As a web marketing agency, we get asked about the options for building a business website all the time. People often shop for multiple quotes and look to compare prices to get the best deal. While this article doesn’t directly address how much a website costs, you will learn how to read between the lines when you do get an estimate from one of these people/companies as well as what to expect when you hire them.
Below, we will explore eight different options for building a business website and the pros and cons of each. Then you can make an informed decision on what the best option is for your business and be more prepared for the website building process.
Table of Contents
Option 1. The DIY Website
DIY (Do-it-yourself) website builders are software programs that you can access online with a username and password.
This option requires that you add and write all of the text content, upload all of your own images (or stock images you purchase) into a blank canvas or a templated theme, and organize it all yourself.
WordPress is the most commonly used because it offers a free web platform, free site hosting, and free templates. Other free website builders such as WordPress, Wix, Weebly, Jimdo, etc. typically have themes that are free, but premium or pro themes and site hosting will cost you extra (and yes, hosting matters for marketing).
- The cost is free or as low as you’ll find. This might be your best option if you have no money to invest into a site, but a lot of time to spend learning how to build one.
- If you’re really driven and creative, you can spend a very large chunk of time in order to make it look as professional as a non-professional can muster. But be careful, because you may find yourself purchasing more web services 20 hours into the project.
- You would have
completea lot of control over your site. You can choose how it looks, which images to use, what the marketing copy should be, and how many pages it needs.
- You don’t have complete control. You can’t take it with you, and you may find that you bit off more than you could chew after 40 hours of work invested into your website. The “free” website builders are all successful companies for a reason — they will get you to pay by getting you to “upgrade” to a higher paid plan.
- If you’re not a web development expert, there is a good chance you could end up with a really poor looking site. The appearance, functionality, and compatibility of your site depends entirely on what skill and tools you bring to that canvas. Four-year-olds draw on a blank canvas. So did Van Gogh. That’s the difference the skills and tools you bring to the table can make.
- Nothing is free, because time is money, and there is always a catch. If you’re a small business owner looking to grow your brand, your time is valuable and far better spent in other areas of your business. If you choose to undergo this daunting task and still run a company, you run the risk of an “Under Construction” page representing you for months (or even years).
If you just need a basic web presence quickly and don’t really care how professional it looks, a DIY website can work for you.
But if you want a professional looking website that functions well and won’t require a near-endless amount of time investment, don’t go with the DIY option.
Option 2. The Mega Web Company
The mega web companies typically offer free DIY options; however, they have a lot of paid services as well.
Their “free” options are Do-It-Yourself, and often include very poor-looking websites that have their brand and advertisements plastered all over them. Any theme that allows you any functionality is going to cost you more and be a cookie-cutter layout that everyone else uses.
The most popular mega web companies are WordPress, Squarespace, GoDaddy, Wix, and Weebly, though this list frequently changes. Their website prices will depend on the number of pages, the level of design package, the website hosting plan you choose, the theme, and other frill services purchased like branded e-mails or stock photos.
For most of their services, you will still have to build the website yourself – the layout, content, images, video, etc. They simply give you the tools to build it.
- This is an affordable option for a business with a very small budget. There are some mega web company options that won’t break the bank, and offer a theme-ready website for particular businesses.For example, Squarespace has themes set up specifically for photographers, who just need a portfolio that their potential clients can access. It is a simple layout and not very adaptable, but it looks decent and functions within its purpose.
- Mega web companies offer the tools to assist you, the non-professional designer, in your design endeavors. This could work for a small business owner that has an existing employee that has the time to figure out how to build a website.
- Communication can be difficult when using a mega web company that specializes in mass production, rather than tailored or customized websites. There is a lack of individual attention and support for customers because it’s not where they make their money. Be prepared for long hold times on the phone for support and not having an assigned customer service representative to help you.
- Time investment! Some of the paid templates look really nice in the demo. But, when you use your own pictures or stock photos, they never look as professional as the demos. These sites require a heavy amount of time investment from the user and the tools are very limited. You could end up spending a lot of precious time for a site that looks like it was set up in five minutes.
- These websites don’t allow for flexibility. Should you ever want to expand the website or add new functionality, the features offered simply do not have the capacity to grow with your company.
- Hosting is often sold in large blocks of time with the mega web company. If you purchase site hosting for 3 or 5 years for $100, then realize after 3 months that it isn’t working for you, you’ve wasted a good chunk of change.
FREE – $3,000
Though it’s a better option than the free DIY service, building a website using a mega web company has a lot of drawbacks. And you should avoid using any company that gives you a free website and bills you monthly, because when you stop paying for it, you can’t keep the website.
Option 3. The Family Friend
The family friend is your niece, cousin, techy or computer-savvy friend, a close contact from school, church, etc. You go to them because you trust them, and they are an inexpensive option that gives you a level of expertise greater than your own.
- As with the first two options, the biggest advantage is affordability. Often times, the family friend is willing to build you a website for a very small investment.
- You can get the individual attention that is unavailable when using a DIY website builder or a mega web company.
