How much does a new website cost?
An online presence is incredibly important to any business or organization. Keeping the site modern and up to date can be challenging, but is incredibly important. The good news is that there are excellent platforms that make it easier and more affordable than ever to build and maintain your website. Of course, the natural next question is, "What is 'more affordable'?" In fact, one of the most asked questions when we talk to prospects considering a new website is understandably around the cost, so in this article we'll break down what makes up the cost of a website and how much you can expect to spend.
About this Guide and Website Pricing in General
We should open our pricing guide with an acknowledgement that there is a friction between brands looking to have a new website built and the agencies that build them. Inevitably, one of the first questions any prospect will ask is what is the cost. That's understandable, but from an agency's perspective, each project is custom quoted and there are myriad variables that can affect price one way or the other. As a result, this guide isn't meant to be a price sheet, but rather we endeavor to discuss the various options and what ballparks we're playing in for each option.
One significant caveat is that we're combining multiple potential platforms together into a single guide. Pricing between platforms is in reality typically not identical and your platform of choice may also influence secondary costs for third party apps and integrations that add needed functionality to your website.
It isn't necessary to know exactly what you want in order to start a website project. Any good agency, including Empower Ideas, will help to gather requirements and create a recommended technical approach that accomplishes all your unique needs in the most cost effective manner possible. While clients sometimes dislike these discovery periods because they can delay the start of the project, they tend to be incredibly helpful to increasing success and satisfaction by the end of the build. By ensuring that your site is built on the right platform for the job, you'll also save time and money down the road as you look to add features and functionality, or just keep the site up to date.
This article, however, isn't about choosing a platform or gathering requirements. In this article, our goal is to give you a good understanding of what goes into a quote for a website. By the end of this guide, you should have a good idea of which ballpark project structure you fall into, and you can determine an appropriate budget to bring to an agency like Empower Ideas. We can build your project plan around that budget.
Platform Architecture and Pricing
The first consideration of the cost of your new website is the cost of the platform. The two most common platforms that we build for are Webflow and Wordpress, although there are others. For example, SquareSpace and Wix are excellent builders for smaller sites, while Drupal and more custom solutions like Adobe Experience Manager typically cater to the enterprise level or to more complex site needs.
Wordpress is a massively popular traditional site management platform. It was originally created for building small blogs, but has since morphed into an extremely powerful tool that can even manage enterprise-grade websites. A Wordpress site is made up of a "theme" which is a packaged site design that determines how the site looks and works, plus plug-ins that provide extra functionality, in addition to the content that is added. Each of these components can be managed as a separate workstream and contribute to the overall price of the project.
In terms of ongoing costs, Wordpress as a platform is free, which is one reason it powers over a third of the web. However, you'll still need to pay for server storage space and bandwidth to serve your site to visitors. This is called "hosting." Empower Ideas offers a hosting plan for free if you maintain an active retainer with us. Alternatively hosting alone starts at $49 and also includes your domain when registered through us, an SSL certificate, and your first four Google Workspace or Office 365 email accounts (with a discounted rate on additional accounts). You're not obligated to host with Empower Ideas, and you can host with nearly any company that offers the service. Prices range from $20 to $2,000 per month and are typically based on how much traffic your site can handle. Like early cellphone plans, if you choose a hosting plan that's too small you may be billed overages if your site gets busy, or your server may get overwhelmed and knock your site offline altogether. On the other hand, if you don't expect your site to attract hugely significant traffic, then choosing a cheaper hosting plan may be a good way to save money. An agency like Empower Ideas can make specific recommendations for your use case.
Drupal is a more complex site manager. As a high-level (and frankly overly general) rule, you can think of Wordpress as being our typical recommendation for sites that need to be customized at a template or page level, while Drupal is a more modular platform, meaning that we will build small components that can be customized and pieced together separately to form full pages. Like Wordpress, Drupal is a free platform but will need hosting. Drupal hosting tends to be more expensive than Wordpress hosting (although this isn't always the case) since it's often used for sites that need a bit more power and flexibility. Empower Ideas' $49 hosting plan may be a good place to start for Drupal hosting, but for sites on this platform we often recommend Pantheon instead.
In contrast to Wordpress and Drupal, Webflow is a non-traditional, modern site management platform. It integrates design and development into a single workstream, saving time and cost. It is also a fully managed hosting solution, so there are no extra hoops to jump through in terms of finding a host to store your site. Webflow's pricing ranges from $15 to $45 for up to 400 gb of bandwidth per month, with pricier custom enterprise plans available if your site expects more traffic than that. Empower Ideas' $49 hosting plan will cover your Webflow subscription at no extra cost, and still include the extras, ultimately making Webflow a very cost effective solution. I
The main takeaway: You'll need to pay your platform fees to "keep the lights on" in your website as a fixed cost even after completing your site build, but these costs can be minimal, particularly for sites without a massive amount of traffic.
