What You Should Expect To Get For Your Money: Website Edition

by · January 4, 201318 comments

“How much should a website cost?” It’s a fair question, one I get asked time and time again. The infuriating response, “Well… it depends.”

For those that aren’t familiar with how much time and energy goes into building a website, it can often be surprising when the final quote is given. Most digital shops bill an hourly rate of $50 – $200.  Websites in turn can take anywhere from 50 hours (for the simplest of simple sites) to more than 1,000 hours to build depending on the functionality of the site. That leaves us with a possible cost in the range of a few thousand to a few hundred thousand dollars; a pretty wide berth.

The better question to ask is, “What kind of website should I expect to get with my budget?” You should have some sort of idea of your budget before you even begin asking for quotes from website vendors. It doesn’t have to be a hard number, but there should be a general range or at the very least, a budgetary ceiling. Understanding how much you have to spend from the start means less time talking to unqualified vendors and more time focusing on building your site. In general, here are the types of websites you can expect depending on your budgetary ceiling:

Ceiling: $8,000

In this budgetary range, you can expect a simple, 4 – 6 page marketing website built on an existing WordPress or HTML template. Don’t expect any fancy bells-and-whistles or award winning design, but you should receive a standard, fully-functioning website. You’ll most likely be working with a single developer or a small team consisting of a designer/developer in this bracket, so be ready to personally do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to identifying the pages that will be on your website, writing the copy for the website and selecting the images for your website.

Ceiling: $15,000

With $15,000 to spend, you should be able to work with some of the lower priced digital shops. At this level, you should start to have access to some customization, either through a heavily augmented design template or fairly basic customized functionality (for example a single form that dumps info into a CRM). Your production team should be a little bit larger; however you will still be responsible for a majority of the site copy and strategy. A decent content management system (CMS) should be integrated into your site at this stage, allowing your team to make changes to the content of the site after it’s launched.

Ceiling: $30,000

At least $30,000 to spend? You’ll be working with most of the mid-priced digital shops. Here you’ll most likely be introduced to an interactive or digital producer that will assist in ensuring the trains are running on time and the site is getting complete. You’ll also be meeting with designers and developers throughout the creation process. The end product – a custom designed 15 -30 page website with a moderate level of functionality.  In other words: A site that actually looks good and does the basics of what you need it to do.

Ceiling: $50,000

At this point you should be looking for high-end shops that are known for pushing the boundaries of technology and producing award-winning sites. You can sit back and relax as your production team should now include a copywriter who specializes in producing long-form web copy and a strategist that will identify the sitemap and content outline for your website. Most importantly, your production team should be educating you on what content needs to be on your website to properly convert site visitors.

A $50,000 website should also incorporate some fairly extensive customized functionality, and if that’s not enough for you, expect some level of responsive design. A fancy way of saying that your site will be look pretty regardless of whether or not a user is viewing the site through a mobile, tablet or desktop device.

Ceiling: $50,000+

I’m going to go out a limb and say the majority of businesses do not need to spend more than $50,000 on a website. The 20% that do are composed of enterprise-level clients, Fortune 100’s, eCommerce sites and SaaP (Software as a Platform) companies. The price can continue to climb up from $50,000 (I’ve seen sites with price tags of a $1,000,000+) depending on how many pages need to be on the website, how many languages the site needs to account for and how much customized functionality you want incorporated into the site. Have a ton of APIs and extensive CRM integration? Get ready to shell out a little bit more money to ensure you’re getting a site that fully meets your needs.

Ongoing Costs

The initial cost of a website is just a fraction of a website’s total cost of ownership. The average website lifecycle can vary, but typically the more expensive the site, the longer the technology behind the site stays relevant. Pay more money and you should get a few more years out of your site. During this lifecycle you should consider your website a platform to build on, not a finished product. Your team should regularly be updating content/copy, adding new features and fixing any bugs that may crop up along the way.

