Curious How Much to Create a Website?
We discuss how the price of a website can fall into the $5,000 or even $30,000 range and what the main pitfalls are that you’ll want to avoid.
If 2020 has revealed anything for companies, the ability to adapt an online presence for your customers and employees is critical to staying afloat. Physical stores, restaurants, and other businesses that are shuttered during quarantine are scrambling to establish websites, ordering systems, and other digital avenues to engage customers.
If you are looking into setting up a website for your small business in 2020, don’t miss this essential cost-benefit website development and design guide:
What are the Benefits of Websites for Small Businesses?
What is influencing your decision to get a website in 2020? Your small business’ bottom line? It’s easy to think of a website as another cost associated with business overhead, but the truth is, it can’t be siloed into the same funds you use to keep the lights on. Almost two decades into the new millennium and it is clearer than ever before — a website is necessary to a company’s survival.
In addition to ushering your small business into the digital era, a great website helps to:
- Establish consumer trust and increase the credibility of your company
- Relay accurate and up-to-date information about your company
- Convey relatability to online customers and funnel new leads
- Highlight your company’s relevance in the digital age
- Set the foundation for an online ecosystem including social media, blog content, etc.
- Open the door to networking opportunities with other companies
If you think a web presence is superfluous because your business processes all transactions through brick-and-mortar stores, think again. A new study reveals the significant impact online research has on purchase decisions made in-store. The ROBO (research online, buy offline) trend is gaining ground highlighted by new data that finds over 80% of smartphone users search online prior to making an in-store purchase.
So why do so many small businesses shy away from getting a website? In addition to simply thinking they don’t need one to be successful or that a website isn’t relevant to their business, many companies assume the average cost of website development is so high they couldn’t even consider it.
Average Cost for Building a Website
Like with most any business investment, the complexity around your needs and goals for a website will largely drive the website development price associated with creating it. For example, if you are looking for a simple portfolio or brochure website that shares your business hours, location, team info, etc., a do-it-yourself website service like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace could be the solution for you.
If you are looking for more custom features, however, like specialty design work, eCommerce functionality, interactive applications, and/or integration with another online service, you may want higher caliber website-building expertise (which can affect the cost to build an eCommerce website) as you find with custom web development agencies or a highly skilled freelancer.
These factors widen the range of the average website price from potentially a few thousand dollars for minimal barebones sites to $5,000 or even $30,000 for custom, feature-rich and responsive web applications.
Industry experts recommend that small businesses conduct a business analysis (looking at price, ROI, business goals etc.) before they dive into building a website. Not only can a little research upfront help inform your decision about how much you “need” to build and budget for your website, but it will also paint a clearer picture of how the investment can help your business accomplish its goals in the long-term. A business analysis will define the exact scope of the project, including the features and functionality your website will have, as well as take into consideration how the website can be utilized as a marketing tool and lead-generator.
How Much Does a Mobile Website Add to Costs?
The average cost of building a website in 2020 will additionally be influenced by the demand for mobile-friendly functionality. The Pew Research Center found that 83% of Americans use the internet at least occasionally from their smartphone, tablet, or other mobile devices. Building a website that is not mobile-friendly is, well, practically pointless in 2020 and to make matters worse, it can negatively impact search engine ranking and limit the amount of traffic your website receives.
Online users expect websites to look and behave seamlessly across devices no matter their screen size, operating system, or browser. Incorporating mobile-responsive design and development into your website budget will be one of the most important things you do for your small business.
Depending on the costs of your “desktop design”, you can add around 50% more to your budget for additional mobile and tablet designs. This means that if you design your homepage and it costs $1,000 for just the design of the header, footer and content in between, you can look to increase the price another 50% (or $500) for the mobile and tablet designs. So you have about $1,500 in costs for just the homepage designs for desktop, tablet, and mobile.
What Are Typical Website Costs?
A myriad of factors contributes to the average website build cost. Primarily, before anything is actually built, you need to purchase a domain and find an online vendor to host it for you. From there you will want to plan for:
- Business analysis costs
- Initial website build (both frontend and backend software development work)
- Adding new features and applications
- Quality control and quality assurance
- Coordinating documentation around code and website architecture
- Testing the website for performance, functionality and user experience (i.e. bug testing and fixing)
- Project management costs
- SEO costs
- Copywriting costs
- Ongoing maintenance once the website is live
- Training administrators to use and support the website
Beyond those basic items, small businesses may also want to lay out what the phases of the website creation will be, allocate additional funds towards marketing the website (upwards of 50% of the initial budget), and set up analytics to track (Google Analytics is a good start) specific “goals” like number of monthly visitors, and “funnels” like the number of leads who fill out contact form, etc.
