It's a surprisingly tricky question to answer, but never fear, there are answers (ish) to be had.
How much should a website cost? It’s a question we get asked fairly often. It’s also a notoriously difficult question to answer, because just like buying a house, a car, or a college education, there are countless factors that can impact the final cost.
The main difference is that most of us are pretty familiar with the cost of a house, car, or college, but most of us have no frame of reference for a website.
To complicate things further, the price range for a new website can be enormous.
Websites literally run the gamut from free to tens of millions–even hundreds of millions–of dollars. In other words, you can spend as much or as little as you like!
The catch, of course, is that you get what you pay for. A free site might work for some, but could be a horrible choice for others.
So, how do you know what’s an appropriate amount to spend? First, I suggest taking a hard look at the potential business value of your site. Then, balance that value against how much you actually have to spend.
It sounds simple, but there’s a lot to unpack, so let’s take a closer look.
How to Find the Business Value of Your Website
Here’s the thing: not all websites are equally important.
For the local three-person engineering firm, a website might not amount to much more than an online brochure and a rarely used secondary channel for connecting with customers.
On the other hand, for a software company that sells primarily online, a website is an indispensable tool–even a necessary condition–for driving the company’s sales and growth.
The engineering firm, might think a $5,000 website is a splurge, while the software company might see $50,000 or $100,000 as a great deal.
The point is, the business value of their websites differs greatly, and as a result, what constitutes a reasonable investment differs greatly as well.
Evaluating the business value of your website is key when deciding the right level of investment. Here are some questions to get you started:
- How much do you spend on your physical location(s)? Is your website equal to or even more important than your physical location(s)?
- How heavily does (or could) your website factor into customer acquisition and retention? Will having a mediocre website be a minor annoyance or could it cost you serious business?
- What would you be willing to spend on a sales associate who worked 24/7, 365 days a year, could talk to anyone in the world at any time and never complained, called in sick, or wandered off-message?
- How much would it be worth to you in actual bottom line dollars if your website brought you 5 or 10 percent more business?
Just by answering these questions, you’ll start to get a better feel for the price range that’s right for you.
For instance, a bank might realize that, all things considered, a six-figure investment isn’t that outrageous, while a high-end home builder might see value in a five-figure website.
You’ve Gotta Work with What You’ve Got
Of course, understanding the business value and having the money to invest are two different things.
So, once you’ve got a picture of what’s theoretically reasonable, you’ll need to consider what’s actually possible.
After all, you’d never walk onto a car lot or into a Realtor’s office without first giving some thought to budget. Likewise, you shouldn’t start shopping around for your next website until you know how much you have to spend.
If you’re stuck, try asking yourself what sounds like a realistic budget. Four-figures? Five-figures? Six-figures?
Assuming there was a solid business case, what number could you squeeze out of your marketing budget or take to your CEO without getting laughed out of the room?
Having an idea of your top-end budget is critical. If you know you only have $5,000 or $50,000 or $500,000 to spend, then at least you’ve got a good start. Whatever website you end up building, it can’t cost more than that.
Okay, but really, how much does it cost?
As I said, there is no one-size-fits-all answer on cost, and it always depends on your specific needs, but here are some ballpark ranges based on a few hypotheticals:
Very Small Businesses and Smaller Non-Profits – $0(ish) – $4,000
If your website just needs to make you look presentable and you’ve got sufficient motivation, you can probably get by with a high-quality, do-it-yourself solution like SquareSpace. You’ll be restricted to the confines of their templates, and you’ll need to supply your own copywriting and photography, but you’ll have a nice site for less than $200 a year. Up your budget to a few grand and you’ll be able to afford some freelance help putting it all together.
Established Small Businesses with Basic Website Needs $5,000-$10,000
If your website needs are basic (some service pages and contact form) but you’d like some professional polish, you’re probably in the ballpark of around $5,000-$7,000. You’ll still be working within the confines of a pre-designed template and you shouldn’t expect much in the way of bells and whistles, but for that amount you’ll be able to have a freelance designer or developer make some customizations to design, and maybe even some under-the-hood customizations to your content management system. Tack on another $1,000-$3,000 for professional-quality photography and some copywriting help, and you’ll be good to go.
Established Businesses Needing a Professional Marketing Website $15,000-$50,000+
This price point is appropriate for businesses that have established marketing budgets and a solid business case for having a strong website. Importantly, at this level, you’ll be able to engage with a serious professional design firm rather than freelancers. At the lower end of this range, you can expect a completely customized look and feel, along with a more customized CMS. On the higher end of this range, you’ll be able to include sophisticated interactive elements, integrations with third-party applications, and deeper CMS modifications.
Enterprise Organizations $40,000 – $100,000+
Larger organizations like colleges and universities, financial institutions, municipalities and the like may or may not require a technically sophisticated website. However, large organizations often have compliance, IT, governance, and strategic marketing considerations that smaller organizations can gloss over. Sifting through those issues takes an extra measure of time and expertise which, of course, takes extra budget.
Large Organizations with Substantial Technical Needs $100,000+
Take the above scenario, mix in some we’re-not-even-sure-this-is-possible technical challenges and you can drop six, seven, or eight figures like nobody’s business. Think Amazon.com, FindYourWayToOz.com, or Google’s super-cool dynamic Art, Copy, Code video.