The cost of completing a website project varies depending on the functionality that you require. Some websites are more or less on-line brochures while others require complex e-commerce features. But, there is more to even the simplest website than you would expect. Most of the time, you are putting up a website because you want visitors to do something. Usually, you want to be able to at least measure how frequently they are completing the actions you are asking them to take. Almost always you want visitors to be able to contact you in some way other than just hoping they will call the phone number posted on your site.
It is also important to consider that you are not just building a website but establishing your organization’s presence in on the web and indeed in the world. When was the last time you looked for a business or service in the Yellow Pages? To make sure you are known to the world, there is a bare minimum of infrastructure that you must have in place.
The bare minimum
In order for your new website to be found by the world, the following infrastructure must be in place:
A registered domain name. It is possible to start a web project without this but you can’t get your organization online without it. So, it is often the first step.
The next thing you need is a place to host your site. Ideally, you want to pick a hosting provider that will offer fast performance, and security features, such as anti-virus scans, log in security, and site backups. It is also vital to choose a provider that supports development features such as development/staging environments, and Git-based deployment.
You will also need to find an email provider that will relay and store email sent to and from your domain. Depending on where you host, you may need an additional relay service that routes transactional email sent from your website to your visitors, you, and your staff.
If your website will be doing any kind of e-commerce, you will need to set up accounts with payment services, such as Stripe, or PayPal.
The next thing you will need is content for your site, including images. You don’t need to go live with everything that you eventually plan on publishing to your site, but you should have at least these items:
- A mission statement that conveys to visitors what your organization does.
- An “about us” statement that tells briefly the story of your background and how it relates to your mission.
- A summary of the services or products you offer.
You also need images that should ideally relate in someway to what your organization does.
You should also have some basic branding established for your organization that includes a logo, brand colors, and fonts. These are the ideal starting points for the design of your website.
With all of the above in place, the development of the website can proceed efficiently. The website should be designed to maximize usability and accessibility. Care should be taken to ensure that the site can be navigated with screen readers and that color and font choices don’t make it hard or impossible for some visitors to navigate your website.
You will usually want to configure mechanisms that track how many visitors are coming to your site and what they are doing while they are there. The purpose here is not to spy on individual visitors but rather to discern from aggregate data what content is of interest to your visitors, how visitors are finding your site, and which content elements contribute to visitor “conversion” and which don’t.
As you can tell if you have read this far, there are lot of moving parts to a a typical website. The things I have listed above are the basics for even a one-page website whose purpose it is to convey to the world what you do and how to contact you. So, there is a base cost to providing them. Then beyond that, the cost of the project will be determined by how much additional content you have, and what additional functionality you want to provide on your site. Are you selling products to be shipped to customers? Will you offer product customization? Will you offer memberships and subscriptions? Will you support visitors logging into your site? Do you have a custom application that you want to integrate into the site?
You can plug “how much does a website cost” into your favorite search engine and get a range of figures but my experience is that the minimum cost to hire a professional such as myself to deliver a basic website is currently about $2000. An e-commerce site is usually going to cost several thousand dollars. These estimates do not include the cost of designing your logo and brand, which can run from a few hundred dollars to thousands depending on what you are doing.
Don’t forget recurring costs
Once your shiny new website is online, there are a number recurring costs for which you must budget:
Hosting providers supply the physical infrastructure on which your website runs. When it comes to hosting, you usually get what you pay for. Sure, you can find hosting for under $10 per month but it is worth it the spring for the extra $10-15 per month for the added security, reliability, performance and support that you get from a premium vendor, like WP Engine, for example. Good hosting will usually cost around $25-30 per month.
When you register a domain on the Internet, you are purchasing the token through which the world will find you. Along with hosting, it is essential. Domain registration costs can vary. Coveted domain names can sell for thousands of dollars. But, assuming you’re not bidding for one of those, the typical annual fee is $15-20.
WordPress is “free” and open source. It is possible to build a very attractive website using only free software. You could get away with this especially if the sole purpose of your website is to act as an online brochure. However, as you add complex features to a WordPress site, such as e-commerce, it usually becomes necessary to purchase premium themes and plugins in order to satisfy your requirements. Of course, if you have the skill and time to write the necessary code to implement various functions, you could do that. But even then, most of the time it is a lot more cost effective to purchase the already invented wheel off-the-shelf..
