December 26, 2019
I am asked what a website costs by small business owners more frequently than any other question, followed closely after by a request to explain why it costs what it does. So I thought it’d be a good idea to put time into a blog post that would explain it for me.
Fast forward to over 100 hours of time invested thus far (with new updates coming in all the time), and my original plan of saving a few hours here and there in explanation seems silly!
But you have access to the most comprehensive explanation of what a small business WordPress website costs out there, so mark one in the win column for you!
What does it really cost to build a quality business website and why? What goes into it? How many hours does it take? Unless you’re a website designer or have had a professional website designed for you in the past, you probably have no idea.
The subtleties of web development often escape business owners, and when they get a quote to build a new website, the hours and charges are a complete mystery.
In order to alleviate some of the confusion as to what exactly goes into “building a website” (a quality one at that), we’ve put together a guide to show you what level of design, functionality, and professionalism your particular budget will afford you in the web-building world.
In this article, we will cover the main costs associated with building and maintaining a business website to help you gain a better understanding of the budget allocations so that you can make an informed website purchase decision for your company and vet the process by asking the right questions.
WE WILL COVER:
This post is meant primarily as a website guide, so we will only lightly touch on post-launch marketing tactics like SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Advertising.
So, if you’re curious about one over the others, feel free to use the table of contents to skip to the next section.
Since WordPress is by far the most commonly used small business web development platform in the market today, we have chosen to use WordPress as the baseline.
But if you’re not sold on going with WordPress, fear not! The info you’ll read will will translate to other methods of web development, too.
Before the actual “building” process begins, the developer has to estimate the number of hours it will take to both design and develop (build with code and web tools) each page, factoring-in potential complexity due to the custom functionality requirements of the client.
There is also a question of whether or not the client will use a standardized theme or a completely custom-designed theme, as the man-hours will vary significantly.
Below is a breakdown of where, specifically, design and development hours go. We’ve given two examples of industry-standard website packages along with the associated pricing based on development hours.
Keep in mind, these are based on a typical rate of $75/hour from a web marketing agency. Rates will vary depending on WHO will be designing your site.
Standard Theme | Base Cost for Website Built Using a Standard Theme | $3,500
Estimated 46 hours of development time rated at $75/hour
6 hours: Strategy and wire-framing
12 hours: Homepage Design
15 hours: 5 additional pages (3 hours per page)
13 hours: Front and back-end development for UX (User Experience)
Custom Design | Base Cost for a Website Using a Custom-Designed Theme | $5,000
Estimated 66 hours of development time rated at $75/hour
8 hours: Strategy and wire-framing
15 hours: Homepage Design
20 hours: Additional pages (4 hours per page)
13 hours: Front and back-end development and UX
13 hours: Client communication and revisions
Strategic planning means brainstorming and thinking through the layout and functionality of your website. Usually, this is simply included in the estimated design and development hours.
The more complex a website is, the more important it is to think through and develop the design, layout, and navigation for a good user experience.
You may want to spend more money here if you have a clear vision for your website and want it to perform the best that it can right from the start.
Graphic Design | $150 – $1,500
The model above assumes that you already have company branding features, like a logo. If you don’t, you can have one designed. A low-quality logo will cost you $150 or $1,500 and up for a decent, professional-level branding.
The more professional and unique in quality, the more expensive the logo. So, you can end up spending a lot more than $1500 depending on your budget and quality needs.
Theme | under $75
Sometimes companies charge this as a separate expense. Just be aware that this charge should be no more than $75.
If you see this as a line item on an invoice for a few hundred…then your web guy has some explaining to do.
There are three basic kinds of website content—word content, images, and video. Word and image content have always been industry standard, and video is quickly moving in that direction in certain business circles.
The question of content costs really comes down to time and quality. You, as the client, can provide the content or you can outsource it to professionals. Of course, the ideal would be to have professional-grade word, image, and video content that convert browsers into buyers, but budget has to be considered.
