07/30/2019

Why are Websites So F*$@!¢$ Expensive?

By Dean Clarke

Regardless of what kind of business you are in, in today’s world, having a website is part of the trade. Clients, customers, and investors alike are online, so your business needs to be too. Many business owners hire out the work of building their websites. If you’ve tried this, going as far as getting a quote, did you experience a moment of shock before you picked your jaw up off the floor and started googling how to build a website on your own? You’re not alone. Let’s find out what makes great websites cost so much.

Good and Bad Website Differences

First of all, answering the question of why getting a website is so expensive isn’t cut and dry. In fact, it’s a lot like asking how much a car costs. Can you get any old clunker for a thousand bucks or under? Sure.
Can you get a pretty nice car for cheap provided you have the skills to do some of the work needed yourself? You bet. Do either of those price figures even touch the price range of a performance vehicle ready for the track? Not at all.

Websites are the same. You can get cheap websites made, but they might be very bad. It might be hard to navigate, or take too long to load. The key information your audience wants to know might be hard to find, buried under vague language or poor communication. A bad website won’t work if someone tries to access it from a smartphone, and it might not even show up in google searches.

A good website will, in contrast, load quickly, be easy to navigate, have straightforward access to key information, be optimized for mobile, and most importantly, show up in search engines. A good website will basically sell your company, and your products, for you.

A good website is crucial to your business. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to pay out the nose.

So, What is a Website For?

Every company and organization in the world is looking to tell a story. The website inevitably will become the ultimate place where your story exists. Some companies are looking to just convey information, like Wikipedia. Others have a brand new product or service that they want to introduce to the world. This process of storytelling is something that we cover in our brand discovery approach called Journey Line.

Many times, you don’t only want to convey information, but you want to collect it. Whether that information is a name and an email in the form of a lead or it might be to collect data about your lunch order. The web gives us the opportunity to interact with users in a way that has fundamentally shifted our world.

Some websites will actually mediate an entire transaction. E-commerce websites, for example, exchange your credit card information to initiate the delivery of a product or service. Other transactions include online games where you trade your time for viewing ads or survey responses.

Lastly, websites have become a hub where individuals can connect with other people. Social media websites create a virtual atmosphere where you can share information, transactions, collection of material, and whatever else you might be able to dream up.

Understanding Website Costs

We really can’t dive deeply into the cost of a website without talking about where that sticker-shocking price tag comes from. The price of a website always depends on several factors:

Functionality

Essentially, the most important factor when it comes to a website design is how that website is going to function. What kind of interaction does the website have with its visitors, and how much of that functionality is so unique that there is not an existing technology that can be built into the site? For instance, a flat/informational website has very little functionality. Basic HTML can handle just images and text. Images that start to interact for parallax or a complex design that creates some sort of interactivity adds another layer of time and effort, and therefore costs.

We take features for granted because they’ve become so ubiquitous in the world of the web. It’s often not easy to build a calendar feature, or social status board, or even a checkout experience – especially from scratch! Yes, this is a functionality that we run into everyday, but designers and developers have spent endless time and energy building this so that it feels simple and easy to use. Luckily, much of this functionality can exist in plugins and chances are, you might be able to pay a nominal amount to add this sort of functionality to your site. If you use a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress, you will be able to include this functionality to your website, but it doesn’t come without a cost – plugins can slow down a website’s performance and open the site up to security vulnerabilities.

Uniqueness and Custom Design

We often compare building websites to building a house – first you have to start with a plan, talk with an architect and figure out the details – where you want to live, how many rooms your house is going to have, and where those rooms are located WAY before you start picking out paint colors. You can skip the architect if you want to buy a prefabricated home, or perhaps you want to live in a trailer. Designers and engineers have already spent time planning several layouts so you can choose from a templates to save time.

All of this is also true for a website – if you want to skip the custom planning and go with a design that is already made (a template), it will save you time and dollars, but don’t be surprised if there is still a charge to get that website up and running. You still have to connect all the hoses, install the plumbing, and wire the electricity for the home to perform as it’s intended.

If you’re looking for a custom design, be prepared to pay for it – a designer can take 5-10 hours designing a single page or “use case”. Depending on what your designer charges per hour – this can add up quickly.

