Anyone who ever thought they need to make a website has probably asked this question. And must have received a bunch of different answers. The shortest and probably the most correct is, well, it depends.
The catch is it depends on so many factors that anyone who has never dealt with the process can easily get confused at the earliest stages and overwhelmed by the prospect of later ones.
Let’s have a look at what the costs of making and running a website actually are and where they come from.
You could think of websites as custom made cars where you get to decide not only on the looks, but on every part used and on every spec. The possibilities are virtually endless. This is the best and the worst part. It’s great, but how do I choose?
Fortunately, we can break the whole process into manageable parts. Let’s start with the necessary ones.
First, there are some prerequisites. Like every car needs parking, every website needs hosting – space on the hard drive of a specially configured computer connected to the internet 24/7. As with parking, prices vary depending on location and services provided. Quality hosting for a small start-up site costs as little as £35 per year while dedicated powerful machines can easily set you back 10 times as much in a month. With several options in between.
Like every car needs number plates, every website needs a domain name. Unlike number plates, though, domain names have a yearly cost (you can think of this as road tax), starting at £5-10 per year for the most common extensions like .com or .co.uk and ranging up to a few hundred for some rare beasts.
Once you have parking and number plates, that is hosting and domain name, you can have a website up and running in a matter of minutes… after you’ve made all the choices, prepared and published all the content. So what are those choices?
The first thing every modern website needs is a content management system or CMS. Unless it’s a standalone landing page for a product, for example, or something else with no updates planned. Most use cases, however, need and benefit immensely from a CMS – the back-office that lets you publish and manage your content, functionality and looks almost as easy as any current social network. Think of it as the chassis and engine of our custom built car.
There a few choices at this stage, both self-hosted (recommended) and sold as a service bundled with hosting. The most popular self-hosted CMS are free to use, but require technical knowledge to install, configure and sometimes even use. That is one part of the service provided by design studios. The best ones help you define your goals and then choose a CMS that is most suitable for them. This part could take up to 30% of all the work.
Many commonly used functions and features come included with the CMS, with the list varying from one to another. Once your goals are defined and a CMS chosen and installed, additional features missing from it are set up and configured. This is the stage that largely determines the overall cost depending on the amount and complexity of additional features needed.
Here’s a list of the minimum you should expect to have for any decent modern site:
- Content creation, editing, and deleting
- Media uploads and embedding
- SEO management
- Valid search engine and social media optimised code
- Security and hacker protection
- Responsive, mobile-friendly design
- Social sharing features
After mounting the chassis and extras it’s time to install the car’s body – the website’s design. The main choice to be made here is between a completely custom design with respective coding (a solution more prone to bugs) and using a pre-made professional template and then customizing it.
A bespoke professional website design can set you back anywhere from several hundred to several thousand pounds while templates cost a fraction of that, averaging the £50 mark including tons of customization options and extra features. Deeper bespoke customization can easily be included in the development process. And it usually takes around 15% of the time.
When all the basics in the previous stages are done, the website needs at least some initial content. You can either pay for it to be published or learn how to do it yourself. The best web design studios tend to include uploading initial content into the development process to make things quicker, and then pass the content management to the client teaching them how to use the system.
The last stage is testing, making sure everything works and looks as expected, and fixing whatever is broken. This is also usually when new facts come to light some things need to be replaced, new ones added, objects moved around in design, etc… All this can take up as much as 55% of the time.
There are no regular prices for these stages of production. Both freelancers and studios will either charge per project or per hour. We believe the former is better than the latter and most beneficial for both sides when all works are clearly agreed upon.
Money, time, effort and peace of mind
Now you can have a freelancer do for £300 what a big agency would do for £10,000 and you can find a range of offers in between from small and medium studios and online-based teams (the current trend).
But besides the money, consider the time and effort you want to put in your project. Cheaper solutions mean, in most cases, that you will have to control every step yourself, which will require technical knowledge, digital project management skills, and time, of course. The biggest and the most expensive companies will usually take all that upon themselves, but there is the extra cost and staff overhead to consider since you would be paying for several people doing the job of one.
Although you can have a regular website up and running from scratch in as little as one day if you know exactly what you want and have all the content ready, the process normally takes at least a month to complete with testing and fine-tuning.
So a single freelancer doing a site for £300 will not have the time and dedication to make things really good, and you will most probably either end up with a half-working site with all the dreadful consequences like buggy features, problems with search rankings and whatnot, or have to spend much more time to get exactly what you want. You know how it is. Cheapest is the dearest.
Big companies, on the other hand, tend to over-manage and over-complicate things resulting in higher fees, and sometimes longer time-frames. Besides, their approach is rarely dedicated and personal.
Small and medium studios and online teams are usually the best choice. A price tag of around £2,000-3,000 for a brochure / presentation / portfolio type site and around £4,000-6,000 for an online shop is usually a good indicator. But you should still carefully consider each offer and the services provided. Beware of fixed prices, since they usually mean conveyor production, which leaves little room for a personal approach, true dedication and commitment.
It is quite difficult to find companies that will really commit long-term, take care of your site like their own, guide you through the whole process and teach you how to use your website to your best advantage. They do exist though. Checking directly with the studio’s recent clients proves quite helpful in finding a good team for your project. But you should still always tailor in your own time and effort alongside money.
Alternatively, you can hire a web consultant who will take care of the whole project for you from idea to launch, provide communication between you and the geeks, and make sure everything works as expected when the site is live. Such services are just emerging, and usually cost about half the project’s budget, but they give you complete peace of mind.