November 12th, 2015

How much does it cost to have a website professionally designed?

by Steve Forcash

That's not a simple question, but we're going to try to break things down for you a little, help you understand why it's not easy to answer and finish up with some general ranges

A website is only as good as its ability to create new business for your company. If it's not doing that now, then you need to figure out why.

Web Design - Cost vs. Value

A website is only as good as its ability to create new business for your company. If it's not doing that now, then you need to figure out why. If your site is generating new business, how do you build on that and increase your conversions from site visits to leads and from leads to sales?

A well designed, professional quality website should be arguably one of, if not the most cost effective investments you can make in your business. That's true whether you're on a bare-bones budget or you're working with 6-figures or more. Is there a point of diminishing returns? Probably, but we can all but guarantee that if you're reading this, you're nowhere close to that point yet. In short, it doesn't matter how much your website costs as long as it's working for you in a way that provides the best possible value for the cost you invest.

Start thinking of your website as an employee - Your new rockstar salesman!

He works for you all day, every day with no vacation and no holidays. He doesn't get sick and he doesn't complain about your comp structure.
His sole purpose in life is to promote your company - Talking to your customers day in and day out about your products, your service, your brand, your people, your business philosophy and anything else you want to tell them.
He knows every little minute detail about why your company is great and he pitches that message to the customer perfectly - Each time, every time!
He has the ability to travel anywhere in the world and talk to thousands of potential customers at once, yet he still gives each of them one-on-one attention. You won't be getting expense reports for that travel.
He learns as fast as you can teach him. Have a new product or promotion? Tell him about it once and he has instantly perfected the new pitch. Need him to learn a new language? Give him a day.

The best part - He's cheap. Dirt cheap. Child labor cheap. Let's say you hire him for 3 years. You might have to throw him a bone once in a while to keep his suit tailored correctly, but he only requires a salary in year one. Let's say that you're a small business and he asks for $5,000 to cover his three year salary up front - We'll call it about $1700/year to keep the math clean. If he works for you longer, that cost only decreases.

At $1700/year, you're arguably paying your hardest working salesman less than 20 cents an hour. That's roughly $35 for a 168 hour work week. That's absurdly low for the quality of work that he does but a fantastic ROI for you. You can substitute a $10,000 salary, a $50,000 salary or more. This guy will earn his paycheck and he'll never quit or leave you for your competition.

I don't need generalizations and I'm sick of reading.

So to build a professional quality website, I'm in this for $5000?

Maybe. Maybe not. We'll put it this way - You could spend hours searching the depths of the internet for the cost to build a professional website and come up with hundreds of different answers ranging from $150 to $100K+. Designing a professional quality web presence is a service and doing that service correctly requires a lot more than some HTML code. It's simply not a product with a fixed cost. With hundreds, if not thousands of variables to work through, it's just not possible to provide an accurate quote without understanding the complexities of your business and what you're looking to achieve. Any developer (of any size) who does so is either:

A. Quoting very high to cover the man-hour risks associated with an unknown project scope.

B. Quoting too low and having to cut corners to break even or even completing the work at a loss.

Option A generally means you're over paying. There are really two problems with option B. The first is that your developer needs to skip important steps in the process and because of this, they create sub-par work. The other option is that they ARE working at a loss. This may sound great for your budget, but having your developer working at a loss presents its own set of problems - The least of which is that those developers don't stay in business very long. When that inevitably happens, the person or team responsible for creating and/or maintaining a very important piece of your business is suddenly nowhere to be found. In the end and like most things, you get what you pay for.

As a business owner, you can decide to do it yourself, work with the $150 Internet Special, a Freelance Designer, a Web Development Agency or a full-blown Marketing House. Each will have strengths and weaknesses revolving around their overhead, their expertise in various areas, their project capacity and available resources and ultimately, how much it's going to cost you to work with them. In all honesty, 4S Design Studio falls somewhere between Freelancing and a Design Agency. We have a core, cross-disciplinary team that have worked together on multiple projects. We've created the synergies, the best practices, and the experience & expertise that comes with a full design agency without the overhead of maintaining a brick and mortar office. As we continue to grow and expand, we will likely continue to move in that direction. Now or then, we won't be your least expensive option, but we will do what is necessary to provide you with the best possible value for the budget you have available.

You Promised Me a Range...

No matter who you decide to work with, it doesn't change the fact that John Smith who would like to have a blog about his new puppy is going to have a significantly different project scope than Widgets, Inc. who is selling products internationally and needs full e-commerce solutions, custom graphics, professional photography, database and software integration, a fully custom Content Management System, ongoing back-end and SEO support and is serving 1000's of visitors daily. All of that said, here are some of the things we would be looking for in various price ranges if we were looking at having our own site redeveloped.

