How Much Does a Website Cost?
A website costs exactly the same as a house or a car or a horse. The reality is that website design and development costs can range significantly depending on your requirements and expectations.
Off-the-shelf website costs
Let’s start at square one (pun intended). On a high level, if you use off-the-shelf software like Squarespace and keep your design focused on a few hard-working templates, the site will be less expensive to create. These simple tools can be a great option if you don’t have complex functionality requirements and are okay with template-based design. Wix is another option to consider in this low-cost zone. Sites made this way generally cost $15K-$35K+ and can result in solid products if you are comfortable with the restrictions and compromises you’ll need to make with this approach. (You can probably find a freelancer willing to take on a simple project south of $5K, but there are important factors to consider if taking this approach. More on this below.) If you are able to make decisions quickly and know what you want, one to two months is fair timeline to create a site like this.
Costs for unique, more complex websites
If you have more complex requirements and/or a want unique design that is purpose-built for your customer and brand, but don’t need a completely custom system, look to solutions like WordPress, Drupal, and Webflow. Using these platforms will allow you to get the customization you are looking for, but still enjoy the savings you get from using a well-established existing platform that gives you a ton out of the box. This is the area where ETR does most our work. Sites made following this approach can range dramatically from about $50K to $500K+ depending on your needs, content, and desired user experience. Things like registration, e-commerce, the number of unique page designs, third-party integrations, payment processing, real-time content needs, APIs, advertising needs, amount of content, content migration, and CMS editor needs are all good examples of efforts that drive cost. Of course, the more complexity involved, the higher the effort required and the longer timeline you’ll need. The majority of the sites we make with this approach take four to six months to produce, but sometimes timelines can easily be 12+ months. If you are a larger company, make sure to be honest about how much time you will need for reviews and internal selling.
Custom website design and development
Custom site design and development is by far the most expensive approach to building a website. ETR does custom builds occasionally, when functionality, user needs, and/or security needs are so unique that one of the existing platforms won’t support your objectives. Not only is this approach hands down the most expensive to build, it will also likely prove to be the most expensive to maintain over the long run since there isn’t a community creating new (often free) features for your custom build. Any evolution of the product is up to you and will need to be fully funded by you. Custom builds will also take the longest to bring to market since you are building everything from scratch. Custom builds usually cost $500K-$1M+. Most custom builds take 12+ months to produce due to the unique features and functionality required and because you are creating everything from the ground up.
How the type of team you choose impacts budget, quality, and other considerations
Now that you have a good sense of the budgets attached to different platforms and basic ways of building websites, let’s take a look at another factor that really sways cost: The kind of team you are working with. Here are some of the pros and cons of the different approaches we commonly see.
Some companies opt to do most (or in some cases all) themselves, which will probably be the cheapest way to go. But the DIY approach has significant risks – from the variability of skills possessed across the many disciplines needed to build a site (e.g. strategy, design, development, security, integrations, etc.) to bandwidth issues when juggling multiple responsibilities to the general lack of third-party oversight and advice.
Some opt for the freelancer route, which generally entails working with a single person who has a good blend of skills. Using a freelancer can be a cost-effective solution if you can find the right person. But this is hard to do. Freelancers come with risks, though, as they have no backup, limited resources, and – although they will offer multiple skills – the reality is they are usually really good at just one thing. This may be apparent in the final product.
If you have strong project management skills and a high tolerance for risk, you could try to off-shore a site, but it’s important to be realistic about the friction involved in the process, the likely timeline, and quality of the end product. Future updates can sometimes be more difficult than is ideal too. We’ve heard lots of stories of people trying to off-shore projects to keep costs down but in the end, with all the rework needed, those projects ended up taking longer and costing more than doing it stateside with a quality firm. I’m not saying it can’t be successful, but it can be akin to winning the lottery.
Small to medium-size agency approach
You could work with a small to medium-sized agency. ETR fits this category, so I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that I think it is your best option. You’ll have a highly-skilled team who offer expertise through every phase of the project, not just one, as can be the case with a freelancer. You’ll be working with a team that knows how to ship products on time, because these relatively small teams need to get things done so that they can move onto their other projects. You’ll also often find these agencies to be more personal and interested in your business than larger agencies that have more layers of bureaucracy and competition for attention. Generally, you’ll also find them more flexible than larger agencies, as they often lack a corporate HQ setting priorities from afar. Small and medium size agencies tend to have teams with long tenures, as they are good companies to work for. The fact that these teams have worked together a long time and have a genuine interest in your business’ success is a real advantage for you. This is certainly the case with ETR. We’re successful when you succeed.
There is no shortage of decent large agencies out there if that is what you are looking for. I would say the main advantage of a large agency is the flexibility their size affords them. They have more employees, so they offer more opportunity to backfill a project if one of their team members leaves or is out for an extended period of time. Also, arguably, the larger the company the more capable they are of absorbing financial hardships. I think this is something to consider if you are looking to do a multi-year project but with most projects being four to six months, it may be less of a concern. Big agencies usually also have all the pitfalls of large companies. They can be slow moving and have lots of overhead. For these reasons and more, they are also generally more expensive at the end of the day. If you are spending $10M+ with them you will probably have their focus, but below that, maybe not. Sometimes the C-team shows up on game day, even though you were sold the A-team during the pitch, and there can be frequent reshuffling of project resources throughout the project.
I hope you have found this information beneficial. We have been designing and building websites for the past 20 years, so we have seen, led, or been a part of pretty much every kind of project you can imagine. ExpandTheRoom is here if you need help deciding which approach is best for your project and budget.