Cost of a Mobile Website
May 18, 2011 9:27 AM   Subscribe

What is a ballpark cost for developing a mobile website and are there any specific CMS/blogging platforms that make it easier?

I'm working with an organization that is creating a handbook that was previously printed and shipped to clients. They are no longer doing that but are instead creating a CD to put the handbook on and want to know how much it would cost to also have a mobile-friendly website.

One person I talked to gave me a price of $10,000 - $12,000 for converting the Word files to HTML/CSS, setting up the site on Drupal (but not including hosting costs), and providing the code to detect devices in order to provide the properly formatted version (including the ability to add an icon to the menu of the phone).
posted by perhapses to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The handbook is about 40-45 pages.
posted by perhapses at 9:36 AM on May 18, 2011

One person I talked to gave me a price of $10,000 - $12,000 for converting the Word files to HTML/CSS, setting up the site on Drupal (but not including hosting costs), and providing the code to detect devices in order to provide the properly formatted version (including the ability to add an icon to the menu of the phone).

There's nothing I hate more than undercutting someone else's estimates, and there may be complexities to the site that I'm not aware of. For example, the actual content migration from CD to web might involve a huge amount of content re-jiggering for mobile devices. Word to HTML is a pretty major PITA if there's a lot of formatting and you want the HTML to actually look acceptable outside of IE.

That said, the Drupal specific stuff shouldn't be terribly complicated. The code to do auto-detection of devices and serve up mobile or desktop versions is part of the existing Mobile Tools module, and the ability to use a custom icon for iOS devices is just a matter of installing the Touch Icons module.

Someone else might be able to provide a streamlined 'pile of word docs to mobile site' conversion path, but regarding the Drupal developer's estimate, I'd ask them to break down where they think the time and costs would lie. If you're able to get the word files into a less crap format, you may be able to get a much better deal on the site implementation itself, regardless of the platform you go with.
posted by verb at 9:37 AM on May 18, 2011

Some useful questions:

1. How big is this handbook?
2. Do they want any digital capabilities, like search, or is it just a document dump?
3. How many users will be browsing at once, maximum, within the next 3-5 years?
4. Is the mobile version a trimmed down copy, or the full thing?
5. How frequently is the content of the handbook updated and who does the updating?


1. 10k is not unreasonable for someone's time, although this is probably on the high end given reasonable assumptions to the answers in #1-#5 above.
2. It's also not unreasonable that you could spend about 40 hours researching it yourself and doing it, and pocketing the 10k.
posted by felix at 9:37 AM on May 18, 2011

this price is probably about what my studio would quote for something like that. we consider 10-15k an entry-level budget.

maybe towards the high end of that estimate if the content needs editing or rewriting on any level. the back and forth on that kind of thing usually takes a mind-numbing amount of time, and as stated, the conversion can be a huge PITA. word adds a lot of nastiness that can take a few passes clean out.
posted by patricking at 9:45 AM on May 18, 2011

converting the Word files to HTML/CSS

That's the largest cost right there. 40 to 45 pages, many of which are probably going to be unique, is going to take a developer a certain amount of time to convert properly, especially if these pages are going to be available on both a mobile and traditional web platforms. One of the problems today is that "mobile" doesn't take into account "per device". There's a large combination of devices and supported platforms that need to be addressed, but even if it was just one (iPhone, Safari Mobile), customizing the book for the mobile web is still a large amount of time.

Your next cost is going to be the application itself. If Drupal has a module that allows for the publication of a book that your developer is familiar with, then life is going to be a lot easier for you. Drupal modules and methodologies exist for detecting the device(s) and if you want to work on the cheap, you can always use a free Drupal theme(s) for the look and feel.

Hosting and whatnot is not going to be a large expense, Linode and Rackspace vs. Amazon EC2, but you'll need someone to administer the site, doing everything from monitor the site itself, handle authentication issues, updates, migrations, etc.

So, for a mobile-friendly site, consisting of some form of authentication along with a 45-page book as its main content, $10K - $12K is not an unexpected quote from someone who knows what they're doing. Always do your homework, talk to their prior customers, review some work, develop an ROI, draw up a contract with milestones and payment schedules and yeah, a turnkey solution can be yours.

