There are several ways to get information out to a target audience online. If one is an entrepreneur or business owner, then realizing that a website is required is very real indeed. Or rather, it isn’t much of a decision at all.
One of the first questions that come to mind is how much it costs for a website for those new to building sites. Well, wonder no more because we’ve come to shed some light on the dark: website creation’s real cost.
The cost of a website can vary dramatically. Ten major contributing factors affect the overall cost of the website.
- What does the domain cost?
- How will the website be hosted?
- What type of website?
- What size of the website?
- What platform will the website use?
- What are the add-on fees?
- How will the website be designed?
- How will the website be setup?
- How will the website be launched?
- What will be needed to maintain the website?
Domain Types and Cost
Domains are at the root of every website. The domain can convey a brand message and be short, memorable, and offer information either of the brand name or the industry. For example, we all know about Facebook. The primary domain for Facebook is facebook.com. It is a secure domain for brand recognition.
For many smaller businesses that do not have the marketing budget or strategy to grow nationally or internationally like Facebook, using a local approach is sometimes much more effective.
An excellent example of a domain using both brand, location, and the industry is Scott’s Flowers in New York City. The domain this company has chosen is scottsflowersnyc.com. This domain conveys three pieces of information – brand, industry, and location.
Domains come in all forms of sizes and words. Anything one could come up with can be a domain. However, there are extensions to consider.
Depending on where the business operates, one might want to consider either a localized country domain extension or a more generic non-locational extension.
For example, the website Facebook has chosen an extension of .com (facebook.com). It is a generic top-level domain extension, highly recognized as being a website address.
The original top-level domain extensions are com, us, edu, gov, mil, and net. These domains, first established in January of 1985, are top-level.
For many organizations and non-profits, using a .org extension is preferred. It is the case with Wikipedia, whose primary domain is wikipedia.org.
Choosing a top-level domain like .com or .net will be a small business best bet for website address recognition. However, these domains have their problems.
First, top-level domains are hard to come by for generic word combinations. There are billions of websites, and each needs its domain. The scramble to get top-level domains with common words and word combinations is over two decades deep.
It is not uncommon to find a .com domain selling for thousands of dollars. So, depending on the domain name you want, what is available and whether it is a top-level domain or a second or third-tier domain extension will all play into the cost of a domain for your website.
A typical top-level domain can cost anywhere from $30 to $10,000 or more.
A typical lower-level domain can cost anywhere from ‘free with hosting’ to $100 or more, depending on the popularity of the word or word combinations and the popularity of the extension.
Annual domain fees run from $10 to $100 per year to re-register. Costs are often lower if one purchases multi-year registration.
Hosting Types and Costs
In a moment, we will get into the type of website that is needed. It can play a role in where one gets hosting for the site. But what is hosting? And what are the costs involved?
Depending on the type of website, you may want to consider different hosts. Hosting is the service of holding the files that make a website and serving them up to the world via the internet.
Hosting can be locally run on a physical server that you have in your business, as many companies do. It involves purchasing a server ($500-$10,000 or more depending on specifications) and commercial-grade internet service.
Many companies do this, but with modern cloud-based technology, many businesses turn to cloud-based hosting solutions instead.
Hosting a website has many variables that determine the costs. For the average non-techy, hosting can be quite daunting to decide which is best for your website. Let’s break down the basic types of hosting.
- As mentioned previously, this requires a physical server is set up and run by the business.
- Required: Server, server software, professional setup, installation, maintenance – $1,000 – $20,000
- Paying an outside service provider who serves websites on a massive server also serves many other sites.
- Cheapest hosting solution
- Not as fast or reliable as dedicated
- Sometimes includes CDN service
Shared Hosting Costs
- From $5 to $250 per month.
- Paying an outside service provider who serves websites on dedicated servers that are ‘rented’ to the website owner paying for the service
- More expensive than shared but faster and more reliable
- Can often handle higher traffic levels than shared hosting
- Often includes CDN service
Dedicated Hosting Costs
- From $30 to $1,500 per month or more depending on requirements.
CDNs a.k.a. Content Delivery Networks – paying an outside service provider to serve a website on a collection of servers known as a CDN. These servers are often located in multiple states and countries to provide the website to the world as fast as possible.
There are several other types of hosting as well, but these are the most commonly used forms. Some include CDN, and some do not. Usually, the more expensive hosting providers include CDN service in their monthly plans. Also, many providers apply a discount if one chooses to pay annually instead of monthly.
Type of Website
So, we discussed the hosting types and costs, but the kind of website may have a significant contribution to deciding where to host a site.
