How Much Should a Website Cost?
Asking this question is similar to asking “How much will building a house cost?”. You simply can’t answer it without looking at and evaluating a myriad of factors: How many stories and bedrooms do you want? What materials would you like to use? Do you own the land? There just isn’t a single answer to that question because there aren’t two websites that have the same look, function, and business requirements. The cost of your website is ultimately determined by its size, complexity, and essential components as required by your business objectives. For example, a website that requires custom photography, video production, and copywriting will obviously cost more than a template-based website with stock photography. Remember, web development is a service industry. There is no fixed “widget price” unless you are purchasing a DIY (do-it-yourself) website, which should not be considered by any serious business.
Most web developers use an hourly rate to calculate the cost of the project and will quote a fixed price for your website. There are many factors that affect web developers’ prices, including their location, size, reputation, level of experience, and the talents they employ. Presently, in the United States, you can expect rates from as low as $50/hour from freelancers to over $300/hour charged by some of the largest and most established agencies. Keep in mind, hourly rate alone is meaningless out of context. You have to look at the skill level and efficiency of the developer, so always consider the bottom line. For example, a $75/hour developer may give you a quote of 10 hours for the same task that could be performed in less than 2 hours by a $200/hour developer. And of course, you also have to factor in the quality of their work. During my career I have seen many good web developers who charge less and few bad ones that charge more. To be clear, you should never select your web developer solely based on their rate.
What Can You Expect to Get with Your Budget
As I previously commented, no two websites are the same, so you can’t easily put a price tag on a website. However, what you can and should do is understand what you can generally expect to get with a certain budget. To learn more about budget ranges and what they offer, let’s look at the current price ranges of various website options in the United States.
This budget is generally considered entry level and is offered by freelancers or very small teams. With this budget you can expect a very basic website that will use stock photography, often be based on templates, and have limited design and programming included. Websites in this budget typically look and function like most other ordinary websites on the Internet and often look “cloned” (because they often are). This budget is insufficient to create results that really stand out. You can expect to see basic features such as an image slider, a Contact form, and a Blog, but not much more. This budget would typically include a free basic Content Management platform like WordPress and little or no customization.
At the time of this publication, you could get a non-exclusive license for this design template for $65. What's the catch? There are at least 11 websites using the EXACT same design. Using template-based design makes this budget range possible, but do you really want to have a website that looks identical to everyone else's?
Bottom Line: You will most likely have to provide all the marketing and business direction and total content for a website in this budget. Expect to closely manage the vendor, almost to the point of “designing your own website”. In my experience this budget is insufficient for a successful business website at a company of any size.
$5,000 - $15,000
This budget typically allows room for a more custom website that is somewhat better equipped and is offered by most small web design firms. With this budget you can usually count on getting design that is more tailored to you. However, it would still rely on stock photography and somewhat generic templates. This budget may also include a little more room for custom functionality, such as limited interactive features. Don’t expect this to be a “hands off” experience where your developer does all the work. You will be integrally involved in this project from start to finish.
This is an example of another template-based design that can be tailored and customized. At the time of the publication, the exclusive rights for this template could be purchased for $3,500, saving a web developer quite a lot of money.
Bottom line: Chances are the web developer may be well-equipped to produce your website but won’t necessarily be knowledgeable about your business, so you will have to provide the vendor with specific instructions in marketing and business areas and more. In my experience, this budget is still insufficient to properly support and promote your brand, product, or service on a large scale. This budget will frequently produce a website that is inferior to your competition.
$15,000 - $30,000
In this range you can expect a bit more “hand holding” and is a good starting range for most small business websites. This budget will support limited competitive research, which essentially means your vendor will look at your competitors and attempt to improve upon their websites. This is also good starting range for e-commerce websites or websites that are designed to engage your visitors and convert them into customers. This allows for quite a lot of room for custom design that matches your business needs and quite a lot of programming work. With this budget, you may also be able to have a copywriter produce content on your website.
An example of a custom website designed to support the company's image, engage visitors and convert them into customers. This design is completely custom, yet still relies on stock photography. Basic product search. No professional copywriting.
Bottom line: You will get a fair to a good website with this budget, one that is perfectly acceptable to most small businesses. But the results may not always be adequate to win the hearts and wallets of customers in larger or more competitive markets.
