Web design cost: A definitive pricing guide

Chantelle Little October 31, 2019 12 min read Design
skyscraper website design cost 1 1

How much does it cost to design a website? 

How much does it cost to build a house?

These are similar questions. 

If you’re building a house, what you need will depend on how many people will be living there, and what kind of living space you want inside the house. Some families will want a big open kitchen where they can cook, eat and talk together. But for a single person who spends much of their time traveling for work and rarely cooks, the kitchen may be an afterthought.

There are a number of factors that go into deciding what your web design cost. In fact, without knowing which factors are relevant to your business, it’s challenging to outline an average price for web design.

In this article we’ll take a detailed look at all of the potential considerations and factors that go into the cost of a website. We’ll also look at the topic through the lens of what will create value for your business and what might not be necessary.

Of course, we’re always here if we can answer any questions for you or you’d like further explanation of the material below. Just contact us and we’ll be happy to help.

But for now, let’s dive in.

What business goals does your website need to address?

With any website design project, you should start at the beginning. That means looking at your business goals rather than just your marketing goals. Because the former leads the latter.

If you haven’t defined your business goals, it will be difficult to determine exactly what you should spend on a website, because it won’t be clear what you need it to do for you.

Once you have clearly defined what you need to achieve from an overall business perspective, you can determine how your website can help support those goals. This will include things like who you want to reach with your site, what content they need, and what the web design and copywriting need to communicate to drive conversions.

But here’s the unvarnished truth about website design – ultimately, you can spend almost anything. But some investments will deliver more value than others. That’s the key. Maximize the value you get for the investment you make, rather than just focusing on pure cost.

What kind of website vendor do I need? What are my options?

  1. Full service web development and design agency. Full service agencies can design, write and build a strong website for you, but they offer far more services. They bring specialized expertise in marketing strategy, advertising, media buying, marketing analytics, data science, video production, social media and other areas, all to meet the needs of global brands. Of course, not all full service agencies are built to deliver to brands of that size. Some are smaller despite their full service offerings, and may only focus on defined markets or client types. But many full service agencies focus only on larger clients and are not great fits for small-to-medium-size businesses.
  2. Digital agency. Many new boutique agencies with a digital focus have sprung up over the last 15 years as almost all marketing activities have become more digital in nature. Many of these boutique digital agencies focus exclusively on building websites and/or digital applications. Those agencies will typically offer capabilities in strategy, graphic design, copywriting, UX/UI design and development, along with project management support to keep the process on-track and on-budget. It’s worth noting that these agencies are particularly adept at taking clients through the process of designing and building a website because that is their core competency.
  3. Other agencies. This is a broad category filled with specialized boutique agencies. Entire agencies are built around things like social media, search engine optimization (SEO), storytelling, graphic design, print production, product design, video production, animated video production, marketing strategy and others. It’s important to note that many of these specialized agencies will offer to build a website even though it’s not their core area of focus. They might be able to do it. They just may not be optimized to deliver the highest quality work in that area.
  4. Freelance team. With the advent of a healthy freelance and gig economy, many talented creatives now operate independently, producing websites either on their own or in partnership with other freelance web designers. You may find yourself discussing a new website with a graphic designer who will then offer to bring in writers and web developers for your project. The small group would deliver your project as a team and then disband, only to reform again when another project comes up in the future. Of course, this isn’t always the case as some talented freelance web designers can be lured away by a full-time job offer, which can render them unavailable to you for future work or support.
  5. Templated/self-serve/off-shore. You also have the option of using a pre-built template to build your website yourself. There are sites that offer dozens of design options, style choices and drag-and-drop style builders to put your site together. You still need to put in some work (e.g. in the areas of copywriting and image sourcing) but much of the build/design is done for you. A related low-cost area is off-shore website design where you typically work with someone in another country who can produce work at a much lower cost.

So, how do you compare these options? 

Start by going back to your business goals. It depends on exactly what you’re looking for. Some companies may need a website with dozens of pages, significant SEO work to compete in a crowded landscape and high-end video production to show their products in their best light. That suggests a particular type of vendor. Others may need potent copywriting help to bring a particularly emotional brand to life. That means you might need a specific high-end skill-set more than a large range of capabilities. 

Consider agency size when you’re making your decision. If you have a small or medium size business, you won’t get the attention of a major agency that counts Fortune 500 companies amongst its clients. You will want an agency that will value you as a client and devote resources to your project.

