How To Lower Your Website Design & Maintenance Costs

Hiring a graphic designer to code your website is like hiring a painter to build your car.

Here are 16 ways to save money on your website design or redesign project.

  1. Consider a free or affordable template-based website
    This is the cheapest and often fastest way to get your company online. You’ll look like the masses (for example, WordPress offers 1 theme for every 6,000 sites). And you won’t differentiate yourself, which is particularly important for commodity products and services.
  2. Plan and prepare
    Determine the look and feel you want before meeting with a designer
    Share examples of websites (and other visual designs) that you like to convey to your designer what you want. This reduces the time required for design concept and design production.
    And do not have an urgent launch deadline; give your contractors enough time so that they don’t have to turn away other work.
  3. Be your own project manager
    If you are technically proficient and well-organized — you can hire your own web design team: copywriter, graphic designer, illustrator, photographer, and/or web developer. Just like being a general contractor, you’ll know exactly what you are paying for, and save money by not paying someone else to manage the project.
  4. Think small
    Generally, smaller web design agencies and independent creative freelancers are less expensive than large web development firms, which pay more overhead. Small web teams are usually more agile, more responsive, and have less bureaucracy.
  5. Tell your designer you want a CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) website
    CSS websites can save you money in the long-term by reducing maintenance time and future redesign costs. Not all CSS websites are created equal — well-coded sites require less HTML code, load faster, and are more flexible when you want to make site changes.
  6. Ask for fewer design comps
    Design mockups, or “comps” to designers, take an extraordinary amount of creative time to develop. Limit your comps to one or two— you’ll save your designer some time and yourself some money. Also, with a CSS-based website, you can often make small design edits, like color changes, during or after production.
  7. Avoid image-based navigation systems
    Image-based navigation systems can take 4x as much time to create and maintain as CSS-based text navigation. Graphic designers love images because they can control fonts. But you’ll learn to hate images when your designer explains it’ll cost hundreds of dollars to update your navigation because dozens of images must be Photoshopped.
  8. Do you really need a Content Management System (CMS)?
    If you don’t edit your content frequently (think weekly), and your site is under 50 pages, a CMS may cost you more money and time than it is worth.
  9. Ask your web developer to use free open-source software and scripts
    Avoid proprietary technologies that lock you into monthly or annual contracts, with possible expensive upgrades.
    [Once, I paid for a site built in Cold Fusion. Later, I learned Cold Fusion developers cost $125 per hour and the necessary upgrade for a Cold Fusion dedicated server would cost thousands of dollars. Never again.]
  10. Don’t ring that bell
    Unless you are in the entertainment business, your site should not overly entertain visitors. Most Flash, animated, and other in-your-face visuals are simply expensive gimmicks that distract your audience from the information they seek.
    As many as 25% of visitors will immediately leave any site that loads Flash.
  11. KISS — Keep It Simple, Stupid
    Usability studies show that web visitors miss subtle design elements — a hallmark of traditional graphic designers with heavy print production experience. Simple layouts simplify coding, as well as maintenance – lowering your costs.
  12. Be flexible and listen to alternatives
    Do you really need that slick 360 degree virtual tour that cost your realtor $2,500? Perhaps a semi-custom slideshow of static images would work for under $500. Small stylistic differences are not always trivial — subtle design elements can cost hundreds of dollars to implement.
  13. Check credentials
    If your designer does not know how to create a layered Photoshop file, then RUN AWAY. Quickly. Your web development time will most likely increase without the appropriate production art. Likewise, ask for three references and check examples of prior web-specific work.
  14. Do not edit edits
    The beauty of the web is its dynamic nature — the ability to change content after production. Don’t pay for copyedits prior to site launch. Work on getting your site visible fast and edit copy post-launch.
  15. Take your shot
    Acquire your own website photos. Custom photography is expensive. Although stock photos can be affordable, your own photos are more authentic and they only cost you your time.
  16. Learn to share
    Shared web hosting at companies like can be purchased for as little as $9 per month — a fraction of the cost to host your own site or pay to host a custom CMS on a dedicated web server. And, remember, nonprofits can sometimes receive up to 50% off hosting fees through some vendors.

Download this checklist as a PDF

I develop sensible CSS websites, custom WordPress blogs and WordPress-powered websites for small businesses and nonprofits. Contact me to discuss your next online marketing project.