How to Determine the Cost of Building a Website

Every project is unique and I've been on both sides of the coin. Today, we talk financials about how much it costs to build a website.

July 3rd, 2015 • Develop •
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Building websites, I think, is one of the best jobs in the world. It allows you to build something from nothing, update content at a moments notice, and you are immediately seen internationally.

Yes, I love what I do.

However, the amount of effort it takes to build a website is monumental unless you have the right skill sets and financial backing to build the site properly.

From a technical standpoint, I only have two websites but I pay $10~ a month to my hosting for each site, but I've built both of them from the ground up.

If you don't have the financial backing, you need blood, sweat, and tears to accomplish a lot of tasks.

By yourself, you need to automate a lot of the tedious parts of quickly building a website. WordPress has pretty much copyrighted that process.

If you decide to build it yourself, it may take you a long time to build.

How Long Does It take?

While working as a consultant for over 15 years, I was placed in a number of companies with a number of web developers where a simple project would take 6-12 months because of all the business rules required, project managers conducting meetings, and user providing their input as to what looks good and what doesn't.

Usually, it's the technology that's easy.

Coding the business makes the process a little more complex with extensive rules which complicates matters further, thereby prolonging the project and making it cost more than expected.

If you don't have the requirements defined, it takes even longer.

When they aren't defined and a client asks me, "How long will it take to build the website?" I ask, "How long is a piece of string?"

Who Do I Need?

With the web affecting everyone in the world, these positions are wide and vast.

Here are some of the primary roles you need for developing a website:

  • Web Developer/Designer - They create, design, and maintain the site
  • Content Manager - Keeping your site looking fresh with new content/articles/posts to show it's an active site.
  • Webmaster/Manager - Manage the site on a day-to-day basis; sometimes the web developer/designer/Content Manager takes this responsibility.

Optional roles could be in a corporation or small business. They are:

  • Network/Infrastructure - You gotta get the users to your site somehow with domain servers and sending them email through mail servers.
  • Project Managers - they keep the project running smoothly by assigning tasks to other team members.
  • Quality Assurance (QA)/Testers - Quality Assurance are responsible for making sure the site is exactly what the user wanted and runs without errors.
  • Marketing - marketing
  • Web Architects - They provide the architecture and structure of the site so it runs optimally and is reasonably maintainable.
  • Web Security Specialist - I've always said that your application requires security from the start of the first line of code. These individuals are specifically meant to protect anything on the website and make recommendations of what to implement to make the site safe from hackers.
  • Search Engine Optimizers - Associated with the Content Manager to confirm the content is searchable through a search engine (Google, Bing, etc.)
  • Ecommerce Specialist - These are the people who build a shopping experience for your users. They build the product pages, shopping cart experiences, and product detail pages.

As you can see, there are a lot of career tracks for the web industry. Specialize in one or many tracks from above and you'll save some money in the long run.

Otherwise, you need the specialists to make your business succeed.

How many features are required?

This goes along with the amount of time I discussed above, but I'm also relating this to a post I wrote a while ago titled 20/20: Top 20 Programming Lessons I've Made In 20 Years. Number 17 is "nothing is ever simple."

I wrote about someone who wanted a simple 5-page website. By the time the site launched, I designed and built a blog, ecommerce shopping cart, and a forum.

The idea is to build the site iteratively, making one feature at a time. But there are always hidden features that someone wants and doesn't "need."

It's a concept called the agile methodology as opposed to the waterfall method.

Finally, How Much Will it Cost?

Now that we've talked about the roles, the number of features, and the amount of time it takes to build a website, how much would it cost?

Based on all of those factors, the answer is...

...it depends.

While there isn't a silver bullet formula for finding out how much it will cost, just like everything else, you need to figure out the key people working on the website (labor), the amount of features required for a MVP (minimum viable product) to release to your audience, and the amount of time it would take to make it happen.

To give an example of my two sites, they were broken down like this:

  • Labor: One person (me)
  • Features: Blog engine, Firefox feature, Reviews, and link directory based on locations in the world.
  • Length of Time: 2-3 months
  • "Refresh" Rate: 2-3 times a week

The one site took 2 months because I didn't have a "special" plugin for my kind of website. I had to build out my website because it was so specialized.

The "refresh" rate was how often I posted on my blog to keep the content fresh so every time someone would visit, they'd see new content.

Now for corporate companies, it took 3-6 to 12 months to get features included on a website because you would be on a team to make sure the project was completed on time and under budget.

On average:

  • Labor: 4-12 People
  • Features: Depends on the company, but as one feature or enhancement would finish, another would appear for another developer to add to the site.
  • Length of Time: 3-12 months
  • "Refresh" Rate: Usually on a monthly release cycle

This should give you an idea of how much goes into a website even if it's just a "simple" website with 5 pages.

Conclusion

When I built my websites, I didn't ask for any assistance because I knew what I wanted, so my payment was blood, sweat, and...oh yes, tears...and $20 for my "virtual real estate."

The companies were a different story. The companies with their Intranet and Internet websites were on a strict budget and timeline where tasks had to be accomplished to release something yesterday.

Clients are the same way. They have a need to make their website the best in their industry. That's why they look for skilled web developers or webmasters who have a number of skills to build a successful website.

So when you are determining the cost of a website, focus on the features, the number of people involved, and when they are expecting the website to launch.

This will help you in determining the cost of a website.

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Picture of Jonathan Danylko

Jonathan Danylko is a freelance web architect and avid programmer who has been programming for over 20 years. He has developed various systems in numerous industries including e-commerce, biotechnology, real estate, health, insurance, and utility companies.

When asked what he likes to do in his spare time, he replies, "Programming."

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