A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding the Cost of Building a Website
Of course, you know that having a website is an important part of your business model. In many ways, your website is at the core of your online identity and acts as the virtual storefront for your brand. It wasn’t that long ago that customers would ask “do you have a website?” That question has been replaced with “what’s the address of your website?”
Knowing you need a visually appealing and easy to use website is the easy part. The big question most people are stuck asking themselves before they dive into this venture is “How much does a website cost?” There is no one correct answer to this question, and a lot will depend on the specific needs of the business, goals and purpose itself.
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.
The Bottom Line on Website Costs
Sure, the pricing is all over the place when it comes to building out your website. It’s difficult to compare each option because the result of each method is so vastly different than the last.
Building a website for your business isn’t easy, and neither is paying for one. Consider your individual goals and look for a design option that can meet those goals head-on. Do your homework and shop around, compare quotes and accept proposals from different agencies and freelancers. Give your project the time and attention it deserves and find a designer that will do the same.
Stay up-to-date with the latest news and learn our new website cost guide for 2019!
If you’re looking for a website development agency in San Francisco, you might consider us at Spiral Scout. We delve deep into each and every project we take on and create websites that boast beautiful, responsive design and ease of maintenance. Our team always sticks to the established budget and ensures that your project is delivered on time. Contact us to discuss the details!