Here is a breakdown of the content options available to you with associated pricing, so that you can choose what works best for your brand based on your budget and quality needs.
“ Provide Your Own Word Content ”
The benefit of providing the word content for the website yourself is twofold. First of all, it’s free!
Secondly, you know your industry and your company better than anyone. If you have great communication skills and you know exactly what you want your readers to know about your brand, services, and products, than this could be a great option for you.
If, in fact, you or someone in your company that is already on your payroll has the time and really is a great writer, it would also be very beneficial to consider setting up a blog section on your website as well.
However, if you do not have a tenth-grade English teacher on your payroll or an all-around confident writer, you may end up with copy that reflects poorly on your company.
Make sure that if you plan to write the content, that you actually have the time. If it ends up being left on the back-burner for you, the whole web design process is held up. The web designer can’t move forward, and everyone is left frustrated.
Also, are you a marketing specialist? A large part of SEO (search engine optimization) is done in the word content of the website. If you don’t know how to research what keywords are best for bringing your company more quality clientele or how to optimize your pages for them, your content won’t reflect well in the search engines.
“ Outsource to a Content Writer ”
$50 – $100 per page
The benefits of using a professional content writer are quality and speed. Because it’s what they do for a living, they usually get the job done very quickly. No project hang-ups.
Content writers are usually freelancers who don’t specialize in your industry or know your company specifically, so you need to plan on at least looking the content over and revising it with the writer. Otherwise, you risk spending a lot of money on content that is only ok in quality.
When hiring a content writer, it is helpful to hire one that is willing to put the time into researching your industry. We also recommend reading a writing sample of theirs or looking at a site they have written the content for.
Another potential downside to outsourcing to a content writer is that they may not have SEO experience. You or your marketing agency will often have to provide keywords before they get started with the writing.
Content writers can be expensive. They generally charge about $50 – $100 per page.
“ Let the Marketing Agency Handle It ”
$75 – $150 per page
If your marketing agency writes the content, it is going to be well researched and it will include your input. A marketing agency wants to earn a long-term relationship with you so they typically go the extra mile.
They may have an in-house writer or they might outsource to a content writer—but it will be one that they are familiar with and trust. It guarantees a certain amount of quality control over the content, even if the first draft is outsourced, because the agency will provide the final draft.
An agency can provide keywords and optimize the content for those keywords so that your site will have a lot of SEO value and rank better in the search engines.
The biggest downside to having the marketing agency handle your content is that they are the most expensive option. You are paying for the writing, research time, SEO optimization, and a quality guarantee.
The cost of having a marketing agency handle your web content ranges from about $75 – $150 per page, and they may consider SEO to be an additional expense.
If you go with the marketing agency option, be sure to ask if SEO is an included or additional expense, so that you can be sure exactly what you will be paying for professional quality content.
Below are the options and associated costs for your website images:
“ Provide Your Own Images ”
The main benefit of providing your own images is that the cost is free.
Poor image quality from a cell phone camera may make your site look unprofessional and cause visitors to equate the quality of your services with the quality of your images.
Great written content will not redeem poor image quality. So, if you plan on taking pictures with your phone, stage them and take them with a steady hand.
“ Use Stock Photography ”
$10 – $100 Per Image
The benefit of using stock photography is that it is professional-grade quality that you can see before you pay for at a very low price.
The downside is that they are not images specific to your company or brand—they are generic to industry, and they may already appear on several other sites.
The cost for stock photography is generally $10 – $100 per image.
You can find free images, but they are often generic, low quality, and are on a lot of other websites.
You can either pick the stock photography you want or ask the web designer to do it as he develops out your site.
“ Hire A Professional Photographer ”
$500 – $5000 Per Site
Hiring a professional photographer would be the ideal choice if your budget allows for it. They can take action shots of your team at work, custom shots of your products, and if you hire the right one, they probably have an eye for capturing the essence of your company itself.