When you sit down with potential website vendors, be sure to ask them how they handle work on the website post-launch. If you’re working with a small shop or a freelancer, they may very well turn the site over and not offer any ongoing support services. You’ll be left on your own to handle any future website updates. If you work with a mid-high level shop, they most likely offer some level of ongoing support services.

Typical Ongoing Cost Include:

Hosting/Domain Registration – Hosting costs can vary widely, so it’s important to identify a hosting solution that best fits your needs and budget. Your website vendor should be able to help you identify a hosting service that works for you.

Ongoing Site Maintenance – Not every piece of site content is going to be handled through a CMS. In instances where you want to change content that’s been hard-coded to your site, you’re going to need to work with your website vendor.

New Features –Adding new features like a blog, deeper functionality, API integrations etc… to your website should cost more than typical site maintenance requests, but they shouldn’t break the bank. Ask upfront how your website vendor handles additional feature requests.  Are the features added under the terms of maintenance agreement or are handled as a separate project? Identifying these answers before you even start the project can save your team a lot of headaches and hassle when you want to add a blog to the site down the road.

Consider your website an investment, not a cost of doing business.

As with everything digital, there are a ton of assumed variables in this blog post. Some people get amazing sites for a few thousand dollars. Others spend $50,000 on a website vendor that leaves them with nothing but a half-finished PSD and the overwhelming urge to commit murder.  If you’re looking to build a new website, do your own due diligence. Don’t just send out an RFP and expect the web shops to do your diligence for you, ask the vendor for client referrals, ask what their website building process is and ask if they offer post-launch support.

Consider your website an investment, not a cost of doing business. A properly designed website should increase revenues, decrease customer service cost and improve the way you do business all at the same time. In essence, a good website should pay for itself over its lifetime. Don’t be afraid to spend a bit more to get a site that fully complements your business.

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About Jason Spooner

Jason Spooner

Jason Spooner is the Director of Client Services for SME Digital, the digital marketing extension of Social Media Explorer. During his career as a digital strategist, Jason has worked with a variety of large and small companies including: NAPA AUTO PARTS, NASCAR, Kraft, Wal-Mart and Wrangler. His passion: creating powerful digital marketing strategies that drive results. Oh, and he does improv comedy. Follow his antics @jaspooner.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Flyduo

    I really appreciate that you took the time to write an article like this. Our industry could use more of these. I think it’s a great peek behind the current for many people that are curious but just don’t know. Great article! – Reuben

    • Jason Spooner

      Hi Flyduo – Thanks for the compliment. I agree, it’s good to give people the occasional peak behind the curtain. 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1782983001 David Daniels

    Excellent article! “How much does a website cost?” is the number-one awkward question we get from walk-ins, since we have a storefront office.

    • Jason Spooner

      Thanks David! It’s definitely not a one sentence response. 

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  • http://www.seobywebmechanix.com Arsham Mirshah

    “Consider your website an investment, not a cost of doing business.”

    halle-freaking-lujah!! — Very well put Jason.  This is especially true if you work with an awesome internet marketing company!

    • Jason Spooner

      Exactly! Thanks Arsham. 

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  • http://twitter.com/joey89924 joey

    the project can save your team a lot of headaches and hassle when you want to add a blog to the site down the road.
    LM358N

  • http://blog.cdginteractive.com CDGInteractive

    Thanks for this clear, educational article. It’s especially helpful to clarify the difference in costs between a full service digital agency like ours and a small shop or individual freelancer.

    We often ask prospective clients to start by telling us what their budget range is as well as their goals for an online presence (whether it’s a website, mobile app, landing page, etc.). This way we can recommend from the start the option that works for both budget and goals.

  • http://twitter.com/sunmaistudios Sunmai

    This is a great article that sums up the question every designer is asked and the question everyone hates asking.  Your website is front door for many of your possible customers.  Plan ahead for the price and scale of your vision.

  • Lesthanmoore

    Finally! I thought I was overcharging some of my clients, but now I know I can safely increase my base rate for a site. So many times I have been asked this question and I have to give the vaguest of answers. Now I have some outside information that will help me with budgets and service levels.

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