For example, if the required website is going to be an e-commerce store, then one might be exclusively looking to use the Shopify platform. If the website is going to be a portfolio for an artist, then perhaps a WordPress website would best suit the project. Or, if the site is for web development or programming firm, then it is likely that the site would be a static site hosted in-house.
Therefore, the type of website plays a significant role in affecting where and how to host a website. We’ll discuss more the host types relating to website type later in the platform costs.
Size of Website
The size of a website has an enormous role in affecting cost. Think of it just like publishing a book. The more complex and the more pages the book has, the more expensive writing, editing, and publishing will be.
Luckily, most websites for entrepreneurs and small businesses are relatively low compared with sites like Wikipedia.
However, depending on the type of site and the public’s intended interaction, a site can grow exponentially fast. It is often the case when a forum website starts on a new topic. For example, the forums for AI programmers have exploded in the last few years due to increased industry.
If one is planning a fast-growing website due to including user-content, a site can grow much faster than initially expected.
For the rest of us not creating a considerable user-content based site, the average size is between 5 and 50 pages for a new website.
Depending on several factors, the cost will vary dramatically. For example, if one uses a platform like WordPress with a generic theme with pre-set templates, the design time may be minimal. For a fully custom site with heavy animations and graphics or a website rich in content, the setup time can considerably increase.
To sum up, the size of a website plays a significant role in determining the site’s overall cost.
As we mentioned previously, the website type will play a role in determining the platform one chooses to use for the site.
There are many platforms to choose from if one is familiar with some of the more technical back-end of websites. For the rest of us, there are several commonly used platforms:
WordPress is a content management system that makes it easy for non-technical people to create beautiful websites.
Many websites claim that because WordPress is a content management system and not a website builder that one will need to know how to code. It is not necessarily the case. With WordPress being quite popular (over 30% of the internet uses it), there is no shortage of builders and plugins to make it easy to set up. There is also no shortage of pre-designed themes to choose from, both free and premium versions.
These facts make WordPress one of the most versatile website platforms on the internet. It’s no wonder many people use WordPress.
Just to clarify, there are two ‘WordPress’ that are on the internet. There are WordPress.org and WordPress.com. These are two different sites. WordPress.org is the home of the open-source CMS that anyone can download and use. WordPress.com is a web hosting company that uses WordPress CMS.
WordPress.com offers hosting packages free for a simple site to $59 per month at the top-tier eCommerce level.
Wix is a proprietary site-building system unless WordPress which is open-source. The difference is that if you had a server at home, you could download WordPress and use it on your computer to build a WordPress based website. Wix is not downloadable, nor is it open-source, so one could not just download it as one could with WordPress.
Again, this sort of thing comes down to your technical abilities with websites. It also means that one is constrained by what Wix will allow you to control on your site.
Wix has cashed in because most people need an easy way to build websites. After all, most people are not web developers or programmers.
Wix offers hosting packages from $5 to $29 per month on its top-tier website plans and from $20 to $35 per month for their business plans.
Weebly is another similar system to Wix. Again it is not open-source like WordPress but is a proprietary site-building solution. The intent is for use by the non-technical individual, and one is limited by what Weebly will allow in terms of site control. And although the sites created with WordPress are likely more complex, Weebly is a simple and easy to use solution.
With packages ranging from $0 to $30 per month, Weebly is an affordable and simple website solution.
Another proprietary website builder, Squarespace, started in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2003. WordPress also started in the same year, so these two website platforms competed for nearly two decades.
Squarespace is relatively easy to use, and although one does not require knowledge of coding, like WordPress, the option to use code is present if desired.
Squarespace offers website solutions from $12 to $46 per month. Annual payment plans offer slight discounts as well.
The Shopify platform, dedicated to eCommerce solutions for business, has dominated the eCommerce industry. The platform started in 2004, so it is just slightly younger than WordPress.
Shopify uses it’s own proprietary system, much like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace. The platform is sophisticated and can be a bit tough to learn all the facets of, but allows for excellent control over the design and every aspect of the website.
Although Shopify has faced significant setbacks trying to implement its platform in other countries, it is a top choice for hosting eCommerce websites in the United States.
Shopify offers its hosting plans starting at $29 per month and going up to $299 per month for their advanced plan with premium features.
What are the add-on fees?
We’ve all been annoyed at some point or another by discovering a hidden fee. Well, one should not believe that web hosting is any different. Each platform has its version of extra costs for your website, which might be needed.