Professional photographers generally charge for blocks of time, like half-day rates or full-day rates. Each block of time may include a certain amount of edited or printed images, or it may be an expense on its own.
If you decide to hire a professional, make sure you know exactly what is included in the costs. What is the cost per hour? What is the cost per image file? What is the cost per image edit?
Also, make sure you research them and ALWAYS look at their portfolio beforehand to determine whether or not you like their shooting and editing style. Photographers are artists—they each have their own personal style and flare that is subjective. Some styles will work better for you and your industry than others.
You can ask your web marketing agency if they have recommendations. They may have professional photographers that they recommend to clients because they are familiar with their work.
The cost for professional images can vary greatly depending on the location, subject matter, quantity of images you need, photographer’s prices and rights to the images, but you can expect that it will run anywhere from $500 – $5,000 for your entire project.
This is always something that you can do later, but we especially advocate for this option if you are an ecommerce business.
Adding video content is another option you can consider. It has not yet become industry standard, though it is moving in that direction. Video has the potential to help increase conversion rates by capturing viewer’s attention and engaging them.
“ You Provide The Video ”
Again, you can provide video content yourself for free. It will cost you a lot of time, however, as video production usually produces only about a minute of footage per hour of filming and many other hours editing and rewriting. So, it is important to keep in mind that time is a big factor when producing your own video content. Once again, steady hands and staging the set will help tremendously.
****IF YOU HAVE NEVER FILMED OR PRODUCED A VIDEO BEFORE…DON’T!!!!
“ Hire A Freelancer ”
$1,000 – $5,000 Per Project
This can be a huge win or a huge loss, depending on the quality of the freelancer and whether or not their style fits your brand. If you decide to go this route, make sure you do your research and ALWAYS look at their portfolio beforehand.
The rates for hiring a freelance videographer can vary greatly depending on the content and quality. They generally range from about $1,000 – $5,000 for a small project of between 1 to 5 minutes of complete, edited footage.
“ Hire A Video Production Company ”
5k – 15k Per Project
Though this generally ensures a high-level of professional quality, hiring a company that specializes in video production can be very expensive. These are the kinds of production companies that big businesses hire to shoot their TV commercials and such.
Depending on how complex and involved the video is, it could cost you as much as the website itself. You’re looking at $5,000 for the baseline, simple, but good-quality video and upwards of 15k for a more dynamic project.
There are websites that consist of pretty pictures and fancy words and then there are websites that actually do things. The more they do, the more expensive they get.
In nerd speak, this is due to the time it takes to design, develop, and incorporate the functionality that “does stuff.”
Higher budget websites usually include some sort of automation, like ecommerce. Additional features such as a customer log-in, event calendars, and interfaces to third-party analytics and reporting are relatively commonplace.
Let’s dive into the most common functionality add-ons and the costs associated with each.
A simple ecommerce website has a shopping cart with 1-100 products. Woocommerce for WordPress is a very popular option to handle this level of ecommerce, but many other options exist.
Ecommerce allows you to sell a product and take payment directly from your website. There are various types of functionality involved in this process.
Here are a few examples of ecommerce functionality:
Here is a breakdown of cost estimates to add ecommerce to your website:
1 – 100 Products
$1,500 – $3,500
100 – 1000 Products
$3,500 – $10,000
Over 1000 Products
$10,000 – $250,000 +
CUSTOMER LOG-IN | $1,500 +
Customer log-in functionality is great for membership sites, product sites, or other organizations that have information on their website that their customers would want to access.
Adding a customer log-in to your business website can provide an automated customer service that reduces time your staff has to spend troubleshooting with clients over the phone.
For example, an Ecommerce webstore can allow a customer direct access to their order information. They can use this to track the shipping status of their orders, manage returns, or save a wish list for future orders.