User Experience

Something that you always want to consider is how the user is going to interact with your website. If you simply want someone to collect information about your company, then a single-page website should be sufficient. A well-designed page with text and images that essentially becomes an online business card, might do the trick. Other times, you may want to create a virtual experience that mimics a real life process. The more functionality your website has, you can bet the longer it’s going to take to build, so ultimately, the more money it will cost you.

Domain and Hosting

Basically, you need to purchase two things to make your website live on the internet:

  1. Domain
  2. Hosting solution 

Domains are pretty straightforward. Domains essentially ‘point’ users to the web host that houses your website. Examples include google.com or figmints.com. Typically, you can purchase a good domain for around $10 per year. 

Hosting is where your website lives. In simple terms, there are three solutions for hosting:

  1. Hosting packaged within your website builder: Examples include SquareSpace or Wix. These examples are great solutions for DIY web builders who want to start with a template and everything is included within one monthly cost. It’s important to remember that hosting is an on-going cost, and these DIY sites often charge more because they’re amortizing the cost the software that you used “for free” to build the website over time. 
  2. Working with a web hosting provider. You would be building your own website, or hiring a freelancer, and then using a web hosting provider to house your website. Examples of web hosting providers are WPengine, GoDaddy, and BlueHost.
  3. Agency hosting. Agency hosting is where the agency that built yoursite hosts and maintains your newly built site on their dedicated servers. This is definitely advantageous because your agency is already familiar with your website and can keep it running smoothly through regular technical updates and security enhancements. 

Expect to pay anywhere from $5/month for barebones hosting to $150/month for fully-managed hosting with advanced features. The hosting fees scale based on how large your website is and how much traffic it gets.

Website Type

The price of your website will also depend on what kind of site you want. Setting up a simple blog is different than building an online shop. A small business website with a few pages will be less costly than an enterprise site that will need more pages.

Development, Setup, and Design

You can’t just buy the parts to your website, they will also need to be assembled, or in other words, set up, designed, and developed. You can pay web designers or developers to do this, or you can spend time trying to figure it out on your own. You can guess which of these is the cheaper option.

Other Components

We’ve talked about basic websites up until now, but based on what you need the website to do for you, you might need additional plugins, apps, or even third-party services, which will add to the cost. 

Maintenance

Putting up a website isn’t a one and done deal. Websites need some ongoing help to keep running the way they’re supposed to. Maintenance and marketing are both vital to the life of your website, and you need to make room for them in your website budget. 

… And those are just a few of the factors that funnel into that final price tag. Basically, the more functionality and larger the site, the more expensive you’ll go. Again, website design and development is much like building a house. Ideally, you’ll want to build the type of site that best suits your needs and budget.

Okay, So What are These Different Types of Websites?

OK – so you made it this far, and now we’ll tell you what to expect when you’re shopping for a website. Note that these costs are estimated based on using a custom designer and development shop. These can definitely vary based on your use case, geography, and resources. 

Splash Page/Landing Page

This is usually a page that exists within an existing website, but many times, brand new companies will want a “coming soon” page, or an informational brochure as a holding place while a better site is on the way.

Agency Cost Estimates: $1,000-$3,500

Single Page Website

Depending on the functionality that exists on that single page, this can be a much less expensive route to go when considering a full website. To a non-technical person, these websites can look and feel like “real websites,” with navigation that links to different parts of the single page. Many of our clients opt for this approach when they absolutely need to have a custom design, but their pocketbook doesn’t allow it. Check out these great examples of single pages sites.

Agency Cost Estimates: $5,000-24,000 custom, $6,000-12,000 theme

Brochure Websites/Company Profiles

Here’s where things get tricky. Some brochure websites demand a lot of functionality while others are more straightforward. For example, many of our clients miss the fact that the web functionality they were truly in search for often doesn’t come out of the box – streaming audio/video archives, a membership portal, an events calendar, among other enhancements. These can escalate the cost of a simple, informational website with multiple pages, to one more in-line with a web application. 

A brochure website consists of 5-10 “page types” each of these pages have a similar look and feel, but organizationally are different. For example, a bedroom and a library might feel like it has a similar structure, but their purposes are slightly different. Sure, you can have “about us” content on your calendar page, but why would you do that?