Agency value per cost of website design.
Above results and ratings are based on previous client experience and engagements.

Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Some vendors will sell you a website that’s built on a limited template rather than creating an original website that directly addresses all your needs. You’ll expect to pay less (probably) but you’ll also get less (certainly). Ask questions.

Ultimately, your website vendor choice should be customized to your needs. And if your need is the design and build of a website, make sure your chosen vendor is an expert in that field who follows web design best practices.

Website design requires your time too. The question is how much?

One key thing to consider with any vendor is what internal resources you have at your disposal. 

What kind of expertise and capacity do you have in-house? Do you want to be heavily involved in all the details of your website design and build? Or do you want your vendor to lead the process and draw you in for key input when it’s appropriate?

There are a variety of hidden web design costs associated with how much time you put into a project. Be mindful of that as you choose a vendor. Different choices will require different things of you and your team during the creation of your website, and then after it’s done. 

Let’s look at some potential demands on your time based on the different vendor types you might choose:

  • A group of freelance creatives may not bring in a project manager to organize your website project, and that can become a major problem. Or you might end up doing the project management yourself. You could also hire a designer and developer to work on your site and do the writing yourself. Is that a good idea? Possibly. You could save some money. But unless you have digital copywriting expertise in-house, it’s probably a mistake that will cost you money down the road.
  • Some agencies offer strong strategic skills to help you define your business goals while others will simply execute whatever you tell them, but nothing more than you tell them. Can your team lead on business and marketing strategy – or do they need help? How much leadership do you want on the project from your vendor vs. what you’ll provide yourself?
  • A templated self-serve website might prove to be a nightmare for you to update post-launch without outside help. Do you have anyone on your team who has experience working in a content management system (CMS)? How about a finicky template? An off-shore vendor may do the work and then disappear, never to be contacted again. Which is a problem if you need any post-launch support or want to update your site on an ongoing basis.

A website design takes time

How much does website design cost? Fixed Fees or Hourly Fees

Here’s a decision that could have a significant effect on your overall web design cost. 

Fixed fees are just that. You contract an agency, a group of freelancers or any other resource to produce a website for you for a defined, unchangeable cost (unless there’s a change in scope during the project). This kind of contract gives you cost certainty and in a creative space like website design, where you can iterate and adjust design, writing and development again and again, that can be reassuring when it comes to your budget.

Fixed fee scenarios will often come with some limiting details or boundaries in the contract. For example, the contract may specify that only people in certain functional roles can work on your project (e.g. you may not get access to all the capabilities of a digital agency). Fixed fees also often come with a limited number of creative reviews/revisions, which means there are only so many chances for your vendor to get the work right. How much do you trust them?

The other thing with fixed fees is that question of scope. When you sign a fixed fee contract you effectively lock yourself into your original vision for your project. For better and worse.

Hourly fees can help open up the creativity of your vendors, they can expand the number and types of people who will work on your project, and they can give you flexibility in many ways. However they can also expand your budget significantly depending on how the project progresses and how quickly you get what you want.

When you’re contracting a vendor on an hourly-fee basis, you may want to define a price range within which the project will fall. That way you have some certainty on base costs and still retain the ability to add new resources according to a ‘rate card,’ effectively a list of agency resources and how much they cost on an hourly basis. You should also look for a vendor that provides reporting on how the project budget is being spent so you have a view to and control of how your money is being invested.

You’ll find some agencies and freelancers are comfortable pricing on a blended (fixed + hourly) approach. Discuss this upfront and be honest about your budget, your goals and your concerns.

Note that it’s important that you and your vendor are in alignment with quoting and billing processes. Make sure your invoice terms, ongoing maintenance costs, and recurring costs (such as website hosting) are clearly outlined in any initial quote in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises later on.

Additional items that can affect website design costs

As we’ve already noted, your goals affect your website design fees. That’s because your goals affect the items below, each of which has budget implications. So, here’s a deeper dive into some specifics that could affect your web design costs.

Site size. Clearly, a site with 25 pages will cost more than a site with two pages. But a site with six deep scrolling pages, each featuring multiple tabs of dense content might actually be bigger than a site with nine relatively simple pages. When it comes to price, site size and page size both matter.

Functionality. Your website design cost estimate will be driven in part by the functional complexity your site requires. These things include items like email signup integrations and templates, dynamic content, fees/subscriptions necessary to support targeted functionality, gated or members-only content and event registrations.

