The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

How Much Does It Cost to Design An Association Website?

Posted by Chris Bonney on Tue, Jan 19, 2016



After “how long will it take” the other question we most often hear is “how much does a website design project cost?”  Well, the short answer is... it depends.

Just like building a new house, you can design and build a townhouse, a ranch-style rambler… or a McMansion. It depends on how much “stuff” you have, how many rooms you need and how you plan to use it. The bottom line is you could spend anywhere from $35,000 to $200,000 depending on how much functionality you need in your new website, how much content you have and how you expect your vendor to do rather than take on yourself. The key thing to remember is that budget is based on how much time is spent on your project – the more time spent on your project, the more the budget is going to be.

Here are a few areas impacting cost:

Responsive Design for Mobile and Browser Wars

Of course, you will build your new site with Responsive Web Design so it works on a mobile device – whether it’s an iPhone 6 Plus, iPad, Microsoft Surface, Samsung Galaxy, Google Nexus or whatever latest gadget has come out.

There is also the current plethora of web browsers ranging from the latest Microsoft Edge to the multiple versions of Explorer or Chrome, Firefox and Safari your members are using.

Both of these areas impact scope and cost because not only does your vendor create multiple wireframes, designs and templates – for mobile phone, tablet and desktop – but you have now increased the amount of testing before launch.

Historically, web developers would test your new site in Explorer and one or two other browsers, make sure everything works and sign off on the work. Now we are testing across multiple versions of multiple browsers on multiple devices. While there are tools to make the testing a bit easier, it still takes time. Which increases the cost.

Single Sign On (SSO) to Multiple Platforms

Association websites are more like an eco-system of technologies functioning as the “association website.”  The core is the association management system (AMS) and content management system (CMS). But the eco-system may also include learning management, private communities, event registration, abstract submission, journals and many more.

Of course, you want your members to login once and then be signed in to all your systems. That is called Single Sign On (SSO) and requires a series of integrations across systems.

Every project at Vanguard Technology includes integration between the AMS and the CMS to allow for member’s only content and integration to the member data for e-Commerce. Some add on other systems for a true one-stop login experience.

However, as more integrations are added to the project – private community, journals, learning system, etc. – the cost will be adjusted due to the added work and testing.

Content Migration

One of the most labor-intensive pieces of a website project is migrating content from the old site to the new website. In working with association websites, we consider a “small” site to have about 200 pages and 150-200 documents.  But we’ve also worked on sites with thousands and pages and 10’s of thousands of documents.

While there are scripts that can migrate some of the copy, most content is best migrated the old fashioned way – highlight, copy and paste.  So the key question is, who is going to do it?

Most association staff are busy doing their regular full-time jobs and cannot take 2 weeks out of their work schedule to migrate content. So you need to plan their workload to allow for the content migration. One option is to hire temps to migrate content for you, but you will also have to manage the work.

Or you can have your firm do the migration. Their team includes staff that are experts in the CMS and the vendor will also have a process to efficiently manage the migration.  The cost factor will be how much content is being migrated since the volume will impact the budget. (Tip: Remove content before content migration to save cost.)

One thing to note is that this does NOT include any rewriting of content. If you plan to rewrite or update your content, you should build into your budget and schedule for freelance writers or your staff to take on that task. (For more on why you should consider this, check out our blog post Moving Day: Is Your Association Website Content Ready for Its New Home.)

Discovery and Strategy

In the world of website redesigns, there are lots of things you COULD do. The trick is figuring out what you SHOULD do.

For a barebones project, you could choose a pre-designed template and start migrating you content. However, this assumes your association’s content and member’s needs fit into a pre-existing formula (which it might, and if so that’s great).

However, an area that creates a great return on investment for our clients is investing in a thorough discovery phase and developing a web strategy. This includes:

  • Stakeholder Research – Learning about organization is and where it going
  • Member Discovery – Researching and analyzing members to discover what they need and expect from your website
  • User Personas – A documented overview of your website’s users and what they are coming to your site to do (learn more here).
  • Strategy Documentation – Pulls it all together and outlines a strategic vision for your site.

Of course, there are varying levels of this from a couple of interviews to focus groups to day-long meetings. But the key is that the more of this expertise you add to the project, the more your project will cost.

The benefit of investing in discovery and strategy is that this sets you up with a long-term vision for your site so you don’t need to go through a cycle of design, get tired with the site and redesign. Once the work is done, you can revisit your strategy and your plan to make sure you are on the right path and adjust accordingly.

Other Budget Factors

There are a number of other elements that factor into your website budget including:

  • Custom Development: You may have added custom tools or databases to your site over the years. These need to be migrated and probably redesigned in the new site, especially if you are expecting it to work in a mobile environment with responsive design (see the previous comments).
  • Usability Testing: From card sorts to click tests to one-on-one tests, usability testing adds user based insight to the decision making process.
  • Additional Designs: Clients often want a unique look for the annual meeting section of the site or there may be a need for unique templates and layouts for specific initiatives.
  • Advanced Information Architecture: Of course your site will need a sitemap and navigation structure. However, will you also need to develop subject matter taxonomy for content or implement a structured content model for distributed content publishing?
  • Search Engine Optimization: Do you require advanced SEO assistance including keyword research, planning and implementation?
  • Site Search: At a minimum, your new site will have whatever the out-of-the-box site search offered by the CMS configured. However, some projects require advanced site search functionality including searching multiple sites in your web eco-system (federated search) or filtering the results (faceted search).

The Bottom Line

The reality is your project is probably going to cost more than you expect or than you budgeted. While there is functionality and work that can be pushed to a later phase (and next fiscal year), there is a certain amount of work that has to happen in the initial push.  The key is to identify what is absolutely necessary, figure out what work you can do on your own and build a plan that generates the best long-term results within your budget.


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Topics: web governance, web strategy, website redesign, budget

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