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How Much Does It Cost To Build A Website

Every consultant can give you a website quote when asked to do a bid, but somehow no one can describe exactly how much it costs to build a website in an easy to understand blog post.  The answer we're given to this paradox is that websites are too complicated to give a generic estimate of how much it will cost to build one.  You're probably as frustrated with that answer as we are at AwareLabs.  So we set out to not just to give a list of website costs but to provide a solid proven foundation for estimating most small business website cost. This article is part of our week long in depth epic blog series on website costs.

At AwareLabs, we've collectively spent a decade building everything from small coffee shop websites to multi million page views a day startup solutions.  Having the opportunity to see websites built across such a vast spectrum has given us deep insights into website building.  For example most small business websites are built from roughly the same pool of unique applications.  In addition, all websites require the disciplines of development, design, integration, and content.  Finally, building a site via a custom build approach, WordPress approach, drag and drop approach, or our own AwareLabs approach, leverages these disciplines differently.  Putting all those pieces together into an easy to understand model will answer your small business website cost question.  The following data has been sourced from our website builder cost calculator.

The ApplicationsCutting across the spectrum of websites, even though they're mostly unique, all sites are built from the same applications.  Almost every site has a contact page, some sites have an online store, a few have loyalty programs built in.  Even WordPress, out of thousands of plugins only has a few dozen unique ones.  Take 3 unique applications, and you can build 6 unique sites, take 10 unique applications and you can build 3.5 million unique sites.  You get the point, websites are unique in what they do but not always unique in what they are made from.  Estimating the cost of a website is matter of breaking it down into its component applications.

The DisciplinesOur team at AwareLabs, like every other website building team, leverages different disciplines at different points in a website's birth and life.  Our developers build the code that actually lets a contact page send an email when you send us a note.  The designers make the contact page look good.  Our integration team makes sure you get opted into our newsletter.  The content people add the right information to the contact page.  All these disciplines overlap somewhat but operate at different costs, timelines, and can be substituted to various extents by automation.  Estimating the cost of a website is a matter of understanding how much the disciplines contribute to the cost of each application.

The ApproachesIn an effort to drive website development costs down, the industry has created innovative website building approaches in the form of technology platforms.  Custom website development is the raw use of all four disciplines to build each application.  Older platforms like WordPress focus on reducing development and design.  Relatively new drag and drop platforms aim to remove development altogether and make design easier.  New platforms, like our own AwareLabs, remove development completely, reduce design to essentials, and do away with almost all integration overhead.  Estimating the cost of a website is a matter of identifying which approaches minimize the need for which disciplines.

Putting It All TogetherTaking all the concepts and assembling them into a very clever spreadsheet allowed us to not only predict the cost of almost any small business website but test against actual projects AwareLabs was involved in. Keep in mind, we deliver our projects with at least a minimal go to market release, not just a blank WordPress setup or a default drag and drop template.  Based on our experience with each approach and discipline the hours to complete each website application are as follow...
Graph Of Hours To Custom Build A Website Application By AwareLabsGraph Of Hours To Build A Website Application Using WordPressGraph Of Hours To Build A Website Application Using Drag And DropGraph Of Hours To Build A Website Application Using AwareLabsWhen a client like yourself asked for a website that included blogging, we'd run the model and based on the unique mix of disciplines for each approach to get the build hours: 60 custom build, 26 WordPress, 10 drag and drop, and 4 AwareLabs.  Factoring in hourly rates of $100 per hour for development and design plus $50 per hour for integration and content we could estimate the costs for each approach as: $5,400 custom, $1,750 WordPress, $654 drag and drop, and $216 AwareLabs.  From our own experience and talk to other consultants, those numbers are usually where the cost of building a blog would end up at the end.  It works! Expanding the estimates to other applications finally allowed us to answer your question with a high degree of confidence.

Cost Of Building A Custom WebsiteThere are some websites that require a brute force ground up custom build approach.  Typically these sites do something so specific it doesn't fit the mold of a common application.  Mostly these are startups not small businesses.  However, if you are a small business owner and really want a custom website, get your checkbook ready.
Graph Of Cost To Build Custom Website ApplicationBased on the costs of each application, a competitive coffee shop website with a banner, contact page, event lists, FAQ, coffee gallery, home page, drink menu, team bios, coffee recipes, online store, customer testimonials, and ambient music showcase, would cost $42,200 to build.  Most coffee shops simply cannot afford that price tag for a website.

The same glass ceiling holds true for mast small businesses.  We can quickly add up applications required for a custom photography website at $32,200, custom accountant website at $34,250, or even a relatively simple custom blog application at $18,950.  In each case the price is too high.  This is why small businesses typically don't build custom sites.