Instead of requiring your customers fill in their personal information each time they order from your website, they would be able to log in and make purchases with all of their stored account information.
We used an Ecommerce example to keep your brain from exploding, but there are so many other practical uses for the customer log-in feature.
The cost for building this into your website typically starts at $1,500.
API INTEGRATIONS | $500 – $8000 +
API (Application Programming Interface) Integration is a fancy way to reference a bridge between your website and another application.
Many mainstream companies develop APIs for you, so integrating them with your website is a vastly simplified process. Integrating your website with simple APIs generally runs around $500 for a developer’s time.
Simple API Integrations | $500 +
Some programs or systems do not have any default integration that allow them to connect with your website. Many times these must be coded from scratch by a qualified developer.
Advanced API Integrations | $8000 +
If your website requires many advanced APIs, you’re probably not using WordPress as a development platform. Most of the time, these advanced APIs begin at $8,000 and increase based on level of complexity.
CMS CUSTOMIZATION | $1,500 +
WordPress, by definition, is a content management system (CMS). A CMS is a user-friendly software that provides admin tools for users with little knowledge of web programming languages to create and manage website content with relative ease.
It is very cost-effective to have the ability to update basic web content such as page text, images or contact information without having to pay your website developer for each and every little change that you want to make to your site. This is included with every WordPress website by default.
But sometimes, a business will benefit from customizing the back-end “admin” area.
You may want to customize WordPress to suit your unique business needs if…
If a company needs a more customized solution to effectively manage their content, an advanced CMS runs around $1,000 and an enterprise level CMS customization runs $10,000 and up.
PLUGINS | FREE – $500
Plugins are third-party coded modules, developed specifically for WordPress that allow a developer to add specialized functionality to a website without writing the custom code from scratch.
Essentially, plugins are pre-developed “plug-and-go” modules that extend the functionality of a WordPress website. This is way cheaper than what it would cost to have a developer build it just for you.
Popular Plugin Functions Include:
Plugins can range anywhere from $FREE – $500 per feature and are a very cost-effective way to add flexibility and functionality to a website.
ANALYTICS TRACKING | FREE – LUDICROUS
Collecting data on how your website visitors find you, how they behave when they get to your website, and what percentage are converting to leads by filling out contact forms, making purchases, or completing another desirable action is vital to understanding if your website is performing well.
This information can help you better position your products and services, and realign the content and calls to action on pages that are not performing well.
Google Analytics is a free app provided by Google that you can add by copying a small snippet of code and pasting it into a plugin or directly into your website code.
If you need more advanced segmentation or deeper analytical reporting, that is going to cost you extra. Google Analytics premium costs a cool $150,000. If that price turns you off, there are many other affordable marketing automation softwares, such as SilverPop or HubSpot, that can be integrated into your website for a much more reasonable $3000 +.
SECTION 4. ONGOING / POST-LAUNCH EXPENSES
A common misconception is that once a website is finished and bought and paid for, the expenses will stop.
The initial design and construction of the site is certainly the largest expense. However, there are additional, much smaller, ongoing expenses that are necessary to keep your site up and running and secure.
Here are some post-launch expenses that you should expect to pay after your site is finished.
It is important to note that these costs aren’t manufactured by your web designer in order to keep syphoning your money after the project is over. These costs are universal—all professional websites require them.
WEB HOSTING | $10 – $400 / month
In order for your website to appear on the internet, the actual data that makes up your site has live on a physical hard-drive somewhere. It has to be stored on a server—a secure server that can’t be hacked and has backups in place so that you won’t lose all the data to your site in the event of an electronic failure.
When you pay for web hosting, you’re basically paying for space on a secure server that is owned and operated by a company. You pay for the time it takes to make regular data backups and repairs and for the electrical costs to keep the server running.
It is very important to have a reliable web host so your website is never offline and is not left vulnerable to computer viruses or hackers.
