9 things you should see in a website cost estimate (to avoid budget creep).

It can be difficult to compare proposals because companies write them in a variety of ways.  Often going with the least expensive estimate seems the easiest and most reasonable choice.  A website is a website, and each company should provide the same thing, right?  Well, yes and no.  The production time to develop a website may be comparable between developers, but there are other activities essential to the success of the overall project that might not be in all proposals you receive.

There are project related activities crucial to the success of your project — make sure they are included in the budget.

Discussing these nine “gotchas” with two or three developers you are seriously considering will save you time, hassle, and budget creep.

Administration / Project Management

Administration and project management may be so obvious as not to be worthy of mention, but oddly enough out-of-control administrative costs are where we see harried developers raise the white flag and call it quits before they reach the finish line.

If you see “administration” or “project management” in the cost estimate, the developers have considered behind the scenes activities that ensure a smooth development cycle. Typically, this will be 10-15% of the total cost of the project and include managing project timelines, tracking tasks, change orders, filing emails for easy retrieval, filing documents, following up on client commitments and simply keeping everything organized.

Administration and project management are necessary for every successful project.  Developers often bundle these costs in an hourly rate, but don’t hesitate to ask where the time and costs are considered if you don’t see them in the cost estimate.


You should expect to meet with one or more people on the development team at least once a week.  If a project timeline is ten weeks, you should see 7- 10 hours of meeting time in the estimate.

The meetings don’t have to be face to face, a conference call or screen share serves the purpose well. The meetings will correspond to various milestones and when none are due, use the time to “catch up” on anything that has happened over the week.  Ask how development is going.  Discuss any items that have come up in internal meetings.

Weekly meetings are the best way to show the developer you are engaged in the project and actively tracking progress.   If you don’t see “meetings” as a cost item in the estimate, ask how often you can expect to meet with the development team throughout the course of the project. If the answer is “when needed”, insist on having weekly status meetings and ask how that will impact the budget.

Functionality Review

Every proposal should include the time and cost for a functionality review.  Unless you spend countless hours with every developer submitting a proposal (and who wants to do that?!),  you should expect to spend a lot of time with the developer of choice going over every single detail of the project.

The functionality review is necessary to ensure all requirements, no matter how small, are discussed and included in the final site. It is apropos to note that significant oversights sometimes come to light during the functionality review.   For example, perhaps you neglected to mention your forms are integrated with a CRM.  Now, rather than mid-development, is the best time to address this kind of oversight by shuffling the budget around or getting a change order in place.

The amount of time and budget allocated is entirely dependent on the size of your project.  But a functionality review needs to be done, and you should see the time and cost in the estimate.


Sitemaps are a source of some confusion. There are three types of sitemaps, and each serves a very different purpose:

  1. a planning tool used to define the architecture and navigation of your new website
  2. an HTML sitemap offered to visitors of a website
  3. an XML document created and submitted to search engines

The first type of sitemap is a critical component of the development process.  It’s the first step in creating the architecture and navigation scheme of the website.  The sitemap needs to be in place before creating the wireframes, content document, and visual design.

Depending on the size of your site, the time to reach a consensus on your new architecture and navigation can be substantial.    If the cost estimate does not specifically include the time to create a sitemap, ask the developer where the time is considered.


A wireframe is to web development as architectural drawings are to construction, and is one of the most critical components of a successful website development project.  It’s astonishing how few proposals include wireframing in the cost estimate.  It’s equally astonishing how few designers or developers offer wireframing.

A wireframe is a communication tool that gives the design, marketing, and programming teams a way to work together, with a visual document, to define their requirements.

It allows the designer to plan the layout of all site elements before applying a visual design.  It provides the marketing team with an analysis tool to ensure the site will meet business objectives.  It provides the programming team with a visual representation of the site layout.  And finally, it gives the client the opportunity to review and approve the “blueprint” of the site without being distracted by colors, fonts, photos, and content.

If you don’t see wireframing in the cost estimate, ask where the budget for that is allocated.  Potentially it is bundled with the design cost, but potentially it isn’t being offered!

Content Document

Creating a working content document is often not considered in the cost estimate.  A content document contains all of the site’s content, dynamic content rules, metadata, call-to-actions, links, and buttons.

The document is used by content editors to edit copy, by developers to insert the copy into your new website, and by you to approve copy changes, inclusions, and deletions.

Someone has to collect all the copy and metadata from the old site and create an organized content package for the team members to use.  If the time and cost aren’t part of the initial budget, your team will have to create it, or you will have to add additional budget for the development team to create it.

In this author’s opinion, this job belongs in the hands of the development team.  They know how to capture all relevant information on each page and organize it into an easily consumable working document.  Make sure the cost estimate includes the creation of this valuable tool.


You will invariably see “visual design” in the proposal and estimate, but the developer should provide detailed deliverables instead of one bundled item.  These deliverables don’t have to be horribly granular, but minimally the developer should indicate how many design choices and revisions they offer and how many unique page layouts they will provide for the website.

Unfortunately, the design is often a pain point in the project because client, developer, and designer expectations aren’t always in line.  For example, the client may expect many interesting layouts and be surprised to discover the graphic designer is only offering a home page and one or two internal pages.   More importantly, the developer may not be able to do his or her job with only a few design layouts, especially if the site is responsive – and it should be.

Realizing expectations are not in line in the middle of a project impacts the budget, launch dates and even client/vendor relationships.  If you don’t see design details in the cost estimate, ask what the designer includes for the price.  It’s a good idea to ask how adding additional page designs will impact the budget and how quickly the agency can produce additional layouts if needed.

Baseline Search Engine Optimization

Even if a full-blown Search Engine ranking effort isn’t part of the project, you should have the minimal requirements in place at launch.  Strategic path structures, Title Tags, Meta Descriptions, ALT tags for images, and H1 Headers are necessary for any search engine strategy.   Most often this basic SEO falls to the team developing the content for your website.  If your technical partner is also developing content for the site, ask if they have included basic SEO in the cost estimate.  If your internal team is creating the content for your site, ensure they are aware of and have accepted the responsibility.   Ask your technical partner if the cost to insert the Meta Tags and accommodate the path requirements is included in the cost estimate.

301 Redirects

The proposal should provide a cost item for addressing after launch off-site link integrity.

When a site changes significantly, some links in search engine results, on other websites, and in bookmarks will be broken because URLs have changed.  Server redirects automatically redirect the old URL to the new URL.  A 301 redirect tells search engines that the move is permanent, and they will update their indexes with the new URL.

310 redirects are helpful to visitors because they reduce the potential for 404 page not found errors, and 301 redirects help maintain any search engine ranking juice you have for a particular page.

You can see why 301 redirects are necessary!  Depending on the size of your site and on how much your new site architecture differs from your old site’s structure, there may be a hundred or more 301 redirects needed.  301 redirect implementation can impact your budget, so make sure they are part of the proposal and included in the cost estimate.

These nine items aren’t always clearly broken down in a cost estimate.  If you don’t see them, don’t be afraid to ask for assurance the developer has considered them.  Since budget is often a primary driver, you need to be confident you are getting everything you need for the agreed upon price.  After a couple of discussions with potential developers, you may find that the least expensive cost estimate is the least expensive for a reason!

Getting a new website is exciting, but managing the project comes with a long list of details to consider and track.  If you are in the market for a new website or a redesign, we’d love the opportunity to discuss the details of your project. Take advantage of our free consultation and call us today!