How much does a website cost?
If you’ve been thinking about starting a website it’s probably one of the first questions you have.
I know it’s one of the first questions I get when I’m talking to someone who is thinking about a new website.
So, what are the factors that go into how much it’s going to cost to build your website?
There are several costs, and some are not as obvious as others.
In this post I’m going to walk you through the things you need to consider when determining the cost of your web project.
My goal here is for you to be able to build an outline and roadmap so that you know what to expect at every step along the path to your new website.
This post covers:
- What the three main factors are that affect the cost of every web project
- The different approaches to design and development and how that affects the cost
- What the different kinds of websites are how that affects the cost
- Content & copywriting considerations
- Things to keep in mind regarding marketing & search engine optimization
- Ongoing maintenance and upkeep and associated costs
I’m not going to assume that you’re going to use one type of content management system over another in this post, because all websites are different and have different needs.
Neither do I assume that you should use WordPress (although in many instances it’s probably the right choice). I’m a huge advocate for matching the right tool to the need. I’m a WordPress developer – it’s what I do all day every day. But I also know that it may not be the right fit in some situations.
You ready? Let’s jump in.
THREE FACTORS AFFECTING THE COST OF EVERY WEBSITE PROJECT
Every new website has its own challenges but there are three factors that are part of every web development project and how much it costs.
Complexity – The deeper the functionality, the higher the cost
When I talk about complexity what I mean is it’s really a matter of the different things you need to be able to do with your website. These are features like membership portals, e-commerce functions, online stores, etc.
The more features you need in a website the more complex the design and development needs will be.
Makes sense, right?
Size – The number of pages and page templates needed will affect costs
The number of pages that you need for your site will affect the cost. In most instances this is mitigated by the content management system that you use for the site. However, if you’re using a variety of different page layout templates that can change things.
Think about it this way:
If you need page templates for blog posts, regular content pages, blog posts, product pages, calendar displays, etc. all of those will need to be designed and created.
The good thing is that depending on your design approach, which we’ll talk about below, this doesn’t have to break the bank because of the ability to use displays created by plugins.
Design requirements affect website design costs whether using a pre-built theme or custom design
The government builds lots of really big websites that are often very complex and have deeply customized features. However, I can’t remember any time when someone pointed out to me how impressed they were by the design of a government website.
Great design for your website is a baseline requirement.
How you get that great design in place is the key, and the good news is that you have options here, which we’ll discuss below.
So now that I’ve covered those three basic items, I’m going to talk to you about how the build gets done.
There are four basic paths you can take to get your website built:
- DIY – Do it yourself
- Use a service
- Hire a freelancer
- Hire an agency
When it comes to figuring out how much a website is going to cost the way you actually get it built can be the biggest expense depending on your approach.
As you’ll see below, each of these options has its own challenges and benefits.
Let’s dig in.
DIY – “Do It Yourself” – Lowest out of pocket cost, but can cost you time
Doing it yourself can be the least expensive way to get started with your website.
There are enough tutorials on YouTube, and enough guides that can teach you all the various steps you need to completely get your new site online if you’re not a web developer.
If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and dive deep into the details, you can get it done for whatever your hosting and domain cost you plus the sweat equity you invest in doing it.
Content management platforms like WordPress make this an easy choice for a lot of people. But there are also alternatives to WordPress that will fit your need well.
- Difficulty level – moderate to high (depending on the site you’re trying to build and your level of expertise with web design and development
- The cost associated with the DIY are minimal. Your only hard expenses are your domain name registration, hosting service and any third party or security options you have in place. Usually, you can go the DIY route for less than $100 per year.
- The real challenge is the time it takes. If you’re not a coder, and you’re not comfortable with working with all the various technology pieces, the time cost on this can be significant.
- The benefit is that you keep your expenses down and learn a lot about web development. If you ever end up hiring someone in the future to take over, you’ll know all the things you need to know to ask the right questions and keep growing your site.
Going the DIY route is a great option if you’ve got plenty of time and you have a passion for learning and coding. Due to the time requirements this may not move as quickly as some of the other options, like using a service as mentioned below. But for those who are comfortable working with technology and who know how all the various pieces fit together, this is a great and inexpensive solution.
Use a service – Affordable start-up cost, and professionally done
If you’re just getting started with your website a really cost-effective way to do it is to use a service, like my service, WPLaunch, and have it done for you.
The best thing about a service like this is that it’s designed to be extremely effective and get the site up and running fast, and have everything it needs ready to go.
These kinds of services include the design element by providing a theme of your choosing from their selection, the technical element by getting you going with all the features and functions you need in a starter website, and your hosting as well.
