What it Costs to Make a Website – a Financial Comparison of Three Common Methods

Today there are many different choices available to people about how their website might be put together and hosted.  Each has advantages and disadvantages, and the decision should really be based on the needs of the client, their budget, and what actually works for the design team.  Not all of the different methods will give the same result for the same design, which is why the choice needs to be made with due consideration to what each method provides.

This article is written primarily from the point of view that cost is the most important factor that the client is considering, but sometimes what might seem like a good way to save money isn’t really going to work.  Obviously the cost can vary wildly between different design studios, and every clients has different needs, so the information presented here is not going to be very precise, but will serve as a general comparison of what the base cost of development is likely to be.

Before we start with a cost comparison, we should assume that the client request includes:

* Graphic design services, including vector art, logos, etc. $200 to  $1,500

* Professional photography services (25 images) $750 to  $2,500

* Stock images (25 images) $25 to  $500

* Professional copywriting (5 pages) $250 to  $1,250

And also assume that the client request does not include:

* e-Commerce components or any kind of online payment system

* Custom database development services

* Live interaction components such as real-time chat

* Professional SEO services, advertising, social media etc.

So with all that firmly in mind, we can proceed with some idea of the client’s needs and external production costs before getting down to the business of

1. Totally custom website

This is the preferred and most expensive way to build a website.  It may or may not be built on a CMS framework, but it’s going to be totally original and will have absolute flexibility.  If you can imagine it, you can do it, and there are no restraints.  The downside is that clients may have difficulty self-managing such a site, and may become dependent on the developers to make updates to their site.

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Developers will have to write site-unique HTML and CSS instructions, possibly also custom programming in JavaScript and PHP, and create the entire site architecture.  Third party components will probably be used, and may require licensing fees which could add slightly to the development cost (and in some cases, could add significantly to the cost).  These can’t be taken into account for this analysis because they’re not generic enough.

Testing costs for fully bespoke sites are also likely to be higher because there are more things that need to be tested, and it’s not being built on top of something that has already been created and widely used.

Of course the true benefit is obvious, because the site will be totally unique, will work exactly the way you want it to, and you can include or exclude anything you want.  There won’t be any hidden annoyances or resource hogs, because the code can be fully optimized to meet the unique needs of the site, which isn’t usually possible with the other development methods.

Breakdown:

Time to completion 7 days to 90 days

Design fees $300 to $3,000

Programming costs $500 to $6,000

Hosting & Registration $150 to $450

Sub-Total $950 to $9,450

Total $2,175 to $15,200

2. Managed WordPress Site

This differs slightly from a normally hosted website because you have access to way less features than what you get with regular hosting.  Of course with regular hosting you can run a WordPress site anyway, which makes it all the more curious that these WP-specific sites have become so popular, but that’s the way of things.

wordpress

WordPress, in common with many other CMS programs (with the exception of ModX), does impose some restrictions on what you’re free to do, and introduces additional complexity into the development process, depending on exactly how far off the original template you intend to stray.

Theoretically, a WordPress site should cost less because it is not built from scratch.  Instead a template is used, which may have previously been used to create thousands of other similar websites, and the developer simply modifies this template to include your unique content.  In practice, not everyone will pass along the savings that you’d be entitled to expect.  For the purpose of this analysis, we’ll assume the developer is passing on the savings to the client.

The advantages offered by a WordPress site include:

  • Normally faster development time
  • Normally easier for clients to self-manage
  • Access to a huge array of plug-ins that can help automate certain tasks
  • Large user base means plenty of resources available for learning and assistance

There are, however, some disadvantages that clients should be aware of as well:

  • Increased security risk – WP sites are a hacker magnet, with a long history of vulnerabilities
  • Tendency of creating “Stepford Sites”, where they all look somewhat the same as each other
  • Clients may be unaware of advanced features or how to activate them
  • The many plug-ins are nice, but they are not always well-coded, and may lead to site bloat
  • It is much too easy for clients to accidentally erase entire sections of their site
  • Despite what fans of WP will tell you, this CMS is one of the most limiting you can use

The last factor is not an issue for the vast majority of sites, which is one reason why there are so many fans of WP.  But if you’re part of that minority that does need to be able to do very advanced things with your site, you’ll soon resent some of the limitations imposed on you by the CMS.  Of course WordPress is not unique in this regard, as many other CMS varieties also impose constraints, but it is notorious as one of the most restrictive.

Other problems exist too, for example changing the WP theme will often result in the loss of custom post types, leaving the client having to recreate all of their custom posts, and creating custom posts is often a lot more complicated than it should be.  It is fortunate for developers that most clients don’t need to do advanced stuff.  It makes WP a relatively safe choice for the average user with limited technical ability.

