Website Costing Series
 How Much Does A Website Cost?
In this article I'm going to use an object we all know and love (or hate, depending on your current situation) to illustrate the cost of the all powerful Website (aka Online Business). I apologize ahead of time as it’s a little long-winded, but we’ve got a lot of ground cover if you’re going to become an expert at answering the question “how much does a website cost?”.
In short, a website costs as much as a car...
The range of options and costs associated with buying a car are actually a really good comparison to the cost of a website. It's possible to buy a used car for under $10,000 that should be perfectly adequate to get you where you need to go. Similarly, buying a new car can run the gamut from a bare bones Kia for under $10,000 to a high end Porsche 911 GT3 for $100,000 plus. Beyond the desired car's look and style, there are many other considerations that will affect its cost like how many people fit in it, how fast it goes, what options are included, etc.
"How much is a typical website?" A quick answer to that question is "a website costs as much as a car" - The following items can all have influence on a project's budget, just to name a few:
- Visual design (esthetics, what are the look and feel requirements?)
- Site size (how many pages will the site contain?)
- Project scope (what type of information will the site pages contain?)
- Special functionality (are there any unusual services that the site will provide?)
- Site traffic volume (how many visitors is the site expected to handle?)
- Custom business logic (will there be the need for programming?)
- Development timetable (what is the site's expected launch date?)
- Project team (will the project require user experience, design, dev or all?)
- Integration (will the site need to connect to any other pieces of software?)
 Website Budget Ranges
We have 3 (well 4, sort of) pricing ranges that our projects fall within. We're happy to quote these ranges to help potential clients determine the right budget ballpark for the work they are requesting. Additionally, we're usually able to propose alternative solutions when a discrepancy between needs and budget create a budget gap. Less complex alternatives or phased projects can often bring needs and budgets together.
$4,000 - $8,000 | Pre Owned Cars
- From time to time EBWAY Creative will convert an existing site to the our own CMS (content management system) enabling a client to get control of their site's content without having to shell out for a newly designed site. This is akin to purchasing a late model pre-owned car that is still under warranty and has plenty of life left.
$10,000 - $25,000 | New Cars
- Our starting project range will get you into a brand new website, where you can pick your design, options, and accessories - a respectable, dependable, clean, worry free site that gets good mileage.
$25,000 - $45,000 | Luxury Cars
- Sometimes you want your site to do more than get you where you need to go. Sometimes you want style, added comfort, and cool features. Perhaps performance is more important and it's worth paying more for the turbo charged engine and sports suspension.
- Translating the metaphor the web, a site that needs brand new visual design, animated presentations, e-commerce, significant custom business logic, or API integration might fall into this range.
$50,000+ | Performance Cars
- The sky's the limit. There are plenty of options out there for you. Sometimes when style counts it's worth paying for a BMW M3 or Porsche. Perhaps style isn't worth paying for, but customization is.
- Some people want a tweaked out sound system, or maybe convert their engine to run on vegetable oil! websites enter this range when they are either enormous in terms of the number of pages, extremely complex in terms of custom business logic, or when they require custom applications to be built.
- Sites in this range might contain some applications like applications, games, etc. In this range, sites may also contain some custom business logic. And, the way we build sites here at EBWAY Creative, the complexity of a site's pages has a greater impact on the budget than merely the overall page count.
Lastly, the content can affect the budget (who's writing it, is it optimized for search, is it technical in nature, et, etc). Content is a huge deal and should never be assumed that your website designer will be able to provide you with high quality, sales focused content.
 Website Budget Examples
Two Illustrations of website budget examples.
In website design & development there are thousands of ways to solve any given problem. Usually solutions can range from the very simple to the extremely complex. Often a subtle change in requirements (aka scope) can result in an enormous difference in project scope and price.
For example - Given the large amount of functionality already built into the the Adobe Business Catalyst CMS (our primary platform) and its various applications, many highly customized requirements can be adjusted to fit within existing functionality. All in all, saving you money!
Subtle changes can spell the difference between a simple implementation of an existing component and the need to create a new and highly customized application. For this reason, when it comes to areas of custom business logic, functionality or api work, it is important to probe a client's needs in order to carefully understand the underlying goals and desires behind those "requirements."
Often, when a client requests an extremely complex and un-maintainable piece of functionality, we can suggest something much more appropriate for their needs that will be less expensive, easier to administer, and more maintainable. But, we need to first understand the client's reasons for their initial request so that we can educate them on their options.
As mentioned above, there is sometimes only a slight distinction between a simple site element and a complex piece of custom coding. It might be helpful for you to see some examples of similar needs that have resulted in a wide variety of complexity levels.
Website Budget Examples
- Example #1 - This project had a $10k budget - www.dillanos.com
- Example #2 - This project had a $25k budget - www.allthingsnav.navigation.com
In order to appropriately identify custom business logic, it is important to be sensitive to instances when functionality extends beyond the basic display of content. Existing applications can greatly reduce or even eliminate the need for custom business logic or custom applications. For instance, if a client were to approach us to build a tool for them to create an online store (eCommerce) function from scratch, it might require thousands of hours of planning and development time. However, since we have already built a powerful online store management system, the time involved in implementing that component for a particular client would be minimal. Wherever possible, to maximize each client's budget, we steer clients to existing applications and away from custom application development, if it makes sense for their needs and goals.
 Custom Website CMS Pricing
SaaS vs. Open Source
There are 2 versions of website CMS (content management system) applications. One is called SaaS (software as a service) - these applications are pre-build platforms that are built from the ground up to be easy on the pocket book. Some are more expensive than others and they all have pros and cons.The others fall into a category called Open-Source.