Many add-on features are simply eye candy made to entice the website owner to give some of their monthly income to the add-on seller.
There are some positives to add-ons, to counter the negative of adding on costs. For example, WordPress is notorious for having multiple fees involved with the different add-ons. Let’s take a look at some of these add-ons.
With WordPress, there is a never-ending supply of new themes coming out. And there are several popular themes that many have grown accustomed to using.
Each theme has its level of design and functional abilities. Most themes offered are in tiers with typically a simple free tier and a premium tier offering extended features.
Premium themes can cost between $50 to $250 per year or more. Some themes have lifetime costs also, but most are annual payments.
Similar to the themes, WordPress has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of add-on plugins for various functions. Some are required to turn your WordPress website into an eCommerce store. Some are needed to help speed up your site. If one can think of something desired for a WordPress website, chances are there is a plugin for that.
Premium plugins can cost anywhere from $5 to $250 or more, depending on their popularity, ability, and many other factors.
One should also keep in consideration that many websites use multiple premium plugins. It is not uncommon for a website to have as many as ten or more premium plugins for various functions.
It means that a site could have $50 to $2,500 or more in plugin costs. And most plugins are sold as an annual subscription so that these costs will be recurring.
Premium Site Builders
Like the other platforms with proprietary builders instead of an open-source CMS like WordPress, there are site builders also available for WordPress. And like the themes and plugins, there are typically free tiers and paid tiers for the premium version.
Premium site builders cost anywhere from $0 to $250 per year.
Website Design Costs
Assuming one is not using one of many available standard templates for their business, a web designer may be required.
A web designer will design mock-ups of the to-be website using its branding, style, and pleasantly adding the functionality.
Costs for website design will vary greatly depending on the type of site, functions, and size.
Basic responsive design services for a website cost between $2,500 and $12,000 or more for a more advanced and more extensive site.
Website Setup Costs
Website setup costs may be included, depending on which provider and the type of site one has chosen. However, in an eCommerce store, the products will all need to be input into the site. It includes any writing from copywriters or images from manufacturers or a hired photographer.
All articles will need insertion, and depending on the platform, this can take quite some time to accomplish this part of the setup process.
Essential publishing services for platforms like WordPress can cost anywhere from $20/hour to $100/hour or more if hiring a professional publishing firm. It is not uncommon for a new website to take between 40 and 120 hours to build. The cost would compute at a total between $800 and $12,000 or more, for a complete website setup.
Website Launch: An Exciting Day or Expense?
No matter which platform one chooses, no matter which type of website created, there will be an official day when the site is ‘complete’ and ready for the public eye.
Many businesses set aside some funds to accommodate an official launch for the website. It may be a local event for a local business, perhaps setting up a public barbecue fundraiser to promote the new website. Similarly, it could be a radio or even television commercial used to help support the new site and start traffic off on a healthy first foot.
Whatever the launch one plans, it is likely going to cost some money. Typical small business launch for a new website costs between $2,500 and $15,000.
Monthly and Annual Website Maintenance Costs
Building and setting up a website and maintaining a website are very different things. Regular maintenance can include several expenses, such as those listed below.
- SEO – Search engine optimization is critical for any business website using search as a function to drive traffic and, thus, potential clients to the site. Many businesses hire or employ someone to monitor and continuously improve and correct content to increase search visibility. The cost to hire a professional firm to manage SEO can be anywhere from $500 to $2,500 per month.
- Marketing – If a business intends to use the website for more than just a placemat, it will need to consider a marketing budget. It can range from taking time to self-promote on social media, forums, and communities to pay a firm for advertising management. If time is money, then how much time one spends at a specific pay rate will determine the cost. However, hiring out marketing could be any of the following
- PPC (Pay per click)
- Email marketing
- Social media marketing
- Targeted ads
The final cost of each form of marketing can be determined by the industry, difficulty, and many other factors that will have roles to play in affecting the final price. However, for a small business, a website’s marketing budget could be anywhere from $250 to $20,000 per month or more.
- Content Production – Depending on your website type and strategy, you may need to be entering new products or adding new posts each month. If you are selling products, you may need to pay for copywriting services to add to the product pages. If you include articles, you will need to pay writers to add content to your website. A professional writing firm will cost between $200 and $500 for 1000 words of the original copy. Expect to pay between $500 and $5,000 per month or more for content for a growing site, if one doesn’t hire in house personnel to make the content.
- Editing Content – Assuming a business made a lot of the original content themselves, or even paid some amateur writers to help build up the content on your site, it is likely that things will need to editing. A professional editor can cost anywhere from $200 to $4,000 or more to edit a small to medium website. These services are usually charged by the word or by the hour.
