How much is a website

Let’s try to guess: $100? $500? Or maybe $5,000? The problem with the question isn’t that it’s broad. And we’ve certainly asked ourselves how much a website should cost before. The problem is that the answer is: all of the above.

You see, asking how much a website costs is like asking how much a car costs. The answer will vary wildly depending on who you ask. It will also depend a lot on how much they know about cars.

Luckily for you, we sure know a lot about websites here at WebsiteToolTester. We run a few ourselves, and we’ve helped people build their own for more than 10 years.

So in this article, I’m going to break down the costs of creating and maintaining a website. You’ll be able to decide if it’s worth doing it yourself, and whether you should hire a developer or use a website builder. I will also give clear examples of what kind of site you can build within your budget range, along with some actionable tips.

Now I know you might want to get an answer about the price straight away. But I do recommend reading about all the concepts highlighted below to get a more accurate price range for yourself.

PART 1: Your Step-By Step Guide to Understanding Every Website Cost

This first section will go over the basics of website expenses, and different options you have to build one. If you want to immediately gauge what kind of website you can build within your budget, you can jump straight to Part 2. And if you prefer info in video form, here’s a great primer on the topic:

Step #1 Break Down Why Websites Cost Money

Okay, we’re starting with the very basics. There are four things a website absolutely needs in order to exist:

  • Lines of code: It doesn’t matter if you buy the website from a developer, or if you use a program to assist you with its creation: the site will end up made of lines of code. Coding languages for websites include HTML and CSS, JavaScript or Python, amongst others. Putting them together is the job of a web developer.
  • Time: writing that code can take hours or months. This has a lot to do with the website design (i.e. deciding where to put menus, which colors to choose, etc…) and complexity (more on that later). Then there is the time dedicated to creating and updating content, or fixing general bugs and security issues.
  • Web hosting: your code (website) need to live somewhere so other people can visit it. It will be on servers, which are essentially disk space that a company provides to you for a monthly or yearly fee. Think of it like renting space for your online property.
  • Domain name: now that your website has an online space, it needs a door so people can access it. This is your domain name, or the address you’ll type to access the site, something like yoursitename.com. Some domain names are more valuable than others. Cars.com was sold for a whopping $872M. Some web hosts generously give you a free subdomain that looks like www.webhost.com/yoursitename.

So the first thing to take into account: you should probably write down as early as possible how much time you want to dedicate to your website on a regular basis. Valuing your own time will go a long way in helping you find how much the website should cost.

Pro tip: since you’re going to have to pay for a domain name eventually, do check out the available options as soon as possible (a good place to do that is Namecheap). You’d be surprised how many businesses have to change their names because the domain is too expensive or unavailable. And don’t forget to experiment with more obscure domain extensions. They can be more affordable, and a fun way to make your site name memorable. For instance, if SellingShoes.com is unavailable, you could snatch SellinSho.es at a fraction of the price.

Step #2 Look at The Code Vs Time Relationship

Now you know that a website means having code, which takes time and money. Here’s the first fork in the road: one of the most important decisions you can make early on is to decide if you want to build and maintain the website yourself or hire a developer to do it.

Broadly speaking, there are three main routes you could choose here:

  • DIY – I want to learn to code everything myself: Great! You’ll have complete control over how your website looks and feels. It’s going to take a lot of time and you’ll be on your own (no support), but it could save you money in the long run.
  • Hire a developer – I don’t want to have anything to do with code or design: You’ll need to contract a developer who will help design the website and put it all together for you. Not necessarily the fastest solution, but it sure is another way to have absolute control over how the website looks and feels. It’s also the most expensive option by far.
  • Website builder – I don’t want to code, but I don’t mind learning how to do things myself: Website builders strike a good balance between time, money and effort. The code is already prebuilt for you, and all that’s left to do is customize the website design and content. Now of course, website builders also come in all kinds of packages, so we’ll look at different options in-depth later.

Now the good news is that if you’re set on learning how to code, there’s a million excellent online courses, and a lot of them are free. But do spend time researching which coding language makes sense for you beforehand – some go in and out of fashion (anyone remember Flash?) and some can be useful for making other things like apps or games, for instance.

If you want to hire a developer, it still helps to have a strong idea about how you want the website to look and feel beforehand. They won’t be able to read your mind so do your research and find examples of similar sites.

Finally, note that the website layout should ideally be created by a professional designer as things often go wrong when web developers branch out into web design. And yes, you guessed it, that’s an additional expense.

