I don’t want to sound like a politician but the short answer is that “it depends.” You can use a website builder or customize a premade theme and purchase web hosting yourself for as little as $200 if you have want to take the time to learn how to do it. You can also hire a creative agency and pay $20,000 or more just for web design and development for that same website.
Ask a relator how much a house costs and he would probably ask for more information like:
- Where do you want to live? Does it have to be close to good schools or work?
- How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need?
- Are you ok with renovating or does it have to be turn key?
- Are you ok with stairs or do you want a single level?
- Do you have any preferences for yard or garage size?
With minimal budget, you will find yourself doing everything like writing, web designing, project managing, beta testing and marketing. With more budget, you can afford to offload some of those activities to a web designer or creative firm.
Simply put, the cost of a website is made up of:
- Domain registration & web hosting
- WordPress theme (if you are customizing a premade theme)
- Website design & development
- Advertising, web maintenance & SEO
Whether you are building a custom WordPress website or customizing a premade WordPress theme and self-hosting it, you will need to purchase a domain and web hosting. There are all different kinds of web hosting like shared, VPS and dedicated. However, if you are just starting out, shared hosting is really all you need. With plans starting around $36 per year, we recommend BlueHost because they offer excellent support, a free SSL, unlimited bandwidth (unlimited traffic) and a free domain name. If you are using a website builder like Squarespace, Weebly or Wix, all of their paid plans come with a domain and web hosting so you don’t have to worry about that.
To simplify this post, we have identified the four most popular ways (ranging from least to most expensive) of launching a website which are:
- DIY website builder like Wix, Weebly or SquareSpace
- DIY premade WordPress theme
- Hire a web designer to customize a premade WordPress theme
- Hire a creative agency to design a develop a custom WordPress website
DIY Website Builder like Wix, Weebly or SquareSpace ($200 – $500)
Here are some of the reasons why you may want to use a website builder:
- You need a rudimentary ecommerce or informational website and are ok with using the website builder’s generic templates which are not very flexible.
- You are clueless about HTML and CSS. Website builders use a drag-and-drop editor allowing non-technical users to create a manage a website without any setup or programming skills.
- You want to create your website in a couple of days. Since you are starting with premade templates with pre-populated webpages, all you need to do is insert your own content and your website is launched in no time.
- This is a personal website or blog or you are just starting out with a shoestring budget. Although you can get a free website with a website builder, you will need opt for a paid plan to get an ad-free website with a custom domain.
Although website builders are responsive and mobile-friendly, your website will not be optimized for SEO and you won’t be able to use WordPress plugins like Yoast SEO to optimize it yourself. If your website does not show up in search results for your industry’s keywords, it will not be driving the traffic you need to stay in business.
DIY Premade WordPress Theme ($125 – $200)
If you have some basic knowledge about CSS and HTML and you have some time on your hands you can customize your own premade theme. Please note that we are referring to a self-hosted WordPress website where you download WordPress and purchase your own web hosting and not using WordPress.com which is like using a website builder. Non-developers might find WordPress overwhelming because you will have to install the PHP files and MySQL database and you will have to tweak the theme or plugin code to make everything work together. Nonetheless, some techies swear by this method so here are some reasons why you may want to use a premade WordPress theme:
- What you lack in budget, you can make up for in time and programming knowledge.
- You have worked with WordPress before and feel comfortable backing up and performing software updates.
- You found a premade WordPress theme that is exactly how you want your website to look.
- Most premade themes have a support forum where you can post your questions if you have the time to learn.
- Unlike a website builder, you can move your WordPress website to any host by exporting it.
- You want to extend the features and functionality of your website using WordPress plugins that are not available with website builders.
- Different page layouts and content modules are designed whether you use them or not. When you hire a web designer to create a custom website, you may have trouble creating page layouts or adding content modules later on that have not been designed.
Because premade themes are created to sold many thousands of times, they often are overloaded with features and CSS that you will never use causing them to be slower loading than a custom website. Using a premade WordPress theme or a website builder is much like ordering a meal kit through BlueApron.com. You have the ingredients, WYSIWYG editor and templates, but you still need to cook the meal. There may also be ingredients that you don’t like and will therefore exclude.