They’re a great one-stop-shop for getting started with a website fast.
- Difficulty level – low – great option for beginners and those who don’t want to be bothered with handling the technical details.
- The cost are really affordable – ~$300 to get everything going. The ongoing expense of keeping up with domain registration is about the only thing you need to worry about and that’s minimal. Hosting, security and support are usually included in this kind of service and are included in your monthly or yearly renewal fee.
- The challenges here are really simple: you have to decide what you want, and really that’s about it. The service you use will usually be more than happy to make recommendations for various parts of the service, like which theme to use for your site, so the road bumps really are minimal.
- The benefits here are huge. Everything is done for you. While you don’t get the benefits of a fully bespoke, custom-tailored web design as you would working with a freelancer or agency, you will get a high-quality professional site that you’ll be proud to call your own. Besides, I almost always recommend against going down the custom design path for beginners and those just getting started with their website, unless there is a clear need otherwise.
The perfect candidate for this approach are those who are new to the web and don’t have the expertise or patience to do it themselves, but really want the job done right. Those who have the technical chops, but would rather focus their energy elsewhere are also the perfect fit for this kind of service.
Hire a freelancer – professional custom website design at a reasonable price
The next option is to hire a freelancer. When you’re ready for a customized solution these providers can build it for you. You can find them on sites like Upwork, and Dribbble and more.
Freelancers can do a great job of working closely with you to create a custom design and build your site.
Freelancers are specialists for the most part and focus in on delivering great work in a fairly defined niche. Different freelancers will have different approaches to design & development.
Freelancers are mostly single-person operations so it can be a little less expensive to work with them.
One of the most important things about working with freelancers is listening to them and letting them advise and give you direction on how to make your web project the best it can be.
- Difficulty level – low to moderate – because the freelancer will be doing the work, but you have to be able to answer the questions that the freelancer is going to have for you, so be prepared.
- The cost – a good freelancer is going to run around $3000+ to do your design and build. Your ongoing upkeep costs are going to be roughly the same as any other level.
- The challenges are really only related to being able to give your freelancer answers to the questions they’re going to have, but if you can do that you’ll be in good shape.
- The benefits here are also substantial. Your freelancer will be able to create for you a custom design that will do a fantastic job of meeting your needs. The unique design and functionality that they’ll put together for you will be the perfect fit.
This is a great fit for small businesses that may be constrained by their budget that would otherwise keep them from working with an agency. Online influencers, subject matter experts, and bloggers who are growing are the perfect candidates for this level of work.
Hire an agency – The top talent working to build your website for big projects with budgets
When you’ve got a project that requires lots of expertise to be done right hiring a web design agency is usually the way to go.
Agencies bring powerful resources to focus on your project and have the ability bring top-level talent to work on your site.
Agencies will be able to provide top-level designers and programmers, along with top-level content and strategy experts to help you maximize the return on your investment.
Hiring an agency to do your website is the most financially expensive of the options we’ve discussed, but it’s one of those times where you get what you pay for really is true. The expertise, and abilities of working with an agency come with a hefty price tag, but they also deliver outstanding results.
- Difficulty level – low. Similar to working with a freelancer, the only real difficulty comes in being able to answer the questions they’re going to have, but this is the ultimate done-for-you service so expect a lot of guidance and input from the agency’s team of experts.
- The cost for working with an agency start around $10,000+ and depending on the complexity and design needs can go to $50,000 or more pretty quickly. This is one of those times you get what you pay for though. The level of expertise and professionalism you get by working with an agency is second to none.
- The challenges that come from working with an agency really are related to the financial resources required. Because otherwise, everything else is done for you, with your input and feedback of course. However, a quick note on that.
- The benefits are enormous. When an agency brings the full force of their expertise to your project it’s really something to behold. The custom design, custom feature development, copy, content, and marketing expertise all come together to form a symphony of awesomeness.
If you’re going to invest this kind of money in to working with an agency to build your web project do yourself the favor of letting them do their job.
How often do you go to a doctor’s office and change their diagnosis? Or, to an accountant and tell them to do it your way rather than the way their training has taught them to do it?
I’m not sure why but in my experience it’s not uncommon for clients to all of the sudden become “experts” on what is appealing to users and what works best when it comes to web design and development. Don’t be that person.
This is definitely a solution for those who have needs that require this kind of horsepower. Think about start-ups, and online influencers as candidates for this level of work.
What kind of website do you want to build?
So, now that we have that covered, let’s talk about how the type of website you want to build factors in to the cost.
To dig a little deeper in to the previous point about complexity, I’m going to walk you through a few different types of websites and what to be on the lookout for when it comes to figuring out the cost for your web project.
