Let’s go over the cost to build a website for small, local businesses. As a developer for hire, this is the Number 1 hangup I face from clients when I bid for projects. The price tag can easily be 4 figures if you hire a freelancer or agency based in the United States. The most important considerations are how much time it takes to build and maintain the site, how to use the site to market your business, and what problems the website can solve.
It behooves you to work with developers who speak your language and understand your culture, right down to the local level. Your website is your main marketing tool in the Digital Age, and you don’t want it to appear out of touch to your customers. A quality developer is also a consultant. He or she ought to have meaningful conversations with you in order to meet your business’ needs. There are ready-made templates available out there, but these are the starting points that the developer would modify like a tailor fitting a suit. For this reason, project costs vary between clients.
Some developers charge an hourly rate, and others charge a set project fee- half to be paid up front, and half upon completion. There are expenses like the price of third party apps, domains, and hosting. A developer may subcontract part of the project to other freelancers who have different specialties; similarly, if you hire an agency, it has to pay the salaries of its employees. The project cost may simply come down to covering the developer’s living expenses for the month. Let’s go over these factors in detail, then I’ll mention how we can cover the cost if you choose to hire me!
Domain: Your domain is essentially your web address. It is the identifier of your site for anyone who wants to locate it and see it. Domain registrars like GoDaddy and Namecheap typically charge about $10 to $15 per year for domains, unless they’ve already been claimed. There are “domain flippers” out there who buy the rights to domains they think will be valuable in the future, then sell them at significant markups. I have a potential client who can’t secure the domain he wants because a flipper is charging over $2000 for it! When naming your business, you should go to one of those registrars and make sure it isn’t taken. Most web hosting companies also sell domains, and I’ll talk about them next.
Hosting: A web host is where your site lives on the Internet. Think of your domain as an address, and the hosting server as a plot of land. Private servers are expensive enough, so it’s easier to subscribe to a hosting company. GoDaddy is a host, although I personally recommend SiteGround, InMotion, or most managed WordPress hosts. The site you’re looking at now is hosted on SiteGround for about $5 per month. I paid for one year’s worth of hosting up front and renew it annually. Managed WordPress hosting companies offer additional maintenance services and may charge approximately $15 to $30 monthly. If you get your domain through your web host, it can be very convenient, but sometimes it pays to have your host and domain sold separately; if you ever become dissatisfied with the service of one company it would be easier to switch to someone else than if both domain and hosting were tied to the same corporation.
Secure Socket Layer (SSL) Certificate: This is a must in current year. An SSL encrypts the personal data of your visitors, which is obviously important if they buy from your site with a credit card. All the major web browsers mark whether your site has an SSL in the url box- look for “https:” and a padlock symbol before the web address. This means a website is secure. Google even prefers SSL-equipped sites in its search rankings.
SSL’s can cost over $100, but a smart developer will get you one for much cheaper, even free. SiteGround partners with the nonprofit organization Let’s Encrypt to offer free SSL’s to their customers. The company CloudFlare offers them for free in order to entice visitors to buy its other services.
WordPress: WordPress is a free content management system and open-source platform that makes website creation more efficient for developers. Any modern web host worth its price will enable the installation of WordPress with just the click of a button. What makes WordPress so appealing to developers like me is its open market of 3rd party themes and plugins. They’re made by software creators around the world. Themes control the appearance of a WordPress site, while plugins are apps that perform different tasks. Most themes and plugins follow the “freemium” business model, in that there are free versions available to download from the WordPress repository, but they have paid versions with deluxe add-ons. Web developers who build with WordPress commonly add these costs to your bill, or they own developer licenses which allow them to use their favorite tools for multiple clients. If you hire me, I’ll likely use the GeneratePress theme and the Beaver Builder plugin, to name a couple.
