5 options when website budgets get slashed

Your site is in desperate need of a redesign, content is out of date and the technology is archaic. Unfortunately times are tight and your budget has been cut. What do you do?

The economic downturn is affecting everybody and even at Headscape we have noticed the budgets of clients shrinking. With less money to spend how can you maximise the return on your investment?

To be honest I think it is a good thing that people have less to spend on their websites. We have had too many clients approach us asking for complete overhauls of their sites when that is not what is really required. Often more subtle changes can have a greater impact over the longer term. They certainly generate a better return on investment.

We have been working closely with our clients to suggest ways they can improve their sites without breaking the bank. Here are just 5 of our suggestions.

1. Realign rather than redesign

Why do you need a redesign anyway? Redesigning your entire website is time consuming and costly. However, more importantly it is often unnecessary. I seem to be quoting Cameron Moll’s excellent article “Good Designers Redesign, Great Designers Realign” a lot recently, but that is because he talks a lot of sense. He writes:

Like a kid in a candy store, we creatives redesign like it’s the new black. Why do we possess such an insatiable desire to refresh and remake? Why do we thrive on renewal? What tempts us to be seduced by the sway of renaissance?

I believe it is because we see a redesign as the solution to a failing, tired site. However that is rarely the case as Cameron goes on to explain:

Too often, look and feel, color scheme, layout, and identity are presented as solutions to problems… long before regard is given to other less-aesthetic issues that may very well be the root of the problem. The old warning against treating symptom rather than cause comes to mind.

What is more redesigns can often cause more harm than good by confusing the loyal users who are familiar with your old site.

When budgets are tight let go of the notion you need to do a complete redesign. You can improve your site many times over with the smallest change. Just take the case of the $300 million button I mentioned in show 150 of my podcast.

My facebook profile

2. Simplify

As website owners we are always looking to expand our websites by adding more features and content. However, that costs money we may not have.

Here is a radical alternative – Instead of adding more to your site, why not take things away.

Typically websites are stuffed with content and features that users simply do not use. A quick look at your analytics package will demonstrate the problem. The vast majority of traffic is to a handful of pages.

The problem is we tend to leave content in because ‘somebody might find it useful’. Although this maybe true, it does not necessarily mean keeping content is a good idea.

The more content and features we make available the harder it is for users to find what they need. It is the proverbial ‘needle in a haystack’.

Fortunately, simplifying your website does not have to be entirely about removing content. According to John Maeda’s book ‘The Laws of Simplicity‘ we can also streamline our sites by shrinking and hiding content too. Consider ways to reduce the prominence of less important content, to place a greater emphasis on what matters.

When budgets are tight take a long hard look at your site and ask whether more can be achieved by simplifying what you have rather than adding complexity.

Apple Homepage

3. Prioritise and phase development

Another technique which can be used when budgets are tight is to phase development. There seems to be a tendency among website owners to store up changes and roll them out in a single large deployment. Unfortunately this means a large single expenditure too and that can be problematic from a cash flow perspective.

A better approach is to roll out incremental changes on an ongoing basis. Not only is this better from a financial perspective, it brings other benefits as I explain in the Website Owners Manual. Phase development also provides:

  • Faster delivery because new features are launched independently. Some features can be launched while others are in development. This prevents a single feature stalling the entire rollout.
  • More accurate estimates. Bigger project are harder to estimate. Breaking them down makes it easier for suppliers to quote accurately.
  • Better PR opportunities. Whenever a new feature is launched there is an opportunity to publicize the site. New features can motivate users into taking another look. A single large project only provides a single opportunity to grab peoples attention.
  • Limited risk of working with a new supplier. Choosing an agency is always a risk. Until you work with somebody, it is hard to gauge how good they are. Reduce this risk by limiting the size of project they are commissioned to build. If the agency fails to perform, you can look elsewhere when commissioning subsequent work.

This is an approach commonly adopted by larger websites with their own in-house teams but much rarer among smaller sites who use external agencies. Nevertheless, it is an approach which works well in tough times.

Digg Technology Homepage

4. Reuse and recycle

Too often we reinvent the wheel. When budgets are plentiful this can make sense. Although there is similar functionality out there, we might choose to develop it ourselves so we have more control or can customise it to our exact requirements. However as budgets begin to get squeezed these are luxuries we cannot afford.

