The question our clients ask most is also one of the hardest to answer: How much is this going to cost? The reason we can’t always give a straight answer is that, well, it’s complicated. The cost of a website varies depending on what you’re using it for and how much you can afford. In this article, we will break down the various factors that go into pricing out a site. We’ll also offer some tips to help you minimize costs and avoid spending too much.
In 2018, modern frameworks like Bootstrap, and content management systems (CMS) like WordPress have made creating a website easier in some ways and much more difficult in others. Now, almost anyone can build a website, but it takes a lot of expertise to do it well. The complexity of modern sites requires designers and developers to understand several different web programming languages, search engine optimization, principles of design, user experience development, and other specialized skills.
Most websites today are built using some sort of website building platform or content management system. A CMS is a (mostly) user-friendly platform for developing a site and managing content. Instead of hand-coding every page separately, the developer creates templates that allow pages to be generated dynamically based on queries sent to a database.
There are many CMS options available, but by far the most popular is WordPress. At Hungry Ghost Design, we work with many web frameworks and content management systems. However, 99% of our current live sites are WordPress. As illustrated in the graph below, WordPress accounts for a whopping 55% of market share for CMS usage.
Because WordPress is so widely used, this article will focus on the costs associated with building a WordPress website. If you have questions about the price of developing a site using a different CMS or making one from scratch, please feel free to contact Hungry Ghost Design.
What do you need to build a website?
Domain: around $14/year for a .com TLD
You can purchase domain names from a variety of sources. Some hosting providers even offer them free with a hosting package. We recommend using Namecheap.
Hosting: $10/month - $50/month
Finding the right hosting can be daunting. WordPress can be a drain on server resources, so it’s important to find hosting that supports it. Managed WordPress hosting can be costly and isn’t always the best option for smaller sites. We recommend SiteGround, InMotion, Greengeeks, or Bluehost. For more information on where to host a WordPress website, check out this article.
SSL Certificate: free - $80/year
As of July 2018, Google flags sites that aren’t https an not secure. This can damage SEO and scare visitors away. There are a lot of free options available such as Cloudflare shared SSL and Let’s Encrypt. Many hosting providers offer a free certificate as part of their packages. If you need better security you can buy a premium certificate: we recommend Comodo, GlobalSign, or RapidSSL. Hungry Ghost Design includes a free Cloudflare certificate with every site we host.
Theme: free - thousands of dollars
You can’t use WordPress without a theme. A theme is a collection of template files that work together to give your website its unique design. Customizing your theme changes how it looks. You can think of WordPress as a foundation and your theme as a house built on it. There are literally thousands of themes to choose from. Many are free, and some cost a few hundred dollars per year for a single site license. A fully custom theme created by a professional developer can cost many thousands of dollars. Your theme choice depends on your budget and how you intend to use your site.
Plugins: free - several hundred dollars
Plugins are used to extend WordPress functionality. There are plugins for literally anything you want your site to do. Want an online store? There’s a plugin for that. Want to accept credit cards? There’s a plugin for it. Roughly 40,000 are free. Premium plugins cost anywhere from $10/year for a single site license to several hundred a year. A custom developed plugin for a specific purpose can cost quite a bit depending on what it’s designed to do.
As you can see, figuring out how much a site is going to cost you gets complicated pretty quickly. There are a lot of variables involved, so let’s break it down a bit further.
First impressions are everything. Your website is the first thing people see when searching for you online and it’s the center of your digital marketing strategy. It should reflect the same standards you have for other aspects of your business. Obviously, it should be functional and easy to navigate. Beyond that, your site should get your message across, both to potential customers and search engines.
It’s important not to skimp. The good news is that a great site is still less expensive than traditional forms of advertising such as radio, TV, and print.
How much you decide to spend on your website depends a lot on your goals. If you just want a convenient way for people to find your address and phone number, you won’t have to spend much.
But, most business owners want more from their sites. They want to more sales leads, increased revenue, or better brand awareness. They want to create buzz about their products or services. They want to provide valuable information to their customers or build a loyal following on Facebook. All of these goals require a solid foundation in a website.
Another important consideration when building a site is how much time you’re willing to invest. Time is money after all. Consider your level of expertise. Will you have the time to learn what you need to build a self-hosted WordPress website and still do all the other things you need to do to run your business?
WordPress is user-friendly, but not that user-friendly. Once you figure out how it works, it’s super easy to create new content. But, there’s a pretty steep learning curve that becomes steeper as you add functionality.
Are you willing to sacrifice some sales revenue to work on your website?
Building a website on a shoestring budget: starting at $100
After setting your goals and budget, you determine that you just don’t have much to spend on your website, you might consider doing it yourself.
You can find out pretty much everything you need to know online — there are tutorials, videos, courses, Facebook groups, and forums that address practically every aspect of building a WordPress website. WPBeginner is a good place to start. You can also consult the WordPress codex for detailed instructions on installing WordPress on your host’s server.
Choosing premium themes and plugins will add to the price of your site, but there are many free options available that are just as useful. Don’t think that just because it’s free, it won’t do the job.