Pro tip: It never hurts to have a clear idea of the results you want to achieve before you get started. Put together a shortlist of sites that closely resemble what you want yours to look and feel like. Examples will make the design process much faster, whether you do it yourself, with a website builder, or even if you pass them to a designer/developer.

Step #3 Evaluate Your Website Complexity

The route you chose above should be completely influenced by the kind of website you want to create. It can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. And here, there are four main concepts I think can help you guess how much time, effort and money goes into each one:

  • Behaviour: This is what the website does. At its most basic, it shows text and clickable links that take you to other pages (e.g. a portfolio site for a translator). That’s good enough for most, and very easy to do. On the other end, it can be a full web application like a flight comparison website that uses APIs and all kinds of complex interactive tools.
  • Content: Here again, your website can just display a few sentences about your mom and pop shop. Or it can be a full on multimedia experience with videos, streamed audio and AR tools. Why not!
  • Design: Even a basic page that only shows text can be extremely fancy if you want it to be. You can have custom fonts. You can have a beautiful loading screen. You can have an animated menu. In fact, you’d be surprised how hard it can be to code a website that looks minimalist, simple and beautiful.
  • Depth: a.k.a navigation levels. Put simply, a basic website will just work with one “landing page” on a main URL. A complex website will need multiple subdomains to structure and organize all the content.

Info Graph Website Costs

Now just because a website looks simple doesn’t mean it was fast or cheap to make. For instance, Wikipedia.org doesn’t have a fancy design. But the sheer amount of content and depth means it costs millions of dollars a year to maintain.

A website like isitmonday.today also looks deceptively simple. No crazy content or design, but there is a smart script that checks the date – so definitely needed custom coding.

And another good example, the world famous Craigslist. Basic design, simple text and images. But… users can login and post classifieds directly like on a forum, which isn’t all that easy to do.

Now for a counter example, check out this Barbershop website built with Wix. There is an Instagram feed, video integrations (from YouTube), an online booking form, and even a small online store section. Had they hired a developer to build it a few years ago, it would have cost between $5 – 10K. Today, I’m going to guess they use the Business Unlimited plan, so around $25 a month. Hosting is included, and the domain costs around $15 a year to keep after the first free year.

Pro tip: website complexity is usually a tradeoff between features and user experience. You want your users to find and do things as easily as possible on your site, so if you can choose the simpler option, always go for that one. There is one exception, however, which is when different URLs are needed to target keywords for SEO (more on that later).

Step #4 Don’t Forget Additional Costs

A website can be cheap to launch, but expensive to maintain. Or it can be expensive to launch and maintain. Best case scenario? It’s affordable to start it, and then you can leave it on auto-pilot.

Now what’s interesting is that these costs vary a lot depending on whether you use a website builder or a developer. Not so much if you do everything yourself. I think it will make sense if you look at the table below:

DIY approach Website Builder Custom Development
Setup (web design) No extra costs. Just need a lot of time to get started. No extra costs. It’s the fastest option here. Very expensive. Developers will usually want an initial fee + milestones for each extra step.
Website templates You can actually find website templates online, both free and premium. Free templates included. You can also buy premium ones. Included in the setup price. Still need to pay if you change your mind later.
Web hosting Need to buy it from somewhere. Included in the price Can be included, or you might have to buy it yourself from somewhere.
Domain name Need to buy it from somewhere. Need to look at different options. You usually get a free domain name for one year. Can be included, or you might have to pay extra.
Email address (for example: yourname@yourwebsite.com) Need to buy it from somewhere. You usually need to buy it from somewhere. Can be included, or you might have to pay extra.
Adding and updating content No extra costs and fast. No extra costs and fast. Expensive and possibly slow.
Security and maintenance No extra costs, but time consuming. No extra costs. All done for you automatically. Expensive and possibly slow.
Adding extra features later No extra costs, but time consuming to integrate. You can find free plugins or add-ons. Premium ones are also available for monthly fees or one-off payments. It’s usually just one-click installations. Expensive and possibly slow but you can add whatever you please.

And keep in mind that your plans can change. For instance, we created the original WebsiteToolTester site using a website builder. But after a few years, we had to switch to a system that offered more flexibility. We ended up going for WordPress as we needed a few special features, such as our direct comparison tool. We just couldn’t use one of the standard designs for that.

Now did we regret using that website builder? Definitely not. Who knows if we would have ever started the site if it hadn’t it been for the ease of use of the Webnode website builder.

