How Much Should a Website Cost?

What Goes into the Pricing of a Website

Custom websites are expensive.

There’s no way around it. But custom anything is expensive, so why are expectations different when it comes to websites?

Most of the time it’s due to the fact that there are solutions available for individuals and small businesses to create a fantastic-looking website for less than $5,000. For many situations, a SaaS platform, like Squarespace, that hosts data and provides free templates is a perfect solution. SaaS platforms provide great opportunities, but they have a negative effect on web developers because they devalue the work.

Your website is your organizations primary communication channel. For many organizations, it’s hard to justify a website’s expense, but they find budget for people, advertising, building signs, and meeting room tables.

From a marketing perspective, you should always have the best website you can have. You don’t want to cut costs on the most forward-facing asset you have. If you’re choosing instead to leverage SEO and paid advertising, you’re choosing to spend money directing traffic to a website that isn’t optimized to convert.

What Goes into the Cost of a Website?

Here are the most common drivers of cost:

The Number of System Integrations

No website is an island. 

System Integration Stack

The website front-end is where your customers interact with many other systems that power your business. For example, a business’s ERP or CRM are mission-critical tools that power business operations. The website has to connect to those systems, at unique points, to communicate unique data. That could be capturing new prospective customers in your CRM, or passing eCommerce orders in for manufacturing and fulfillment.

Many marketing and eCommerce systems provide their own API that you can use as a connector, but if you need something specific, it will have to be custom built. This also means identifying where it will connect on your website, what other systems it also needs to connect to, what information is communicated, and how it can transfer data accurately, efficiently, and securely.

Successfully building a custom system integration requires careful planning ahead of time, creativity and quality code on the part of the developer, a QA period, and coordinating with in-house IT teams.

There is no one approach, and there is no “one size fits all” solution. Often creating a custom system integration takes longer than building the base website.

The Complexity of Your Website Theme

The website theme is the look and feel of your website, covering details of design and user interaction. Creating a custom website theme requires coordination between web designers, who create website layouts, orchestrate navigation, and organize information architecture, and web developers who functionally implement the designs of a web designer. This includes integrating your page with other systems to enable the appearance of multimedia elements, like videos through a Youtube connector. It also means designing minute actions, like the way a menu opens, to fit your brand.

Quality of Service

More than anything, the cost of your website is determined by web development service. So much value goes into a website that’s less about the code being written than it is about the creativity of the engineers themselves. There are dozens of ways to create what you want online.

When you spend more on a custom website, what you’re really purchasing is the time and expertise of people who have developed and honed their skills over years. You want the expert, and you don’t want to settle for anyone else because websites are incredibly complex, and if you’re needing unique code written especially for you, you want to ensure that it’s well-made.

The price of your website, and the reliability of its build will depend on the ingenuity and expertise of the developer you have chosen to hire. Unfortunately, this is the point that many choose to sacrifice on in order to reduce cost. What is sacrificed is quality, web development service determines site performance, security, and the amount of time before you need to update your website again. Good custom code does not rely on shortcuts, and often takes a longer amount of time to ensure that it is planned, created, and undergoes QA. This is the significant difference in price and quality between websites: code that ensures that you aren’t painted into a corner.

The most visible difference between a $5,000 website and a $70,000 website is the developer hours it took to create them.

Gauging Your Website’s Cost

How much do you want to differentiate online?

SaaS platforms like Shopify or Squarespace are cheap because they don’t allow customization. A core development team writes website code that is paid for and utilized by thousands of people, as opposed to custom code which is just used by you. Part of the sticker shock that many feel when they realize how much a custom website costs comes from SaaS platforms.

Squarespace is a canned solution - you have to adapt your business to fit the can, and you can’t differentiate with a canned system. You may choose to get around this by working with the limitations of your available systems, but in the end you’re still paying thousands a year and not getting the results and customization you want. In the end, trying to customize a website platform that’s only $29/mo may end up costing you more time and money.

The moment you need to modify the template, even to feature your logo on your homepage a specific way, you will hit a customization ceiling. You’re looking for specific capabilities - but a SaaS isn’t going to allow you to create it. Squarespace and Shopify have their own, different strengths. If your business happens to fit those pre-built molds, then you don’t need a custom website.

It’s a difficult choice because the pricing gap is so wide. Gauging how much your business’s website is going to cost–needs to cost–is one of the challenges of building. In part, this is because there’s not really a middle ground when it comes to web development costs. Most projects fall either into the $5,000 Squarespace range or the $70,000 custom Drupal range. $20,000 is not enough to escape templates, or properly leverage customization on both the frontend and backend of the website. You may as well stay on your $5,000 Squarespace website.

Estimating With Expert Project Scoping

This is where project scoping becomes a vital part of your website strategy. Project scoping with web development experts, who you trust not to upsell you on technology that your business doesn’t need, can help clarify the decision for you.

Project scoping is a period that happens at the beginning of a web development project. The client, web developers, solution architects, and project managers will sit down together to create plans for the build. This project scoping period answers questions of time estimates, finalizes budgets, and establishes deadlines and milestones. It sets down a blueprint for the project that saves time and prevents confusion in the long run. Because there is no one way to create a website, this project scoping period is a time when the developer, project manager, and the client can agree on the best solution together.

Are you trying to differentiate in the marketplace? Can you safely make the decision to be okay with non-custom functionality? Can you delay going custom? These are the questions that come up in this scoping, and allow your developers to recognize when you’re looking for something unique.

Is Custom Really Worth it?

The reality is, your website is going to need a significant budget. You get out of it what you put into it, and maybe the most difficult part of approaching your website is knowing how much you should spend on it. Align your expectations, and know when you’re being priced too low or too high.