How Much Do Websites Cost?

As a web designer and developer, this is often the question I’m asked most often. While there’s endless possibility for bias on the subject, there are objective business realities to creating a website.

For example, in 99% of cases, it would make no sense for a freelance photographer to hire a large web agency. Conversely, it would be detrimental to a business relying on online sales to adopt a do-it-yourself approach, or use a website template.

The “how much do websites cost?” question covers thousands of business cases with vastly different needs. These cases can range from $3,000 to $100,000. The best approach is to schedule a consultation with a trusted source to discuss your specific business case. I do, however, hope to use this post to cover some of the objective considerations and typical price points.

What Does Success Look Like?

A few factors go into the creation of a website. Many factors go into the creation of a successful one. I can’t stress the following enough:

The first step to budgeting the cost of a website is to know what success looks like.

Examples of a few really good reasons to invest in a website:

  • Large opportunity per client: You have a low volume, high revenue business where even one additional client affects your bottom line.
  • Modernization: You are in a non-technological sector where a modern website (at relatively low cost) will easily outshine competitors.
  • E-commerce: You want to increase revenue by selling your products online.
  • Talent attraction: A website is largely a recruiting tool to publicize your outstanding workplace.

If your website can help lead to just one extra client, or one talented resource that would otherwise have passed you by, it will have covered its own cost 5-10x over. So what goes into that initial cost?

Time

Time is the largest hidden cost associated with any website project. With enough time and a good designer / developer, you could do anything. The question is, how valuable is your time?

Doing it Yourself

One way to seemingly reduce cost for a website is a do-it-yourself approach. If you have a technical skill-set and want to display content typically offered by WordPress or Squarespace templates, this can be a great approach.

However, in many professional settings, the upfront cost savings of doing it yourself actually results in a worse return on investment. The following example, though purposefully simplistic, illustrates this scenario.

Let’s say a financial consultant is looking to update her website. She’s savvy about her cost vs. opportunity analysis, so she started out by asking the right question, “What does success look like?”.

She is a flat-fee consultant. On average, she charges an hourly rate of $350 / hr, meeting with clients every quarter for a duration of 2 hours. Each new client would be worth a yearly revenue of $2,800.

What would success look like to her? A successful website project would, within a year, bring in 5 new clients who would otherwise have been missed opportunities. That’s $12,000 of annually recurring revenue.

To maximize that revenue, she decides to create the website herself.

Do it Yourself Result:

  • Cost: 100 hours of time
  • Time to Market: 16 weeks
  • Benefit: 5 new clients ($12,000 of annual revenue)

So the question is – how valuable is 100 hours of time?

This type of a question is uniquely specific to every business. However, it’s easy to see where a company might be better served spending 100 hours within their core expertise and business processes rather than creating a website.

While opportunity can’t be assumed, this financial advisor’s time is billed at $350 / hr. In the most simplistic terms, that time could be viewed as a $35,000 cost. Even if only 35 of those 100 hours presented themselves with the opportunity for her to bill $350/hr, the cost of lost time would still be $12,000.

Best case, the time cost was $12,000. Worst case, the time cost was much greater.

Outsourcing

Most expert freelancers and agencies making websites for a living will turn around the average consulting website in 8-12 weeks, spending around 50-75 billable hours on a project.

The cost / time spent could scale either way depending on project scope. However, for the sake of argument, $10,000 – $15,000 would be a reasonable quote for a custom WordPress website with best-practice analytics and search optimization to target valuable new clients.

It would also be reasonable to expect a corresponding better conversion rate and quicker turn around time.

Comparison:

Doing it Yourself
100 hours of time
16 weeks
5 new clients ($14,000 of annual revenue)
Outsourcing
$10,000 – $15,000
8-12 weeks
10 new clients ($28,000 of annual revenue)

My Advice:

  1. Consider the opportunity costs of your time before taking on a do-it-yourself project.
  2. Consult an expert to get a clear idea of the amount of time it will take to build a website yourself. A good consultant will give you objective information, and even recommend a do-it-yourself project if it’s the best route.

Customizations

So, if time is the largest hidden cost when creating a website, how can you go about minimizing that cost?

In my experience, striking the right balance between customization and reuse is the #1 way to minimize website cost.

Should you create a custom website, or should you use a template?

Using a website template means more opportunity for designers and developers to pivot on existing work like:

  • Squarespace templates
  • WordPress themes
  • Layouts
  • Portfolio galleries
  • Responsive behavior
  • Visual elements

… and many more pre-built solutions.

In a future post, I plan on breaking down the question of “How custom should my website be?”, but for now, I’ll offer some pros and cons to using a website template.

Theme Pros:

  • Quicker development. You’re running with someone else’s solution
  • Time savings that drives down cost.
  • Potential stability gains. A good theme or piece of software will have already been tested on all browsers and platforms

Theme Cons:

  • Slow site performance. Too many inexperienced developers use inefficient themes and plugins, or rely on patching together third-party software without understanding the performance implications.
  • Security – Themes and plugins are the #1 WordPress attack vector exploited by cyber criminals. (via Hardening WordPress)
  • Customizing aspects of a pre-built theme (once you decide you do want to customize) can be more difficult than starting from scratch.

My Advice:

I would advise looking into a custom built website (or hiring an expert to customize a theme) if your business stands to generate $20,000 of revenue through:

  • E-commerce
  • Obtaining a new client or number of clients through marketing
  • Attracting top talent
  • Closing business outside of your geographical location

The best web architects and agencies understand the risk and cost associated with reinventing every wheel. They’ll pay close attention to what’s important to you and create a custom design that’s still cost effective.

Hosting Costs

However you choose to build your website, you’ll also need to pay a monthly fee to host it. Hosting is the cost associated with paying a company to publicly display your site.

Hosting costs range from $4 / mo to $1000 / mo depending on the amount of performance you need, and the amount of traffic you expect.

On average, here’s a cost breakdown:

  • Individuals expecting a few visitors per month: $4 / mo – $50 / mo
  • Small businesses: $50 / mo – $150 / mo
  • Mid-sized businesses & E-commerce: $150 / mo – $500 / mo

How Much Do Websites Cost?

Businesses have different goals and revenue streams. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

That said, the following is a loose guide:

Squarespace Do-it-Yourself:

Upfront time cost. $16 / mo.

Recommended for personal websites that don’t mind looking “cookie-cutter”. Not recommended for e-commerce or complex integrations.

Squarespace w/ Hired Developer:

$2500 upfront. $16 / mo.

Hiring a developer opens the possibility of a slightly more customized look within Squarespace constraints.

WordPress Do-it-Yourself: 

Upfront time cost. $4 / mo – $50 / mo.

Recommended for those that want the freedom to scale their business and are willing to take on a larger learning curve.  Can look “cookie-cutter”.

WordPress w/ Hired Developer (Theme): 

$4,000 – $8,000 upfront. $20 / mo – $100 / mo.

Hiring a developer heightens the possibility of successfully setting up a few common integrations. Not suited for mid to large-sized e-commerce, custom branding, or complex integrations.

WordPress w/ Hired Developer (Custom): 

$10,000 – $20,000 upfront. $150 / mo – $500 / mo.

Recommended for businesses needing custom branding, scalability, and profitable integrations including but not limited to:

  • Mailing lists
  • Technical search engine optimization techniques
  • Marketing Analytics
  • Sales of goods
  • Accepting payments
  • Client portals

The above are average estimates, and should be taken with a grain of salt. As previously mentioned, to get a specific estimate on price and timeline, the best thing to do is schedule a consultation with a trusted source to discuss your specific business case.

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