We can see the benefits and problems of custom site design all around the web.  Startups having to raise millions to launch.  Incubators promising to teach you how to code.  Innovative websites that create new standards for great looking websites.  If you want a custom site, you have to know what you're getting yourself into.

Cost Of Building A WordPress WebsitePlatforms like WordPress have been around for 15 years, predating social media, responsive design, and most modern website building advances.  At the time these approaches focused mainly on reducing the cost of development through open source plugins and design through open source templates.  The key word here is reducing, not eliminating.  Realistically all four disciplines are required to build a competitive website, and the integration costs actually rise when working with open source software.  Add the rapidly rising complexity of integrating social media, search, and responsive design and platforms like WordPress are having a hard time keeping costs down.  Building with WordPress will cost you less time and money than a custom site, but its still out of reach for most small businesses.
Graph Of Cost To Build Website Application Using WordPressCompared to the $42,200 price tag of a custom built coffee shop website, a WordPress build can deliver the same 12 application site for $14,040.  Sure you lose some control over the details but small business customers probably won't notice the nuance.  If we asked you to pay $28,160 for details most people won't notice, you'd probably kindly tell us no thanks.

Over the long term you can see how WordPress is amazing at some things and terrible at others. WordPress sites start strong with the basics, when new they have crisp polished templates and all the plugins work.  Over time however most WordPress sites degrade, mainly because the development, design, and integration overhead of maintaining open source plugins and templates in a WordPress site quickly overcome peoples budgets.  This was the best we had 15 years ago, and it was an improvement.

Cost Of Building A Drag And Drop WebsiteIn an attempt to reduce costs and open up the site building space to a wider audience, drag and drop sites to a large extent have eliminated the need for developers and focused on making design as easy as possible.  This approach resonates well with designers, its their wheel house.  The marketing message now is that creating a site is as easy as designing one, or re-designing an existing template with drag and drop.  The reality is that drag and drop still requires design expertise to create a good looking website and it often gives up significant functionality to achieve simplicity.  So if you're a small business owner and not a designer the tools produce less than great looking or working websites.  Building with a drag and drop website builder will halve the cost of a WordPress site, but the design skill required and simplicity of final product are out of synch with small business needs.
Graph Of Cost To Build Website Application Using Drag And DropA drag and drop price tag of $7,726 is great compared to 2x amount in WordPress or 4x the amount for a custom site.  For designers its perfect, create awesome graphics, type in some text, drag things around the screen and the site looks amazing.  The design isn't as flexible as a custom coded site but its good enough.  It may take you a bit longer than downloading a template but you have more control over look and feel.  For small business owners, its better than the alternatives, most of us can cobble together something.  At least we don't have to code.

However the penalty for drag and drop is high, of the dozen applications most drag and drop sites support maybe half, so you may end up building an event page that can't sell tickets and track RSVPs. You'll have to pay to integrate an external ticketing application like EventBrite and maintain two sites.  This translates into hidden long term costs.  For basic small business brochure sites, drag and drop is great.

Cost Of Building An AwareLabs WebsiteThe past trend has of website building cost reduction is undisputed, the future like all things uncertain is still being debated.  At AwareLabs we believe the next natural progression in the equation after factoring out development costs ( not functionality ) and reducing design overhead is to remove design costs ( not design ) and reduce integration overhead.  Embracing this trend, AwareLabs is the next thing after drag and drop.  Having everything done out of the box, leaves only the content creation as cost, which is unique to your website. AwareLabs maintains industry leading cross device design and proven engagement functionality, so your content always has optimal user experience for visitors.  Placing the complexity of today's website creation and marketing within the reach of small business owners not just from a cost but also a skill perspective.
Graph Of Cost To Build Website Application Using AwareLabsCreating a coffee shop website via AwareLabs with the 12 fully functional and integrated applications prices at $1,324, thats 5x less than drag and drop.  AwareLabs also realistically opens the door on website creation for people with no development or design skills.  

The argument over customization is becoming less relevant as website complexity rises.  Although its true AwareLabs may not be as customizable as some of the other approaches, you wouldn't pay $6,402 to customize some drag and drop detail the visitor probably won't notice.  What you would pay for, is fully functioning applications that help grow your small business sales and ease of use which AwareLabs delivers.

ConclusionRecognizing our own personal bias towards AwareLabs, its not going to be a fit for every person. Developers love custom sites, designers love drag and drop, and WordPress ushered in the whole website builder industry.  With AwareLabs we're simply continuing the trend of bringing website building within reach of small business owners.  We love doing this kind of research because we believe empowering people is empowering great ideas.

Written By: Paul Kenjora

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Paul Kenjora is the Product Manager and founder at AwareLabs, a company that provides the next generation website builder for small businesses. He has 10+ years product development experience, has launched sites netting millions of visits a day, and has consulted for fortune 500 companies.
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