- Updating Content – Overtime content will need to be updated. For an eCommerce site, products will change, new products require addition, old products removed, and new models of products will need to be talked about and sold. In the case of a more content-driven site, perhaps a service company with an active blog, the older articles will need to be updated as a part of the SEO process. After all, search engines love fresh content and updated more past articles is a great way to keep them relevant. This endeavor is essential in industries where technology is rapidly changing. This process will require writers trained in SEO or a sound system in place for your SEO expert to show the writers what is needed and what not to change. Content updating services range from $75/hr to $800 per hour or more for a specialist. One can expect to have up to 20 hours per month or more of this work for a new site after the first year.
- Management and Strategy – As time progresses and the ebb and flow of industry carry on, there will need to be to alter or adjust the website’s management and business strategy. It will cost money like anything else. Typically, businesses like to leave this in their marketing and SEO teams, but some pay for outside help.
Professional enterprise-level management maintenance plans from specialized firms’ costs start at $1,500 per month.
Website Cost Summary
We’ve talked about domains and website hosting. Website platforms and add-ons have been addressed. We’ve talked about design, content, and ongoing maintenance. But, we haven’t mentioned a few things like paying extra for domain privacy, an additional fee for hosting side malware scan and removal, or the plethora of extras advertised at each website host.
For this, we have added a bit of cost to the list. These may not be entirely required, but it’s good to practice to account for a little extra.
One other cost to note is that a computer is required for a business to have a website. Whether it’s a server to self-host or a laptop or desktop to check, add, edit, and update the website hosted by a hosting provider. Either way, the computer will be required. Most people have one already, but we have included an extra $2500 in the extras to account for a new computer.
Domain – $30 – $10,000+
Hosting – $0 – $18,000
- Themes – $0 – $250
- Plugins – $50 – $2,500
- Site Builders – $0 – $250
Website Design – $2,500 – $12,000
Initial Website Setup – $800 – $12,000
Website Launch Event – $2,500 – $12,000
Extras – (security, computer(s), unforeseen expenses) – $4,000 – $10,000
Website Initial Cost Summary Totals
$9,880 – $77,000
These totals make a few assumptions. First, on the high end of things, it is assumed that the site owner is paying someone else for every aspect of the website. The vendors chosen are on the expensive side of the industry.
Domain – $10 – $100+ per year
Hosting – $0 – 1,500 per month
Themes – $50 – $250 per year
- Themes – $0 – $250 per year
- Plugins – $50 – $2,500 per year
- Site Builders – $0 – $250 per year
SEO – $500 – $2,500+ per month
Marketing – $250 – $20,000+ per month
Content Production – $500 – $5,000+ per month
Content Editing – $200 – $4,000+ per month
Content Updating (after year 1) – $1,500 – $16,000+ per month
Site Management – $1,500 – $10,000+ per month
Website Ongoing Costs Summary
These assumed costs are quite variable depending on the ability of the website owner. Some small businesses don’t spend much on changing their website, and it may stay ‘stale’ for years before the business owner has decided to update things.
With technology and design changing so rapidly, the more responsive a website design is, the more it may require updates for not only security but also to improve performance.
If there is any money exchanged on the website, there will be more required to maintain security and updates than on a site that does not transfer money.
As well, it is not uncommon for eCommerce websites to have substantially higher monthly maintenance than a standard service business company website, for example. Therefore, the type of business performed on the site, and the website’s intent play significant factors in determining upkeep and maintenance requirements and costs.
A Note On Extra Costs
Another note about extras is that a situation can occur with website creation known by many as the rabbit hole effect.
The rabbit hole effect can cost a lot of money. Here is how the rabbit hole effect works. Let us assume that one is at the design stage of the website. If one is paying a designer on an hourly basis, the more one changes their mind, the more time it will take to get things right.
If one gets drawn into minor design decisions, it can draw out the site build process by sometimes as much as weeks or even months.
The rabbit hole effect occurs most when small businesses or entrepreneurs go into the process without a clear vision of what they want the end product to look like and how they want it to function.
Making significant decisions about function or design in the middle of a website creation process can cripple the process budget. It can send things down a rabbit hole that the business owner surely does not want to be burdened with the financial obligation. Also, it can drive the involved vendors quite mad as well.
The point here is to make sure that one has a clear and concise plan for the site before jumping in with both feet and an open wallet. A well thought out plan can save thousands of dollars.
Be sure to read my guide on how to calculate startup costs for your business here
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