A formula for the cost of web content

If you run a mid-sized public sector website then you could be spending $400,000 each year in hidden content costs.

WTF? (What’s That Formula?)

We work with public/plural sector clients: cities, regional governments, crown corporations, non-governmental organizations, universities, unions, etc.

The one thing in common with all of them is that they create a LOT of content. In fact, when these are service-oriented organizations (like a city), information and data (content) is probably the largest digital service that they provide.

One thing that we don’t often consider is the hard cost of content. So here’s one way to think about it. First of all, a few variables for you to consider (adjust as appropriate):

Base salary

Let’s say that a subject matter expert who gets tasked with content writing makes $75,000/yr. That’ll vary according to seniority, region, and type of organization. But it’s a median value.

Overhead cost of that employee

We occasionally get grants from Canada’s National Research Council. Their number for employee overhead is 65% of base salary (admin, office, benefits, computer, etc). So 165% of $75,000 is $123,750. That’s the total annual cost of a $75K/yr employee to the organization.

Cost of a work day

When we do employee cost calculations, we use the number 220 work days per year. That comes from:

52 weeks per year * 5 days per week = 260 days per year minus:

4 weeks of vacation = 20 days

2 weeks of sick time = 10 days

Statutory holidays = 10 days

So (260 -(20+10+10))=220

So if our employee takes all their vacation, gets sick (or their kids do), and takes all their stat holidays, then conservatively they work 220 days per year. $123,750 total employee cost divided by 220 work days gives you a day cost of $562.50 per content writer.

What does content cost?

We use a few numbers for estimation purposes. We’ve been doing content-centric enterprise web platforms for more than 20 years so this is based on our historicals.

Writing a 500-word web page, including planning, research, writing, and publishing to CMS: 8 hours per one page. Some can work faster, some work much slower. Some pages are complex, some are simple. 8 hours is an average.

Editing and review (annual): 4 hours per one page. This includes editorial meetings, manager review, IT support time, analytics review, and content author read/review/edit time.

So the first year you create a page, it takes 1.5 days (writing 8h + editing 4h) and in subsequent years, it takes a half day (4h). Assuming that the average life cycle of a page of content is 5 years (content often only gets rewritten during a redesign/replatform for most organizations), then the total time investment is (1.5 days + 4*.5 days) = 3.5 days.

If our day cost for our content writer is $562.50, then the 5-year total cost for just the content of that page is ($562.50 * 3.5) = $1,968.75.

Content cost of your website

If you redesign a mid-sized government website (let’s say 1000 HTML pages is mid-sized) every 5 years, then the hidden 5-year cost of your content is (1000 * $1,968.75) = $1,968,750.

That works out to almost $400,000 each year in just content costs. Even if you do zero maintenance on the content (spending just the original 1.5 days) and only touch 50% of your content every 5 years, you’re still spending almost $85,000 per year in pure content costs (($562.50 * 1.5 * (1000/2))/5)= $84,375.

What’s the point?

Organizations may budget somewhere between $50,000 to $500,000 every 3–5 years for website renewal. That includes hiring firms to provide technology procurement, design services, programming, quality assurance, and user testing/research. But the cost we don’t talk about is what digital platforms cost while they are sitting still. Content is real, and so that investment you make every 5 years is probably dwarfed by the ongoing cost of just having content.

Since content may well be your biggest service, and therefor your highest value asset, it’s probably better to think about your website renewal project less as a design exercise and more as an exercise in how to generate more value out of the content you’ve spent all that time and money creating.

When you procure a new CMS, are you thinking about how easy it is for content authors, or about how it gives managers and administrators tools to measure the value that content is generating?

And when you start on a new design project, your best starting point is content inventory and audit. Content is where all the money is secretly going.

Cost calculator

Salary baseline for your team {S}:

Pages on our website {P}:

Formula: (({S} * 1.65)/220)*(3.5/5)*{P}=$YourAnnualContentSpend

Need to count the pages on your website? You can run a free trial of our content inventory and auditing software, OnPoint Content Auditor.