Breakdown:

Time to completion 1 day to 7 days

Design fees $100 to $1,500

Theme cost $0 to $300

Programming costs $100 to $1,500

Hosting & Registration $150 to $450

Sub-Total $350 to $3,750

Total $1,575 to $9,500

3. Wix Website

Now we come to the end of the market where the client has almost no technical knowledge or ability at all, and quite often the designer as well.  It’s really the choice for a client that has virtually no budget to work with and who is willing to put up with quite a lot of negatives in order to simply have a website.

wix

You can think of Wix as a kind of starter area.  It’s a site creation system that works similarly to training wheels on a bicycle.  You know you’re never going to win a professional race with training wheels attached to your bike, but you may be happy enough just to know you won’t fall over and get hurt.

Wix is available in both free and premium versions.  The free version is fine for anyone who doesn’t mind including an ad for Wix on their site, and who doesn’t care about their domain name too much.  It’s interesting, in fact, that Wix actually uses the domain name factor as a persuader for upgrading from their free plan to a premium plan.  They state that having your own domain name “gives your business credibility and professionalism.”  This implies that the inverse is true: having a “yourname.wix.com” domain reduces the credibility and professionalism of your business.  I don’t know if either of these statements is entirely correct, but it’s certainly food for thought.

The lowest tier of premium plan which does not involve displaying ads for Wix is currently priced at $8.25 per month, which amounts to an annual cost of $99.  It’s stated that this plan is intended for “personal use”, but it’s not clear whether using it to host a business site is not permitted or just not recommended.  We presume it’s the latter case.  That plan is actually fairly generous.  It comes with a massive 3GB of storage space, which is more than enough for a typical site, even one where a noob client is storing their photos at the same resolution their camera created them in.  The 2GB of bandwidth is also adequate for most sites at this level.  There are many things that will make this plan unattractive to some clients, though, such as the lack of e-Commerce features, which requires an investment of $16.17 per month.

One of the even more interesting things about Wix is their VAT policy, which states that their prices don’t include VAT and that the VAT will be determined based upon the user’s billing country.  This is extremely interesting because most businesses charge VAT based on the location of their business, not yours.  In fact, you’re supposed to get VAT or GST eliminated from the cost if you’re an “export” buyer.

But where it gets even more interesting is in the potential for having your billing country different to your country of residence, so in this way you might be advantaged or disadvantaged by the VAT policy.  It’s actually highly unusual to use the billing country as the basis for determining VAT.  The way it is supposed to work is if your company and theirs are in the same taxation territory, you pay VAT, and if not, you usually don’t.  This policy basically gives Wix a worldwide tax collector role, which really isn’t something they should want.

Wix uses templates to assist users to quickly create sites in a huge number of categories.  It’s similar in some respects to RV Site Builder, but arguably a lot simpler, and with a bigger range of existing templates to make use of.  Real professionals, if they even agree to work in Wix at all, will most likely steer clear of the templates because they have a reputation to uphold.

The drag-and-drop nature of Wix site editing means development time should be cut significantly.  But all this wizadry will obviously come with a loss of freedom.  Your site will be locked down to Wix and it’s actually very difficult to directly transfer a Wix site to another host.  There are a few other frustrations present, but whether or not they would affect you depends on what your intentions are.

One of the biggest drawbacks to Wix sites is in terms of SEO, even though they reportedly offer a feature called “SEO Wizard”.  Why don’t generic web searches find top ranked listings that include a Wix domain, unless you’re searching for terms like “build a website for free”?  The answer seems obvious.

The truth is that while Wix gives the impression that anyone can build a website using Wix and that Wix templates can meet the needs of any business, these are not realistic impressions.  A trained, experienced web designer may be able to create a working website in Wix more quickly than using traditional approaches, but will probably build that site entirely from a blank template and with no illusions as to how limited the site that emerges from this process will be.

That professional will have a good idea of their client’s needs and will know there is not much chance of the client needing to expand greatly in the future (or if so, they’ll already have developed a strategy to handle that situation, which involves rebuilding the site outside of the Wix environment).  If the designer is honest, the resulting Wix website will be cheaper to purchase than an equivalent site created in WordPress, simply because it’s a drag-and-drop process to build it with practically no need for doing any coding or advanced tweaking.

Breakdown:

Time to completion 1 day to 2 days

Design fees $100 to $500

Theme cost $0 to $0

Programming costs $0 to $100

Hosting & Registration $0 to $309

Sub-Total $100 to $909

Total $1,325 to $6,659

Comparison Table

 Cost TimeFlexibilitySimplicity
Custom / Bespoke

Wix
HighHighUnlimitedLow
WordPressMidLowReasonableMid
WixLowLowAlmost noneHigh

Which one is right for your client?  Well, then answer is (as usual): it depends.  If your client doesn’t need to self-manage the site or has some coding skills (or employees with coding skills) then a fully custom site is the way to go.  This is also true for sites that are not likely to undergo constant change.  For sites where self-management is really important, where the people who will be working on the site are not highly skilled, or where the site needs very frequent updating, WordPress may be a better option.

Emma Grant

Emma Grant is a professional freelance content writer from Ireland. Over the past three years she has travelled the world while running her business from her laptop. You find her at www.florencewritinggale.com

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