Let’s start with a seemingly simple question:
What do I need to know to figure out how much a website is going to cost?
I’m going to answer that question with a question.
Actually, six different questions.
I’ve built a lot of quotes and responded to a ton of RFPs to do website builds. In every website proposal I’ve worked on, the biggest factors that affect how much a website costs are the features you want to have and the functionality needed to power them.
Nothing surprising there, right?
But the trick is determining what those features are, and how they need to be built.
As I covered previously, complexity, size, and design affect how much your web development project is going to cost.
What’s more, the complexity and size are directly affected by the kinds of features your website uses, so it’s important to have a good understanding of the features and functionality you need.
Features and functionality are the things that help you drive your overall goals for your website, and those are what we’re going to talk about below.
Answering these six crucial questions is a big part of the answer to the question on how much your website project is going to cost.
Let’s jump in.
Question 1. Do you need a content management system for your new website?
The best websites are those that are alive and teeming with activity. The content is fresh and relevant. These websites are constantly being refreshed with new images, new information, and they feel vibrant and alive.
This kind of activity happens because the website uses a content management system that allows site managers to easily and quickly update content.
When you have a content management system in place performing these kinds of tasks is simple.
Content management systems are great tools because they help you to easily keep your website up to date by allowing content managers to make updates and changes to the site without needing to have high-level technical programming or development skills.
Maybe you need to be able to create an announcement about an upcoming event.
Maybe it’s writing a blog post that shows how you or your company are thought leaders in your industry and show off your subject matter expertise.
It could be keeping your sales page up to date with the latest pricing, or removing outdated info.
A site with a content management system that’s built well will help you do all these things and more.
Content management systems are so pervasive that it would be unusual to not have a content management system in place these days. Even the simplest sites can benefit from using a content management system.
By far the most popular content management system in the world is WordPress, powering almost 32% of the top 1 million sites in the world according to builtwith.com.
There are other alternatives to WordPress too.
The development of the content management system to fit your needs depends on which one you choose, and its license.
Content Management System Development Costs
The development of a content management system is one of the bigger expenses when it comes to figuring out how much your website project is going to cost.
The development of custom content types, custom fields, and the variety of features that are content manageable are what make
The four paths to getting your website built we discussed last time all factor in here.
DIY – you can get started with a content-managed website using WordPress, or many other content management systems, for free! That’s the good news. The challenge comes from having the technical chops to get what you want in place, which doesn’t have to be challenging, you just have to be willing to spend the time doing it. All you have to worry about is your hosting and domain registration costs here, and the time it will take to get your site set up.
Service – The real strength of a service like mine, WPLaunch, is getting your content management system in place and ready to go for you. Getting all the various pieces of the website puzzle in to place is super easy, fast, and affordable. Starting around $300, this is a great solution for getting expert help to get your site started so you can focus on the next steps for your new site.
Freelancer – If your content management needs are bigger than the basics, then working on a custom build for your CMS with a freelancer who specializes in that particular CMS is a good choice. Starting around $3000 for CMS development is an average cost for a freelancer when you incorporate design that needs to be done, and the custom configuration for your content management needs.
Agencies specialize in building customized solutions built to fit exacting specifications, and leverage their expertise to deliver amazing results. Custom CMS development will usually start around $15,000 when you factor in design requirements and the custom features needed in a pro-level CMS-based site.
Question 2. Do you need people to be able to log in and create user profiles on your website?
Following closely on the idea of content management systems is user management within content management systems.
Why would users need to be able to log in to your website?
You see this feature a lot when some kind of content asset is kept behind a wall that prevents access except for registered users. Newspapers and online media outlets have started using this kind of feature to encourage people to sign up for premium subscriptions.
Membership sites use this feature to protect the privileged content they create for their members, like downloadable reports and other valuable assets.
Another instance of where a login account feature may be a good fit would if your customer needs to pay an invoice, or you want to require registration to download a report.
Another aspect of having user accounts is figuring out how accounts are created and how they’re authorized.
