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Which costs more: A retainer-based website redesign or a short-term website redesign project?

Which costs more: A retainer-based website redesign or a short-term website redesign project? Blog Feature

John Becker

Revenue and Features Editor, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience

October 21st, 2020 min read

We all know that websites are an expensive undertaking. As the front door of our business, a website is what most prospects see first — long before they meet any of our team members in person. 

As such, businesses invest heavily in their online presence. And, just like with any investment, they expect that investment to bear fruit. 

If you’re heading into a website redesign, you want to know exactly what you’ll expect to spend to get the site you need. 

If one agency is offering a traditional redesign and launch, there’s a good chance it will appear cheaper than the growth-driven design model (GDD), but that initial sticker shock will quickly wear off when you realize exactly what you’re paying for and what you’re getting.

A GDD-built website will actually be cheaper than a traditionally-built site, even though it might at first appear more expensive. Beyond cost, a GDD-site will be more effective, too, ensuring that it best serves your business’ needs.

Growth-driven design in practice

Growth-driven design is a different way to build a website. Rather than building and launching your site, then handing it over to you, the GDD-minded agency will launch, test, and optimize, using data to make the best site possible. You pay your agency a monthly retainer for a set amount of time (usually nine to 12 months), so they keep working with you to tweak and adjust your site.

Growth-driven design is inherently an iterative process. The advantage lies in the adjustments you and your agency can make as the data reveals itself — optimizing your site for peak performance. 

Not only can you adapt your site for user behavior, but you can also pivot in response to your competitors — and to changes in the SEO landscape. If your industry seems to be moving in a certain direction, you can quickly follow suit.

Perhaps you admire the chatbot functionality on a rival site or notice self-selection tools popping up more and more. The retainer allows your agency team to respond quickly and effectively. Or, if a major Google core update shakes up your rankings, you can adjust accordingly.

A process suited to your needs

Growth-driven design allows an agency to tailor its process to suit your starting point.

Do you need a full website redesign, followed by careful monitoring and optimizing? In that case, you would put more of your budget up front to fund dev-heavy tasks. Then, after your 'launchpad site' goes live, the retainer allows agency experts to keep monitoring your needs.

Maybe your website just needs a refresh that aims at conversion optimization. In that case, a more even distribution of budget would allow updating and testing to take place on different parts of your website at the same time, leading to improved conversion rates.

If you’re not sure, a light retainer might suit your needs. That way, your agency experts can jump in and make updates as the data comes in. 

How long does it take to gather data?

The information at the center of growth-driven design comes by way of analyzing various data sets with analytics tools that use traffic, dwell time, heat maps, and more to report on how users are experiencing your site. 

A/B tests, or split tests, can also be used to gather information on how your specific users interact with your website elements, messaging, and layout, giving you direct feedback on what performs best.

How quickly this data can be obtained depends on your traffic numbers. If you’re seeing a few thousand visitors per day, you can get meaningful data in two weeks. If you’re seeing a few thousand visitors per month, it will take longer. 

The cost of the retainer

Typically, GDD monthly retainers range from as low as $5,000 to as high as $12,500, with more dev-heavy months requiring more work and costing more. 

Where you fall along that spectrum depends on your needs and how much you want to accomplish over a given time.

Also, it's important to note that a retainer can vary over the term of engagement. A higher retainer might make sense for the first few months, followed by a reduced retainer once most of the design and development work has been completed.

Cost comparison: growth-driven design vs. traditional website redesign

A traditionally-built website is going to cost anywhere from $25,000 to $120,000.

That huge range takes into account the almost unlimited number of variables that separate the digital needs of one business from another.

There are so many factors that could drive the price up or down for you that it’s difficult to even generalize. But, as an average we can use for the sake of this example, let’s say your business plans on spending $50,000 on your website redesign project.

The cost of traditional website redesign

In the traditional model, you would work with an agency to strategize and build the website you’re looking for over a four or five month timeframe.

However, almost inevitably, there could be delays before the launch, often due to the either party not producing necessary copy or content in time. Sometimes, this leads to additional costs, as the agency might have to rethink certain aspects of the site.

These additional costs have to be covered before the site can launch, but there are hidden costs that come after the launch as well.

When you’re ready to launch, the site goes live, and you and the agency more or less go your separate ways. 

Even with industry-leading best practices, there is always going to be some guesswork in building a site. Without monitoring the data of how visitors actually use the site, designers have to make assumptions.

Those assumptions can prove costly. 

Underperforming sites mean fewer leads and fewer sales. Therefore, launching a website and not keeping a close eye on data could result in sizable losses. 

The cost of building a growth-driven design website

In a GDD model, your company could use the same budget more wisely. That $50,000 could be divided into monthly retainer payments that allow the website to be tested and optimized after it launches. 

Imagine this: A $7,500 retainer for months one through three, then a $5,000 retainer for the next six months, for a total of $52,500.

In the end, the expense is nearly equivalent, but your company will see a greater return on investment in the form of increased leads and sales. 

Should the company wish to extend the retainers to deal with any unforeseen difficulties, they can do so.

After all, a GDD website redesign project is more of a partnership than the traditional agency-client relationship. You will not be forever reliant on the agency to support your site — but the extended timeline will allow the construction of a better site.

Growth-driven design: a better way forward

In business today, if you’re not making decisions based on data, you’re operating in the dark.

Your website is what gives the most potential customers their first impression of your business. Of course you want a pretty website, but if that website doesn’t generate leads that turn into customers, it’s not serving you well.

Indeed, a website is not a marketing strategy. You need a plan for how to use your website effectively. Without content that answers buyers' questions, for example, those would-be customers are not going to stay on our site for long. 

In order to maximize the impact of your site, use growth-driven design principles to bring data into the redesign process.

In the end, you’ll likely spend about the same amount of money, but you may reap considerable savings and profit by way of better traffic, leads, and sales.

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