Published the 14th Dec, 17 in the FAQ category
The simplest answer is that the cost to build a website depends on who is building it and how much they are paid per hour. If you hire a professional digital agency to build a site, it could cost you $5.000 to $100,000 or more.
Given the variance, one of the most important question that must be answered is what kind of website you are thinking about.
Each of these sites is different. They require different amounts of effort. They can be built with different degrees of experience and skill. And all of that impacts who you can have do the work.
Assuming you do the work, a basic site can cost as little as $65. This requires, as you might assume, that you do the work of setting up your own site, which isn’t hard if you use WordPress (that's free!).
You can also add a plugin called Jetpack that offers tons of functionality, also for free. This will let you create a site with multiple pages, support photos and galleries, and give you contact forms.
Because the combination of WordPress & Jetpack create most of what you need for a basic website, you really can do it yourself without hiring anyone.
So your only costs here are buying your domain name ($15), and getting hosting.
A professional site can cost as little as $500 if you do the configuration of WordPress, themes and plugins yourself. If you hire an independent freelancer it may range between $1,000 and $5,000. Digital Agencies, on the other hand can charge $10,000 or more, even without doing a custom design (which we’ll talk about next).
While some solutions exist for professional websites like Wix & Squarespace, I don’t recommend them. The glory of being able to drag and drop your way into a nightmare is too high.
That said, designs like you see on Squarespace can be found from theme designers for WordPress who sell these commercially – introducing your first cost (which could be $75-150).
When you add a commercial forms solution like Ninja Forms (free for the core plugin but with additional costs for some features), you might spend another $100-200.
Hosting for this kind of site could start as low as $15/month to double that, with managed WordPress hosts.
And none of this has raised the question of whether you’re doing the work yourself or if you’re hiring someone. The nature of a professional site is that unless you’re technical, you likely are hiring someone. And that means they’ll need a few hours to do a lot of configuring. This isn’t development per se, but it’s still technical work that someone needs to do.
If you hire someone, they might charge you $35/hour to build your site. If you hire a freelancer, they may charge you $75/hour to build your site. And if you hire a digital agency, they may charge you $150/hour to build your site.
At this point, you may wonder what the benefits are of doing it yourself, hiring a freelancer or choosing a digital agency.
If you do it yourself, you’ll still spend money, but it won’t be nearly as much – even for a professional site. But I should warn you, I’ve taken many clarity calls where I hear someone complain about trying to build their own site and after 3 months of wasting time - a year and a half for fred :) - they now want to find someone to help them.
Just because it starts free doesn’t mean a DIY (Do It Yourself) website project stays free.
If you hire a freelancer, you’ll spend less than an agency and more than you likely pay yourself. But again, be warned. I’ve talked to many people who suffer from disappearing developer syndrome. The good news is that you likely have someone who is ready to get started right away, as they often have a preference for getting into the code quickly.
If you hire a digital agency, the cost could shock you. But their focus on getting the upfront requirements locked in may give you added confidence that there’s clarity on the goal and focus of the project.
A custom website that is built by a freelancer could cost as little as $5,000 while one built by a digital agency might cost $50,000 or more. The range narrows as you learn more about a specific client and their custom needs.
This kind of site is completely different from one where you purchase a pre-made / pre-designed theme and change some photos. A custom design isn’t just pretty or beautifully made. It is a design that not only is attractive but fits with your brand and collaborates with the features of your site to drive intended behavior.
Right away you likely realize that to do that will require a deeper understanding of what you want for your site – and what you want others to do when they’re on your site. The discover sessions alone can cost $5,000-10,000 depending on who is doing them.
These days everyone is using a phone. That also means that you may need to consider what the design of your site will look like on a smart phone. This is often called responsive design. And it doesn’t happen naturally or by chance. It is intentional design work that can take a while to get right. Some freelancer designers can do this work for $4,000, while agencies may charge $12,000 or more for this additional work.
Additionally, a great design will take into account the content that it’s designed for. This often means you’re looking at importing content and making sure that the design doesn’t get in its own way, when it comes to working with the quantity and structure of your content.
Lastly, what happens after the site goes live and you want to introduce a new landing page, a new section, a new category of posts, or a new site feature?
Can you repurpose the design elements and layouts on the new pages? These days customers want to adjust the look of their site with a drag and drop solution that doesn’t require calling a developer. The added work here ranges from $500 on the lowest end to an additional $6,000-$15,000 for agencies that are converting designs to a tool that will let you adjust it when they’re gone.
You have to ask yourself how critical each of these dynamics are to your site, because each will take additional hours of work to make happen.
Building a website that will function as an online business should cost you less than it costs to run an offline business, but that doesn’t mean it’s inexpensive. Membership sites, online courses, and eCommerce stores all range in complexity and these sites can cost as little as $5,000 (via offshore freelancers) to $100,000 from digital agencies. Your nuanced requirements will dictate where the price lands.
Beyond the hourly rates and hours of development costs that come with projects like these, the hosting requirements change (often substantially). This also means support needs often change – as downtime here has real consequences.
You should also expect to pay for premium plugins. When building WooCommerce projects, for example, membership or subscription extensions can add a few hundred dollars to the price. Learning Management Systems (LMS) plugins also cost a couple hundred dollars.
And if you need help loading in content (from course videos to eCommerce products and inventory data), additional hours will be required.
While freelancers can do this work, it’s often left to agencies because of the risks of building something that is difficult to maintain downstream. This increases the upfront cost because agencies cost more (often two or three times as much). But it also reduces the wasted effort and/or downstream costs for fixing issues because their experience often protects them from those later costs.
As we’ve walked thru these different kinds of sites, I’ve highlighted that different kinds of sites need different kinds of hosting. A simple guide would go something like this:
Of course, hosting companies don’t normally talk about the kind of site you’re hosting, they talk about the kind of infrastructure they’re offering – from shared to managed to dedicated hosting.
After all this, you’re likely looking for a quick and simple list or chart that tells you how much you should expect to pay for a website. Unfortunately, the complexity is based on the answers to the questions:
The way I think about things, I suggest a kind of formula which starts with the kind of site you want to build, adds extra time for additional features, then multiplies it by the decision you make on who will do the work, and then adds the cost of hosting.
So let’s work out a sample or two.
Custom Website Example
Imagine you want a custom website that also has responsive design, and the ability for you to change it later via a drag and drop page builder.
Custom Website: $5,000
Responsive Design: $4,000
Page Builder Add-On: $1000
That’s $10,000, right there. But now you’re going to multiply it by a factor based on who does the work.
So if you do the work, it may cost you $2,500. If a freelancer does the work, it may cost you $10,000. And if a digital agency does the work, it may cost $25,000.
Now, you add hosting of $100/month because it’s a high-traffic site, and that adds another $1,200 to the total.
Professional Website Example
Imagine you want a professional website that uses a theme that comes with “good enough” responsive design, and you’re not going to change the layout later.
Finding the right theme: $300
Commercial plugins: $300
Configuration of everything: $1,000
Now you’re going to multiply it by a factor based on who does the work.
So if you do the work, it may cost you $400. If a freelancer does the work, it may cost you $1,600. I would tell you that an agency would charge you $4,000 but the truth is that many of them wouldn’t take the job because it’s too small.
Now, you add hosting of $30/month and that adds another $360 to the total.
You can quickly see why the initial answer was that a website could cost a really small amount or grow into numbers you’ve never considered. The variance exists, and that’s why those four questions are so critical.