Sometimes they’re open to the public and anyone can sign up and they’re automatically added. Other times, a request is sent and the request has to be approved.
So, are you going to create the user logins yourself, or is it something that they will be able to create on their own?
Do you need to moderate whether or not a user is approved or not?
These are questions that need answers to build out your user access system.
But that’s not all.
The means by which they login is an important factor to consider.
Among the among the most popular options is having visitors use their email to register for their account. This option is pretty standard for content management systems, so if this is something you think you’re going to need then make sure this feature is available in your CMS.
Social logins like Facebook, Twitter, and Google are also available and provide users with the ability to use a single social profile to login in to various properties around the web.
Website visitors are looking for efficient, simple, and easy-to-manage ways to create accounts and login to websites, and social logins are a big help there.
Closely related to being able to login to your website is the ability to create user profiles.
User related functions like forums, and account specific information are the kinds of things you need to provide for users in this area.
Maybe it’s a community site where you’re members need to enter information about themselves like you see on an app like Fitbit.
The more things a user needs to be able to do with their profile the greater the complexity will be for your project and that will ultimately escalate the costs.
User account creation development costs
The costs for this depend on the method for creating these accounts. Virtually all content management systems have a method for managing various users, so using the built-in method is the default for most cases.
Then there is the other option of using social logins to facilitate user accounts. This is more involved and the costs associated with this kind of integration depend on whether it’s something that can be provisioned by a plugin, or if there is a need for deeper integration.
DIY – You can use plugins to facilitate social login connections in many instances.
Because setup services cover start-up needs in most instances, user account creation is not usually something that would be included in these kinds of services because it’s a more advanced feature.
Freelancers and agencies can build custom integrations for you to fit your exact need. You can estimate the costs of this feature to range between free and $2000-$3000 depending on the needs and functionality requirements.
Question 3. Are you selling products on your website?
Building an online store involves complex functionality and a variety of features needed to make things work well.
Some of the features and functionality that are part of an online store are:
- Great product photography and imagery
- Great product descriptions
- Number of SKUs
- Product inventory management and data
- System notifications
- Payment gateway integrations
- Shipping system integrations
- And so much more
Another crucial feature to be able to get your products in front of your target audience are the various shopping and product feeds to get as much exposure to your products as possible.
Costs of building an online store for your website
DIY – As always, the biggest cost here is your time. Depending on the number of products in your store and the amount of help you have it can take considerable time and effort to get your store up and running.
The costs for setting up your own online store range from free to whatever license you need to purchase for your cart software, like WooCommerce. The big investment here is time.
Service – The best part about using a service is that you get professional level help at a very reasonable price. Part of what makes this a cost-sensitive approach is that you will still be very involved in building out your store by getting your products loaded and set up. The great thing is that the technical part of your store is done for you and that can prove to be a powerful accelerator to get your site done and live.
The cost for using a service to get your online store started will range ~$500 and up.
The cost for hiring a freelancer to create your online store will start around $7,500 and go up from there depending on the complexity of the features that power your store. Online stores created by freelancers regularly cost $15,000 or more.
The cost for hiring an agency to build out your online store will start around $25,000. More feature rich online stores can run $50,000 and more.
Question 4. Do you need to accept payments on your website?
Accepting payments on a website can be a huge help to your customers and help grease the wheels of your cash flow in your business.
It’s a huge win for your customer’s experience to be able to pay you online.
The good thing is there are lots of options these days that are secure and reasonably easy to set up.
One of my favorite examples I found recently was a barber shop website where I could book my appointment and pay before I ever sat in the chair. So much hassle removed. So much win for me as a customer, and that place stays packed, and after talking with the owner it’s been a huge win for their business.
Costs of integrating a payment system in to your website
Going the do-it-yourself route is a lot easier now than it has been in the past. The costs here are minimal, and you’ve got a lot of great options to choose from, like Stripe, Braintree, and Paypal.
The only hard costs on this, as it will be for any payment system you integrate into your website are your fees that your payment processor are going to charge. Common rates are usually around 2.9% per transaction and $.30 as it is with Stripe.