When choosing a professional web development agency to bring your responsive website to life, you’ll most likely have to select between individual freelancers, small local agencies in your area, or larger international digital agencies. No matter which path you take, experienced web engineers and designers should know how to help you plan for your future and understand the critical nature of not just building a great user interface (UI) but establishing strong SEO, site mapping, features, testing protocols, CMS, engaging content, and more.
Who's Doing the Building?
One driving factor in determining what a website will cost will be who is doing the actual building or design/coding. There are many options available for your website needs and they all come with their pros and cons.
DIY Website Builders
This includes the popular “one-click” setup sites and “drag and drop” solutions commonly offered by web hosting companies.
Pros: Low cost, quick setup
Cons: Basic and generic, someone else has your design, limited options for e-commerce, lack of customization and SEO options
Cost: Free (until it isn’t).
Freelance and small business designers usually feature a tiered pricing structure based largely on the desired features a client will want.
An individual, often working remotely or offshore.
Pros: Low overhead, runs the project, flexibility in terms of pricing.
Cons: Can be unreliable, results not always consistent with your vision and needs, can’t do everything needed on a job, communication issues.
Cost: Varies. $100 — $1,000
This would include an individual who is local to your area, likely running their own business out of their home or small office. In some cases, they may contract outside support staff (such as for additional design or development work).
Pros: Someone local means communication is easier. Typically, the quality of work is decent, someone to manage your entire project.
Cons: A solo individual likely has many clients, so meeting deadlines can be shaky. Can sometimes use templates or some pre-made elements to save time and cost. Knowledge of complex programming languages necessary for desired features may be limited.
Cost: $2,500 — $15,000
Web Design Agency
A team that may include design, development, and project management professionals.
Pros: Professional quality design and development, customized solutions, hands-on development, and top-notch communication, experience and skills at every level.
Cons: Costs, getting them to work with you.
Cost: $10,000 and up
So How Much Does a Website Cost?
As you can see from above, there’s a wide range of possible outcomes. Ultimately, website costs are based on four key ingredients:
- Time Requirements
- Design Skills
- Technical Skills
For our purposes, let’s focus on the costs involved in hiring a design agency to helm your project.
The Design Side ($30-$150/hour)
Great user experiences define and create great products. Award winning design helps to sell a message, product or person. Web design is an art, same as creating a beautiful painting or perhaps more accurately; designing a sculpture. A lot of time and attention is devoted to creating a website that is aesthetically pleasing while proudly representing your brand. In addition the site has to be easy to use and funnel a visitor down the path you want to lead them or make the information they are looking for as easy as possible to find.
When it comes to an hourly, sprint or project rate, website designers often differ in how they charge. In some cases, you can expect a flat rate for design (which may be factored into the total cost of the site if they are also doing development) or an average hourly rate somewhere between $30-$150 per hour depending on the location, project type and the skills of the designer. Designers can also charge on a per page basis with the homepage being the most costly part (sometimes interior pages with lots of infographics or features can lead to more design work). Typically a web page can take around 8–20 hours to design and this includes one round of revisions.
Tip: If you are contracting with a designer for the first time, sometimes it is best to ask them to mock up just the homepage or one of the internal pages and pay them for that work alone. If you like the work, agree to move on to the other pages but if you don’t you can pay them for their time and move on to the next designer without committing to a designer or direction you are not in love with.
The Development Side ($60/hour and up)
Remember, that while they are related, web “design” and web “development” is not the same thing. Your website may be beautiful, but if it doesn’t function properly it’s useless. Like a beautiful car with a crappy engine underneath the hood.
“Coding” is a word that scares people, but truthfully, the entire internet is built on codes and algorithms.
Website developers typically charge between $10-$300 an hour on average depending on their skill level, experience, location and the particular job. The lower end of the range is what you would typically see in India or some Asian countries as they compete on price. In larger urban centers, such as San Francisco you can expect that number to lean more towards the middle to higher end as they compete on proximity to clients and higher skill sets. In some cases, where the developer is someone who is highly specialized in one type of technology you can expect to pay at the top end of that range.
The time required to build a website will of course vary. If you’re in need of a fully responsive, e-commerce platform with your own integrated Customer Relationship Management system, interactive video, and a private online community; then that takes more time than creating a blog about cats.
Time is one of the key factors that drive website costs. On average, you can expect 10 to 14 weeks from concept to design to development to QA software testing to launch, provided there are no delays along the way. However, that doesn’t mean if you call a developer or designer tomorrow that your website will take 12 weeks but it is a general rule of thumb.
Tip: If something takes more than 3 months to build you are potentially building features that your visitors will not use. Start small and then add as your users tell you what they want and need. It is always easier to add later (tell your engineer up front what you are thinking about building in the future so they can plan) than to pay and build a bunch of stuff in Version 1 that no one ever uses.
Your website design and development company will want to meet with you and create an actionable plan for your project prior to work starting. You can also expect to be briefed occasionally on progress, or approve certain design elements. All of this takes time to implement and is one of the reasons why time is a key factor in determining the overall cost of your website.
