On the web side of our business, we hear one question more than any other: what’s a web site cost? Our other pals in the web business report the same thing. Unfortunately, the kneejerk reaction is to say “it depends.”

Our clients roll their eyes as if to say, “well, of course, but generally what does a web site cost?” Then they go ahead and ask what the cost depends on. If I’m feeling particularly forthcoming, I tell them there are three possible answers to that question:

1. It depends on how much money you look like you’ll shell out. Don’t count this one out, because it happens all the time. You’d be surprised how often people start a conversation about web projects with a sentence like, “Are we talking $5,000 or $50,000?” We play fair with all our clients, but not everyone does.

2. It depends on what you want us to build. This is an absolutely valid approach to costing a web site. A database-driven transactional site with a 1,000 pages of copy and 500,000 lines of code is going to cost more than a 10-page site.

3. It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Here’s where we’re really happy: to be on the front end of the discussion about goals and measures, long before the site definition or the “we need that” or “our competitor has this cool whatever” requirements.

That’s really the point of departure for us: the goal of the web site. There are a handful of goals that seem applicable for every marketing-driven site these days:

  • Prove to our prospects we’re for real.
  • Tell our story in a way that draws people in (this is a whole lot harder than it sounds).
  • Get the right people to come back to the site, again and again.
  • Get the right people to go to the next step — call, buy, tell a friend, whatever.

Given those parameters, I now think the initial question could be rephrased thus: what’s a web site worth? And my answer is, nothing — or everything. It depends on the nature of your goal and how well the site will achieve it.