How much does a Web site cost?

Posted on April 20th, 2009 by Jason Shindler

By Jason Shindler

We get this question A LOT. By a lot, I mean, every day. It is often the first question people ask.

Short answer: it depends on what you need and want.

Background: I always chuckle a little when people ask this question before we have the specifics of what they want or need. Imagine this scenario: someone walks into an Autonation dealership (a franchise of car dealerships, mainly in the south that sells many different brands of cars) and says “how much does a car cost?” They haven’t explained what kind of car they want. Do they need a Ford F150? That isn’t a car I guess, but I’m sure the delaership sells them too. Do they want a Toyota Prius? A minivan? A used sub-compact? Or are they looking for a Rolls Royce? The sales person will probably laugh or be bewildered by the question.

That’s how it is with Web sites: a lot of choices. Instead of number of seats, number of optional accessories, we price Web sites based on the amount of work involved. We’ll ask some questions to try and figure what is necessary and what the client wants. Key questions:

– Is there a logo for the business or are we creating one?

– How many pages will be on the Web site?

– Is there a shopping cart? There are several follow up questions if the answer is yes.

– Do we need to write the content for the Web site or will it be provided?

– Will the content need to be edited?

– Does the client want a Content Management System installed?

– Are there other calculators or interactive sections of the Web site? Several follow up questions if the answer is Yes.

Also, it is important to know that the same answers to these questions can generate vastly different prices from different providers. There are at least 4 different types of Web site development providers, in order of pricing:

– $ Templates: There are many providers who will provide a pre-designed template and put your content into it. This is a great way to save money, but often the design of your Web site will suffer.

– $$ India: There are many firms that do most of the work in places where labor is cheap. Keep in mind that design is subjective and linked to a designer’s culture, so a design made by an expert in India may not be great for your audience.

– $$$ Freelancers: There are many people who work for themselves from home. They can do great work on a budget.  One downside can be reliability: if the designer gets busy or something happens to them, you may be on your own.

$$$$ Firm: This is what we are, a company of Web site developers. Naturally, we think this is the best approach!  But seriously, this approach is great, but not as inexpensive as the others. Note also, even among firms, there is a wide variety of quality and pricing.

That’s all from me, I’ve invited some other Web site developers to comment below.

18 thoughts on “How much does a Web site cost?

  1. Good post.

    We have been using an automated form that assigns each action we will take in designing a website from a base cost and adding the actions. Each action is given a point value (difficulty ranking). When we are done, our system provides a cost and the client can accept it or modify the actions to meet his budget. It really works and saves our sales people a lot of time and makes closing a snap…

  2. Nice post, I get this question a lot too along with “how long does a website take to create?”…and like you said, it all depends.
    Also, I’m sure this is a given, but I also ask for any reference websites where the client likes the design, navigation, etc.

    @chuck – your cost calculator sounds great. Is it something your firm developed, or is it public?

  3. Check out some of the YStore! Type desiginers and folks who build off other engines. Such as They offer a base price with an added $$ amount for each new item added.

  4. Hey Chuck, nice post (and name BTW) – I agree with your thoughts. We’ve developed a form for pricing as well, although it is an internal document that clients don’t see. We used Excel and defined our pricing based on certain fixed costs, page count, hourly items, etc.

    It’s worked well for us over the years to help qualify pricing on such ethereal concepts as design.

  5. Good post! I’d add a few: Rarely does the client that wishes to have a website actually understand or know what is needed.

    So, they save some money and get a Template, which doesn’t do much.

    Since they still won’t want to spend much, they find India. Soon to discover that out-sourcing to India simply means that the web developer gets to learn on the job while being paid. Since the client doesn’t know what that is either, they can easily get fed up with the India experience.

    So, hopefully they find a freelancer that has some actual multi-development experience.

    Since most all websites start as some idea, they in general are only some portion of that original idea
    when completed. As the site goes through an evolution, the client might figure out what is really needed.. and sure enough, they might come to the realization that the Firm might have been the best choice.

    Of course the above would not be true for every client and project, but all things being equal, you can see it supports the original post. Perhaps it should be:

    “What’s the TRUE actual cost of a web project?”

  6. I absolutely agree with the post with respect to how to sort of what you want first rather then just mere looking at the bigger picture. I was in the the same position a few months back


    I had asked an designer to build a website for myself who is based in India. At start things were looking good. But soon, the project went over board with time. I am not sure what was the reason, because he always said he is working on it. But i always wondered, how long does it take to build a flash website(photography) with very little 2D animation. And that too, after providing all the content, photos, logo, etc.

    I absolutely lost my temper in the end and parted away with the deal.

    My suggestion would be that if you are outsourcing any designing job to India make sure with evary details to whom are you giving it. I would trust a firm more than an individual.

    I am still looking for a desigenr for my small photography website. Can anyone suggest me a few options.

  7. As a freelance web designer I completely agree with the above comments. I have worked with many small to medium size companies, that by the time they find me have given up on the whole design process. They have either used templates or outsourced outside the US and feel the end product does not reflect their brand and message OR they went with a larger agency and feel their project was lost in the shuffle of larger clients.

    It all comes down to what you really want. I love the saying “You can have it cheap and quick, good and cheap or good and quick…but not all three”. Basically you get what you pay for.

  8. Your discussion of pricing factors is good, but I take issue with your evaluation of the various options. 1) Just because templates are used, there’s no reason that design has to suffer. You are simply saving money by using a format that has already been proven. 2) Design work outsourced to India rarely suffers from cultural influences, though it does suffer from communication & accessibility issues. I’ve never found it to justify the savings. 3) Freelancers may get busy on other projects and lack the resources to work multiple clients, but that happens at big firms too. More likely is that the freelancer will devote more attention to an individual client, since they rely on that single client being satisfied and building a relationship rather than on pure volume. 4) Large firms have their place, but primarily you are paying for their offices and staff. If you can afford the significantly additional cost, or need the fastest guaranteed turn around, Firms are an option to consider.

