejoice — you've just saved some money! That said, for most businesses these days, purchasing a website is actually a replacement of their existing website. A really important concept to understand here is that once the new website is done, while the domain/url will remain the same (yourwebsite.com) the old website will be completely gone. This is true whether this is an upgrade to your Content Management System (Drupal, WordPress, etc.) or you are totally shifting gears. In real world terms, your physical address may stay the same but your old house will be completely gone.
This dynamic leads to some complexity, the first of which is migration costs. It essentially boils down to needing to move content from the old website to the new one, which may seem straightforward, but there are some big gotchas. First, most people don't know how many pages their website has or under-appreciate the amount of time that it will take to move. Often like a real house, moving into a new website is something that only the owner can do. Migration provides an opportunity to re-evaluate old content and see if it's worth moving to the new one. For larger websites, however, this can be impractical and in these cases migrations scripts will need to be written to carry out the bulk of the work. Think of them like professional movers — they can get things done relatively quickly but they might break some stuff, and there's likely clean-up to be done when they are through.
The second big issue with migration comes with preserving the links for your various pages for search engines. There's no real world equivalent for this because we don't regularly invite strangers into our home, but that is generally the primary point of a website. To put this into perspective, likely 90 percent of your visitors or more are not coming to your website through your home page (for us it's only 2.8 percent of our inbound traffic). So if you haven't preserved your link urls or prepared redirects, 90 percent of your website will instantly vanish from all of the search engines in the world. For all those links people click on it will look something like this. This is bad. Don't let it happen to you.
2. Missing Features
The other big problem that people run into when they build a new replacement website is missing features. That is to say "the old website did __________, why doesn't the new one do it?" Needless to say this is super frustrating to web developers and a big reason why an existing website should never be used as "documentation" on what the new website should do. Let me repeat that: an existing website should never be used as "documentation" on what the new website should do. Instead, when replacing an existing website new documentation (a "blueprint") should be prepared describing all the features of the new website. Both the web developer and the buyer should agree on the scope and the features of the old website that should never be referenced again. I know this is hard, especially if the old website is being used by a lot of people, but setting exceptions around this will avoid a lot of heartache. In the real world we don't expect the tire swing or the 30-year-old tree from our old house to be magically transplanted to our new house, but for some reason this is a much harder switch online. As a side note, if you are working with a web developer that offers to rebuild all of the old functionality in your old website in the new one without going through an exhaustive review that you are required to participate in, you should find another web developer or you are bound to be disappointed.
Unfortunately when it comes to full cost of ownership of a website over time, this still isn't the end of the road. Just like a house, websites need to be maintained over time and I talk about that in the final part of the series.
Next Article: How much does a website cost? Maintenance.