Just like the way you approach building your website has an affect on the cost, the kind of website you’re trying to create will also factor in, so let’s look at a few different kinds of websites and things to look out for.
Blogs are sites that creators, artists, businesses and more, use to promote their ideas and expertise. They’re used to establish the author’s subject matter expertise, advocate for a cause, deliver opinions on a topic that’s meaningful to the author and so much more.
The good thing about blogs is that the features required to create a really good one are not too complex and getting started with a blog can be done pretty quickly.
Using a platform like WordPress and a quality theme are usually about all you need to get started. For established influencers and bigger, more popular blogs, the needs become more complex.
Hiring a service or going the DIY route is a great way to get started with a blog.
Feature and design requirements for a blog usually start fairly simple, but as your blog grows your needs are likely to get more complex too, so the cost of building out those needs will grow over time.
Personal portfolio and resume sites
One of the things that job seekers need to do is put their best on display so they can market their knowledge, skills, and abilities to land their dream job.
These kinds of sites don’t require a lot of functionality, or complex features, but they do require excellent design.
The most important part of these kinds of sites is the presentation. You’re marketing yourself, so put your knowledge, skills, abilities and ability to deliver results in the best possible light with this kind of site.
These kinds of sites are a great fit for using a service to get them done quickly and professionally, or you could always do it yourself with these due to how simple the design and feature requirements are here.
These are sites that you use as a resource for your business and provide your target audience with engaging information about who you are, what you do, and why they should do business with you.
Basic business sites don’t always have a lot of high-level functionlity (e-commerce shop, membership, etc.), but there is usually a lot of information.
Business sites will often include blogs and other news-type content that help establish themselves as thought-leaders and and leaders in their industry.
These sites may sometimes start simple but most I’ve worked on and seen are best done by the professionals, so working with a freelancer or an agency is usually the best path to follow here.
Non-profit sites are really closely related to business websites in terms of how they’re designed and the features and functions they use.
The big difference comes in terms of what’s needed to facilitate donations, and any kind of member-related features that are needed.
Like business sites, these sites are best built by using a freelancer or an agency to get it done right.
E-Commerce websites are web shops and have products and services for sale on the site and are the primary purpose of the site.
I got my start in web development working in e-commerce and building e-commerce sites and I love everything about them.
These are sites that offer physical products, or digital products, or a mixture of both.
The challenges that make e-commerce sites come from the more robust functionality, security and
Finding someone who specializes in e-commerce is vital for these kinds of sites.
One of my favorite sites that I’ve been a part of for more than a decade is a sports membership site for my alma mater, FSU.
Membership sites are those sites where a website owner provides premium, and privileged content. That means that normal non-member website visitors aren’t able to access the site unless they register and become a member.
Some membership sites are free, others require a subscription fee. It can be a one-time fee, or it can be an ongoing fee that’s charged automatically.
Membership sites are particularly complex with a lot of complex functionality. Payment gateways, subscription frameworks, member roles and access level permissions, and more all go in to the calculations when estimating the cost of this kind of site.
Like e-commerce sites, working with an agency or a freelancer who specializes in membership sites is the way to go.
Content & copywriting costs
One of the most important factors that often gets overlooked is the cost of copywriting.
The visual design approach to a website is definitely important, but nothing is more important than the words on the page.
Great content and great copy is a highly specialized skill.
Consider the most persuasive pages you’ve encountered when you’ve been excited about an offer, or inspired by a story.
Those pages are very meticulously planned and the words chosen are very carefully crafted to help site visitors engage.
Figuring out how much a copywriter is going to cost, is like figuring out “how long is a piece of string” according to my friend and copywriter, Aaron Wrixon. However, we can get in the ballpark.
If you’re looking to put that extra bit of polish on the copy for your site you can look at somewhere between $50 to $200+ per hour depending on the writer you choose to work with and the goal they’re helping you achieve.
Content doesn’t mean just copy though. A vital piece of any quality website is the images that you use on the site.
Using high-quality, professional images on your website is an absolute requirement for a website that’s right.
Thankfully, we have a lot of choices. There are a variety of stock photography sites where you can get images for free use. There are also several stock libraries where you can get high quality images.
There are more, and you can find a huge selection of great stock photo options at this link from Buffer.
So, as you can see, you find stock images for free ranging all the way up to several hundred dollars per shot depending on the source you use.
Sometimes though, stock photography just doesn’t do the trick, and that’s when you’ll need to look at hiring a photographer.