Simple brochure websites have a very wide range in pricing because of the range that usually exists between the different types of content from company A to company B.

Agency Cost Estimates: $24,000-$75,000 custom, $5,000-12,000 theme

Web Applications (Apps)

Here’s where things get fun. When you want a website to have completely unique functionality and you want to create a business around that functionality, chances are, what you’re looking for is a web application.

If you’ve ever logged into a website with a username and password, you’ve probably used a web application. Web applications are extensive and complex. If a brochure website can be considered a two bedroom home, a web application is more like a museum. Every museum is different, and can range from a small gallery to the Guggenheim. Similarly, the web application can be as simple as texting you if it’s going to rain, to something as complex as Facebook.

Because almost every web application is different, we always recommend starting with an application discovery. This discovery is akin to hiring an architect before you go out and build a structure. This will save you an incredible amount of time down the road, and give you a really great sense of feasibility of the application that you’re trying to build.

Agency Cost Estimates: $50,000-$250,000 custom web application, with $6,000-12,000 application discovery

E-commerce Sites

E-commerce websites are a mini form of a web app. You don’t only have a customer view, or customers can view product information, sort what they’re looking for, put in their credit card information, and make a purchase, you also have to think about the administrative work on the backend. You have to be able to login, upload those products, the descriptions, the images… You get the idea.

Luckily, e-commerce websites are a very familiar web application. This is not a completely unique user experience. In fact, we have many best practices to follow when creating a beautiful and seamless commerce transaction on the web. That is why there are so many themes and templates that have e-commerce functionality built in. If you’re looking to get your online store off the ground, starting with these simple themes and templates is going to be the best way forward. However, if you have a product that is completely unique, or a SaaS (software-as-a-service) tool, you may have to build something custom to provide that experience.

Agency Cost Estimate: $35,000-125,000 for custom. $12,000-25,000 theme with $2,500-6,000 discovery & planning

Getting Your Website Done


We’ve now covered the list of things that need to be in your website budget. Will you need to hire out all this work? Not at all. You have a few options:

DIY’ing Your Website

Hosts like Bluehost or Joomla let you build your own website for around $5/month, or $60/year. If you put in the work, this option will make it possible to build a high-quality website and keep your costs down at the same time.

You don’t need to know how to code to build your own website. There are many DIY website builders out there. Our personal favorites are Squarespace, and Shopify for ecommerce websites. These websites provide a low monthly cost for “hosting” the website and give you the tools to build the website yourself with minimal to no coding or design skills required.

But, this doesn’t change the fact that you need to deeply consider the value and the experience that you’re trying to bring to the end user. Whenever we consult with clients who are looking to utilize a tool like these, we always start with the Journey Line process to establish the correct story, and the best foot forward.

Hire a Freelancer

There is an ever increasing pool of freelancers in the world. That is both good and bad. For every good freelancer, there are at least 100 bad ones. If you want to go the freelancer route, make sure you vet them, and try to validate the portfolio of their work. Also remember that a freelance designer may not know how to develop and vice versa. Much like trying to be the general contractor for building a house, you’ll have to manage a series of subcontractors. This is another great reason why hiring an agency could be a great way to go.

Working With an Agency

A great general contractor, or architect is worth their weight in gold. They’re going to guide you through the steps that you had no idea were there. Where this might be your first website project, often times for a seasoned professional, this is their 50th. They’ve also literally made it their business to serve you as a client, not just get the work done.

The Final Word

Like everything else in business, it’s important to think about your website in terms of ROI. If virtually every customer that you will ever have is going to look at your website, and make a judgment about you, how valuable is your web presence? While most companies have thought about this, and have used their budget to think through their web presence, instead of their brick and mortar establishment, you don’t want to be left behind.

Whether you’re planning to build a simple brochure or website to get your brand new start up off the ground, or if you want to build a revenue generating software-as-a-service company online, we highly recommend considering starting with and architectural discovery process, we call ours the Journey Line

There are countless platforms and channels for your website. Not really sure where to start? Try our our marketing calculator, which will take what you’re doing and where you’d like to go and give a plan on where to go in your website, marketing, sales, and more!