Pro tip: think about what you want your website to do now – but also in the future. Will you want to add more features later? Will you want to be able to change the design? And how much content will you add to it down the line?

Step #5 Understand Web Developer Prices

Web developers, whether they work as freelancers or as part of an agency, can give you wildly fluctuating quotes.

Web Developer Pricing

They can usually be hired:

  • On an hourly fee: where you monitor how much work they do. It’s good for ad hoc updates and changes to your websites as things go along. The range can be from $10 – $200 per hour, depending on their skill and experience. And the website could take between 50 – 300 hours to make depending on the complexity.
  • Per contract: you hire them for a complete website. Let’s say between $1000 – $3000 as a rough estimate. You need to make sure you are the owner of the source code if you need to make changes later. Also try to include a few revisions in the price in case something goes wrong.

An average timeline for custom web development will look like this:

  • Pre-planning: maybe 2 days (16 hours). The developer will collect information about your needs and discuss ideas.
  • Collecting resources: finding the right tools and examples to get started. Maybe another 3 days (24 hours).
  • Actual building: let’s say one working week (40 hours).
  • Testing: 2 or 3 days to make sure everything works smoothly (16 – 24 hours).

And that’s for a medium-sized, not too complex website.

So it can be very expensive. But you can also ask around to see if anyone you know will help. Just make sure you don’t blindly trust anyone – we’ve heard of situations where family and friends were commissioned and everything ending in a big argument.

Freelance platforms: from our experience, the most convenient way is to post your project on a portal like Lorem. You simply describe your job and will then get a (non-binding) quote from a web designer. If you want to build an online store with Shopify, Storetasker would be your best bet. These platforms are very selective with their developers so you can expect only serious offers.

Alternatives are freelancer portals like Upwork. All you have to do is post your project and wait for quotes to come in from all around the world. There’s also Twago, Europe’s largest platform for freelance work, and 99Designs or Dribble are good places to find designers. Do expect to spend more time managing all the offers and quotes as they can be all over the place.

Pro Tip: As with any kind of job, spending a bit getting to know your professional will go a long way. So do check portfolios and references, ask for at least three quotes, check ratings (if available), and try to meet them in person (or speak on the phone or on Skype) to check availability and timescale, and that there are no communication issues.

Step #6 Compare Different Website Builder Options

If you’ve chosen to code yourself or to hire a developer, you can skip this one. But for anyone who is interested in the easiest DIY solution, website builders are an amazing option that come in two kinds of flavours:

  • Standard Website Builder: An all-in-one tool that lets you design and edit the site yourself. Usually comes with a drag and drop editor, so you can place elements on the page. Then there is an online portal where you sign in to add your content manually. Works great for blogs, professional websites, and online stores.

Wix Website Editor

Wix backend

  • Content Management System (CMS): I’m only really going to talk about the most popular one here, which is WordPress.org. It’s like a website builder, but it also lets you access the source code, so you can edit things like the template and plugins yourself if needed. Like with a website builder, you need to sign in to add and edit your content from a dashboard, which looks like this:

WordPress Backend

WordPress backend

While there is some overlap between the two, the key takeaway is that website builders are easier to use, but more limited. CMS systems can be extremely powerful, but have more of a learning curve.

Pro tip: Our entire website is dedicated to helping you find the best website builder. So if that’s the right way for you, do spend a bit of time looking at the price comparison tool, in-depth reviews, and videos!

Step #7 Write Down Your Website Business Plan

This section is specifically for those who intend to make money from their website. It would be via a few of the following options:

  • An online store to sell products or services
  • A popular blog that shows adverts and gets paid for it
  • A review or recommendation site that makes money from affiliate links (you get a commission every time you redirect traffic towards the service or product)
  • A web app that people pay to use
  • An important free online resource that asks for donations from visitors

It’s all possible – and you could even combine all of the above at once. But remember that making money from a site drastically increases its complexity, even if it’s a simple blog with adverts.

Why does it make it more complex? Because you need to work on attracting as much traffic as possible. And that can be expensive in terms of time, and maybe money too, as you’ll need one of the following:

  • A strong marketing strategy: whether it’s through social media or newsletters, you’ll need to be able to attract people.
  • Paid adverts: another way to bring people to your site. It costs money to run campaigns, and it can take weeks to learn how to create ads that
  • Good SEO: or Search Engine Optimization, to attract people who search words into Google or Bing. You will need to research the right keywords and create content around them. Your site also needs to meet certain technical requirements
  • Negotiating contracts and building relationships: you’ll need to contact the right people and appear professional enough – which means you can’t have a cheap-looking website.

