How to decisively invest in your business’ website

You’ve been contemplating overhauling your business’ website. Perhaps it’s running slow, bordering on unresponsive. Maybe it doesn’t work well with mobile devices. Or the design is just plain outdated. Whatever the reason, you’ve got two choices: fix what’s already there, or build a new website.

Before you decide, take a moment to really consider what’s at stake — because making the wrong choice could cost you tens of thousands of dollars from your precious marketing budget.

The truth is, the vast majority of businesses that choose to rebuild their website don’t actually need to. Of course, when you contact custom website builders for a second opinion, you’ll hear that you simply must have one. But for most, that option amounts to buying a new house because a light bulb has blown in your current one.

You might need a custom website at some point. But timing is everything. Here’s what you need to take into account before making that crucial and often costly choice to invest in a business’ website

How much will it cost me?

 Many don’t realize the extent of what they’re getting into when engaging a custom website builder. A brand new site will likely cost you a minimum of $10,000, but you could be facing a bill as high as $75,000 or beyond.

You may have received a much lower estimate, but remember that might not be the final price you pay. It’s common practice for website builders to lowball the initial proposal to ensure your business, only for the scope to increase as the project proceeds. This usually happens when contracts don’t list every feature and the website builder ads costs for “out of scope” features.

Updating your current website, on the other hand, is a whole different ballpark. Depending on the scope of what you need, engaging someone to do the work could cost you as little as $100 to $3,000. Considering that many businesses buckle under the weight of an unnecessary expenditures, cost should be your top priority when facing this decision.

How long will it take?

Building a custom website doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it often takes at least six months and sometimes up to a year to complete. Not ideal for a business that decides it needs a new website to prop up a time-sensitive event, like the launch of a campaign or a request for funding.

If you’re able to wait, then a custom site can be yours. If you need it yesterday, most updates to an existing site take no longer than two to four weeks.

Will it make my website more SEO friendly?

When you work in the SEO industry, you learn that most people don’t need to rebuild their site from scratch to become more SEO friendly. They just need to fix what’s broken.

You can improve your search engine ranking by making even minor tweaks to your existing site, especially ones that make it load faster. If the platform you’re using is abysmally slow, you might want to consider a fresh website. But often the platform isn’t the problem. Compressing images, cleaning up code and setting up more effective caching can all improve your website’s speed, earning it favor with the search engines.

So when should I rebuild my website, and how?

 A custom website can be worth the money, but don’t rush into the project unless you’re sure it’s what you need.

The best reason to rebuild your site is when you need to add major functionality changes, like the ability for visitors to enter a zip code to discover something. Managing large amounts of user data, like passwords and shipping addresses, can also be easier on a purpose-built website or a completely customized design to represent something specific about your business.

If you do go with a custom site, do it right. Find a few companies that build websites for your industry, and find out if they fit your budget — some charge a minimum fee, often around $25,000. Get proposals and remember to ask about both the total cost and the timeline. Before you get locked into a contract, lock down the price and beware confusing verbiage that might be masking hidden fees.

If you’re relatively technical minded, you might be able to build the site yourself. Check out platforms like Squarespace or Wix. They’re easy to use and might be a good fit for the DIY personality.

Whether you go custom or give your current website a facelift, the best thing you can do is know what you’re getting into ahead of time. Don’t rush into a costly rebuild, and you’ll be fine.

Jimmy Park is founder and CEO of Codejockey, and former director of digital media at the Robin Hood Foundation.