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How Much Does It Cost to Make a Custom Website?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 5/11/2015 Gabriel Shaoolian

In some ways, creating a website is a lot like building a house. There are endless options depending on what you need and want. Each and every website design project, like every house, is always different.
After 15 years in the website design and digital marketing industry, the question I most frequently am asked is "how much does it cost to make a website?" My response always explains that before you can get a price, there are certain things you need to identify based on your business objectives and what your company needs. Things like sizing, special features, functionalities, imagery, motion graphics, design elements -- they all are considered when the cost of a website is determined.
While many businesses consider building a website from a template instead of using a custom solution, these aren't the types of websites we're talking about. A custom website is unique, and not only in its functionality, but in how it displays a brand's value proposition. You simply can't do that with a templated site. When you think of brands that are the most successful in their industries--websites like Amazon, or social networks such as Facebook, they could never have been created as a templated site. Whether it's within the B2C or B2B industry, companies looking to really make a name for themselves need unique layouts and custom functionalities to be built from the ground up.
All in all, when it comes to creating a custom website that produces results, there are going to be ranges as far as cost. Across the industry, you'll find that that hourly pricing ranges anywhere from $125-$250 per hour. That being said, let's look at the essential phases of the website design process to help you understand what to expect when it's time to design a new custom site for your brand.
The first phase that brands enter when starting a website design is the strategy phase. At this point, strategists work to learn about your company, the value that your products or services bring consumers, competitive advantages, details about your conversion funnels, and what core messaging will be needed. During this time conversations with important stakeholders like customers and employees at your company are essential.
Regardless of the business objectives that are outlined, this period can take a significant amount of time. Depending on the complexity of the site, it's safe to say that about 40-60 hours are allocated for strategy, so based on a $150 per hour pricing model, cost can range from $6000 to $9000.
Information Architecture
If your website is complex and requires extensive planning, Information Architecture will play a significant role in how a custom website will be structured. These experts help to create wireframes, sitemaps, and specification documents.
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Essentially, this step in the process is the "blueprint" for your website, outlining all the necessary details of your site. For information architects, a simple site could take about two weeks (or about 80 hours), while a more complicated site could take as many as 250 hours. Once again, it will vary depending on the size and complexity of the website you're looking to create, but given a $150 per hour pricing model, this phase can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $37,500.
Once information architecture is finished, next comes the design phase. For any business, it's extremely important in this day and age to think about users that aren't sitting at a desk all day, and are accessing your website while they're on-the-go. You need three separate design mockups as a result--one for desktop, mobile, and tablet.
2015-11-04-1446673511-6234131-Designexample.png © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-11-04-1446673511-6234131-Designexample.png
In general, it's best to do your homepage last and to start with landing pages. This way, you can have all your supporting pages outlined, and then can determine what must be prominently displayed and included on the homepage. For standard sites, you'll be in this phase for about two months, or 120-300 hours, costing anywhere from $18,000 to $45,000 if determined on a $150 per hour pricing model.
Once you've developed a strategy, worked with information architects, and gone through the design phase, it's time for development. In this phase of the process, you'll have a technical lead that works with all the essential experts that play a role in your project. Your technical lead will work with a front-end coder (someone that specializes in HTML 5), a back-end coder (someone who does the actual coding of your website), a system administrator, and a quality assurance expert. Each of these positions are all incredibly different and require varying skillsets depending on their role. That being said, they are all equally important - they just don't do the same things.
Front-end development typically requires 80-200 hours and back-end development takes approximately 100-150 hours if the site isn't overly-complex. For ecommerce brands with lots of different integrations, typically you'll need 300-500 hours. Finally, quality assurance, where you're site is examined from every angle and device imaginable to check for errors or troublesome spots, occupies around 100 hours.
Based on a $150 per hour pricing model, front-end development can cost between $12,000 and $30,000, back-end development ranges between $15,000 and $22,500, and quality assurance is typically about $15,000. For those larger sites, such as a brand within the ecommerce sector, cost can be between $45,000 and $75,000.
Project Management
Lastly, you can't forget about time allocated for project management. Throughout your project, someone will be managing your entire website design team members to help coordinate all aspects of the job. Managing every facet of your team can take up to 25% of your projects time, as gathering view points and making sure everything is on schedule and running smoothly takes a lot of work.
As with all other phases, the total amount of hours spent managing the project depend on the scope of the work, and can be anywhere from 150-300 hours depending on size. Once again, with the $150 per hour pricing model we've considered for all other phases, project management can cost you anywhere from $22,500 to $45,000.
Building a Home, Building a Website
In most agencies, you'll find that the cost of the different aspects of your project typically run between 125 and 250 dollars per hour. Every brand has varying objectives and needs, resulting in vastly diverse websites and costs. There is no way to answer the question "how much does it cost to make a website?" with one single response, each and every site is different.
For consistency purposes, if you added up the cost from each of the phases above based on the $150 per hour pricing model, your costs could range from $100,000 to $200,000+ depending on business needs.
While that may seem expensive given the hours you will have to allocate--every part of the building process is crucial. Some companies will consider working with website designers and developers overseas to reduce price, but for most businesses this isn't the best option. This is because outside of the US the experts you're working can't be held legally accountable if they fail to deliver as promised.

All in all, creating a website is quite similar to building a house. Without a blueprint, you're unable to grasp an accurate price. Never underestimate the importance or proper planning--without such, you're other efforts won't align.

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