The benefits of Drupal are that it's a lot easier to find someone available with PHP skills than someone with Ruby/Python or other technology stacks.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:59 AM on May 18, 2011

Excellent information. Thanks. If we can find a partner to provide hosting for Drupal, I think I could do most of this myself.
posted by perhapses at 10:05 AM on May 18, 2011

WordPress (free)
WordPress Theme (free to, oh $500, I can't imagine you needing anything complex here)
WPTouch Plugin (this does the detection of mobile devices described) (free)
Hosting ($75-$150/year)
Domain ($8-$20/year)

Depending on the complexity of the pages, maybe 2 hours per page (possibly lots of images / diagrams / tables?). But once you have access to WordPress you can do this yourself.

It's the content editing that gets complicated, but if you're given a WordPress (or Drupal install) you can do that yourself.
posted by artlung at 10:10 AM on May 18, 2011

Depending on the complexity of the pages, maybe 2 hours per page (possibly lots of images / diagrams / tables?). But once you have access to WordPress you can do this yourself.

Yeah, that's the thing: any FOSS project is going to have an on-paper cost of $0 if you don't count the time spent converting the source documents. That's the really big variable.
posted by verb at 10:19 AM on May 18, 2011

having been in this situation before: if you start doing this yourself, then further down the road get stuck and ask a 3rd party source to handle it, you might still going to end up with that same price level. i've been on both sides of the equation, and neither is fun.

weigh how much time you're willing to put into it, and add about 25% for crap you don't understand, having to wade through "documentation" of open-source projects via google.

there's a good chance of that happening with any project -- especially anything concerning content management systems. wordpress in particular has 16 versions of everything and all of them act differently, none of them being exactly what you want. a lot can be abandoned projects.

that's the closest way of explaining where the price quote's coming from. regardless of hype, the web isn't easy without experience. that's web 1.0 kool aid waiting to be drunk.

(it was easy in 1996, but i guess the official marketing statement hasn't been updated yet.)
posted by patricking at 10:33 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

It may seem like it's easy to convert Word files to HTML/CSS but it isn't. Yes, Word has a nice Save As feature that allows HTML output but the files it creates are notoriously bad. The 2 hours/file estimate may be a bit optimistic and you may find yourself wishing you'd farmed it out to someone else. I've kicked myself every time I've done it and now I generally print Word files to PDF (with PDFCreator, Word 2007's built-in PDF converter generates enormous files)*. I understand, of course, that PDF is probably not on the table for you.

*If you're on a Mac, ignore this as the PDF output tool in OS X does just fine.
posted by tommasz at 11:37 AM on May 18, 2011

verb, it sounds like your're dismissing my answer. I don't mean to minimize the content piece, so let me speculate on that part.

I think the consensus is that the hidden danger is the "how complicated are the pages?" ... having no other data than "a handbook of 40-45 pages" - well, how hard could it be? If it's something like, oh, a college anatomy textbook (I'm imagining multicolumnar, with lots of images, figures, footnotes), that's going to be harder than say, a set of ikea instructions (basically a set of images in order), which will be harder than a travelogue (photos, captions, text).

I have a hard time imagining something billed as as a "handbook" could require more than 2 hours per page. I think a horribly complicated page would be convertible, even with lots of complexity at in 4 hours per page - effectively 2 page per day. A semicompetent HTML person can do that, and likely will be hirable at . A competent person with HTML can be found for $25/hour, plus/minus. So you're looking at 45 pages x 4 hours per page x $25/hour. I think those are highly conservative numbers (for the USA, it's not stated where you are) and that adds up to $4500 for the content piece of this project. If I get my high school age stepson to do the work (experienced with InDesign and in converting pages to HTML), which I believe he absolutely could do you're at $2700.

It's absolutely possible I'm missing something important in my answer, but that's what my experience says about the content portion.
posted by artlung at 11:52 AM on May 18, 2011

Edit: The $2700 represents $15/hour rather than $25. ... $15/hour x 45 pages x 4 hours per page
posted by artlung at 11:54 AM on May 18, 2011

This is a problem needing requirements. It could done easily, for example, if you just exported all those Word pages to page-sized images, threw them up in a tumblr blog, setup your domain to point to said blog, and called it a day. Of course, the site would suck (no searching, linking, table of contents, would look funky, and a million other things), but it would be mobile-accessible, and all the content technically is there.

