How much does a website cost? Anywhere from $50 to $5,000,000+
Let's find out what differentiates a $50 website from a $5,000,000 one and all the steps in between.
So you’re in the market for a new website, whether you’re redesigning an existing site or creating an entirely new one. The question is: how much should it cost? Well, the answer to that question, as you might imagine, is complicated, and you’ll find a surprisingly broad range of outcomes. What I hope to do in this article is to shed some light on the differences between the tiers of website costs, what differentiates them, who they’re best suited for, and what you can expect, all the way from $50 to $5,000,000.
1. $50 Websites - “DIY”
This is about the cheapest you can get away with standing up a website, and with this option, you’re replacing money with your own time. You’ll probably leverage an all-in-one service like SquareSpace, Wix, or Weebly for a monthly subscription fee to pick a design, make some small customizations, enter content, and launch it to the world. This approach is best suited for pre-funded startups, just starting out nonprofits or solo entrepreneurs that are getting started. You won’t work with (or pay) anyone as you’re doing all the hard work yourself. This will help you have a presence with a domain, but won’t do much more than that.
2. $5,000 Websites - “Mom & Pop”
Once you enter the $5,000 territory, websites start to get a little more custom, but still fairly stock and standard. This budget will afford you the opportunity to hire a freelancer who is more of a generalist and can do everything from design to development. They’ll likely still leverage an all-in-one option like SquareSpace, pick a design theme, and provide some options for ways to customize the theme to make it a bit more bespoke to your brand and business. This is a good fit for small businesses (like mom and pop shops, local restaurants) that just don’t have the time to do-it-yourself, and could benefit from a little more design customization and post-launch support.
3. $50,000 Websites - “Brochureware”
With a jump to $50,000, you’re moving out of the realm of all-in-one off-the-shelf services and into more fully-featured and supported Content Management Systems, like WordPress. You can afford to work with a small agency typically staffed with generalist designers/developers. They’ll likely pick a design theme (for which there are tens of thousands), purchase it, and customize it according to your unique needs. This will also afford you some basic integrations (like pulling in your job listings from an Applicant Tracking System) and a more custom information architecture and design approach. This is typically a good fit for small to medium businesses where the website operates as “brochureware”--basically, an interactive brochure with relevant content for your audience, but no need for completing transactions or custom functionality. These sites will likely need to be completely redesigned or overhauled every few years.
4. $500,000 Websites - “Revenue Generator”
Once you’ve reached mid 6 figures, your website starts to play a more central and important role in your business, likely as the generator for some portion of your revenue, whether that be through online donations, lead generation, or direct purchases of goods and services. This price tier will afford you a host of Content Management System options that provide for more out-of-the-box functionality and enterprise-level support, like Craft CMS, Contentful, or Sitecore. You’ll likely work with a medium to large size agency with more deeply focused specialists like UX designers, user researchers, front-end developers, and systems integrators. There may be more custom functionality and a requirement for a larger amount of complex integrations, like a Single Sign-On solution (SSO), donation platform, or e-commerce component. These sites are built around your business and meant to be evolved over time as your needs change, but require consistent upkeep, investment, and attention.
5. $5,000,000 Websites - “Mission Critical”
You’ve now reached the territory of websites that are considered critical to the revenue or operations of your relatively large business (think Fortune 1000). This is the type of site used by large companies that rely heavily on e-commerce transactions or equipping customers to complete a task or job that is one of the main values they pay high dollar for themselves (e.g. credential management and verification of expertise in a field). These sites tend to be completely custom, from design to development and are one of a kind in their respective industries. You’ll work with a large team of specialists from an agency over the course of 12 months+ on everything from custom information architecture to back and front-end functionality to data migration and transformation. This website will become a living and breathing product or business operation in and of itself and will require a team of people to maintain, support, and extend its use over the many years of its life, whether that’s a team you build internally or pay to outsource. The actual project of completing a website of this scale will be intensive for your team, but one that pays dividends over time.
6. + - “the 1%”
And believe it or not, this is not the end of the road for how much a website can cost. Whether you’re Hertz and spend $32m on a website or the US federal government launching healthcare.gov for anything from an estimated $70m to $1.7B (!!). But those websites likely account for less than 1% of the internet and are likely launched by large government institutions or Fortune 500 companies.
While you may still not know exactly how much money you should be budgeting for your website project, hopefully, you have a bit more context for the general price tiers and where you might fall within them. Consider the role your website has in your business, whether that be through lead generation, direct revenue, donations, otherwise, when deciding how large (or small!) of an investment to make in it.