    Also, of the four options you listed, Freelancers are the most likely to be willing to negotiate on the price, or put off immediate profits for future returns.

    That is how I price my work. Generally set up is provided at cost to the client. I then must rely on the quality of my work and their satifaction with it, to sell them on buying additional services or requesting additional design work down the road. So when someone asks me “What does a web site cost?”, I simply answer “They start just under $300 and go up from there.”

  9. Good post.

    There are so many factors, as listed in the comments above, that affect the development costs. One item not listed above is the implementation of data and customization of even already created content managed systems and/ or templates. So often the client thinks that because something appears “simple” on a website, it is simple to create. There may be a lot of data involved behind the scenes that cause the website to function in a precise manner.

    The better questions for even startups to consider include “what do I want to accomplish with my website?”, “who is the person I am trying to reach?”, “what budget can I work with?”, and, as mentioned above, know what you can bring to the table in content, graphics, logo, and input.

    Websites are a critical part of most business marketing strategies and should be created to set your best image forward with your online clients. As with most marketing, cutting corners to save a little can affect your client image a lot in the long run.

  10. GREAT post.

    This question comes up a lot, and like you said is so hard to answer. A web “site” can mean many things to many people, and the capabilities you want built in are also a factor. Are we building a content management system? A custom application with a database back-end? A straight set of web pages? Add a little social media to the mix and all of a sudden there’s more than just a few options.

    I agree with Denise’s post about considering who you want to reach with your web site. It’s so important to understand that the site is simply not about your business — it’s about who you want to reach.

    I actually wrote on this very topic in our blog in a post entitled, “The Web Design Process: Building a Meaningful Web Site for Your Business”. I tried to speak to the business user and the kinds of things to consider when outlining a web strategy. Would love for you to check it out and provide your feedback!

  11. This is a great post because I have had to deal with all of this several times. Most people underestimate how specialized some skills in web design are. Some companies want to pay no more than $10 an hour for a web designer with qualifications such as “Must have a computer science degree, must have 5+ years experience with Flash, must have 5+ years experience with MySQL databases, must have 5+ years experience with e-commerce, etc, etc”. I’m sorry, but with that pay and those required qualifications, they will never get their website built. Or they will find someone who will lie to them about having all of those qualifications. Either way, the skill of a good web designer is ALWAYS underestimated by people outside of the industry.

    Also, I wanted to say that I agree with George Sweet’s post. Just because someone is a freelancer, doesn’t mean that it will take too long or quality would suffer. Most freelancers know they need to keep their clients happy because their whole business relies on them. They don’t have the comfort of relying on others to make up for their mistakes or keep the clients satisfied. Also, a freelancer doesn’t have the same overhead of large firms that pay for offices, cleaning crews, and sometimes secretaries and other non-design staff.

    Even though most freelancers won’t be able to have the same knowledge base as a large firm would have to satisfy all of their client’s needs, most freelancers have connections to other freelancers that can do small side work on specialized areas.

    Most business owners don’t grasp the idea that their website IS their storefront/office to people who have never visited their store/office. You don’t want to sacrifice quality for cost. You should want everything organized and easy to find. The example I sometimes have used with potential clients is that an unorganized/unattractive website is like having an unorganized store with your products in random places and laying all over the floor, with their cash register hidden in a back room.

    I mostly hate seeing websites designed by the business owner. A business owner designing their website is like a business owner building their office building, and doing their own wiring and plumbing. It just doesn’t make sense so let the experts take care of it.

    One last opinion – A web designer that has to use Dreamweaver is not a web designer. A good web designer can design a website with a word processor. If any business owners read this, please keep that in mind when hiring a web designer.

  12. @WAM Designs: LOVED this analogy: “A business owner designing their website is like a business owner building their office building, and doing their own wiring and plumbing. It just doesn’t make sense so let the experts take care of it.”

    As for Dreamweaver, I’ve heard the latest version is good, but it most definitely should not be your only tool. I’ve actually managed to stay away from it and intend to moving forward…looking at straight code is just far more elegant to me!

  13. Hi Chuck,

    Although I agree with most of your post, I beg to differ with your “India” point.

    We are based in Bangalalore and have developed thousands of websites for US Auto dealers and have nearly 6 % of the US market share in this vertical.

    Although, it may be possible that a few of the overseas firms may not have their designers “attuned” to the US culture, but as long as you are dealing with a professional design firm, it makes no difference if the firm is based in India or Timbactoo!

  14. Good Post! The metrics are put together nicely….

    However I feel:
    a) Mentioning ”INDIA” was not required. Like other heading viz. Templates, Freelancers, Firms, this too could have been “Remote Firm” or some generic term.

    b) Also delivery time can have an impact on the cost… Customer sometime want super quick delivery which means deploying additional resources, stretched working hours etc….

  15. One more thing to remember: If your website targets global customers, you must factor in localization expenses. Usually $0.20 to $0.50 per word (source language) times the number of target languages. Asian languages are more expensive than European.

    Irrespective of the languages that your client needs on his website, don’t shop for the cheapest LSP (language service provider). Nothing ruins your client’s reputation faster than an awkward, culturally unacceptable or incorrect translation.

    Among famous translation snafus:

    “Got Milk?” was translated for Mexico as “Are you lactating?”

    Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”

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