A photographer, like any other specialty, can run from $25 per hour up to several hundred. The key thing to think about when you’re talking with potential photographers is how the images are licensed and who owns them at the conclusion of your relationship there.
Marketing & Search Engine Optimization
Getting your site built is one thing. Getting your site in front of the right eyes is a completely other thing, so you’ll need to take in to consideration marketing and search engine optimization costs.
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the practice of creating and crafting your site’s copy and structure in such a way that it makes it most appealing to search engines.
Search engines can be a vital source of traffic to your site. It’s how you can find new prospects and customers and let the world know about your site and all it has to offer.
If you’re using WordPress as your content management system there are great plugins that will help you handle your on-site and on-page optimization tasks, but that’s only part of the challenge.
One of the biggest challenges with the biggest reward when it comes to SEO and ranking highly is getting links to your site from other sites.
A good SEO can help you with both of these things.
In addition to SEO paid traffic is something to consider as well. SEO takes time – usually upwards of 90 days just to get things moving and start seeing some results, and a lot of times that can be too slow.
Paid traffic is a great way to accelerate the ramp up time for getting traffic to your site. Get someone to help here. There are a lot of great specialists who can provide high quality guidance and results so don’t think you have to learn everything about online advertising in order to get started here.
Talented SEOs and ad managers are a little different in how they price their services. it’s not uncommon to see them work on retainer agreements that can start at $1000 per month and go up from there. The thing with search engine optimization, and to a lesser extent paid traffic, it takes a little bit of time to build up momentum, so these retainer style agreements work well for that.
Ongoing Maintenance and Upkeep Costs
When it comes to building your own website there are a few basics that are common to all websites that require regular upkeep and maintenance.
Domain name registration Costs
Your domain name serves as your address on the web. It’s similar to your physical address. You give your mom your address to send you a birthday card, and when she does, it shows up in your mailbox. Or another good example is when you order a pizza to be delivered the driver gets your address and then shows up at your door when your pizza is ready.
It works the same way with the internet. When you give someone your domain name and they type that in to their address bar in your web browser, it gives their computer directions to where you can be found on the internet.
Picking the right domain name is a big step and you want to do it right. I’ve created this guide on how to choose your domain name that can be a big help to getting a perfect domain name for your new site.
Domain names can be registered for multiple years at a time, but they’re a regular cost you’ll want to keep track of.
$10-$15 per year
If your domain name is the equivalent of your street address on the internet, then your web hosting service is the home you live in at that address.
Web hosting is usually billed monthly, though some providers give price breaks for annual sign-ups and can vary a good bit depending on what you need.
- SSL certificates & Security
- Another one of the basic cost factors for building a website is security.
- Ongoing maintenance & support
$100 per year and up depending on the service
Security is vital for every website, no exceptions, so make sure you have a line item for security in your budget when you’re planning your new website.
Security covers things like SSL certificates, and malware monitoring. It also means that you’re covering your bases by having an offsite backup plan in place.
Secure connections are a baseline requirement these days so having a good SSL certificate in place is essential. These can range from free to several hundred dollars per year, depending on your need.
Many times sites are built with third party plugins that require renewal. The renewals get you access to the latest features and updates and address any security issues, so it’s always good to keep those up to date.
Once you’ve finished your site and you’re online you will a few things you’ll need to keep up with to make sure your site stays online, stays safe and secure, and is up to date.
Just like your car, there is regular maintenance required for your website. This means that you have set aside part of your budget for upkeep and maintenance….
This covers things like:
- Keeping your site up to date with the latest releases for your site’s core software to cover security patches and bug fixes
- Checking your security monitoring to make sure everything is in place and functioning properly
- Ensuring that you are providing the fastest and best user experience possible
- Managing content and providing fresh content updates
- Fixing broken links, optimizing images, and keeping everything organized can provide an SEO boost
$100 per month
So, how much does a website cost?
As you’ve probably figured out by now, the answer is…
Wait for it…
I created this post to give you an outline to help you put together your game plan for how you want to tackle getting your new website built.
Figuring out what kind of website you want to build is the biggest factor. That way you can account for all the things you’ll need for design, figure out if you need to hire someone to help, and put together a plan for content and marketing.
Make sure you account for the ongoing maintenance and support of your site. I’ve seen it too many times – people think that they’re done once their site is live when the reality is they’re just getting started!
As you can see there are a lot of factors to consider, and we’re just getting started, so make sure you plan well and create a roadmap for your project that will help you maximize the money you spend and avoid waste.
Sure, there are challenges at every level, but knowing what lies ahead of you on the road to build your website is vital and will prepare you for success.
What was the biggest surprise for you when thinking about how much a website costs? Anything to add?