How much will it cost to build and maintain a website?
A quick Google search will show several articles that estimate the cost of a new website build. In summary, a minimalist do-it-yourself blog using a website builder could cost only a few dollars per month. If you own churchofjesuschrist.org, you’d be spending tens of millions of dollars on your website and hosting over time.
What’s the difference? Both websites have pages and posts, so why such a big difference in price? There are three main ways to build a website:
- Entirely built from scratch using custom code (most expensive, most customizable)
- Website builder using a template that was used to simply insert content (least expensive, least customizable)
- CMS platform providing a hybrid of page builder, plugins, and custom code (most popular option—moderately expensive, very customizable)
The vast majority of the internet is powered by the third option, for a good reason. This article will explore the costs associated with using a Content Management System (CMS)—specifically WordPress. We will describe, on a high level, everything that it takes to build and maintain a website. Understanding each of these components will help you anticipate up-front and recurring costs.
Websites vs. Cars
If you want to build your own website with a simple builder, you can probably get away with spending around $150/year. But if you’re looking for a professional website to help you run a business or cause, expect the website to cost the same as a car. You can get a car for $500-$1000, but don’t expect much. Same with a website.
Cars and websites are very similar in costs, both upfront and over time. Cars and websites both require maintenance. Some mechanics will take advantage of their customers and overcharge or underdeliver, as will some web developers. Websites and cars can both be optimized, making them perform better even though they look the same on the outside.
Websites and cars are both extremely complicated. A modern car has approximately 30,000 parts. Websites can have many thousands—sometimes millions—of files that all work together to create an online experience for your viewers. Major website and car repairs can cost about the same. Cars can get totaled, and so can websites if you aren’t careful.
Website builders (i.e. Google Sites, Weebly, Wix, GoDaddy, Squarespace) have been designed to power simple websites for those who need an online presence without complexity or the need for much customization. Think of these page builders as mopeds. They’re useful for basic transportation over short distances… but not much more than that.
In our experience, an average new website build goes for between $3,000-$8,000. You can get a pretty basic website for less than $3,000, and complicated websites can cost much, much more than $5,000-8,000.
Here’s a quick list of the different things that may require an investment.
- Domain Purchase (annual)
- Hosting (monthly or annual)
- Software Purchases (annual or lifetime)
- Plugin Licenses
- Initial Website Build (one-time)
- Page Designs
- Custom Fonts
- Premium Icons
- Website Graphics
- Custom Coding
- Website Maintenance (monthly or annual)
- Plugin Updates
A Little More Explanation
A website is a collection of thousands of files stored on a special computer called a server. If the server is connected to the internet, those website files can be viewed through special apps called web browsers, such as Chrome or Safari.
You can either purchase your own server for hundreds or thousands of dollars (overkill for most businesses), or you can rent space on a server for your website. Hosting can cost anywhere from $3-4/month to $100+/month, depending on the size of the website, how much traffic you receive, how fast you want your website to be, and several other configurations you may need.
Most hosting companies can give you a free WordPress installation.
Considering that your website is typically a pile of files on a single server somewhere in the world, we need a way to direct a person’s website request to the correct server. Every server has a unique IP address which is a string of numbers (i.e. 18.104.22.168). Think of it like a home mailing address. Since it’s hard for people to remember long strings of numbers, we purchase memorable text-based domain names (like arcfires.us) that direct traffic to the correct servers.
Domains can be cheap and typically cost less than $15/yr. However, some highly sought-after domains sell for an initial premium of hundreds or thousands of dollars.
SSL certificates are used to encrypt your website so that users can safely interact with your content, such as processing payments, filling out forms, and avoiding viruses. SSL certificates can come free with some hosting companies. Otherwise, they can cost anywhere from a few dollars to a couple of hundred dollars per year.
Plugin Licenses—Plugins are add-ons that quickly boost the functionality of your website with minimal effort or additional cost. Most plugins are either free or use a freemium model where you pay for advanced features. Many important plugins will cost money but far less than it would take to hire a developer to add that functionality with custom code. Typically, you will be required to pay an annual fee to keep each premium plugin up to date (important for maintaining functionality and security).
Depending on your unique website needs, it may be necessary to subscribe to integration tools and workflow software, such as Zapier, to power certain automation.
There are hundreds of free fonts, but if you choose premium, custom fonts for your brand, that may increase the cost of the website build. There are also hundreds of free icons that we can use on your site, but if you choose to use premium licensed icons in your design, that can add a recurring cost to your website.
Initial Website Build & Content
Your initial website build includes several steps:
- WordPress installation on your host
- Pointing your domain DNS records to the host files
- WordPress configuration to get it ready to host your website
- Content implementation/migration
- SEO-related content adjustments
- Optional: Custom code development
- Custom theme setup
- Page designs
- Creation of navigation menus
- Creation of images, graphics, and other media
- Setting up additional security features
- Caching setup & website optimization
- Backup system implementation
If you need help writing content for your website, copywriting can be a significant addition to your project budget. It’s always cheaper to write your own content, but if you would like professional help we can connect you to some of our favorite copywriters and editors.
Migrating existing content from an old website is generally quick and straightforward. However, content migration can also be extremely tedious and expensive if best practices were not used or if a different page builder was used extensively for pages and posts. In most cases, a quick peek under the hood can help us determine how easy it will be to move your content.
After your website has been launched, you may need to pay for marketing campaigns to get your website in front of your target audience.
As we mentioned before, websites need maintenance—just like cars. In fact, they generally need much more maintenance than cars. Plugin updates can both solve and cause glitches, so updates need to be managed carefully or your site can break. Updating a plugin is very simple, but knowing when and how to update to avoid issues is something that requires some specialization.
Some plugins are specifically designed to help with backend tasks, such as security and performance. Performance plugins help your website run quickly and efficiently. Your website can be optimized and secured a great deal using free plugins, but advanced features often cost money.
Once you understand the categories of costs associated with building a website, you’re prepared to talk through details with our team to develop a specific quote for your project. Use our Getting Started Checklist so we can help you launch your project quickly!