Determining how much a website costs by looking at it is a lot like trying to guess what a car costs by watching it drive by. If you don’t know much about cars, you’re basically guessing based on looks.
The same thing goes for websites. You can get a lot of flash up front for little cost, but it’s what’s under the hood that counts.Google’s homepage is about as simple as they come, but under the surface is a quarter-million characters of source code and an algorithm that updates almost twice a day.
So really, “how much does a website cost?” is too simple a question. The real question is “how much does a website cost that does what you want it to do?” There are essentially four factors that go into answering that question: Time, technical ability, design ability, and money.
Take stock of how much of each of those four resources you have to work with. Do you have in-house designers or coders that can take on some of the work without needing outside contractors? Do you have the resources to hire an agency, or can you only afford one freelancer?
Having a sense of your budget, in terms of both money and manpower, will help you decide what kind of website you can afford.
Option 1: Build It From Scratch
Think of this like a home-cooked meal. You do every step yourself, starting with the basic ingredients. It’ll take longer, and you’ll need the technical skills to prepare everything and cook it, but you can make it exactly how you want it.
On the plus side, you’ll be able to build the website exactly how you want it. Every pixel of the design and layout is up to you, every feature behind the scenes, maintenance schedules, regular updates, all of it is in your hands.
On the other hand, you have to know how to do all that. And let’s face it — most people don’t. Coding takes a long time to learn and can be insanely complicated, depending on what you want it to do.
Design is tough too — even if you have the visual sense to conceptualize a good-looking site, the ability to execute it is a different matter. Custom graphics, illustrations, and typefaces are a tricky business.
Your only overhead cost for a fully from-scratch website is the URL hosting, so this is the cheapest option by a mile. But it’s extremely time-consuming, and most companies these days simply don’t have the time or know-how to build their whole website from the ground up. Which brings us to our next option.
Option 2: Some Assembly Required
In the food metaphor, think of this like Blue Apron, Green Chef, or any number of meal delivery services. The prep work is done, you have all the ingredients in front of you, and you’ve been given clear instructions on how to turn them into a meal.
Wordpress is the de facto king of this type of site. Wordpress offers hosting, custom URLs, and a huge number of “themes” that you can build your website into, or you can build the front end from scratch if you’d prefer.
In addition, Wordpress offers tens of thousands of plugins to add functionality to your website. These can be as simple as social buttons or pageview counters or as complex as e-commerce and customer service tickets.
All of this costs money. Hosting a URL is a yearly cost. Themes can run into the hundreds of dollars, and plugins can cost thousands, depending on how complex they are and how often their developers update them.
Option 3: Drag and Drop
This is similar to Option 2,but much easier to use. Services like Wiz, Squarespace, and Weebly offer a series of templates into which you drag “blocks” with different functionalities.
This type of website couldn’t be easier to use. Just sign up, pick a starting template, and start dragging pieces in until it looks the way you want. Hosting is rolled into the cost, and most of the plugins you need are made by the hosts themselves so you don’t have to worry about compatibility.
There are downsides, though. First of all, you have to do the dragging-and-dropping yourself. That can be time-consuming, especially with more complex websites and experimentation.
Second, your site’s appearance will have to fit into one of your host’s themes. Unlike Wordpress or a from-scratch site, your freedom to customize the look of your site is limited, and if you see enough sites on the internet, they can start to look the same.
And finally, you’ll have to pay a monthly bill for as long as you want the site. There’s no option to have your site built and handed off to you for a flat rate. Prices tend to be pretty reasonable, but if you stop paying, your site disappears.
Option 4: Hire the Pros
The fourth option is to hire an agency to build a site for you. Think of this like having a fully-cooked meal delivered right to your table. You can order a la carte or pick from a menu, and all the work is done by people with a lot more experience than you have.
The biggest items in the pros column for hiring an agency are versatility and expertise. You’re hiring a whole team, from devs to writers to designers, each of whom is specially trained at that aspect of site building, so you know you’re getting the best work.
Hiring a team also means that your website can do almost anything you want it to. Every aspect of appearance and functionality is up to you, and if your agency can’t code it, they can bring in other resources and make sure everything works together.
Finally, your pay structure is often up to you as well. If you want a static site with a few pages, you can have an agency build it for a flat cost, hand it off, and you can leave it up for as long as you want. Or you can keep the agency on call for updates, maintenance, even regular content creation.
This is the most expensive option, with complex sites running into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to build and maintain. But if you demand the best of the best, it might be worth it.
The Bottom Line
The cost of a website depends on what you want it to do. If you run a small storefront, don’t sell online, don’t run a blog, and don’t need regular updates, you can get a simple static site to show people who you are and what you do for a few hundred dollars.
If you’re a big business with thousands of clients to manage, e-commerce, regular content updates, or other advanced features, you’ll need to shell out a little extra for a top-notch website. It’s just like a car — performance doesn’t come cheap.