Website is at the core of your online identity, and acts as the virtual storefront for your brand.
The Money Question
If one thing is clear, it’s that when hiring a professional design agency, your costs will vary greatly based on the specific needs of your project. However, given what we’ve gone over to this point, let’s break it down some more.
We earlier discussed it taking 10–14 weeks from concept to launch as a general rule of thumb. Note that the actual length of time will vary greatly based on the size and scope of the project. In a perfect world scenario, that 10–14 week would break down like this for a “simple” 6–8 page website:
2 weeks of research: 40 hours x 2 = 80 hours
2 weeks of research revisions: 40 hours x 2 = 80 hours
2 weeks of design: 40 hours x 2 = 80 hours
2 weeks of design revisions: 40 hours x 2 = 80 hours
2 weeks of development: 40 hours x 2 = 80 hours
2 weeks of development revisions and QA: 40 hours x 2 = 80 hours
Average of 12 weeks, total: 480 hours.
At the lower end of the spectrum, design and development may cost around $50/hour which would give you an estimated cost of $28,000. Towards the higher end, you’re looking at total costs of double that (or more).
It is also important to note that if you are building an e-commerce site, you should expect that number to be higher. Customized e-commerce sites require a great deal of additional work. From payment processing to back end inventory management, transaction tracking, security, shopping cart development, and more; e-commerce websites may add an additional $10,000 — $20,000 to your costs, if not more and there are a number of options from off the shelf solutions vs. custom solutions that we will revisit in a later blog post.
Development Doesn't Stop at Launch
When you form a relationship with a development agency; they become your partner so choose wisely. It’s important to keep in mind that the development doesn’t stop when you launch. As your business grows, your needs will change.
Your website will require ongoing software maintenance and updates, especially where e-commerce is concerned. Thus, it’s important to select an agency that understands your business and is prepared to form a long-term relationship with you. Make sure you have budgeted money for this. Support and maintenance can be anywhere from a few hundred dollars a month to a few thousand depending on your level of support. A lot of it can be defined in a SLA or service level agreement that you sign with your development company so you have support.
Typical Pitfalls and Best Practices When Creating a Website
Do small businesses launch websites every day without the knowledge and wherewithal to truly make them work for their business? Sure. Do you need to fall into that same trap? Not at all. Keep these common pitfalls and best practices in mind when building your new small business website:
- Under- valuing experience. When it comes to crafting a niche website for your business, tapping into tech talent with hands-on experience in your industry could pay off much more than scrapping together a drag-and-drop website yourself.
- Not doing a business analysis. Don’t miss the opportunity to assemble a cost and ROI analysis to fully understand website benefits and return. The best engineers will accurately estimate a project by seeing all the details around it. The ones who estimate without knowing all the details are not the ones you want to work with even if they have the lowest prices (ie. trying to win your business) or say that everything is possible.
- Underestimating key website components. The importance of website pillars like mobile responsiveness, SEO, content, site-mapping, and robust feature sets can’t be overstated enough. Instead of asking a web development agency, “How much to create a website for me?”, ask “How much to create a great website for me?”.
- Over-complicating the code. Building something that is difficult to maintain for a non-technical business owner may require additional monthly fees that you have to pay to an agency or freelancer that does it for you. Make sure the web development engineer is also documenting their code so future engineers know what it is all doing.
- Missing the bigger picture. Not discussing an overall strategy for your company’s entire online presence as it pertains to your website can be an equally missed opportunity. Same goes for having an engineer build your software or website in a certain way that will make it harder for you to add new features or add more users in the future. Discuss big picture items like setting up a website email capture for e-marketing, integrating social media platforms, curating a blog, adding more complex features etc.
- Do your own research. As a small business owner, you don’t have to become an online expert, but a little knowledge goes a long way especially when it comes to understanding SEO, building up site content before you start your designs, site structures, and how different software engineers or agencies plan to build your responsive website.
- Find the balance between value and experience. Don’t just go with cheap churn-and-burn agencies who offer big promises and little return. Balance your resources with short and long-term goals to find a website solution you feel good about. And make sure your developers know at least 95% of what you want to build before they do any actual coding and design work.
- Think mobile-first. Before you ever request price bids and mock-ups for what your website will look like on a laptop or desktop computer, ask what it will look like on a smartphone and a tablet.
- Remember, content is key. Rich content not only helps with SEO but conveys your company’s brand promise and personality and can help drive growth. Combine great copywriting with keyword research so you get the benefits of search engine optimization from an agency.
- Focus on usability and site performance. A beautiful, sleek website is worthless if it takes forever to load, is hard to navigate, and makes it difficult for a user to consume content efficiently. Search engines simply won’t send you traffic if they know you have a suboptimal performing site where users click back immediately or struggle to engage with your content.