How much does a website cost?

That is a great question. And I bet you’re having a very difficult time getting a straight answer—that’s because any salesperson worth their salt won’t tell you how much a website costs until you’re willing to sit down and listen to their sales pitch.

In this article, I am going to cover the items that impact the cost of your website and provide sample estimates for each, so you can better understand the final cost and compare apples to apples.

If you don’t care about any of that stuff and just want a number, I totally get that — I will share numbers in this article. But if what you’re looking for is a calculator to spit out the cost of a website, good news: I built one. You can check it out then pop back over for more of this riveting cost breakdown awesomeness, or stick with me as we break all the parts of website development down to dollars and cents.

What makes a website cost so much?

There’s no governing body telling us how to build websites or regulating the cost of service for building one. You can get a website for free or for trade, or you can work with a top-notch nationally-known agency and cut a check for six digits to have them build it for you. Regardless, the items that impact the cost of your site remain fairly consistent:

Process – Who builds it and how they take you through the build

Content – Number of pages, photography, copywriting and video

Functionality – What the site can do, how others can interact with it

Post-Sale Services – Hosting the site, update or maintenance services, search engine optimization, promotion

Process

Let’s dig in with process. I want to say it’s the factor that impacts the cost of building your website the most, but…that’s not all together true… it is however the factor that impacts you the most. In the end the right process for you is the one that will yield the website you need at a stress level you can tolerate.

Who’s doing the work?

You

Yes, you can get a website for little to nothing if you’re willing to build it yourself. And for tech-savvy people with time on their hands, this is an excellent alternative. Website builders like Wix (starting at $5/mo) and SquareSpace (starting at $12/mo), even WordPress.com (starting at $0/mo) have a very low cost of entry. There’s a learning curve for every software, though most of these have fairly intuitive interfaces.

However, there are three big drawbacks to this process:

  1. You actually have to do everything yourself, which is not everyone’s idea of fun.
  2. Your website is owned by the company hosting it, and you can’t easily move it from one spot to another. So basically, you’re renting your website and the software you used to build it…forever (cue maniacal laugh here).
  3. Not all of the above DIY options will allow you the level of customization and functionality you want. Select carefully, or you’ll end up hitting an unexpected and abrupt dead end.

Not You – Someone Else Who Does it Often

What type of company are you choosing to work with? The type of company you choose now may not be your web developer for life, but the choice does impact the cost and outcome of your project. You can select a freelancer, advertising agency, intern, specialty firm, your sister, or even an overseas developer. The locations of these entities will also impact cost. Those in areas with a higher cost of living charge higher prices, while the India-based companies seem to give work away for free.

The Freelance Option

If you choose to work with a freelancer, or somebody who’s working out of their house, it’s going to be far less expensive than selecting an agency that employs many people.

There are pros and cons to working with either.

Let’s marinate in this for a moment, though. Say you select a freelancer because you want a lower price—you’re looking to pay $20-$50 per hour. But that freelancer is actually a starving artist who is completely disorganized and disappears off the map to backpack through Europe with your down payment money. Then you’ll have to go though the whole interview process all over again. Yuck. Not to mention the website you paid for and never received.

The Agency Option

Now consider working with a larger agency: while they may seem more reliable and impressive, you could end up lost in the shuffle of all their projects, feeling unimportant and ignored. You’d think since you’re paying them $125-$200 per hour, they’d get things done on time, but they can’t seem to get focused on your business and your needs to represent you the way you deserve. Fortunately, you know where they live, and you can fork their yard or sue them if they don’t do the work.

Neither one of these options is ideal. And I’m sure you’re thinking, “Dang, this lady thinks all web agencies are a bunch of flakes.” What I’m saying is all companies, big or small, can have the potential to be the right or wrong fit for you, and you don’t have to work with the wrong ones. Actually, I encourage you to select a web designer the same way you’d hire an employee — this method definitely yields better results than making a decision on cost alone. Go with your gut, go with the person you think will take care of you best.

How is the work done?

Companies guide you through your design in different ways. Some may buy a template and customize it to fit your needs. Others do custom design.

Template Design

A template design is like a spec home — in general, it’s going to be less expensive. Some templates are free, many are under $100. It can be a great option for new companies, those who are less picky about design, or people who don’t need a website with a great deal of functionality. The trick is to pick the right template that has all the functions in it you need to create the website you want.

Custom Design

A custom website design doesn’t generally start with a pre-built template and design — it starts with establishing a design and then coding the template out to meet your needs. And as with houses, a custom website is more expensive than a template site; they usually start at $1,500 and go up from there. There are even variances in the custom design process. We only provide custom designs at MayeCreate and we still offer two different design processes: an expedited design process and a consultative design process. I bet you can guess by the names which one costs more money.

