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How much should I expect to pay for a web site?

Many new web site owners really have no idea how much to budget for a web site. Larger companies often pay way too much, while smaller ones often try to get away with paying too little.

Presentation attendees often ask me these questions:
  • How much should I expect to pay for a web site?
  • Why are the quotes I am getting so different for the same web site?
  • I paid $___. Did I get ripped off?

It is useful to think of buying a web site as similar to buying a car. There is the purchase price to consider, but operating costs must be taken into account as well. With a car purchase, you know you will need gas, oil changes, repairs and maintenance, and a mechanic to take care of it all. You will also need insurance and licensing, etc.

A web site is similar. Getting it created is just the first step; you still need hosting, domain renewals, updates, additions, email, SEO, etc. With both cars and web sites, you will not get much value out of your purchase unless you also take care of the ongoing requirements and expenses. So plan to spend some money upfront and then some each year to keep the web site running.

In addition, the average life span of a web site is three to four years before a major overhaul or redesign is required. So expect to pay a larger lump sum for this work when the time comes for big changes to be made.

To calculate your anticipated monthly expense, try this formula:

(Cost to create + yearly fees for three years)
Divided by 3 (years)
Divided by 12 (months)
= monthly cost

Using a monthly cost figure will help you compare different offerings more accurately, enable you to budget more effectively, and also keep you thinking in terms of "fee for service" rather than "purchase price" (the latter can be very deceiving).

How much you pay will also depend on the service level you buy. You can get a web site template from a number of shared hosting companies and do the work yourself for very little money - as low as $10 per month.

You can also have a designer create a basic web site design for you that includes a content management system that you use to update content yourself, starting at about $25 per month.

However, these options will be restricted in several ways, both in terms of what is possible to do with your web site, as well as size and bandwidth. In addition, the customer support you will get will be minimal.

For more complex requirements, you could hire a web site company that will quote you based on your requirements and then do the work on a per-hour basis. Most web site companies follow this model. The discrepancies we see in rates among this class of web site companies are, in part, due to a wide range of experience, competence levels and egos. Plus, since many people who want to buy a web site are not familiar with the technologies and terminology involved, they find it difficult to provide sufficiently detailed specifications to the developers. This causes problems when trying to compare quotes from one company to the next.

But know this; if you buy "piece meal" - i.e., pay only for what you need when you need it, treating a web site as a "product" instead of a service - you will pay more in the end for the same web site than if you go with a company that offers an on-going web site service.

Think about this: For every piece of work a client requests, several hours and often several client meetings are required just to quote it! In addition, since the web site company is quoting for a one-time project, it cannot count on any ongoing income from this client, so it has to quote high to cover its account acquisition and admin costs.

Back2Front does not quote because we have a flat-rate pricing model for our web site management service. This saves us a huge amount of overhead. As a result, we regularly compete with and win against piece-meal providers who quote $5,000 to $10,000 just to create a 50-page web site - and that doesn't even include any ongoing service. If you break it down over three years, $10,000 is $277 per month!

But wait, you could pay even more... You could go to a full-service marketing company that will do all of your marketing for you (advertising, print, creative) and provide a web site in the deal. Expect to pay substantially more for the web site portion in this case. Since "web" is often not the marketing company's specialty, the web work will be outsourced to another company with a nice mark-up added on for the marketing folks. The numbers thrown around in these circles are in the range of $15,000 to $20,000 for a 50-page web site.

For full-service without the quoting or prestige overhead, you can hire Back2Front, where there are no limitations, you do not have to do any of the work, and full customer support is provided. With us, there is no quoting and you will know in advance what you will pay.

(Excuse me for a minute while I do the math. You can skip to the bottom for the totals if you prefer.)

For example:

- A 10-page web site is: $850 to start and $425 per year.
- A 50-page web site is $2,850 to start and $1,425 per year.

We also charge flat-rate handling fees for updates at $20 per-request, per-page. Since clients on average update 20 per cent of their pages each month, for a 10-page web site, that equates to: $20 x 2 pages x 12 months = $480 per year for update handling fees.

We do redesigns and overhauls for our flat update fees as well. At two to five updates per page (depending on how many change requests are made) the cost of a redesign will average $100 to $250 for a 10-page web site. For the example I'm going to provide below, let's use $200 as the redesign cost.

For a 50-page web site, here are the figures:
-$20 x 10 pages(20%) x 12 months = $2400 for updates; and
-$500 to $1,250 for a redesign (let's use $875 for redesigns for the purposes of the example that will follow).

Redesign at Back2Front is substantially less than the initial setup fee, so every three years when you redesign your site, you don't to have to pay as much as you did when you first launched the site. Unlike what most other providers offer, after your first year with Back2Front, the monthly rate is lower.

Here is an example of what a 10-page web site would cost in the first year and in subsequent years:

First year:
$850 (setup fee)
+425 (yearly management fee)
+120 (update handling fees)
=1,395 (total fees for the year )
Take the above figure and divide it by 12 months to get your average monthly fee.
= $116.25/month

All subsequent years:
$425 (yearly management fee)
+120 (update handling fees)
=$545 (yearly fees without redesign)
Multiply the above figure by three years and add $200 (average redesign cost after three to four years) =$1,835 (fees for three years, plus redesign)
Divide the above figure by 3 years and then divide again by 12 months to calculate your average monthly fee =$51 per month

Following the formula above, here are the numbers for a 50-page web site:

First year:
($2,850 + $1,425 + $600), divided by 12 months = $406.25 per month

All subsequent years:
(($1,425 + $600) x 3 years) + $875) divided by 3 years, and divided by 12 months
= $193.06 per month

So, how much should you expect to pay for a web site?

First, take the following factors into account:
  • Most companies, even large ones, have web sites between 10 and 50 pages.
  • The cheapest do-it-yourself solutions are too restrictive for anything beyond the start-up phase of a business.
  • The high-end option can and should be avoided (why pay more than you have to?).
  • These examples apply to Canadian companies in 2009 that are using local web site providers.
From there, you can conclude that you should expect to pay $50 to $200 per month for a web site.