How Much Should Web Site Design, Development, and Hosting Cost?
What’s the easiest way to create awkwardness, spite, and frustration between clients and web site developers? Bring up the price of the project and you will instantly create a volatile situation. In most interactions between clients and web site designers/developers, expectations of project costs are drastically different. So how much should a web site really cost? The answer is more involved than most people assume.
This is a long article, so for those who want a quick answer, here you go: For an interactive web site with custom design and quality coding, I would expect to pay somewhere in the range of $2,000 to $15,000. If you are paying less, you are probably getting an off-the-shelf CMS with a generic design template. Chris Pearson sheds some more light on graphic design pricing: How Much Should a Design Cost?
For more complex sites or online applications, expect to pay $20,000+.
… And Knowing is Half the Battle
As a consumer of web site development services it is important that you take some steps to educate yourself about the process. An informed consumer is knowledgeable about what he or she wants to buy and does research on options, availability, and market prices. These are the basic elements of an average web site project:
- Database Design
- Business Logic Programming
- Markup, Styling, and Graphic Design
- Standards-compliance, Accessibility, and Testing
- Ongoing Maintenance
Make sure that you have at least a high level understanding of each before working with a developer. Reading the articles here at Solo Signal is a good place to start. In addition, I would recommend picking up a copy of Web ReDesign 2.0: Workflow That Works by Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler. This book has an emphasis on redesigning existing sites, but the concepts discussed are the same for new web sites.
Placing Value on Time and Knowledge
Behind every web site is a programmer and a designer. The knowledge that these individuals possess and the time they put into every project is often overlooked and not considered when pricing a project. Sarah Lewis of Blogging Expertise explains this value nicely in A Frank Discussion About Pricing:
- Details. Professional designers and firms pay particular attention to the details that will make or break your site.
- Time. Most people who end up using a professional designer or firm understand that their time is worth something, and that spending your time on your core business is one of the best places you can invest your time. Working with web professionals allows you to tap into our experience and knowledge and save hundreds of hours.
- Experience. A professional designer or design firm isn’t just selling you hours on a project; we’re selling you years of experience in the sometimes-overwhelming world of the Internet.
- Knowledge. When you hire a professional designer or firm, you are also getting access to a wealth of information that we’ve gathered and are happy to share.
Keep in mind that you are not just paying for the developer’s time, you are paying for the knowledge and insight they have acquired over many years of experience. Here is a story to illustrate this point:
Once upon a time there was a steam generating plant that was not producing much steam. After a frustrating search for the cause, the plant manager, in desperation, called in an expert. After only two hours on site, the expert found the problem and placed “X’s” on two pipes that were causing the problem, saying that they had to be removed.
When presented with the bill, the plant manager asked the consultant how he could charge $5,000.00 for only two hours of work. When he asked for an itemized bill, this is what he got:
1. $400.00 – Placing “X’s” on two pipes
2. $4,600.00 – Knowing where to place the “X’s”
The plant manager got what he paid for and probably a lot more. He had already used up more than that amount on his own staff not to mention the loss in revenue while the plant was shut down. For him, securing the advisory services of a consultant was the right thing to do.
The same is true for a web site designer or developer. You may feel you are paying way too much for the actual time spent, but in reality you are paying for knowledge, not just time.
Paying for Quality
As with most things, it comes down to this: You get what you pay for. If you want a successful website that is attractive, standards-based, accessible, search engine optimized, stable, and fast, then take the time to find a good developer/designer and be prepared to pay them what they are worth. You will not regret the purchase.
Sure your computer geek nephew knows HTML and could build a web site for just $100. He also knows how to use a screwdriver. Does this mean he could build a safe, reliable, and fuel-efficient car for you? Probably not, so why take the same risk with your web site, a potentially large value-center for your company?
A good way to gauge what you can afford is to ask designers and developers for their prices and rates. Ask for examples of past projects and how much was charged for each. This will give you an idea of what you can expect to pay. If you can’t afford what you originally had in mind, consider scaling back the project and breaking it into smaller chunks that can be completed when you have the budget.
Find Someone You Truly WANT to Work With
Don’t try to wrangle a bunch of individuals and firms into a bidding war, for two reasons. First, you are basically saying that you don’t care who develops your site, as long as it is cheap. If this is the case, you might as well just call up your nephew. Second, this just makes the winning developer bitter because he or she had to bid beneath their real costs to land the project. Now you have an angry developer who is under-paid and trying to minimize the damage by finishing as quickly as possible. Does this sound like a good situation for you and your web site? I don’t think so either.
Let me illustrate my point: A few weeks ago I decided that a new look was in order for my personal site (Aaron Forgue). The first step I wanted to take was to have a logo created. I knew that I wanted to work with James Mathias, an excellent designer who has done some amazing work. I asked James for information regarding pricing and quickly discovered that I couldn’t afford him. Instead of trying to find a cheaper designer, I made the decision to wait until I could afford him. James is the person I want to work with, and I am not going to sacrifice the quality of my site just to save a buck or two.
Interestingly, James wrote an outstanding article related to this very topic: Respect.
A Quick Overview of Hosting and Other Costs
Hosting is a topic that I will write about in more detail later on, but for the purposes of this article, it is important that you factor in recurring fees. There are basically three recurring web site fees: domain Registration, site hosting, and on-going site maintenance.
- Domain Registration – Domain registration is simple, I recommend purchasing your domain for as many years as possible (e.g. 10 years.). I buy domains through GoDaddy, you can usually get a discount there by using the coupon code “diggnation“.
- Web Hosting – There are several different levels of hosting, but to give you a ball park estimation, I would expect to pay anywhere between $15 – $500/month for hosting. Obviously this is another example of getting what you pay for. At $15/month you will be sharing server space with a bunch of other websites. At $500/month you will most likely have your own dedicated machine that is managed by an experienced server administrator.
- On-going Site Maintenance – Site maintenance is typically billed at an hourly rate. For freelance developers this is usually between $40-$100/hour. For emergency, 24/7 maintenance, be prepared to pay $200+/hour.
The bottom line: educate yourself. Not nearly enough businesses understand the value of a well-designed website and suffer because of this ignorance. More and more people are using the Internet to research and purchase goods and services. If your online presence is lacking, you will miss out on a lot of potential business.
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