How much does a website cost?You’d think everyone would choose the expedited process because it’s cheaper, but here’s the deal — not everybody can go through the expedited process and achieve quality results. If you’re designing with a board of people, you need more time and more conversations to make decisions, which tends to lead to lots of nitpicking in the end.

Your ultimate goal, as I said earlier, is to find the way that will yield a result you can be proud of at a stress level and time investment you can tolerate.

Content

What you’re putting into your website (photos, videos, text) as well as the number of pages you’ll have will also impact the bottom line. If you’re just going to have four or five pages on your website, that’s going to take a lot less time than designing and coding 100 pages.

The next element of your content budget is how you plan on developing the content that will go on the pages of your website and who will be doing it. For example, let’s say that you plan on taking all the pictures and writing all the content for your website on your own. That is far less expensive than if you have a professional take photos and write the content for you.

Having said that, before you decide, “Okay, I want to save all this money by writing everything and taking all the photos myself,” consider:

  • Do you have time to write?
  • Do you even like to write?
  • Can you shoot a photo that makes your company look awesome?
  • What do you think your biggest competitors did for their photos and writing?

If you can answer yes to the first three questions, you’re golden to do it all yourself. If you can’t, go into your web design knowing each of those things increases your cost.

One mistake many people make is not asking upfront who will create the content for their site. You can’t just assume the people you hire are going to do it for you. In most cases, unless they’ve told you otherwise, they’re not. They’re going to expect you to give them the photos and words to add into the pages of your site.

Then there’s video. Yes, you can shoot a cool video and edit it on your phone for free, and if you’re talented enough to pull that off, more power to you! But for those who aren’t, video production is not cheap. Well, it can be cheap, but unfortunately, those videos tend to look cheap, too. And you don’t want to look cheap…or maybe you do…but I don’t have the energy today to go down that path, so…onward! A short professionally-produced video can cost as much as a very small website, anywhere from $250 to $2,500. Depending on video length and editing, you may look at an even more expensive investment. Good video, just like good web design, takes time and planning, but the results go a long way.

So, when budgeting for your website, first figure out how many pages you’ll have, then consider what you’ll put on them. Estimate how long it will take to:

  • Write each page of your website.
    Give yourself at least two hours to write and edit each page, maybe more for pages that are long or presenting a complicated subject. Allow at least four hours of research and planning to make sure you know what’s going to be on each page and why.
  • Photograph and edit the photos for your site.
    Make a list of all the photos you’ll need based on the plan you made for your content. Then consider how long it will take you to shoot each scene (including transportation to and from location). Lastly, give yourself at least 15 to 30 minutes to edit each photo.
  • Put all the content into the website.
    This all depends on how complicated you want the design to be and how proficient you are with your user interface. I’d give myself at least 1.5 hours per page to put content into a site — but I’m a perfectionist, and I can do lots of formatting tricks. Some pages will be faster and some will be slower, but 1.5 hours a page is a good estimate to start with.
  • Shoot and produce video.
    Consider the time it takes to set the stage for your video. Plan on doing multiple takes for each scene. Put in time for planning the shoot. Then there’s editing. The editing takes the longest, for a super short EXTREMELY simple video, editing will take no less than 2 hours. For longer or more complicated videos, it may take 8 to 16 or more hours of editing to make it all come together.

Once you have all your hourly estimates together, multiply the final number by the hourly rate of your chosen designer, or by your own hourly rate if you plan on going the DIY route.

Functionality

What will your website do? Or in other words, what will you and your website visitors be able to do on your website? In general, the more interactive your website, the more it will cost. Ask yourself:

  • Do you want it to sell things? Add $1,500+.
  • Will it have a members-only section? Add $300+.
  • Is all the content in it going to be sortable? Add $300+.
  • Will items fly in as you scroll down the page? Add $400+.
  • Would you like it to animate and spin in circles when you click? Add…oh man, this one’s a doozy…

All these things impact the cost of your site. They take additional time, and only a person who knows what they’re doing or has the capacity to figure it out can implement them.

For example, you may want to allow people to login to your site to view members-only content. Even a simple members-only section can get big fast. You might want specific types of members to be able to only see specific content, or maybe you’d like to allow them to submit news or announcements. It’s possible they should be able to edit their member profile and have that updated information automatically update within your email list. All of these things impact the cost of your website.

Functionality is a Dark Hole

Functionality is harder to estimate because there are so many ways to approach each task. To get an idea for what your functionality might cost, consider how many steps or pieces are in each function.

Here are a few examples:

Example 1

An email form is a level of functionality. You put information in, and that information is emailed to someone. That’s a two-step task: info in, email sends. Budget an hour or so to make this happen.

Example 2

An email form that also signs the user up for an email list is more complicated. It’s three steps: info in, email sends, add to email list. Budget an extra hour to do the extra task. Though, if you don’t have email marketing already set up, you’ll need to add a few more hours, maybe three to four, to set that up properly before adding people to the list.