If you’re willing to spend a little money, you can add advanced features by using premium themes and plugins. A page building plugin will help you have a professional looking website without learning code. Premium products for WordPress range in price from under $100 to several hundred.
Above all, do your research. Google is your friend. Put it to good use. If you do your homework, you can have a pretty good website for only the cost of your domain name on hosting service. If you choose to include some premium components, you can have a damn good site.
Just remember, your time costs money too, so free isn’t really free.
Mid-priced website: $500 - $2000
So you’ve decided you don’t want to do it all yourself, but you want to cut costs as much as possible. You might want to hire a designer/developer to build you an off-the-shelf website.
If you don’t want to spend many thousands of dollars on a custom theme, but you want someone else to handle the installation and configuration of your website, hiring a developer is the way to go.
Complex functionality or specific design requirements will increase the cost. However, many developers have multi-site licenses for premium themes and plugins and can pass some savings on to you.
Your developer can also help with configuring SEO plugins, social media linkages, setting up site security, server configuration, setting up email accounts, and installing APIs for various external processes like mailing lists and payment gateways.
Developers have varying ideas about client involvement with website design and development, so make sure you’re clear on expectations.
We do a lot of off-the-shelf work at Hungry Ghost Design. We use a collaborative approach, working closely with our clients to create something that meets their needs while keeping their budget minimal. Open lines of communication regarding roles and responsibilities are essential to the this process.
Ecommerce website: $1500 - $3000
Selling products online is a great way to grow your business. WordPress is an ideal platform for an ecommerce site, and WooCommerce is the recommended plugin. It’s developer-friendly and highly extendable.
The WooCommerce base plugin is free, and you can set up a store without any extra functionality, but this probably won’t be enough in most cases. For most WooCommerce applications, you will need to buy extensions or hire a developer to write code.
Although it works with any theme, some a more suited than others. You can further extend WooCommerce by using an optimized theme such as Astra.
Custom website: $3000 - $30,000+
Custom WordPress sites use themes that are designed and coded specifically for the website owner. Most of the functionality is unique to the site’s needs as well. While third-party plugins are used, we develop custom plugins are built to meet specific functional requirements.
There are virtually no limitations with a custom website. You have complete freedom over every aspect of design and functionality.
The advantage to a custom WordPress site it that it’s unique to your brand. Custom code is often lighter than code distributed over several plugins, so your site is faster and more responsive.
You can cut costs by only having the theme custom built and using third-party plugins. Or you can take an existing theme and make it your own by having your developer do deep customizations. Since WordPress and all themes and extensions use the GPL v2 license, it is perfectly okay to modify them in any way.
Other factors affecting website cost
Attaching a price tag to a WordPress (or any other) website isn’t straightforward. Like buying a car, it depends on what you need and what you can afford. You make compromises to balance cost with features
Ultimately, the cost of building a website comes down to four resources — time, design skills, tech knowledge, and money. When thinking about price, you should be considering which of these four resources you have and which you lack.
If you have a lot of time and not much money, then you could learn the skills you need to build your own site. If you have some money but not much skill or time, then you should consider hiring a developer.
Of course, if you have none of these resources, you could use Wix or something like that, but beware: You won’t own your website, Wix will. So if you ever decide you want a custom site, you’ll have to start from scratch. See our article on the problems with website builders.
A note about the price ranges referenced in this article: Website costs aren’t solely dependant on how much coding and design work goes into them. Prices vary by region, the types of organizations served, the skillset of the developer, and other factors.
When hiring a developer, it’s best to take a look at their work. Some developers charge a lot but don’t do outstanding work. Others are incredibly gifted and don’t cost as much. How much they charge isn’t always a reflection of ability.
Another thing to consider is copywriting. Hiring someone to write your website copy can get expensive fast. The price for a page of copy can range anywhere from $30 – $1000. At Hungry Ghost Design, we usually ask our clients to write their own copy, which we edit for grammar, spelling, and SEO. Then we a charge a minimal editorial and processing fee. If the writing is awful, we might make editorial suggestions. The decision about who writes copy and how much editing we provide is negotiated before the project starts.
Images are another factor that can drive the cost of a website higher. It takes time for a developer to source and process relevant pictures for your site. Also, choosing to use premium stock is expensive. You can cut costs by providing your own images and processing them according to your developer’s requirements before you send them.
A Word About Communication
Clear lines of communication are essential to the development of a website. You should discuss all roles and responsibilities with your developer before the project starts.
Every project should include an explicit project scope document and contract. Inevitably, there will be changes, and you should make sure that these are addressed as well. You can save a lot of money and headaches by having an agreement change orders will be handled.
Above all, don’t be afraid to ask questions.
While this guide isn’t definitive, it should give you a rough idea of what to expect when shopping for a website.
The key takeaways are:
- The cost of a new or redesigned website is highly variable
- There’s no single way to build a website
- Time is money
- Different developers have different pricing structures and ways of doing things
- Make sure you and your developer are a good fit
- Have fun, don’t stress, and enjoy