Having a website is the most basic need of a new business. You have to be out there in the wild world of the internet, letting people know you exist and are ready to serve. But how much does a new website cost? Is it going to break the bank before you even begin?
The good news is that affordable options are available. The bad news is that there’s no easy answer when it comes to giving out a bottom line number. That’s because there’s such a wide range of options. An eager do-it-yourself-er could run a site for as little as a couple hundred dollars a year. Someone who wants a custom site with lots of bells and whistles, and doesn’t want to do any maintenance themselves, could be looking at a figure in the tens of thousands per year.
So how do you know what’s right for you?
First, let’s talk requirements.
Yes, that means a list of all the stuff you want the site to do – all the required features, the number of pages, whether or not you’ll be blogging. Will you need eCommerce support, newsletter subscriptions, online courses? A portfolio, integration with third party booking sites, or photo galleries? The more you can detail what your site needs, the more accurately you’ll be able to estimate the price.
But even more important than a list like this is knowing yourself. You need to have a frank talk with yourself about how technically minded you are, and how technically involved in the site you want to be. Are you willing to put in a few hours learning the basics of how to design and manage the site? Or is it worth it to you to pay someone else to do this? The more you can do yourself, the lower the cost – but the bigger the time investment.
Lastly, the most critical requirement of all is, of course, your budget. Look at your business numbers and figure out how much you have available to spend on a site – keeping in mind that any site will have ongoing, annual costs in addition to some up front setup costs.
Now, let’s talk costs.
When setting up a site, what costs money? There are three major areas of cost.
Domain Name Registration and Hosting
There’s no question – you must have a domain for your new site. You can register a domain on its own for about $12 USD a year at sites like 10Dollar.ca and GoDaddy.com. It’ll need to be renewed annually.
You’ll probably also need a hosting package with a hosting company. This is a company like SiteGround or BlueHost where you can buy a basic shared hosting package and they’ll store the actual files that make up the website for you. (Bonus tip: I do NOT recommend GoDaddy for hosting – they’re difficult to work with, error prone, and slow.)
Hosting packages range in price, depending on how many sites you need under one account, how much traffic you expect to see, and what kind of features you want on your package (for example, you can have a privacy package added, which I highly recommend, and most companies offer advanced backup capabilities for additional cost which is also a good idea). If you have a small business site, you’re likely looking in the range of $150 USD per year for the hosting.
There are two important exceptions to consider when choosing a hosting package.
First, if you’re thinking about using a site builder like Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace, they’ll host the site for you, so a separate hosting package is usually not required.
Second, if you’re thinking of going with a WordPress site – more on that below – but really, really aren’t interested in maintenance, you can consider a Hosted WordPress package, offered by most major hosting companies. A Hosted WordPress package means the hosting company itself will help you set up a basic site and, more importantly, will handle all the technical maintenance of the site going forward. They cost more than regular hosting – about twice as much – and they limit your ability to control and configure the site (you likely won’t be able to work directly with the design of the site yourself). However, the extra cost and design limitations might be worth it for the extra peace of mind if you’re not tech-savvy and don’t already have a go-to website developer.
Website Design and Development
Now that you’re good to go with a domain and a hosting package, it’s time to set up your site. This usually means installing a Content Management System like WordPress on the site – a CMS will help separate your content from the design, so it’s easy to update the words on the site without affecting the layout.
Here’s where prices can really start to range. If you’ve got some skills and can set up a basic framework on your own, you could be up and running with a little investment of time and very little investment of cash. But most people going with a WordPress site in particular will want a developer who specializes in the platform to get in there and make sure everything is done right, and done fast.
A quick word about website builders
If you’re on a tight budget, and you don’t want to have to worry about a big setup cost or ongoing maintenance costs, then consider a website builder like Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace. What these sites offer is hosting and site building all in one place. You’ll pay a monthly fee and they’ll take care of all the techy stuff for you.
You’ll be able to log in and create a website for yourself by selecting a template, then dragging and dropping your elements into place. You’ll use their interface to enter your text and photos and work with the design layout you’ve chosen. There’s usually a small learning curve as you get the hang of their interface but once you do, you’ll be able to set up a simple site quickly and at fairly low cost.
Why doesn’t everyone choose a site builder? Three big reasons:
- Ownership. Technically speaking, when you choose a site builder site, you don’t actually own the space where your site lives. The company has the right to pull your site at any time; to remove features or functionality on the site at any time; and in some cases (looking at you, Wix), even license your content to use in their own marketing materials without your approval. Does this happen often? Nope. But it could.