Premium themes and plugin subscriptions vary quite a bit but most would average out around $50 per year. A typical e-commerce site depends on a handful of premium plugins. So, annual software subscription cost of around $300 per year is typical.
As mentioned above, you will need to subscribe to a domain email provider. Providers, such as Proton Mail, will charge on average $10/mo/user. You should budget for the number of people who will send and receive email in your domain.
You will also need a service through which you can relay transactional email from your website. Whether you need such a service depends on your hosting provider. You can often use your domain email provider as a relay, usually at no extra charge. Otherwise, relay services cost about $25/mo.
If you plan on sending a regular newsletter, you may want to subscribe to an email marketing service like Mailchimp. Mailchimp is free unless you have a large number of contacts or need multiuser access.
When you visit most websites, if you click on your browser address window to view the full URL of whatever site you are visiting, you will see that the “protocol” portion of the address is “https”. Up until about five years ago, you might more often see only “http” unless the site supported e-commerce. That extra “s” signifies that the information being sent between your browser and the server where the website resides is being send back and forth securely via “encrypted” transport.
For a website to support the HTTPS protocol (often referred to as SSL–secure socket layer), it must have configured a certificate that is issued by a certificate authority. Fortunately, these days there is a free certificate authority, Let’s Encrypt, that issues free SSL certificates. Prior to Let’s Encrypt, a “domain verified” certificate might cost $30-50 per year.
That is all good because, all current versions of browsers throw up ominous warnings when you try to visit a website that does not support encryption. So, you really can’t get by without a certificate.
Let’s Encrypt and other domain verified certificates, which are issued to the site owner after the owner performs a step to verify that they own and control the domain to be certified, are adequate for most e-commerce applications. There are more stringent levels of certification that require internal audits and cost several hundred dollars per year but unless you’re planning to support on-line banking on your website, you won’t need them.
Even if your website is “just a brochure”, unlike printed material, it is a dynamic system that requires constant upkeep in order to accommodate changes in the technology on which it depends. WordPress core, themes, and plugins are all regularly updated to fix bugs and add new features. Many of these changes are security-related and therefore it is essential to keep pace with them.
As the technology on which your website depends is updated, things can break occasionally on your site. This is due to the interdependence between components (plugins and themes). When that happens you will need to troubleshoot and repair the problem yourself or hire someone else.
Websites can also break for other reasons. Changes in data, for example, can trigger code bugs. Someone can push the “wrong” button or accidentally delete content. Or you can get hacked.
Again, things vary quite a bit between site but on average, you should budget at least $50-100 per month for site maintenance. You may go many months with routine updates being the only required maintenance but then something can break that ends up costing $300. And even if you are lucky and things don’t break, there are going to be scheduled website changes for which you will probably need to hire help now a then.
Who will make changes to your content when it is necessary? Ideally, if you have a WordPress site, you will learn how to add posts, pages, and make simple edits on your website. WordPress is after all designed for the non-technical end user. There is a learning curve, however. And so In practice, becoming a WordPress editing guru is not always possible. If not, it will be necessary to hire someone to post content updates when they are required.
I just want to run my business
You probably need to build a website because you want the world to know about what you do and not because you wanted to learn about how to build a website. If that is you, we have you covered. We can bundle many of the recurring costs described above and take care of tracking all of the technical minuteae so that you can focus on what you do best.
Is self-hosted WordPress really what you need?
One question you should ask yourself is whether a self-hosted WordPress site is the right solution for your organization. Many times the answer is no. It is often more appropriate when starting out to go with a DIY solution such as SquareSpace. They include the infrastructure that you need ( domain registration and email delivery) in a single monthly price and offer a number of well-designed templates that can get you on-line quickly. They also have e-commerce offerings. If you are going to require e-commerce functions, then another DIY alternative would be Woo Express. The advantage of Woo Express is that it is built on WordPress and WooCommerce technology. If you ever outgrow Woo Express, it will be no problem at all moving that content to a self-hosted WordPress environment.
All that said, a self-hosted WordPress site is going to offer the greatest amount of flexibly and scalability. One of the problems with “DIY” offerings is that you are essentially captured. For example, your content may be stored in proprietary formats that make it hard to move it to another platform should you ever need to do that.
This Neck of the Woods Consulting is a full service agency that can help you navigate all the complexities involved in building and maintaining a modern website. Contact us today for a free consultation.