Hire a Web Designer to Customize a Premade WordPress Theme ($1,000 – $3,000)
Here are some reasons why you may want to hire a web designer to customize a premade theme:
- You have a bit more budget but you lack the time and coding skills to do it yourself.
- You want to add some features or functionality that are not available with your theme.
- You found a premade WordPress theme that is not quite what you want but is similar.
- You are new to WordPress and do not know what you are doing.
- You need a web designer to guide you through the process and teach you how to maintain your website.
With San Francisco web designers averaging $100 – $200 per hour, if a creative agency is promising you a custom WordPress website for under $3,000, likely they are outsourcing the work to India or customizing a premade theme without telling you. With responsive and mobile-friendly being the status quo these days, web developers find themselves creating 4-5 sets of media queries to allow your web content to adapt to different screen resolutions making a custom website much more work than you think.
In this price range you can expect a professional web designer to customize a pre-designed theme for you that includes common functionality such as a rotating homepage carousel, informational pages, contact and MailChimp newsletter subscription forms, photo gallery and a blog that are aligned with your brand. If you are wanting mockups, ecommerce, complex functionality or you are extra picky with your revisions, be prepared to pay more. Remember that you get what you pay for so hire the best web designer that you can afford based on his / her portfolio and reviews.
Although we specialize in custom WordPress websites, we are finding that the majority of websites nowadays can be created more affordably with Divi, a powerful WordPress theme with drag-and-drop front and backend editors and many premade layouts and content modules so you can design to your heart’s content. You may have to make some design or functionality compromises but it is a great option for small businesses or startups on a very limited budget. After consistently working with Divi for the last few years, we have only found one plugin conflict so there is very little that Divi cannot accomplish. However, Divi’s infinite options can be pretty daunting to novices so you might still want to work with a web designer and developer. We have created so many Divi websites that we are literally spewing Divi CSS in our sleep.
Hire a Creative Agency to Develop a Custom WordPress Website ($5,000 – $20,000+)
In this price range you can afford to work with a web design agency where you will have a dedicated web designer, developer and project manager. Here are some reasons why you may want to hire a creative agency to design and develop a custom website:
- You will benefit from a fresh perspective.
- You have limited time and special functionality requirements but you have more budget.
- To stand out from your competition and effectively convert more of your prospects, you would like to create a unique user experience and need mockups of your key pages.
- You would like to work with a web designer who will refine your mockups based on your feedback.
- Your web developer can build you exactly what you want and you are only limited by your own budget.
If your budget is greater than $20,000 then you likely engaging a large creative firm for a high-converting ecommerce or membership website with a very robust backend and unique user experience. You may be wanting complex functionality like advanced search, integrating software with APIs, flexible payment options, inventory management, one-click reordering, support ticketing or dynamic shipping calculations just to name a few examples.
If you are considering this option, read our post about how to hire a web design agency.
Advertising, Web Maintenance & SEO
Once you have launched your website, the fun has just begun. A successful website is always a work-in-progress as it constantly needs to be updated for security and to continually engage your visitors so you will need to set aside some budget for web maintenance. If you don’t anticipate any major design or functionality changes, then you should budget for a few hundred bucks per month to retain a web designer for web maintenance.
Just because you built it, doesn’t mean they will come so you will need to drive traffic to your new website with web marketing and / or search engine optimization (SEO). Finding out how to spend your advertising budget will depend on the channels that your target market frequents. We offer complimentary keyword research to determine which terms will drive the most traffic and be feasible to pursue based on competition. Blogging regularly with high-quality keyword dense content will improve your search engine rankings and authority.
How much you spend on advertising, web maintenance and SEO depends on your expectations, needs and requirements. Some people who are just starting out may opt to do it themselves or forgo these activities altogether.
Wrapping it Up
As you can see, the cost of a website is all over the map. With so many different ways to create a website, comparing the cost of a website is like comparing apples to oranges. Don’t get so bogged down with creating the perfect website that does everything. If your website is successful, you can always add to it later on with additional budget. It is best to launch a simple website to get the ball rolling and get your users to give you feedback for continuous improvement.