In a world of widgets, APIs and open source it is becoming increasingly hard to argue the case for custom builds. Why build your own mapping application when there is Google Maps? Why build a forum when you could use an open source alternative like Vanilla?

My only word of warning is in regards to integration. It can be hard to get these ‘prebuilt’ tools to work together. Be careful that the savings made are not lost to integration problems. Where possible use tools like WordPress that provides an architecture with a wide range of plugins for quick integration.

opensourceCMS screenshot

5. Move beyond the website

Finally, I think it is important to remember that your web strategy is not all about your website. We spend the majority of our ever decreasing budgets on adding bells and whistles to existing websites when there are large number of potential customers who never reach our sites.

Instead of sinking your budget and efforts solely into your website consider looking further afield. Could your web strategy be better served by putting resources into a Facebook group or a twitter account for example? Would your target audience listen to a podcast? Do they read RSS? What about a mailing list? The possibilities are endless.

Ask yourself where your target audience congregates. Instead of constantly trying to draw users to your site begin to spend time where they already meet. What social sites do they use? What editorial sites do they read? Contribute to these communities and offer to write for the editorial sites they read.

Many of these things can be done at almost no cost and with little technical knowledge. All it takes is some time and enthusiasm.


Whether a site is successful is not dictated by its budget. However many larger organisations have relied on money as a method of driving their web strategy forward. As these budgets are slashed there is an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage by being smarter.

Hopefully this post has demonstrated a few of the possible avenues available and inspired you to discover some more of your own. However if you would like some more personal advice specific to your own website then feel free to drop me an email.

  • We’re a big fan of #3, especially since a lot of our clients tend to ask for more changes than they can afford. By prioritizing the most crucial needs first and working our way down the list in a timeline fashion, the client gets what they need (and want) and we get a nice long-term project to truly think through and get done right.
    Also, this mentality feeds well into the idea of maintaining the website once the initial work is completed. By continuing to make updates over time, the content is constantly being refreshed, tweaked, and improved upon and the site runs much less of a risk of becoming stale.

  • ‘Reuse and recycle’ should be an every-day task for developers.
    Proper code seperation using a development paradigm such as MVC will allow code to be reused on lots of projects.

  • We’re a big fan of #3, especially since a lot of our clients tend to ask for more changes than they can afford.

  • I agree, #3 is key to making a web strategy work on a tight budget. It also forces clients to be strategic about their wants and needs and focuses the development process into realistic blocks of functionality.
    We also believe that improving the overall search rankings of a site will generate better ROI, so that every dollar spent counts. We don’t necessarily focus on SEO, but instead work with our clients to build a solid design and development architecture so that their site “works” for them. I’ve linked to a post on this topic.

  • awesome list, but i must say, these items whether in a recession or a boom..are great advice.

  • Great insight, I would definitely say that #3, and #4 have been very helpful in times of budget and time line constraints.
    ~ Aaron I

  • Great post! One of the challenging things is getting clients to not focus on adding features, but letting them know the benefits of possibly taking things off of the site. It’s a hard sell sometimes, but if you can communicate it effectively, it can work wonders for a project/website.

  • Wonderfully said – very savvy advice.
    I enjoyed reading #2 as it reaffirms our design philosophy of simple, clean, approachable design that focuses on communicating the client’s main message. This usually gets lost among the brick-a-brack of seeing how much stuff one can put onto a site, as if it some how makes the investment in a site more justified. But “we” know that it is more a result of unfocused expectations and inexperience with the media, handcuffing even the most promising projects.
    As most comments mentioned, #3 is a real project saver and one that we will need to emphasize more with our clients. The only thing we do in addition to #3 is to document the site exceedingly well, so that if a client chooses to go elsewhere they can go with confidence to the next programmer knowing we set them up for their benefit, not ours. Our clients are even more loyal knowing we’re watching their backs.
    Thanks for the reminders — I will be checking back often!

  • 3 is an excellent opportunity to extend relationships and foster growth as well. This is a win win situation from my experiences for both the agency and the client. Great advice. Thanks

  • Nice list Paul. I think the best point covered is 5. Getting traffic to the website is so important but still often overlooked. You could have the best website in the world but if the right people can’t find it then it’s generally a waste. Strategy first, design/development second.