Every project boils down to three components - price, time, quality. You get to pick two. In this (hypothetical) example, you've got price and time at an absolute minimum (or ranking high), forsaking quality. The 10-12K quotes (which sound completely reasonable to me, given how horrific Word files can be and how time consuming the back-and-forth between developer and client would be) would rank higher on the time and quality scales, but low on price.
posted by cgg at 12:11 PM on May 18, 2011

artlung, no, I didn't mean to sound dismissive of your comment. I just meant that open source software, by definition, has a cost of zero associated with the software itself, and it's easy to get into a nickel and dime mindset with the rest of the work.

I have a hard time imagining something billed as as a "handbook" could require more than 2 hours per page. I think a horribly complicated page would be convertible, even with lots of complexity at in 4 hours per page - effectively 2 page per day.

If the pages are super simple -- essentially just text with headings -- twenty minutes per page is probably too high. If they're complex documents with extensive footnoting and cross referencing, detailed diagrams that can't simply be jammed in as a low-res PNG, and so on, things get a log more complicated. Adding in the fact that this project is for mobile, and you need to think about device independence for those diagrams, and so on.

I absolutely do agree that the raw document conversion -- turning Word docs into decently formatted HTML that won't explode in flames when it touches a mobile browser -- is something that you could throw a relatively low level HTML person at. Separating that task from the site building and construction work is probably the best way to go. If you hire, say, a Drupal shop to do the whole kit and kaboodle you could easily be paying a relatively valuable programmer/developer to do the grunt work of hand-editing a pile of mangled HTML files. It's quite possible that that is where the bid's main costs lie.

That's why I'd strongly suggest talking through a cost breakdown of the estimate and figuring out where the shop that gave the bid things the real time sinks will be.
posted by verb at 12:58 PM on May 18, 2011

the best ROI would be to hire an experienced someone on an hourly basis to do this.

part of asking for a flat-rate quote means building in room for messing up to protect one's ass(ets). you'd definitely be able to buy someone for $50 hourly to get it done well under any ballpark flat rate quote. 12K / a contract employee at $50 = 6 weeks of billable time.

if that's all they're doing, plan on getting it done in four tops. but, then again, nobody likes the variable of possibly going over some pre-set budget.

(for reference on why i picked $50 hourly, most design houses charge $100-300 depending upon what you want. and artlung's $15 hourly is the same price paid on average for unskilled factory work in the U.S.)
posted by patricking at 1:55 PM on May 18, 2011

edit: i'm figuring a temporary employee for $50 hourly. not a permanent one. i forgot to say that.

$15 hourly is chump change unless you want to keep someone around as slave labor on salary for a year, maybe an intern, or someone inexperienced and possibly more hungry for cash than possessing of good sense.
posted by patricking at 2:00 PM on May 18, 2011

One option for Drupal hosting:, which appears to do what it says on the tin and provides drupal as a service. Looks like around $150 a year to provide more than you are likely to need.
posted by felix at 2:55 PM on May 18, 2011

One thing to keep in mind about Gardens is that you can't upload any custom modules. So some of the tweaks like providing mobile versions of the site would depend on Gardens adding the modules we discussed on a global, service-wide basis. It's for Drupal, basically, which is a big boost for people who want that but not as useful for people looking to utilize the large ecosystem of plugins.
posted by verb at 3:01 PM on May 18, 2011

I'm shocked only one person thus far has mentioned WordPress. Several plugins are available for automatically redirecting a mobile user to a mobile version of the website - all free to inexpensive. If you're talking a handbook - pictures, text, nothing fancy - spending 5 figures seems ludicrous (unless you want that custom job, to be fair).

Word to clean HTML:

And plenty more with a basic search.

Hosting and website cost is probably already a company expense - if you need that separate domain name, it's a reasonable price across the board.
posted by chrisinseoul at 8:02 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

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