Website Project Fees
From the time you sign the contract to the time when the new site goes live, your web developer is charging you for his or her work. Like I said earlier they may bill you hourly or a lump sum. This will be the bulk of the project cost, so talk to the contractor during the initial interview and manage your expectations. Everyone hates “scope creep,” when things need to be added or changed that weren’t part of the original contract. It’s more work for the developer and more costly to you. Ironically, it’s more cost effective for the developer to charge you a large amount going in. This is because the developer will have more freedom to make adjustments while keeping the time frame reasonable. If he or she undercharges initially and you decide to change the plan afterward, the previous agreement will go completely out the window, the project will drag on, and tacked on hours will cost you more. It’s a strange psychological quirk, but it has happened to me before and it hurts working relationships.
Images: Web designers sometimes make artwork, but it’s better to entrust that work to a dedicated graphic designer. Same with photos and photographers. You may have already hired a designer to make your company logo when you formed your business. A web developer/designer should take cues from that logo to assign other colors and text fonts to the website. If you run a brick and mortar business and need to display your products, hire a professional photographer. Designers and photographers will supply you or the web developer digital images to upload to the website. The developer may subcontract these professionals or give them referrals.
Content: I happen to be better-than-average writer (if I do say so myself), so I can include content writing with my web design fees. However a lot of developers hand this job off to specialists like they do with images. Content is the most important marketing tool your business has, and I can’t over-emphasize it. It’s tied tightly to search engine optimization and social media marketing. It must be relevant to what your customers need, and easy to understand. Most content writers charge by the number of words they write or the number of pages.
I often say that the work of making a website is never truly done. After the site goes live, it will be fine for a while, but it must be maintained, and it will require ongoing marketing. A website means nothing if it doesn’t have traffic. SEO and Social Media marketing each cost between $200 to $1000 per month.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO is always evolving, and making the first page of Google results is a constant battle. There are WordPress plugins that make the job easier, but someone needs to monitor trending keywords, tweak the content, and follow the latest technical happenings. As I said before, content writing is tied to SEO. Blogging is probably the most certain ways to rank for a topic. The marketing guru Miles Beckler encourages the “90 Day Challenge,” in which a business posts one blog, YouTube video, or podcast a day. After 90 days, you’re sure to be found. Recently, Beckler modified the challenge to a more manageable 2, 3, or 4 posts per week for 90 weeks. The point of all this is Google and YouTube take notice of consistency, and once you get in the habit of regular posts relevant to your business, you will be rewarded.
Social Media: I’m not as bullish about social media as I was in past years, given Facebook’s data selling scandals and Twitter’s toxic politics. I’m even a little jaded with Instagram, because it’s owned by Facebook and content moves at the pleasure of its algorithm. However, there are still a few benefits to these platforms in the form of paid ads and shareable events. Your social media marketing can be done in house or by a contractor, but all of it should direct visitors to your own website where you can engage them on your terms.
Maintenance: If your website is built with WordPress and hosted on a managed WordPress server, maintenance services are likely included with your monthly bill. If you hire an outside freelancer to manage your site, it would probably cost between $79 and $300 per month, depending on their list of tasks.
Pay-Per-Click Advertising: You can advertise your business on Google, YouTube, and different social networks. You don’t necessarily pay for ad space on these networks so much as you bid for it. You can create an ad in Google’s system that will appear on other websites or on YouTube videos, then say how much you’re willing to spend in a set time frame. Same with ads and sponsored posts on social media. You’ll never pay more than that amount, but that amount will be compared to other businesses’ ads with the same keywords.
Paying For Web Design
Earlier this week, I enabled financing for my web design services through PayPal Credit. I signed up for a PayPal business account months earlier, but discovered the credit service just recently. I send invoices through PayPal with the option to pay through credit, then clients can buy my services and pay later. They will be prompted to enter their date of birth, Social Security Number, and accept the Terms of Service. Eligibility will be determined within seconds. More information is available on PayPal’s website: https://www.paypal.com/us/smarthelp/article/how-can-i-get-paypal-credit-faq3254.
This is exciting news not just if you need a website, but for your own customers. In future posts, I’ll discuss financing options including PayPal and others.