A Website Costs How Much?

$399 (or less) Website Design

The cheapest website cost is in the $500 or less range. At this level you can expect the following...

  • Template based design, probably from someplace like Template Monster.
  • A relatively inexperienced technology person who will assemble assets you provide into the template.
  • A person working out of their house (or their parent's house) with little or no overhead.

So you pick the template, you write your copy, you take your photos or pick your stock photography (which costs extra at this level), and you hope you can manage to contact this person later.

I usually tell people that if they are looking for the most inexpensive way to go, they are better off saving the cost and using something like Intuit Websites or GoDaddy's Website Tonight. You'll still be doing all the work, so why pay someone to copy and paste the work you've done? And at least with these tools, the companies behind them will be there to lend support (usually at an additional charge) if you need it.

$1,000 to $5,000 Websites

This is the cost level where you'll likely find the widest range of quality and types of service providers. Typically you can get a website that either looks good or gets found at this price point, but not both. We talk to a lot of small business owners who have a website in this range and often hear "the site looks terrible" or "the site just doesn't work." In extreme cases, we have talked to business owners who no longer believe the Internet will even work for them.

If you are looking to invest less than $5,000, expect the following...

  • Possibly "custom" design, but more likely still a template based offering.
  • Either a company that does a lot of the work through outsourcing (i.e. India or Russia) or a more experienced technology person still working out of their house (probably left Mom and Dad by now).
  • You will still provide photos and copy. At this level the service provider should at least crop/resize photos and might even check the copy for grammar and spelling.

You will still be doing a lot of the work, and the website is likely to be just a cost rather than an investment. You can get a great looking website in this price range, but don't expect a lot of sales from it.

$5,000 to roughly $25,000ish

Now you are making an investment. This is typically what reputable Internet marketing companies will charge for a small site (10-20 pages). You should expect to get a site that looks good and performs well. Most of the work will be handled by the service provider so you can get back to running your business.

Expect the following when you are making this kind of investment...

  • You are dealing with a real company with real offices (look up their address on Google Maps and use the street view feature to see if it is a real office or a UPS Store).
  • There are multiple, experienced people who will be working on your website. Each should have an area where they excel and a role they will play.
  • The company will look at your assets and determine whether a photo shoot or stock photography is needed.
  • The company does all of the coordination of photos and initial stock photography selection for your review.
  • The company writes all of the website copy for you and presents for your review.
  • The company will retouch photography

Over $25,000

The quality of what you receive likely won't change much as you go up in price above about $25,000. As a site grows or more complex functionality is required it is reasonable that a website project may start to exceed 6 or even 7 figures. You should definitely be dealing with a professional agency at this point who will have quite a few resources to bring to the project. For some specific expectations...

  • A dedicated project manager who will coordinate and oversee all the parts of the project. This person should be quite experienced and responsible for providing you with regular updates through some kind of status reporting.
  • A creative team consisting of designers, user experience specialists, information architects and copy writers.
  • A technical team of web developers. At this level of pricing, web developers should generally not also be the designers.
  • Milestone based billing. At the smaller end of the scale, a 50/50 deposit/completion payment schedule is typical. Larger projects should have more deliverables which provide more opportunities for milestone based billing.
  • The company does all of the work so you can focus on your business.

Closing thoughts

When determining a budget for the website, consider the value of the site. I am still surprised by people who want to start an online only company and don't want to invest more than a few hundred dollars in their website. Think about what kind of company you want to work with and how much time you want them to spend on your site. No matter what a company charges you, it all comes back to time. If you are spending $1,000 on a site, someone working from home can probably spend about 20 hours while a company with overhead is likely going to spend less than 10 hours. If you meet with 2 people from the company for an hour to discuss the site, 2 hours have already been spent.

If you are a local store, restaurant or service provider and don't need to do a lot of business through your site, then by all means consider one of the inexpensive solutions. Be sure to budget for some marketing of the site though; you may be surprised at how valuable the site becomes.