$30,000 - $50,000
In this range, you can expect a robust website that is built specifically to meet your business objectives. Larger corporate websites or sites with advanced functionality often fall into this range. With this budget, you will most likely have a team of about a dozen professionals working on your project. This typically represents a larger, more established firm or agency. The multiple team members will most likely be managed by a project manager. Expect solid marketing and business advice, art direction, usability testing, proper quality assurance, etc. The design would be fully customized, may include logo design, branding, and full copywriting. You can also expect many interactive and dynamic features, a customized Content Management System, integration with third party APIs (such as your CRM), Inventory Management, etc.
This example includes branding and identity design, custom photography, as well as taglines and calls to action tailored for the target audience. The site has many features designed to cater to the needs of the customers.
Bottom line: With this budget, you will often see a project specification document that details your exact website needs and includes a specific and thorough plan of action. You can expect substantial leadership and direction from your vendor on everything relating to your website. Many corporate entities and online retailers have their websites built in this price range.
$50,000 - $100,000
With this budget range, you can expect the "Cadillac" of web design — a top-notch performer, a website that is specifically designed to blow your competition out of the water. You can expect it all: custom photography, video production, responsive design, SEO, social media strategy, and much more. Websites built in this price range often stand out and win awards and recognition if designed properly. More importantly, your website will perform significantly better and generate maximum leads and sales, and represent the company in the best possible, professional manner. A website in this range should be built to the best of standards with proper market research, customer interviews, and a solid plan to achieve your business objectives.
This website is specifically designed to dominate a local marketplace. It targets a very specific demographic with effective calls to actions and visuals. Everything from photography to copywriting is used to covert visitors into customers. Every element of the site has been fine tuned for optimal performance.
Bottom line: if you are a corporate entity, a retailer, distributor, or manufacturer who wants to dominate the competitive landscape, you must be in this budget range. This is the budget where the right team can produce a website that is a guaranteed game changer.
This is the budget of a unique, ambitious, one-of-a-kind website that operates on a world scale and has national or global recognition. This might include multi-lingual websites for large international corporations and world-class brands, large online retailers, and custom-built social networks or major online service providers. If your website’s target audience or sales numbers are measured in millions, your budget will most likely exceed this number. Only large and very experienced firms operate with these types of projects. Comparatively speaking, there is a very small contingent of web development firms that have proven themselves to capably handle these types of projects. Usually it requires teams of dozens, sometimes hundreds of world-class professionals that few web development firms can bring to the table.
Bottom line: In this range the sky is the limit. If you are a Fortune 500, a company that wishes to dominate on a state, national or international level or if you want to build next “Facebook”, expect your budget to be in hundreds of thousands, and reach for the stars.
The General Electric website has it all: responsive design, interactive features, effective use of videos… This multi-national website is one of the best examples of what a corporate website should be for a Fortune 500 company.
How Much Should I Pay for My Website? How Much is Too Much?
The answer to this question is very simple: always hire the best web developer you can afford. If you are serious about your business and want a website that actually achieves your business objectives, you should hire the best professionals. Why? The answer is obvious – you are hiring professionals and paying for their expertise to deliver solid and tested business results. The right web developer will have the knowledge and the expertise to build a website that will not only produce a fast return on investment, but will be an integral element of your company’s success. Do not cut corners with your website. You aren't bargain-hunting when you select a heart surgeon or an attorney. You hire the best professional or service to assist in achieving your goal. When I hear customers say, “Well, we don’t need a world-class website, we can settle for something more basic,” I always ask, “Would you settle for a less qualified cardiologist?” The analogy is clear. A top cardiologist can save the life of a patient. A top web developer can save the life of an under-achieving business. Why wouldn't a business of any size want a world-class website? Why wouldn't any business want to be the best in their industry and retain the best tools and services that directly increase their sales, improve customer satisfaction, and enhance their brand?
As funny as these situations, clients often don’t realize that sometimes they are acting the same way as the characters in this video.
While the budget is often an issue, it shouldn't be the bottom-line criterion for retaining a vendor as important as a web developer. The old adage is true: “You get what you pay for.” Remember, I recommend hiring the best web developer you can afford, not necessarily the most expensive one.