What Makes A Website Good?

I recently read a fascinating post written by a fellow who details how he finds good clients and delivers great ROI to those clients. Along the way, he mentions that he does this by building fairly simple WordPress sites, for which he charges $30k-$60k.

Of course, what he’s charging for is not a WordPress site. What he’s really charging for are the results that he delivers to his clients. It just so happens that those results tend to come from work done on and around WordPress sites.

The post has a lot of comments on it. There are two themes running through the negative comments that I find particularly insidious:

  1. What makes a good website
  2. What is a reasonable rate/price for a website

In every case, the detractors are people who believe that it is up to them (i.e., the developer) to decide the answers to these questions on behalf of their clients. Here are a few typical examples:

I’m a full-stack web developer that actually helps my clients build a legitimate online presence and charges them a reasonable rate for it. These funnel websites are great for things like short-term discounts, but they are awful for long-term brand building.

The truth is, I use funnels for short-term marketing to. But I do it for a reasonable hourly rate.

So you make shitty one-page superscroll websites that are popular only in snake-oil websites like those for pump-and-dump penny stocks, charge 30-60k for them, and thump your chest at how great you are doing?

60k for a Wordpress website is not reasonable.

Whether or not a price is fair is something that is 100% subjective and exists only in the mind of the buyer. You don’t get to decide what is a fair price for your client any more than Anheuser-Busch gets to decide what is a fair price for you to pay for a Bud. Sure, Anheuser-Busch gets to set the price of a Bud, but you - and only you - decide whether you think that price is fair. If you do not think it’s fair, you won’t buy. If someone else does think it’s fair, they will buy.

Many of the commenters considered the flat rate that the author charged unfair because the project was completed in a number of hours that resulted in an extremely high hourly rate. But here’s the thing... How long it takes to build a site is almost completely irrelevant to the client (in fact, a client who is in a hurry can be expected to pay more for rush service). What matters is the outcome that the website generates for the business.

Let me expand on this with an example:

Imagine that I spend 500 hours building a gorgeous site from the ground up for a client. I pour my heart and soul into it. It is The Most Perfect Website Ever™. It wins me design awards, inspires praise and envy from my peers, and heck, the client even likes it.

But if the site doesn’t create a meaningful ROI for the business, is it a GOOD website?

Of course, this begs the question:

“What makes a website good?”

The only reasonable answer I can come up with is:

“A good website is one that achieves the stated goals of the person who paid for it.”

In a business context, “achieves the stated goals” is almost always going to be increased sales, or something that leads to increased sales (e.g., more traffic, more leads, more email signups, more webinar attendees, etc).

But whatever the client’s goals are, the important thing to remember is that ONLY THE CLIENT CAN DEFINE THEM. You (as the developer) can not define the goals for the website. At best, you can help extract them from a client (clients generally have a hard time articulating that sort of thing).

So... if I charged the client in the example above $100/hr, he’d have spent $50k for something that did not move the needle for his business in any meaningful way.

Is $50k a “reasonable” cost for this web site? Does it matter that I poured my heart and soul into the work? Does it matter that every web dev on the planet thinks it’s the most perfect site ever built?

No, no, and no.

Now imagine that I built a fugly landing page in a weekend that increased the client’s sales by $10k every month for a year. What do you think the client would consider a reasonable price for my weekend of work? At least $10k, right? Even $60k might seem fair.

It doesn’t matter to the client that it only took me a weekend. In fact, they’re probably glad that it only took me a weekend because that means they start getting $10k checks immediately instead of waiting for three months.


Between The Most Perfect Website Ever™ and the fugly landing page, who gets to decide which is the good one?

The client - and only the client - gets to decide which is the good one. And furthermore, the client - and only the client - gets to decide whether the price was reasonable.

It is therefore incumbent on us as developers to do our best to unearth the desired business outcomes of a project before we take it on. Once we know the desired business outcomes, we can estimate the value to the business and price our work accordingly (i.e., at an amount that is significantly less than the value).

Anything else borders on the unethical.

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P.S. Here’s the reddit post