A website can’t be measured in pages
For a long time page count has been used as a unit of measurement in web design and development. Clients will often phrase a pricing enquiry by asking “how much would it cost for a (x) page website?”, and when quoting on a project it can be tempting to measure the required effort in these terms. Some web developers go a step further by assigning a fixed value to a page, and sell page-based website packages to their clients: a 5 page website for $800, a 10 page site for $1,500 and so forth. This approach is shortsighted for several reasons.
All pages are not created equal
A page is not a one-size-fits-all unit of measurement. There are many factors to take into consideration: the needs of the site’s audience, the complexity of the desired feature set, the quality of the design, the time required to perform testing, the level and complexity of database interaction, and so on.
Would you measure the effort required to develop a website like Facebook or Twitter in ‘pages’? Of course not, and I don’t think any website can be quantified simply on the basis of how many pages it includes.
Assigning a fixed price to a page, or assuming that one page is much the same as another, greatly increases the chance of underestimating the effort required to build a site. If you neglect to properly consider all aspects of a project’s scope then you cannot accurately quote on the job. Even if you meet your cost estimate it may be necessary to omit functionality or skimp on testing in order to stay on budget.
Selling yourself short
Selling page-based website packages isn’t just an inaccurate way to gauge project scope, it is a questionable way to turn a profit.
By treating a web page as a quantifiable unit with a measurable value, you position yourself as a service vendor rather than a web professional (for more on this distinction see Design Professionalism by Andy Rutledge). You risk being lumped together with every web monkey offering bargain basement website packages, and your client will view their relationship with their you as akin to shopping at a department store or supermarket, where every retailer offers an identical range of products.
Marketing your services on the basis of quantity also leaves you no option but to compete on price. If one web developer sells a ‘page’ for $200, and another for $100, why would a client choose the more expensive option? There is always going to be someone who can undercut you, and for a freelancer or small studio competing on price isn’t a sustainable business strategy.
Forget about pages
In the Web’s early years the concept of pages made more sense. Most websites were built using static HTML, their content comprised entirely of text and images. There was a certain equivalency between pages. Today’s average website is far more sophisticated, and may include dynamically generated content, AJAX interactions, a content management system, embedded video, integration with third party APIs and advanced social features. The myriad possible approaches to the task of building a website render the idea of a ‘page’ virtually meaningless.
A website’s architecture is an essential component of its specification, and understanding the way a site’s content is organised is key to establishing the project scope. But that understanding needs to be informed by more than just the number of pages the site will comprise. You need a firm grasp of the project requirements before you can think about quoting the job, and using page quantity as the sole gauge of effort will inevitably leave you under prepared.