How Much Should You Spend on a Website?
When you know you need a website, there are an overwhelming number of routes to go. It can be hard to know how much to spend to get the job done. Prices range from free (not really – see below) to tens of thousands of dollars. (Unless you’re a giant corporation needing a super-special ninja-style presto change-o site – yes, that’s a technical term – then it’ll cost hundreds of thousands.)
So how do you know how much to spend? The answer is ultimately up to you, but don’t set the budget for your site until you know what you need and what you’ll get. Understanding website pricing is a little like trying to find the item you want to purchase at Ikea (Was it row 14, bin 25 or the other way around? Shouldn’t row 16 be right before row 17?)
Here’s what you get for the money
$0 – Thumbs Down. There really is no such thing as a free lunch, er, website. Truthfully, sites that claim to give you a completely free website stink. They come with almost no support, and look like a preschooler made them. I love my preschooler’s artwork, but I wouldn’t use it to market my business.
I know you’re a savvy business person and you already know this, but many still try to go the DIY route. Before you go any further, realize DIY doesn’t = FREE.
DIY looks more like this…
Under $1,000 – You WILL end up spending some money making your own website. If you’re smart, you’ll choose a self-hosted WordPress option, which requires you to purchase a domain name, hosting, and possibly some premium plugins and themes. Start adding it all up and you’re investing several hundreds of dollars plus your time.
It could take you upwards of 80 hours to put together your own quality WordPress website. Is your time worth the learning curve, frustration, and costly mistakes? For most people, this answer is no. There are a few rare birds who will thrive at the challenge of figuring it out. If you’re one of them, I give you props. That was once me and now I’m 10 years into making websites professionally.
It’s unlikely you’ll find a professional who will charge less than $1,000 to make you a quality site. If you do find that person, run away, fast! I can almost guarantee you’ll spend much more after you discover what you got (or didn’t get) for your money.
A few thousand ($1,500-$3,000) – This range is the hardest to discern what you’ll get. Since I’m partial to WordPress and 25% of the internet is built on it (if you aren’t familiar, take some time to read up), I’m going to focus on this platform, because most sites in this price range are built using WordPress.
Without going into too much detail about WordPress, there are thousands of themes available to create your site. The theme determines how the site will look, and includes some of the functionality (like mailing list sign ups, photo galleries, shopping carts, portfolios, FAQ sections, contact forms, etc.). You should be able to get a basic site, with a few bells and whistles based on a theme you choose.
You’ll be working with either a designer (someone who creates a site without much coding) or developer (someone who creates a site with coding). You’ll be hard-pressed to find hybrid designer/developers at this price range. Realize you’ll be trading one for the other – great design, but some functionality trade-off, or great functionality for some design trade-off.
You likely won’t be able to start from scratch with a design (but it’s amazing what you CAN do if you’re willing to start with something pre-designed). If you’re lucky, you’ll find a diamond in the rough like the Beyond Lovely service we’ve created, where you’ll choose an amazing design, modified slightly to match your brand. Plus, you’ll get a dedicated project manager to walk you through the entire process of planning your site, creating content, will enter content for you, and will teach you how to make your own edits after launch.
Spending a few thousand will get you an informational website that showcases your business, has some blog functionality, a newsletter signup, photo galleries, and possibly some simple shopping cart functions, but don’t expect that to be tailored to the fantastic ideas in your head. You’ll need to be ok with the way each of those items work out of the box, rather than them conforming to the way you want them to work.
With the exception of Beyond Lovely, you’ll get little follow-through and help after your site launches. Many designers and developers consider projects like these one-offs, and while the good ones will stick around to answer questions, it can be hard to build a relationship where you feel like someone’s truly supporting you and your website for the long-haul.
$5,000 and up – In my opinion, this is where building a website starts to get fun. With a little breathing-room in the budget, a whole new world opens up to the possibilities for your site. You’ll have the luxury of starting with a blank canvas for your design. You’ll be getting something completely custom for your business. You’ll see mockups of your design, then it will be hand-coded into a working website and every detail of how it looks and works will be scrutinized.
While this may be the luxury home club of websites, it’s important to note that there’s a difference between a fancy custom informational-style website and one that becomes a fully-functioning human marketing replacement. Things like ecommerce, membership platforms, and some other more advanced functionality will add to the price tag quickly.
The fancier you get, the closer the price tag gets to be…
$10,000 and up – When you start getting into websites in this price range, you’ve hit another point where you’ll have a hard time comparing two quotes. At this range, most of your dollars are being spent on human support and assistance throughout the process. You’ll get more face-to-face time, personal meetings and phone calls, and just about anything you want for the standard WordPress stuff. You can expect some extremely customized solutions for functionality here. If you need a system designed around a new idea or product you have, expect to be in this price range.
Monthly fee vs. purchase once and done
Most self-hosted WordPress solutions will charge a set price for your site and once the project is complete, it’s yours. It’s important to realize though, that your website spending isn’t done there. You’ll need to make updates and security upgrades on a regular basis. You might consider getting a maintenance plan because your website needs oil changes, much like a car. You can also expect to make occasional tweaks to the design or functionality, and it’s good to set aside several hundred to a thousand dollars a year to make these tweaks.
Some website solutions like Squarespace or Shopify offer sites as a monthly plan. There’s usually no large price tag to create the site (although, sometimes there’s a one-time set up fee). You choose a plan that suits your needs and you pay monthly for as long as you own the site.
The drawback here is that you never truly own the site because it’s not self-hosted (meaning you purchase hosting space and can access the entire site to transfer it). When you leave these services, the site usually stays with the service.
Food for thought – if the company goes out of business, your site goes away. With a self-hosted WordPress option, you can move the site to different hosting providers and can continue to build, or give it a complete makeover, for as long as you want.
Although, it’s a bigger investment up front, it’s a much safer bet to have something you host yourself.
Be a Smart Shopper
Realize that with websites, it’s not always easy to compare apples to apples. It’s most important to first know what you want and need. Second, know what you’re willing to sacrifice for your budget, and third, do your homework and ask questions to learn exactly what you’re getting for your money.
This includes how much alteration will be made to what’s out of the box, how much you’re expected to do yourself (things like entering text, photos, etc.), and how much support you’ll get during and after the process.
If you’re ready to move forward with your website, ask Ekcetera for a quote, and we’ll help you figure out exactly what price range you should be in.
What have you been thinking about website pricing? Tell us below how choosing how much to spend has been a headache.
Kelly this is a good read. I agree that there is no such thing as a free website. It sounds great on the surface but there is always a cost. Pricing a website is one of the most difficult tasks we have as web designers / developers. I’m going to bookmark your article for future reference.
Thanks so much, @disqus_px6EmtikdQ:disqus! I agree, it’s very hard to determine what to charge, and the more clients I speak with, the more I realize it’s just as confusing for them as well. The thing we can do for our industry is to be more transparent in what we’re charging for, and help them to understand exactly what they’ll get for the money. Glad you found this helpful.
Thank you for laying this out so clearly! I wonder what your thoughts are on pricing for a branded site. For example, if a client does not have an established brand, what should they expect to pay, ballpark–assuming at the $1-3K level this would be extra? I think that’s where “the cost of a website” gets tricky, right? Sometimes a website isn’t just a website. (I’m working on a post with that title; happy to link to all your good stuff here!)
Well stated, Kelly.