- The risk of this option is often in the quality and potentially the loss of the friendship. When it comes to your business website, using the family friend is the oldest mistake in the book. In most cases, this ends terribly not just for you and your business, but also for your friend. You could run into the issue of reaching the end of the project and hating the design. Then you’re left with the dilemma of either wounding them with your honest disapproval or concealing it.
In the latter case, you are stuck with a website you hate but can’t change because a friend’s feelings are on the line.
- You run the risk that they are not the experts they think and say they are (or that their mothers think and say they are).The quality of the finished product can vary greatly and in almost all cases, the nuances of programming and search engine optimization (SEO) are lost on them because they are often non-professional website developers with a day job that takes first priority.
$500 – $1,500
This option is probably best for a small business owner that doesn’t trust easily but desperately needs a website. In addition, if you’re going this route, you likely have little time, budget, or the tech-savvy confidence to build one.
If you decide to go this route, be very clear and detailed on what you are looking for. A business professional should reconsider wagering a friendship if they have the money to invest into a web design service.
In the end, you may have to decide which one you value more – the website (and your business) or the friend. In the end, you may have to get the website designed again by a professional anyway.
Option 4. The Employee
The employee is a tech-savvy individual who already works at your company and may or may not have applicable marketing skills or website building experience.
Sometimes, he or she is an IT professional that thinks they can just figure it out because they work with computers. More often than not, it’s a young millennial that is “techy” and needs something to occupy their time.
- You have a built in budget. However, factoring in the employee’s hourly rate or salary, the amount of time it takes to build a website, the opportunity cost, and additional web fees, you will probably end up spending about the same amount as hiring an agency (but with much less expertise than an agency).
- Your employee often has a better understanding of your business than an outsider would, if they have worked for you for a long period of time. If your employee has the time, the skills and web expertise, you could get a really great website.
- Building a website is a full-time project. If your employee already has full-time responsibilities in another part of your company, the website may not get built in a timely manner or the quality could suffer greatly.
- Because many business owners don’t understand the intricacies of website design, they’ll assign the website to a “tech expert” like an IT guy or a young tech-savvy employee or intern. The problem is, websites are really marketing devices, and IT people or young interns don’t usually have marketing experience.
Budget: $1,500 – $4,500
If you have an employee with a solid background in web design, you may want to consider them as an option.
But it’s important that they actually have the time and are given the freedom to build the site the way they think works best. If your employee is a developer, let them decide the best way to design it – If you want to tell them how to do it, hire an agency instead. Your employee won’t tell you when you’re wrong.
At the very least, if you decide to work with an agency, this kind of employee would be a great point of contact or project manager for the website project. They can make sure that the agency is getting things done the way you want it and not pulling the wool over your eyes.
An added benefit to this scenario is that they can still keep up with their normal job responsibilities, but they have the expertise to oversee the website project and make sure you get the best quality website.
Option 5. The Freelancer
The freelancer option is a wildcard. It’s practically in the name.
Freelancers are self-proclaimed “professionals” and this may or may not be accurate. They are the riskiest of the professional options due to their unpredictable nature.
You could get really lucky with a great, experienced web designer and win big for a relatively low cost. On the other hand, you could pay them and then realize after a month that you don’t have a site and they’re not answering their emails or returning calls.
But both of these are rare scenarios. What most commonly happens with freelancers, is that the work is simply average in quality or is left incomplete due to insufficient time or funding.
- They’re less expensive than a web design agency, and the quality of their work is better than DIY or mega web company sites since they will often spend more time on your project.
- They often have a small book of clients to answer to on a given day, so your project is a high priority for them. They typically have great communication and people skills since they work hard to develop relationships with clients in order to gain more projects or referrals.
- Freelancers often started in another profession, and just picked up web design on the fly. Websites are big-ticket items for small freelancers — The prospect of a few thousand bucks for a website has made more than one graphic designer call themselves a professional website guy.
- Freelancers tend to run into the problem of selling vs producing work — they need to balance both to succeed… But when push comes to shove, they will neglect work and focus on collecting checks. And as some horror story online reviews will tell you, non-vetted freelancers (freelancers that you didn’t meet from a trusted referral) might take your money and run.
- Their work tends to look the same. They often use the same layout with different colors, logos, and images. There isn’t a lot of custom work because they have to save time and costs where they can.
$1,500 – $4,500
Small business owners or solopreneurs that already have a poor looking website with a mega web company and are looking to upgrade it could benefit from the expertise of a freelance web designer.
Just be sure to get a few trusted referrals, check their online reviews and look through their online portfolios to find the right match for your project.
Small to medium-sized businesses with the resources to take an even more professional option that ensures a greater level of customization and quality should look at the remaining options.
Option 6. The Web/Full-Stack Developer
A web developer may build websites on the side of their full-time corporate job or they may have left their corporate job to go out on their own.
They typically have great website building experience, and will often have minimal overhead that may allow them to undersell a marketing agency.
A full-stack developer is essentially a software programmer, who has the technical expertise to build not only the front-end design of a website or application, but who can also program and understands the backend of a website or application.