Pro tip: Write down a proper business plan with your expected ROI (return on investment) and see how much it makes sense to invest in your website. Don’t forget to count the hours dedicated to marketing and attracting leads or traffic.

PART 2: What Kind of Website Can You Build For Your Budget?

Okay – you should now have a good idea of why websites cost money and how to build them. Now let’s look at concrete prices, budgets and expenses with actual dollar figures!

Building A Website That Costs $0 Per Year

Until a company comes up with a model where you get paid for building a site, the minimum you can spend is going to be $0. The good news is that it’s doable. The bad news, well… it’s probably not going to be that great. But just for the sake of the experiment, let’s see how to stretch that $0 as far as possible:

  • How would I build it?

Forget about custom development, unless you know a developer who owes you a big favor. But most website builders do have a free plan that is limited in features and shows ads.

A free subdomain should be easy to get with these website builders – especially as a subdomain of a website builder.

Weirdly enough, you can buy free web hosting for your self-coded website, but then there’s no way you will also get a free domain name. So that rules out the DIY route at this stage.

  • What are the downsides?

Oh boy. First of all, the free domain will not look professional. Also you’ll have to show ads for the hosting provider on your page. No email address associated with your domain either.

Then, of course, the features of a website builder will be super limited, maybe in terms of bandwidth, subdomain pages or data storage.

  • So what do I get for that price?

You can build a simple personal website yourself or with a website builder. Basic blogs are also fine. Professional websites might be ok too. I wouldn’t count on an online store, and forget about a web app.

Building A Website That Costs $100 Per Year

You’ll now be looking at the entry plans for website builders (around $8 per month), or the cheapest hosting options if you code it yourself.

  • How would I build it?

Find free templates and customize them yourself. If your cheap hosting costs between $3 to $6 per month, you might have enough to afford your own domain name. Or you could go for the free hosting and splash on a fancy $100 a year domain name.

With website builders, you could look at Webnode or Weebly, both of which have limited monthly plans for $3 to $6 per month. You can usually connect a custom domain for that price.

Using WordPress on your own hosting is a decent option at this stage, but you won’t be able to afford premium themes or plugins.

  • What are the downsides?

You’re still likely to have ads on the entry plans. No premium templates, special features, or professional email address. If you can afford a custom domain for that price, it probably won’t be a with premium name.

If you use free hosting, it will have a ton of downtime, that is to say, your website won’t be accessible 24/7.

  • So what do I get for that price?

A decent blog hosted on someone else’s domain. A WordPress site hosted by a cheap provider. A personal or professional website with a website builder – but it will show ads.

Webnode Pricing

Building A Website That Costs $200 Per Year

We’re now entering the middle tier for most website builders, at around the $16 mark per month.

  • How would I build it?

I’ll give you a few examples here. For instance, Wix’s Combo plan costs $13 per month (paid yearly), and that includes free domain for a year. It’s $14.95 yearly thereafter, so still within your budget.

If you’re going DIY, you should be able to get very good hosting for that price and the custom domain of your choice. That also means you could have a very solid WordPress site with a premium theme and some decent plugins.

  • What are the downsides?

With website builders, you won’t be able to afford premium themes, or a professional email address.

  • So what do I get for that price?

Congrats, you’ve removed ads on your good blog, personal or professional website. In a pinch, you could run a very basic online store for that price, but it will probably be limited in terms of the number of products you can sell.

Building A Website That Costs $300 Per Year

For $25 a month, you can afford the professional tier of most website builders. Ecommerce is now on the cards too.

  • How would I build it?

If you’re going with, say, Weebly, you can pay $12 per month, which gives you the Professional plan. It leaves you enough change to afford a professional email address with G Suite, for $45 a year. With another website builder like Wix, you could even have enough spare change for some handy plugins.

  • What are the downsides?

At this stage, you should be able to get any kind of personal or professional site you want. But ecommerce will still be limited, at least with a website builder.

  • So what do I get for that price?

A great professional or personal website. A basic online store with a website builder. If you use a plugin like WooCommerce for WordPress with your preferred hosting provider, you can build a solid online store with premium themes and plugins, and unlimited products to sell.

Building A Website That Costs $500 Per Year

You can now build a solid online store. Custom development isn’t out of the question if you have a basic website.

  • How would I build it?

Let’s start with the DIY route. If you spend $14 a year on a domain name, $96 on hosting and $45 on a professional email address, that leaves you $345 to play with. That’s a good dozen of hours for custom development, so you could integrate one strong custom feature into your basic website.