You can use a service to get connected and most times the setup is done via a plugin that connects your new site to the provider. This done-for-you service is a great option to put your mind at ease knowing that it’s done right, has been tested, and is working fully, and the cost is usually included in your service fee.
A plugin option is not always the best fit and there are times when you need to have a tighter integration by using an API from a provider like Stripe. The costs associated with building out this API are bit more significant and are best handled by freelancers and agencies who are experienced in this kind of work. The costs of working them in this context can start around $1,000 to $,3000 and go up from there.
Question 5. Will your users be generating any content on the site?
One of the big factors that requires some finesse to manage is user generated content. Login access, and user profiles are one thing. Managing content generated by users can be something more substantial.
Most cases where users are generating content are instances where you have different levels of people in your business who are responsible for different sections of content on the site.
As an example, the marketing department may have a person responsible for keeping their part of the site up to date, and you have another person who’s responsible for managing product documentation, uploading and managing PDFs and other documents.
It could also be community-related content like you’d find in user forums. Some sites offer their users the ability to create blog posts and other content. Other sites allow users to upload images.
The kinds of content will vary.
Creating the various levels of user accounts and access permissions needs to be handled carefully.
Cost of creating content generation roles and permissions
DIY – For simple sites this is pretty straight forward. If you’re using a content management system like WordPress, it ships with some built-in features that will help you build these out.
There are plugins that can help you with more complex needs as needed, but for the most part, a CMS like WordPress will do a good job of handling the workflow needed.
Freelancers & Agencies – There are times when your user generated content is more complex and the needs for managing the workflow needs more specific control, and that’s where working with a freelancer or an agency can really help.
As an example, I built a site one time that had ten different content manager roles with unique permissions to create and generate content for each one.
This expense is part of your overall development cost for custom projects, but if you have an explicit need for this kind of feature make sure you cover it with your developer before you get started with the project. You can estimate that these kinds of complex user-focused content generation management tools can start around $2500 – $4000 and go from there, depending on the complexity and number of different user roles.
Question 6. Does your website need to connect to an external website or service?
Sometimes complex functionality is introduced through an API. An API, or application programming interface. This kind of feature delivers functionality by making a connection to an external source.
You’ve seen them before – an opt-in form that connects to a Mailchimp account, or an option to login or register on your favorite website using your social media profile from Facebook, Google, or Twitter.
Another good example would be integrating Google Maps to display location data on your website.
Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) ood one would be integrating online payment processing through Stripe, or using Amazon’s S3 for document delivery and site performance reasons.
There are numerous different options that can really add some amazing functionality to your site. If you’re curious about what’s possible to create via API, Creative Bloq created this list of API integrations that has some really solid, commonly used APIs developers use to build out great features on their web projects.
Costs of API integration and development
DIY – There are plugins that can deliver this kind of feature for some applications, but not all. Plugins are available to connect your site to Amazon S3, Dropbox, Mailchimp, etc. But if you want to have to have more fine-grained control over a feature delivered via API, and you’re not comfortable with coding, then this can be a huge challenge.
This is not the kind of feature that you’re going to find in a setup service, outside of their standard suite of services that may include things using a plugin to connect an email service.
Use freelancers to do the more complex integrations you need, like setting up a CDN to make your site faster, or to create features like Google Maps. You can count on this kind of feature starting anywhere around $500 going up to several thousand dollars depending what you’re trying to create.
When it comes to robust integrations with other sites and APIs using the power that comes with working with an agency is a great way to go. It’s not uncommon for these kinds of integrations to run $15,000 or more, depending, of course, on what it is, and what features are being created.
So, when you’re starting a new website, or redesigning an old one, it’s good to get all the feature and functionality requirements out on the table because they have a big effect on how much the project is going to cost.
Having clear priorities for what features and functionality you want will help separate those things that are nice to have from what’s absolutely essential.
Features like user accounts, payment gateways, content management systems, online stores, and more all affect what your site is going to cost.
It’s good news to know that there are a variety of ways to approach each of these big features. You’ve got options, so rest assured that you can get your project done.