The cost of web hosting will depend on the size of your site and the amount of data and space it uses on a secure server. You can expect to pay between $20 – $60 / month for hosting a small business website.
Larger sites that use more bandwidth because they have more pages, more content, advanced functionality and database applications will naturally cost more to host.
If you require your own server—rather than just space on a server shared with other websites, hosting fees can cost up to $400 / month.
DOMAIN REGISTRATION AND RENEWALS | $10 – $15 per year
A domain name is basically a web “address,” where your site can be found by visitors (i.e. www.yourwebsite.com).
The domain name has to be bought and registered so that you will own the rights to that web address and no other business or entity can use it.
Owning a domain name will incur a recurring yearly expense, or you can pay for a block of years up front. The good news is that domain name registration costs are fairly low—usually around $10 – $15 per year.
Purchasing a domain name that has never been used is very low cost as well.
However, if you want a domain name that has been previously purchased by another company or entity, they may only sell it to you for a premium price. It could cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the initial purchase fee.
MAINTENANCE AND SECURITY | $150 – $300 per month
Maintaining a WordPress website involves updates to code, themes, and plugins, regular website and data backups, and defensive software to prevent malicious attacks (like hacking or viruses).
Website backups by themselves are like insurance, and may be worth their weight in gold if you happen to fall victim to a malicious attack. Spending a lot of money on a significant website project and then losing it to an attack happens more often than you might think, and it is easily prevented.
At a bare minimum, you should keep backups of your website files as well as update your website quarterly to prevent data loss or corruption in the event of a hack or virus.
Other common attacks involve redirecting your customers to pornography or a site that contains a virus, which causes damage your company’s reputation. These attacks are much more subtle, and without a maintenance plan in place, you will often only find out when a customer tells you!
Maintenance costs run at about $150 – $300 / month.
ONLINE MARKETING | Options starting at $300 / month
After sifting through all of these options, you may find that your website has reached a good place—one where the quality and functionality compliments your company needs and has real potential for client conversions.
The common next step for sites that have reached this point is to begin investing in marketing. This can be a highly profitable post-launch investment.
A true explanation that does this justice would be another 5000 words (at least). Hopefully, you’re satisfied with a short summary for now. This is, after all, a blog about web design, not marketing.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the process of optimizing your site to rank better on search engines like Google for particular keywords that are significant to your industry. When people search for a keyword, you want your site to come up on the first page, and there are many things that contribute to this ranking.
SEO involves back-link building, content development and promotion, social media marketing, on-page SEO, and analytics.
SEO will cost you anywhere from $300 – $3,000 per month for small business plans.
PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Advertising is another method of bringing traffic to your site. Through social media ads, shopping ads, and paid search ads, you can target a specific kind of clientele and drive them to your company website.
PPC Management will cost you anywhere from $300 – 20% of your monthly ad budget (i.e. if you’re spending $10,000 each month on PPC ads, you should plan on paying 20% of that [$2,000] to a marketing company as a management fee).
Email Marketing can help you to get more sales from repeat customers. This service involves email list building, designing email templates to target return customers, and managing the email campaigns.
Email Marketing will cost you anywhere from $400 – $2,500 per month, depending on the number of emails and level of complexity of the plan.
This is a lot of information, and perhaps all the numbers stacked-up seem overwhelming.
But, it is important to note that you don’t have to spend all of this money on every feature at once. These additions can take place over time.
To build a professional-quality website, you will need a starting budget of $4,000. This will afford you a basic, professional-quality website, plus required post-launch and maintenance expenses.
From there, you can slowly spend more to customize your theme, upgrade the quality of your word, image, and video content, and add more functionality and features as your budget and your brand grow.
The point of this article is not to overwhelm you, but rather to provide you with realistic expectations and tangible options based on the many varying degrees of quality and functionality that go into web design.
Armed with this new knowledge and understanding of what goes into building a professional website, we hope that you will be able to make a more informed decision regarding your company’s online presence.
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