First, let's look at SaaS (Software As A Service)
- Our website uses an SaaS (software as a service) tool that is created by ADOBE (you know, the inventors of the PDF and creative apps of all kinds) and backed by ADOBE. We let the IT gurus at ADOBE take care of our updated, maintenance, upgrades, hosting, etc. In exchange for a small monthly fee. We chose not to control these on our own in order to stay focused on our mission = sales. We're not an IT company, so I don't really care to re-create the wheel. WE just needed a reliable system to host our content. We needed hands off maintenance!
Second, let's look at Open Source
- Before we begin, let me be 100% clear - open source is not free, it's open. The idea is simple - the developers/creators of the software basically give away their frame work for free. So, anyone can download, install and build sites using their application.
- You still have to setup a hosting environment, plan for upgrades, install security, plan for backups, and if you customize the open source software in any way (like adding a template or plugin) you'll need to prepare to keep those running smoothly as well. In fact, the cost of running your own WordPress or Joomla website can be up to 10x more expensive than using a hosted solution (aka SAAS = software as a service).
That's not all, we've only scratched the surface... If you'd like to learn a little bit more, I have a Wordpress vs. Business Catalyst video that became quite popular, it explains this comparison is great detail, I'd recommend you watch it now!
Website Budgeting Questionnaire
When pricing a project, the following questions can help to hone in on the scope of a project and its appropriate budget range.
- What are the visual design requirements for the project?
- Who will be providing the design?
- Are there existing corporate design standards and logo?
- Roughly how large is the site in terms of page count and how complex are the pages?
- Will the site use any the CMS applications?
- Does the site require complex component functionality, such as password protection (extra-nets and intranets) or e-commerce?
- Does the site have any unusual needs that extend beyond the basic display of content and existing component functionality?
- Will the site be optimized for search engines? Is the keyword research and content plan going to provided before the build happens?
- Will the site need to integrate with any other existing systems?
 Budgeting for Website Maintenance
Ongoing Website Maintenance Costs
Another pricing related concern for website clients is typically the long term cost of ownership of a website. Using a well organized CMS (content management system), most typical maintenance items can be addressed directly, by clients, without ongoing expenses. Changing text, uploading documents and images, creating new sub pages (such as product pages, press releases, etc.) can all be done through the the CMS. As a result, any ongoing financial investment that a client makes in their website will result in tangible site improvements, making it a better and more effective business and communication tool.
How much is website maintenance?
For this example we'll use WordPress
- Hosting - $25 per month
- Security - $20 per month
- Backups - $20 per month
- Upgrades - $200 to $500 per update (usually requires a web developer at minimum $100/hr)
- Maintenance - $250 to $$$ per update / usually 4-7 times per year (theme updates, plugin updates, etc)
The breakdown: Yearly cost for Open Source (ex. WordPress) is an uknown. This isn't good, bad or anything - it just is what it is. Depending on the size of your company, this could be no big deal or it could kill you if your site were to go down. The average cost to recovering from a website hack is about $1,000 - a professional web designer can help you make the best choice for your specific needs.
This of SaaS website fees like car insurance (plus it keeps the theme going) - no one likes paying for it but it sure is nice when the unexpected happens!
 Budgeting For Custom Applications & Programming
What is Custom business Logic?:
Not all web pages are created equal. Some pages simply display content like text, pictures, captions, and links. Other pages need to "make decisions" about what information to display and how to display it. For example, a product page might simply display the content associated to a particular product, this would not require any custom business logic. However, a similar page might need to "decide" what price to display based on the user, or provide links to PDF tech sheets only if there are any associated to that product. When pages need to "make decisions" we need to program in custom business logic.
Depending on the particular needs of a website, custom business logic can add a tremendous amount of complexity and cost to a web project.
For instance, consider a typical website page that contains some text, an image, and a few documents. A standard page will display the same content to anyone that visits the page. Now contrast that to the typical extra-net or intranet page where, depending on what user is accessing the page and their level of authorization, the page will display completely different (personalized) content. If a sales representative visits the page, they might see vastly different information than a CEO visiting the exact same page.
Custom business logic is required in these instances to enable a web page to "make decisions" about what information to display to a particular user. The needs and uses for custom business logic are limitless. When multiplied out over an entire site, custom business logic can easily turn a very small site into a very large project.
We have built some very large sites for relatively small budgets, because their pages were all relatively simple in their structure. By contrast, we have built some relatively small sites that have required large budgets to account for the complexity of all the relationships between content and users on the site.
In the end - the degree of custom business logic is always an individual line item that affects the final cost of any website design project.
 Final Thoughts & More Information
If you're a business owners, you need to understand what the difference in costs can be so you can better understand the variables within the different proposals you're going to get from different agencies. If you're a web designer, you need to be able to explain website costing to your clients.
Business owners who do not understand the value of a professional site are better off going to a freelancer or a local design shop to get a starter website. That's how we started our agency, there's nothing wrong with building quick, cheap websites.
But, that's not what I am in business for... Our MANTRA is to help our clients generate revenue - to bring them ROI. And to really make a website work, to really make a website stand above the rest - it's going to take a team of experts.
Business owners need to understand what's involved when looking to build a website that's going to convert. It's not enough to just build a website and hope it will work. In today's web marketplace you have to cover all the basis.
Questions? Want to know more?
- Small Business Owners Guide To SEO
- Choosing The Right Keywords For Your Website
- Best Web Design Articles For Business Owners
Thanks for reading, I know it was long - but you're a trooper and I'll bet your glad to stuck in there. If you have questions, post them below - if you liked this, share it! Follow @jonathanhinshaw on twitter or check us out on Facebook - we love to engage with our readers ~ Thanks!