- Flexibility and Features. When you go with a builder, you’re limited to their themes and layouts. There are many choices, but it’s unlikely you’ll find one that just absolutely, 100% perfect. If you know it’ll bug you to have little things out of place, or if you require advanced functionality on your site, then you need the full power of a completely configurable CMS like WordPress.
- SEO. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and it’s that mystical, magical thing that helps your site get listed high on the search results over at Google. While no SEO strategy is ever guaranteed (that’s whole other post!), website builders are especially bad at maximizing your SEO and there’s not much you can do about it. Want to market effectively online? Don’t choose a builder site.
Still, for a startup site for a brand new business, a builder site can be a fast, cheap option. Content can always be ported off at a later date – but do keep in mind that content created on a builder site is difficult to move, and the more you have of it, the more expensive, time consuming, and complex it’s going to be to move it. Before you invest three years in blogging on a builder site, make sure that’s where you want to be.
In terms of cost, builder sites usually offer a very basic package that is absolutely free (yay!), but if you’d like access to better templates and more functionality, the cost begins to slide up. A good business site level will cost you around $250 USD per year, but even then, keep in mind that some advanced website features just aren’t possible on a builder site.
Choosing a CMS instead
If you’re sold on a full CMS solution, then you’ve got two choices here: do it yourself, or hire a developer.
Doing it yourself is free (yay!), but may cost you in terms of time. You’ll need to install WordPress; select a theme (don’t waste time coding your own!) and install it; and install some plugins to add functionality, provide stability, and make it all run smoothly. Getting everything set up the way you want and working in harmony can sometimes be frustrating, but there’s a few online forums to go to for help; if you’ve paid for a premium theme the theme developer will also sometimes help you out for a small additional fee.
You might also need to add a few paid plugins – for example, most of the best form builder plugins cost extra, many eCommerce plugins cost extra, and the best spam fighter around – Akismet – requires an annual fee.
You’ll be able to save yourself a lot of time and frustration, though, if you’re able to hire someone who is able to work the finer points of WordPress and can customize your site to be exactly the way you want.
An independent, professional developer can run anywhere from $500 to $10 000 depending on what features you need and how complex and custom the site it. For a basic business site and an experienced developer, something in the $1000 to $2000 range is likely. (If you’re considering a larger design and development firm, prices will be much higher – in the $10 K range to start).
You might also want to consider a professional graphic designer for logo design and a professional photographer to take some custom photos of people and products for the site; these costs are extra; a good budget for both is in the $1000 range.
You’ve paid for hosting, and a developer (or you!) has set up the site with great looking graphics and photos. Great! Now what?
Every website requires some maintenance to keep it looking good, and this can mean additional costs.
First, all software must be kept up to date. On a WordPress/CMS site, this means regularly going into the back end of the site, taking a full backup (A MUST) and then updating all themes, plugins, and core files that power the site. If you have chosen a Hosted WordPress hosting package, then these kind of updates should be done for you by the hosting company. If not, you’ll have to learn how to do this yourself, or get a website developer to do it for you. You can hire developers for regular, automatic maintenance where they’ll just take care of this for you (something like $50 USD to $150 USD per month), or you can sometimes hire them on an ad-hoc basis to come in and do upgrades a couple of times a year (around $200 a pop).
Keep in mind that keeping your software up to date is your best protection against hackers and security problems. It’s not something you want to let slide or skimp on – either do it yourself, or pay to have it done, but make it happen!
On builder sites, all the maintenance of the software itself should be done for you, but like any other site, you’ll need to stay on top of design changes and flaws. As the software upgrades, your theme might become out of date, or new rules at Google might mean different designs are favoured. For any site, it’s a good idea to revisit the design every couple of years to make sure it’s looking fresh and is using all the latest SEO tricks of the trade.
Summing It All Up
So, how much does a website cost, in the end? If you’re working with me, you’re looking at:
Domain – $12 USD per year
Hosting – $150 USD per year, plus some additional costs for add-ons like privacy, super backups, or security certificates
Initial Design and Development – $1000 to $3000
Maintenance, including site upgrades, tweaks, and redesigns – $400 to $1200 per year
When budgeting for a site, a good starting figure is around $500 per year to register and host the site. Then, depending on your personal level of comfort with technology, how much you want to be involved in the setup and maintenance of the site, and what your budget will allow, you can spend more – a good figure is $1500 a year for maintenance and upgrades – to have the site professionally setup, designed, and maintained going forward.
Got questions? Feel free to get in touch with me, I’d be happy to answer them!