As Alexis Ohanian, Co-Founder of Reddit, says "All links are created equal" may be true. However, the actual costs of building a website depend on the scale and services it provides. Today, almost anyone can click or tap a few links to create their free basic blog or website, but creating an engaging user-experience and an honest and professional look can be more time consuming and resource demanding than expected.
Just as in Real Estate's mantra "location, location, location" a website's mantra should be "user-experience, user-experience, user-experience." From the content's originality and understanding to the ease of use and screen size adaptability, the website is today's first, and in some cases the primary point of contact. The value is presenting this content in an engaging experience.
Where to Start?
Regardless if you're starting from scratch with an idea, or you have a website but need to update it, today's web offers a whole lot more than just a few years ago.
The starting point is registering a domain. With the recent expansion of Top-Level Domains to almost every word options will only keep expanding. Generic ".com" domains cost about $10 a year (but good luck finding one available), while new ".club", ".online", ".xyz", etc. go from $200 to $3,000 and more. The challenge is finding a unique and memorable web address.
The next step is finding hosting provider which can run for about $50 to $120 a year for a simple shared server. As the website's needs grow, a more robust and private server can kick in with on-demand scalability, with a price tag attached to it.
Building the Site
Assuming there's an existing brand identity, the primary costs will be graphic design, copywriting, photography and programming. Some additional needs (and costs) for a successful website launch include connecting it with the CRM (Client Relationship Management), creating profiles in online directories for inbound links, and connecting with audiences throughout social media. For example adding the business profile in Google Maps, Facebook, Linkedin, and perhaps other more niche groups like GitHub, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. will help reach and interact with more audiences (think of it as the yellow books from the last decade).
The 'easiest' and the most expensive route is to have a design agency design and code a custom website which can go from $20,000 - $200,000. I know that's a HUGE difference, but the options can vary as much as with building a custom home. Another real estate analogy is comparing the costs to a prefab home built by the masses and has limited customization options; while a custom home is built to address specific wants and needs, and the costs can skyrocket.
A big chunk of the costs is deciding which CMS (Content Management System) to use. There are many open source options such as Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, etc. that have lower entry costs, but also require more maintenance and security. A proprietary or hosted CMS takes away the burden of keeping the CMS up to date but will have a much higher cost directly corresponding with the amount of services provided or needed.
Do It Yourself
Some online services such as Wordpress.com, Wix, Squarespace, etc. have made it easier for non-coders to create professional looking websites at a fraction of the costs of a custom website. These template-based websites can be tweaked a bit to match the branding and may be the most affordable option for small and medium businesses to get started or update their dated website. But the same primary costs explained above are still required graphic design, copywriting, photography, aside from the steep learning curve on how to use the system and making it work as intended. The yearly costs for using these all-in-one platforms start at around $140 and can go up to $300, without adding any additional hands-on support or customizations.
Maintaining a Website
Once the website is up and running there are some essential maintenance costs. Who will be responsible for developing and updating content? How will audiences find the website? What actions do you want the visitors to take or what is the primary call to action?
Developing a web strategy is essential to keep a website running smoothly. Just like planning a road trip a website will require regular maintenance and up-keep. From making sure all links are properly working to creating compelling content for users to engage with, most of the costs involve human capital. Will you hire a dedicated person or team to develop and publish content on the website and social media?
The Bottom Line
Creating website strategy will outline the goals and process from start to launch. It can help narrow the options and select the best route for developing a compelling online presence. How much should you spend depends on the value you want the website to bring. If you can do it all yourself, hats off, however as a business owner you may be better off bringing in more business than spending too much time working on the website. I firmly believe in the value design brings to business. Hiring the right professional can help position your product or service, and create a virtual home for your business which helps the bottom line.