Apps and Service Integrations
The other recurring cost of a website comes from apps and service integrations. These fall into two categories: apps you know you'll need in order to support your business needs and apps you find you need during development to make something possible or make it easier.
The first category can be easily determined beforehand. For business-critical applications you're already using, determine if they have a prebuilt integration with Wordpress, Webflow, or Drupal and, if so, what that integration costs. For instance, if you use LocalizeJS to provide international translations on your site, the integration with Wordpress and Drupal is free, but you'll need to continue paying your existing monthly subscription with them. Go through each application in your tech stack and check what its integration costs to find your application integration fees.
At this point, you may have some sense of where you might fall in terms of ongoing costs for your new website. Of course, there can be massive variances, and we're here to help answer questions if you like. For now, let's shift gears to the one-time project costs associated with setting up your new site.
Building Your Site
The key cost that you're probably most interested in gaining insight into is the cost to actually build your site, meaning design and development. The build process may also include other important activities, such as migrating content or data from another platform; configuring SEO settings; installing apps, connecting external services, and other key backend tasks; creating advanced analytics reports; etc.
There are a few different options available, so we've broken them down into four separate price ballparks.
If you choose to work with Empower Ideas, we always include at minimum a context briefing, which is a thorough workshop and kickoff to your project, but a more detailed discovery process is also available, and typically adds $1,000 to $5,000 extra cost, depending on the complexity of your organization and requirements, as well as the extent of any documentation you already have in place.
Empower Ideas is a full service agency, and if you work with us you'll have dedicated contacts and a consistent project team. These prices reflect what it actually costs us to build your new site and are likely relatively typical of American digital creative agencies. It may be possible to beat these prices using international agencies or freelancers, but quality may suffer as a result.
Customize a Theme
The absolute cheapest option is to customize your own theme. Themes are pre-created site designs and they control the user experience (UX) but typically have customization options that allow you to modify the visual design in areas such as colors, fonts, images, etc.
Wordpress, Webflow, and Drupal all offer theme stores. They each have a couple of free themes and a large number of paid themes created by the first-party platforms as well as third-party companies selling their pre-made themes. These paid themes typically cost somewhere between $50 and $500 and are a one-time cost.
Once you've purchased a theme, you'll be able to make many customizations to it yourself, but there are also many limitations in what you're able to edit. Different themes have different limitations, but if you're able to work within the confines of the theme, you may not need a developer or agency to help get your site online at all. On the other hand, most significant modifications will require a developer who's adept with working with code within these platforms to make changes to the theme code.
Development Cost: $0 - $2,000
Additional Costs: Third-party theme, apps, and services
The next step up from basic theme customization is what we'll call a templated framework. With this option, we're still using a pre-existing theme, but the theme is generic and offers basic functionality. We'll go into a project like this expecting to make significant wholesale changes to the theme with a real developer. Since this isn't a truly custom site build, there's limitations to what we're able to accomplish practically, but for many small sites starting out, this route offers an excellent balance between a bespoke theme and a fully custom site.
With a templated framework, you'll have basic access to a designer at Empower Ideas. We'll skip over some of our most thorough design steps, such as UX wireframes, because they simply aren't relevant here, where we don't have full control. But you will have the ability to see a designed prototype of your site before it's built so you can make many changes such that your site properly conveys your brand and reflects your preferences.
From there, our developers will create your site on top of the pre-existing framework. This starting base allows the site to be finished more quickly and reduces cost. You'll still be able to use the platform theme editors to make content changes to your site in the future following development.
Empower Ideas also has business analysts on the team that can help to set up your site including adding or migrating content, integrating email campaigns, performing QA, and much more.
Development Cost: $5,000 - $25,000
Additional Costs: Third-party apps and services, content population services, services beyond site development itself (e.g. email marketing)
A custom website is a great option for sites that expect significant or continued growth, or that have unique and specific requirements. With a custom website, we expect to build everything from scratch to your specifications. For that reason, the primary driver of cost and time is the number of modules, pages, or templates that we build for your site, resulting in a much wider potential band of cost. The lowest end of this spectrum typically includes sites that need the smallest number of most basic templates (Homepage, Content Listing Page, Content Article Page, Generic Page) with limited content editing flexibility or custom modules.
Webflow also offers significant savings, usually around 40% as compared to comparable Wordpress costs, since design and development can be comingled into a single workstream. Webflow has some limitations which means it isn't right for every site build, but it may be a great way to save on your project.
