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What does it cost to build a web site?

I’m often asked by friends and family, “What does it cost to build a web site?” And although I’m sure none of them will read this, at least now I have something to point them to.

Asking “What does it cost to build a web site?” is a lot like asking, “What does it cost to build a house?” It depends what you want (we call it “requirements” in the biz). If you don’t know what you want, a trusted web professional (web designer or web developer) can help you determine your needs quite easily. However, your options are usually limited by your budget.

There are two different sets of costs when setting up a web site for the first time. There is the one-time cost of having the site built by a web professional and then there are the recurring costs of hosting your site and registering/renewing your domain name (i.e. www.yourname.com). If you can’t afford some or all of these costs, sacrifices will need to be made.

No budget ($0 – $500)

If your budget is very low or non-existant, you need to adjust your expectations accordingly. You will not be able to hire a professional. If they claim to be a professional and are interested in a project with your budget, beware.

I suggest preparing yourself to learn and put in some work setting up the site yourself. For this situation, I always recommend using WordPress.com. It’s 100% free. After signing up, you choose one of their pre-made design templates that best suits your site, add your logo, add your content, etc. WordPress has a vibrant community with video tutorials and active support forums to help you along. They make their money through upgrades. For example, if you at least have a few dollars to spend, you can purchase a domain name upgrade ($15/year). I highly recommend at least getting a domain name as it makes your site appear a lot more professional. If you have a few more dollars, you could hire a web designer to customize the site colours, etc.

With this option you’re mostly sacrificing your time and the design of your site as WordPress.com only allows you to choose one of its 85 designs.

Low budget ($500 – $2,000)

With a low budget you can afford to hire a web developer to setup a site for you with one of the thousands of templates (some are even free) on the web. WooThemes, ThemeForest, and Template Monster have great templates for WordPress and other content management systems (CMS). You may also be able to afford a few tweaks or additions to the template you choose.

You will need to purchase web hosting and a domain name to put your site online. I am co-owner of the web hosting company Zenutech, so I recommend you get your web hosting and domain name there. Once your site has been setup on your web hosting account, the designer will give you access to the CMS and you can enter your content.

Modest budget ($2,000 – $5,000)

With this kind of budget you can afford to hire a web designer. If you don’t yet have branding for your organization, they can also work with you to develop a brand that works. Although the process differs between designers, in general it goes as follows:

  1. The designer initiates a conversation with you to get an idea of the design you’re looking for and to gather your web site requirements. They should also give you an idea of the creative direction they have in mind.
  2. A design of the web site is produced in Adobe Photoshop (sometimes Adobe Illustrator) and presented to you. This is often called a “mockup.”
  3. You offer feedback and the design is revised.
  4. #2 and #3 are repeated a couple of times until you are happy and sign off on the design.
  5. The designer then converts the Adobe Photoshop file into HTML, CSS, and image files and codes them into a template for WordPress or another chosen CMS.

As above, you will need to purchase web hosting and a domain name.

Large budget ($5,000 and up)

With a larger budget you can afford to take further steps to ensure you get a quality product in the end. You could hire a copy writer to develop your site’s content for you. Before going into design, you could have an information architecture (IA) developed for your site’s content to ensure that your information is strategically organized and your users will find what you want them to find. You could also have wireframes developed which allows you to focus on layout, navigation, and the overall user experience before jumping into design and getting caught up with colours, shadows, and other aesthetics.

Then there’s the unlimited number of features you could add to your site. Maybe you want a forum enabling your users to discuss amongst themselves. Maybe you want your users to be able to sign up to the site and have a profile. Maybe you have products and want to sell them on your site. The possibilites are virtually endless.

With larger budgets you can also afford to hire an agency. Agencies usually have web designers, web developers, and project managers on staff but may also have copy writers, customer service agents, and user experience professionals. Agencies can usually pull off large projects in less time than an individual working alone. However, hiring an agency doesn’t ensure the best quality by any means. There are lots of talented independent web professionals producing web sites of the highest quality, better than most agencies.

Hiring a web professional

You can find web professionals by posting on one of the many job boards that are out there. My favorites include:

  1. Authentic Jobs
  2. Freelance Switch
  3. WordPress Jobs
  4. Smashing Magazine
  5. Krop (design only)

The right professional will not only produce quality work but offer invaluable advice and direction along the way, saving you time and money. If you are considering someone but having trouble communicating, keep looking.

  • Thanks for posting this up Brad, I’ve gotten this question a few times myself. Although having only worked on projects in house, while at work and when contracting for a large project this post was great to put some perspective on how much to expect if I ever did decide to do this as more than a hobby or if I ever wanted to hire out as well.

    And I can point the people who would of asked me to this, so thanks again!

  • Thanks Matt, good to hear someone else will be making use of this post as well. Cheers!

  • Great article, A lot of clients do not realize what it takes for us web guys to get a project done and cant believe we wont do it for 300 bucks. In our business you get what you pay for.

  • Perfectly mapped it out. I need to post something similar to this to have something to point all of those random inquiries to.

  • This is very useful Brad and really points up the value of web publishing. I am just now timidly getting in to blogging and I am liking WordPress.

    I have been on FaceBook but I do see some limitations for a wide open dialogue.
    Thanks!

  • Thanks everyone! Glad to hear this is coming in handy for others as well.

    @Peter Yes, Facebook isn’t great for publishing because among other things the majority of content you post doesn’t get picked up by Google or other search engines.

    Content posted on Twitter gets picked up by search engines a bit better, but a blog is like candy to Google. They eat it up. Especially a blog powered by WordPress.

    Both Twitter and Facebook are great places to establish a following though, share links to your latest publishings, and host ad-hoc discussions.

  • Great Article Brad! I’m going to send all my clients here and make them read it over and over and over an…. you get my point. The ‘What does it cost to build a house?’ analogy is golden.

  • Excellent article! I have referred many, many people here because it outlines the situation so well. I plan to put up a post on my blog talking about where people can get “free” websites – including WordPress.com, Wix.com, etc. – and then discuss why even though the base tools are free it is the knowledge and expertise to use them effectively that is not.

    I just went out on my own as a full-time freelance web developer in May – and even left a lucrative federal government contract to do so (Derek Campbell pointed me to your blog) – and pricing is by far my biggest challenge.

    Anyhow, I’m a huge SitePoint fan, and just jumped on the WordPress bandwagon recently after using my own little php CMS over the last few years. Love you blog – even the name is great since I’m a BradT too! 🙂

  • Thanks for such great posts.

  • I LOVE WordPress. I used to do web design here in Boise Idaho using templates and even from scratch. Then graduated to website generating programs such as Homestead and Xsitepro but then created a Blog using WordPress and the rest is history. I now create business websites, wordpress classified websites, wordpress forums, wordpress directories, wordpress photo galleries and more using WordPress and some great plugins.

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  • This is great stuff. So many clients are clueless to how much this kind of work costs… or worse yet they saw some garbage cookie cutter designer doing their services for $500 a pop and they don’t realize what that $500 covers, I can get paid less, per hour of work, doing a quality $2,500 site than then a $500 template site. I will refer these clients to this article. Wish I could have discovered it earlier.

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