Example 3

Last example. Using that same email form, you want to create a user on the website, so now there are four tasks: info in, email sends, add to email list, create user on site. So, you’ll need an additional hour to add that function on to the form, which puts us up to four hours. But, now you have another set of things to consider — will the user be logged in after submitting the form? Will the user receive a custom welcome email? Is there an already-existing easy-to-access way for the user to login to the site? Will they be able to retrieve their password and update their user information? And. And. And… And the list goes on. So many things to consider. This functionality could add three hours to your estimate or 13, it all depends on your expectations.

Regardless of which solution you choose to program the functionality into your site, the most important thing is to ensure your solution is scalable so you can adjust it in the future as needed.

Post-Sale Service

Hosting the site, update or maintenance services, search engine optimization…

Though some of these items may seem like monthly services and not factors that play into the cost of building your site, consider that they are also rolled into the expense of owning a website.

Hosting & SSL

Every site needs to be hosted. If you have a website that gets a ton of traffic and sells things online, it’s going to be far more expensive to host than a 5-page no-frills site. Some hosting companies like GoDaddy charge around $8 a month, which is great for the 5-page no-frills getup. GoDaddy also has a $100 hosting space, but the hundred dollar service and the $5 service are not the same. The $100 option would have far more storage space and would provide a far more stable environment, so your site won’t be as likely to run slow or go down because of other websites on the server. It includes an SSL certificate – which is, by the way, basically a mandate by Google, so add that to the cost of Post-Sale Service as well.

Updates & Maintenance

Once your website is up and running, you may need assistance maintaining it. Common maintenance services like blogging, editing pages and routine software updates are not generally included in the cost of building your website. If you’re planning on having blog articles, news or projects added to your website regularly, the same pricing rules apply as for content: either you or your chosen company will need to consider how much text, photography or video content each page will involve and estimate it accordingly.

Search Engine Optimization

A well-built website will naturally optimize better than a shoddy one. And many websites, if poorly built to begin with, will definitely see a better Google ranking after a solid rebuild. However, all search engine optimization is a moving target. Your competitors are also continually updating and rebuilding their websites, so your spot in the search listings is never really secure. Optimizing a site, to start, takes research and planning, hopefully by someone who has a clue what they’re doing. Then, once the strategy is documented, someone has to do it and keep doing it for…well..forever. I’m telling you this because, all the fancy optimization stuff is probably not included in the cost of your website setup unless you asked for it.

And now you’re thinking, “Come on, how much does it cost already?!” And of course, I’m going to say it depends.

Here’s the equation I use:

(Number of Pages on Your Site  X  Time it Takes to Research and Implement Per Page)  X  Your Designer’s Hourly Rate

Word of advice: To be safe, I recommend estimating one to two hours per page.

Promotion

While your website may be the cornerstone of your online marketing campaign, it is not a field of dreams. Assuming you built a site and therefore people will now magically come to it is not a viable traffic-generating strategy.

Website promotion is a separate line item in my marketing budget, but that’s not necessarily what works best for all companies. To some companies, having a website is all that matters — they just need a place to send sales leads to let them know they’re legit. But others tie the fate of their profit and loss to the ebb and flow of their site’s performance. If you fall into the latter, you’ll need to budget promotion into the cost of your website.

Researching, setting up and monitoring an ad campaign is quite likely not part of the estimate you got for your website design. So, if you’re planning on running an online marketing campaign, well…quite frankly, that’s a whole other bag of worms. One I’ll happily cover in another estimating rant. Just know, it costs money, and, most of the time, it’s not included in your website proposal.

At this point, if you’re still with me, you’re really interested in how much a website costs, or maybe you’re starting your own web design company and are attempting to estimate a project. Either way, I hope this brain dump of estimating information has been of assistance to you.

The basis of how much a website costs can be lumped into:

Process – Who builds it and how they take you through the build

Content – Number of pages, photography, copywriting and video

Functionality – What the site can do, how others can interact with it

Post-Sale Services – Hosting the site, update or maintenance services, search engine optimization

And if you hate math and have no inclination to try to sort through all the stuff I just wrote about, you might just take a shortcut and check out our online website calculator: just fill in the details and it spits out the cost. And I promise not to stalk you if you fill in your email address for the full report — that’s not my job, it’s Stacy’s — but only if you seem cool. So if she’s stalking you, you can be flattered instead of annoyed.

More about the Author

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Monica Pitts

Monica is the creative force and founder of MayeCreate. She has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture with an emphasis in Economics, Education and Plant Science from the University of Missouri. Monica possesses a rare combination of design savvy and technological know-how. Her clients know this quite well. Her passion for making friends and helping businesses grow gives her the skills she needs to make sure that each client, or friend, gets the attention and service he or she deserves.

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