You can also afford a basic Shopify store ($29 per month) and equip it with a premium theme (approx. $150 one-time) and additional apps.

  • What are the downsides?

Maybe no premium support yet for online stores.

  • So what do I get for that price?

Unlock all the options of a website builder. You can build a good online store, or a basic site with custom development.

Building A Website That Costs $1000 Per Year

It’s the big leagues! Website builders don’t even have plans for that price. You can get a basic custom-built website, or a solid online store.

  • How would I build it?

Find a developer and mention your budget. See what freebies they can include (hosting, domain name, etc…).

For online stores, the Shopify plan ($79 per month) gives you advanced features, with just enough for the custom domain.

  • What are the downsides?

It’s all groovy from here!

  • So what do I get for that price?

A strong online store. A custom-built site with basic functions (portfolio, booking). The best professional results from any website builder.

Building A Website That Costs $3500 Per Year

You’re now able to afford a dedicated web developer, so the sky’s the limit.

  • How would I build it?

Get premium hosting to ensure you never have downtime or slow website performance. Buy a fancy domain name. Spend the rest on a good developer who can build the website of your dreams.

  • What are the downsides?

Once you’ve found the right developer there are none

  • So what do I get for that price?

Custom online store, professional website or blog. A web app will still be out of reach, though.

Building A Website With Unlimited Budget?

Maybe you’ve attracted funding for your idea? Maybe you have deep pockets to start with? Well, you can start thinking big. I mean, really big, like the next Airbnb or Twitter.

  • How would I build it?

Custom development is the way to go – I assume you’ll want very specific features, which you can afford in that range. It’s mostly about realizing your vision, so try to be as specific as possible at the design stage.

  • What are the downsides?

Maybe be careful about being taken for a ride by developers. It’s still worth researching the general timeframes and standard fees to make sure you don’t waste money where it’s not needed.

  • So what do I get for that price?

Anything you want, served on a silver platter.

Final Word About the Price of a Website

Before I wrap this up, I wanted to give a few final examples with concrete dollar features and a general idea of how long it takes to build four different kinds of websites:

Basic blog Small business website Small online store Complex web app
Wix.com

$0 with ads – $14 per month without

$14 a year for custom domain

$45 a year for professional email address

2-6 hours to setup

2 hours per post

$13 per month

$14 a year for custom domain

$45 a year for professional email address

6-12 hours to setup

12 – 30 hours a month on updates

$23 per month.

$14 a year for custom domain

$45 a year for professional email address

6 – 12 hours to setup

30 – 90 hours a month managing

N/A

Installing WordPress on your own domain

$70 – $140 per year on hosting

$14 a year for domain name

$45 a year for professional email address

1 – 3 days  to get started

2 hours per post

$70 – $140 per year on hosting

$14 a year for domain name

$45 a year for professional email address

Premium theme: $60 – $200 one-off fee.

2 – 7 days to setup

12 – 30 hours a month on updates

$100 – $250 per year on hosting

$14 a year for domain name

$45 a year for professional email address

$10 per year for SSL security (for payments)

WooCommerce plugin: $0 – $180 depending on features

2 – 7 days to setup

30 – 90 hours a month managing

$100 – $250 per year on hosting

$14 a year for domain name

$45 a year for professional email address

Premium theme: $60 – $200 one-off fee.

Premium plugins: $200-$1000 one-off fee.

7 – 14 days to setup

0 – 90 hours a month managing

Custom development

$500 – $1000 initial fee

$70 – $140 per year on hosting

$14 a year for domain name

2 – 7 days to setup

2 – 4 hours per post if you can’t upload yourself

$1000 – $3000 initial fee

$70 – $140 per year on hosting

$14 a year for domain name

2 – 7 days to setup

12 – 30 hours a month on updates

$1000 – $5000 initial fee

$70 – $140 per year on hosting

$14 a year for domain name

7 – 14 days to setup

30 – 90 hours a month managing

$3000 – $5000 initial fee

$70 – $140 per year on hosting

$14 a year for domain name

14 – 30 days to setup

0 – 90 hours a month managing

So as you can see, we’ve now circled back to the idea that a website can cost anything. In fact, it’s even broader than before, because we’ve seen you can spend $0 up to… well, anything you want.

But if there’s one you should take away from this mammoth post, it’s that while website costs do vary, but they shouldn’t be hard to understand.

Hopefully, this guide will help you decide how much it makes sense to spend, and what to expect in return!

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