With a custom build on any platform, you'll go through our complete design phase, which begins with a presentation of various comps to help us align on vibes, styles, and needed elements; progresses to UX wireframes; and culminates in high-fidelity visual design with interactive prototypes. Our designs include desktop and mobile layouts and several rounds of revision, depending on your exact needs as well as your timeline.
With custom site builds, you'll have full access to our development team, who will create each module, page, and template in painstaking detail according to your approved designs.
While each platform offers editors to update your site on an ongoing basis without a developer, it's important for us to design the options you'll need as "building blocks" to make those edits later on.
Our clients at this level are sometimes interested in exploring secondary goals as well, such as site speed, accessibility, or SEO. While we consider these types of goals with every project (including templated framework), they aren't necessarily a primary consideration and there may not always be budget to manage in-depth work. For instance, site speed may be impacted by third-party services that can be mitigated with additional development resources. Accessibility concerns may necessitate adding a dedicated accessibility expert to the team to help evaluate from a legal perspective. These types of goals are doable, but depending on your needs expect them to add $5-$15k each to the total cost of your project.
Development Cost: $25,000 - $60,000 (Webflow projects can typically reduce this rates by 20-40%)
Additional Costs: Third-party apps and services, additional focus on secondary goals such as site speed, accessibility, SEO, etc.
Enterprise or Complex Site Builds
If you have particularly robust needs for your online presence, you may be most interested in an enterprise site build. This is a higher end custom build which pairs best with Drupal. Our top-of-the-line offering includes extensive customization for a truly unique front-end site, combined with back-end features and technology like a visual drag-and-drop page builder and fully integrated connections with services like Coveo or Algolia for search, Brightcove or Vimeo for videos, and Bynder or Brandfolder for asset management.
At the enterprise level, we understand that you're looking for the optimal user experience with a completely branded website, and this detailed level of site build is worth the investment if you're this type of an organization.
At the enterprise level, we believe a full research and discovery phase is extremely important, and we typically take several weeks at the beginning of the project to go through this phase and collect a detailed list of requirements for the site build.
Our design team will craft a completely custom website with each module (section) of each page fully customizable, so you can make changes in the future without requiring a developer. At this level, we still include the same full custom design as our non-enterprise custom site builds, but we typically have more templates and there is often a need for greater control and customization, or to adhere to more or stricter requirements. Our design team aims to meet your requirements while applying UX best standards to create a site that you're proud of and that performs.
On our enterprise site builds, our developers make sure everything is built at a modular building-block level which allows for easy maintenance from a content authoring team or for a developer to easily build new features on top of the site in the future. Additionally, we plan to integrate common features such as analytics and Google Tag Manager, email marketing, custom metafields, and more by default and included within your cost. Our site builds include a 30 day/40 man-hour warranty for anything that might break after we finish, as well.
Enterprise site builds are the most flexible band of site build that we offer and price will be determined based on the constraints in your project, such as the number of requirements, the timeline, or the amount of unique content needed.
Development Cost: $40,000 - $200,000+
Additional Costs: At this level, we seek to build everything that you might need in a one-time purchase into the cost, so there are no surprises. We can handle third-party costs on your behalf, if you like. You'll still have third-party costs for ongoing subscription services such as email providers or other apps, but one-time costs are covered. The only additional costs at this level would come from a change in requirements of the project.
Tips to Consider as You Make Your Investment into Your Store
To summarize, here's a few tips and best practices as you set out to build your new store:
1. Prepare a budget. Building a new site is an investment just like any other capital expense of building your business, but many agencies including Empower Ideas can scale your site build to meet whatever your budget is. We can help talk through what features or nice-to-haves you may be able to give up in order to stay on budget.
2. Creating your site requires time and, sometimes, fairly advanced programming knowledge. If you receive a quote with a significantly compressed timeline or budget relative to your other quotes, be very suspicious. You get what you pay for, and if you don't understand why a cost is cheaper than competitors, your site's quality may ultimately suffer.
3. Hourly rates for a developer typically range from $70 to $200 per hour. These rates are determined by seniority and experience and are factored into your final project cost. One reason greater complexity may increase your cost may be that a more senior developer is needed to adhere. to those more complex requirements. Keep in mind you may be able to find cheaper developers on services like Upwork but they likely won't work as a greater part of a cohesive team and, again, quality may ultimately suffer.
4. We recommend investing in the right partner from the start, whether that's Empower Ideas or another agency. Switching partners because of a stalled or poorly built site can become a very expensive and long drawn out nightmare.
If you need help parsing all the information in this detailed article, set up a consultation with us. There's no cost and no obligation, and we'd be happy to help you break down your specific needs in more detail.