At under $1000:

As an opening price point, this is going to provide you with a very basic site with minimal pages and is almost definitely produced on a popular WordPress theme or another template of sort - Whether you work with a student/hobbyist at the very low end or a professional freelancer at the high end. This price point would likely price you out of working with many freelancers or a full agency and virtually eliminates working with a full-fledged marketing house. You could expect your pre-provided logo, text-copy and photos to be integrated of course, but almost exclusively within the confines of that particular theme or template. There's likely very little, if any customization, simply because the time constraints won't allow it.

4S Design Studio will do whatever we can to work with you no matter what your budget is. We feel strongly however, that if you own a small business and have real customers whose purchasing decisions and/or judgments about your company will be made based on your website, you need to explore your options to increase your budget. If this is all your current budget allows for, you might consider looking at options for a monthly, contractual rate over a preset timeframe as opposed to moving forward with a low end site build.


At $1000-2500:

Depending on your page count, content, design and development requirements, there are many small businesses that can probably get away with a site in this range with compromises. We would say that a small piece of the budget should be set aside to spend time performing at least cursory research on your business, your industry, your customers and the competitive landscape. This price point then provides a piece of the budget towards using that information to semi-customize a site that fits top-level business objectives. We would expect you to see some basic Javascript elements such as image sliders and photo gallery lightbox effects that would have a look and functionality beyond that of your standard WordPress plugins. This range should also provide some flexibility for your developer to create at least a foundational SEO strategy that can be expanded on. There will be compromises, but you can find professional quality work in this price range.

At $2500-5000:

Your developer should work their hardest to create the best site possible, for any client, within the constraints of their allotted budget. That said, this seems to be the "sweet spot" for the majority of small businesses that serve a local or regional market and are looking to develop a dedicated, professional web presence. A more thorough marketing research component should be expected and that research should lead to actual strategic input on your site design - From a content, visual and structural standpoint. More specific business objectives with KPI's would be conversation topics. We would expect to see at least basic responsiveness built into the site design - Creating a fluid layout that adapts to the most popular screen size for desktop, tablet and mobile.

Towards the higher end of this spectrum, you would likely start to see some dedicated, well qualified graphic design work. In some cases that might mean reworking logos, having professional quality custom graphics developed or having images reworked. With sacrifices in other areas, you could likely budget to have some professional photography taken - A component that is becoming incredibly important as screen quality, such as Apple's Retina display, continue to evolve. Depending on other requirements, you could likely expect to have your social media more fully integrated into the site and vice versa - The beginnings of a unified online presence. You might be able to see some very basic e-commerce solutions in this range though that's a component that can easily push your budget higher to do it well.

At $5000-15,000:

For medium sized businesses or smaller companies with more significant e-commerce requirements, this is probably a realistic starting point. We would expect a qualified, cross-disciplinary team to collaboratively handle the marketing, design and development components of the site or at a minimum, a sought after freelancer that has the experience to handle the 3 pieces well.

From the marketing side, you would expect well researched, strategic insight paired with guided solutions to meeting my current and evolving business objectives. We would imagine seeing Google Analytics driven key performance indicators to tie quantifiable benchmarks towards reaching those objectives. We would envision a dedicated SEO and SEM roadmap with an option to retain qualified SEO services at an additional cost. Written copy requirements would be expected to be reviewed and edited by a professional copywriter with the aforementioned SEO and SEM principals tied fully into the process of creating final written content.

On the design side, I would expect multiple, up-front concepts with a dedicated, in-person client/designer collaboration phase to come to final creative direction decisions. For the actual coded development piece, I would expect a site that functions seamlessly through more advanced development requirements. This might include a fully integrated shopping cart with back-end database architecture or more advanced AJAX and PHP techniques that are fully scalable. As your business grows, your site should be prepared to grow with it. We would envision a site in this price range to be expecting a higher volume of traffic and as such, would expect a server configuration that allows that volume with zero issues.

At $15K and up:

When you start looking at large web design projects, this is a realistic starting point and in many cases, isn't even scratching the surface. In most cases, pieces of the overall project will be separated into individual components - Either handled by collaborating, but individual departments within a larger web development firm or handled by separate companies altogether. Beyond that, this price range allows the ability to bring in specialists - Whether that be name brand designers and graphic artists or programmers that specialize in specific coding languages. In many cases, the goal will be to integrate software from other pieces of your business into the web component such as sophisticated inventory tracking paired with the e-commerce side.

Let's Wrap This Up

This isn't even close to a be-all-end-all listing of what can and can't be done within certain budgets, nor is it supposed to be a menu of our services. We're hoping to simply educate potential clients on some of the costs and expectations based on many of the experiences we've had. Don't hesitate to get in touch with any questions you may have. We're extremely friendly and we talk for free.