- A good web developer has the technical expertise and experience to develop a functional website that performs complicated functions such as integrating with in-house Point-of-Sale systems, customized ecommerce, and more.
- Highly experienced developers often start their own business and work for themselves once they get established, so they are usually more reliable than the typical freelancer.
- Scalability. If you have planned what you want in the future for your website, a good web developer will take this into consideration as they select the technologies to use before and during the website project.
- As web technologies are rapidly changing to be even more complex, it is difficult for a single developer to keep up their skill levels in all areas they need in order to remain competitive with marketing agencies.
- Experience levels can vary greatly and you should be wary of a web developer that is trying to pass themselves off as an expert in web marketing, graphic design, etc. Be sure to verify their experience and review their work before you sign on the dotted line.
- They work for an hourly rate and not on a per-project basis. You may find yourself knee-deep into a project only to find that their invoices keep coming for work that never seems to get completed.It is very easy for a web developer to bill for more hours than they actually work, and due to the vast technical knowledge gap between them and you as a client, they often take advantage with more billable hours.
This option is best for a business owner that has a strong grasp on both the marketing aspect of their business, as well as a clear vision for what they want their website to look like.
Again, you will want to get trusted referrals, read their online reviews, and review their online portfolios to see what they’ve done to ensure it matches your current and future needs.
You will also need to decide if you want to invest more for custom web development or if a less expensive templated design will meet your needs. The price of your website project will vary based on the level of customization and the complexity of your website.
Option 7. The Web Marketing Agency
Marketing agencies are professionals, not just in web design and development, but in other digital marketing services such as search engine optimization (SEO), email marketing, social media and pay-per-click advertising.
They will have a team of highly-skilled professionals working on your project, with one point of contact as the project manager. As the client, you would have access to the best designers, developers, web content writers and SEO specialists in the market.
In addition, agencies typically work with specialists in strategic marketing, design, programming, photography, videography, and more, so depending on what your budget is, you can get the best quality and most professional website possible.
Agencies offer a range of simple or more highly customized website options, as they have the resources to focus on each individual experience. Thus your website should look different from any of their other clients. The pricing for each project varies based on the client’s needs and the services involved, but typically starts at around $5,000.
Agencies can build a new website around your existing content and images or they can write new, search engine optimized content and find or create new images. They can use a third-party web host or host your site on their own secure servers.
Similar to freelancers, web marketing agencies thrive off of a smaller portfolio of clients. Their goal is to deliver high-quality service and they live and die by client reviews and referrals, which means they care a lot about customer satisfaction and will literally bend over backwards for their clients.
- With a web marketing agency, you get what you pay for. Your website, marketing campaigns, and client experience will be tailored to your specifications, and you will receive a higher quality final product with a price-locked guarantee.The smaller agencies don’t experience the communication disconnect that mega web companies experience, so more quality control can be expected.In addition, because of greater emphasis on communication and results to retain clients and earn referrals, they are much more eager to remedy mistakes.
- After reviewing your goals, objectives, and vision, the agency will take ownership of the project and move it forward for you, so you’re not only paying for their expertise, but also for their project management and efficiency.
- Marketing agencies are a fairly expensive option. They charge more because they spend more time on your website than other options on this list (other than an enterprise agency).While the senior team does the marketing pitch to win the project, it is typically the junior team at an agency that does the actual work.The junior team often has less experience and a high turnover rate because interns are in and out every 3-6 months and overworked junior level employees leave for better pay or an environment where they are more highly valued.
$5,000 – $15,000+
This is a great option for small to mid-size companies, who are looking to be leaders in their industry or region.
Just as our own company name suggests, the marketing agency is for those businesses that are serious about growing to the next level.
Hiring a marketing agency is also a good option for businesses who have had negative experiences with freelancers or the mega web company and are willing to pay more to have it done right the second or third or fourth time around.
Option 8. The Enterprise Agency
Corporate web design differs in many ways from smaller projects. Often, these sites require complex database and server configurations, data security protocols, and a lot of liaison with a corporate IT department.
The site design must exemplify the values of the corporation and must direct users to convert (lead generation or ecommerce purchase). Enterprise agencies handle less than five clients per year and spend many months working on one project.
They charge a minimum of $50,000 for a project, and up to $50,000 per month, with projects that can take up to a year to complete.
- This is the top tier of professional web design. The level of web design and development skill, expertise, and web marketing experience is second to none.
- The enterprise agency will think strategically from the beginning, asking smart questions about your overarching goals and the specific numbers, outcomes, and markets/audiences you want to target.
- The cost of building a website using an enterprise agency makes their services very exclusive. Only companies with large budgets can afford their services.
- These agencies sometimes have internal communication issues since there are many individuals involved in each project. Then factor in the external communications across several corporate departments, and you can see why these projects can take up to a year to complete.
$50,000 per project+
The enterprise agency serves large corporations and startups with investment capital with large budgets that require websites with heavy functionality.
If you work for a corporation that desires a fully customized, highly secure, built-from-scratch website with hundreds or even thousands of pages that get extremely high levels of web traffic, then the enterprise agency is the right choice for you.