Automation and process. Even basic websites should be set up to maximize efficiency. That means building a site that helps your company eliminate duplicative work, streamline workflows and mitigate future risks. For example, integrating your website with your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software could save you untold hours manually transferring contacts from one to the other. There’s a cost to do something like this when you design your site, but it’s in the service of efficiency and future cost savings.

Design. If your site requires original illustrations, icons or boutique visual elements like animations, you’ll likely see an expanded price vs. something simpler or less visually impressive. Design is one of the most immediate ways to create a brand impression in a new user (or potential customer) so this is often a place where costs can build up – but still deliver excellent value. 

Responsive design. At Tiller, responsive design is the standard. All our website designs are responsive and we don’t charge extra to ensure your site clears that important bar. This is not always the case with all vendors. You may find your costs increase with some vendors if you want your site to be fully responsive. They may charge you more and, if so, we would recommend pushing back on those costs. If you’re looking for more information on this topic, here’s what responsive design is all about and why it’s important for your site.

Build. A big piece of what you’re paying for with website design is the web development cost. This is a cost that is worth paying. Bad website builds are silent killers for companies. Failure to deliver a quality build can cost you positions in search rankings and limit your organic traffic and reach – and you may never even know it’s happening. Poor performing websites will load slowly and repel users. A good build addresses that. Bad website builds can also hurt you down the road if your site is not built to handle expanded traffic or otherwise scale up as your business grows. These problems are more common with templated websites.

Content creation. Some sites require a lot of original content creation because they’re not just copy and images. Perhaps you need a video or interactive elements. Maybe you want to launch your website with a number of original blogs or written pieces. These can add costs (and, again, value) so they’re to be considered as early in the process as possible so you can make strategic choices and budget appropriately.

Brand strategy and guidelines. Any reputable vendor you contract to design and build your site will either ask you for an overview of your brand strategy and brand guidelines or expect to cover them off in some form during the project. This could be done in a formal or informal manner. If you don’t already have these items in place, you may incur associated costs. One nice thing about these two items is not only do they apply to the design of your website, they can help inform all your future marketing activities. So from a value perspective, they may be worth the cost, depending on what you intend to do once your site is launched.

Copywriting. Copywriting is, along with design, one of the most important elements of your website. Digital copywriting, in particular, prioritizes communicating a lot with very limited words. It’s a different kind of writing than business writing or even traditional ad copy. Some companies choose to write their own copy but this is almost always a mistake as they rarely have a writer who can write for user experience, search engine optimization and brand voice at the same time. It’s that mix of skills that adds costs – and value.

Marketing strategy implications. What are your marketing plans after your website goes live? Does the design, writing or build need to be tailored to anything you intend to do from a go-to-market perspective? Depending on the exact specifications, you might see costs here.

CMS integration. Many companies want their site built with a CMS, which offers their internal team members flexibility and ease in changing their website content (writing, design, etc.) on an ongoing basis. Not every site has a CMS (in fact, many smaller-to-medium size businesses only add one upon a redesign of their site) but if your site has one, there will be costs associated with setup and integration. The most common CMS you’ll see is WordPress, originally a blogging tool that has evolved into a more fulsome way to build websites.

Setup. Setup of a website could take in a number of factors, including things like arranging for hosting of the site on an ongoing basis, and setting up Google Analytics, on-page optimization, SSL certificates, URL redirects, and email autoresponders. This preparatory work could create costs.

Other potential costs. If you’re looking for assistance with researching or selecting domain names as part of your website design process, you might see additional costs. The same is true for things like font licenses, stock photos, and third-party plug-ins and other licenses for API integration services (e.g. HotJar, monitoring tools, marketing automation tools and CRM systems).

Post-launch factors – technical maintenance and ongoing support

One often-overlooked factor in assessing website design costs is post-launch support. You may need a partner to help you execute your marketing plan once your site is live for the world to see.

This help could be something basic like ongoing technical maintenance of a website or something as significant as creating fresh copy, design or other content. It makes a lot of sense for you to work with the same agency or vendors that built your site in the first place. After all, they know your brand and your business. 

Whether you bucket these post-launch costs in website design or as part of your ongoing marketing efforts, it helps to consider them at the point you’re signing a contract. What will make you successful? Do you have budget for post-launch support? If not, how will you maintain your site?

Website design costs in post-launch support

Key takeaways – the average web design cost

By now, it should be clear – there is no average web design cost except for projects that are very similar in goals and requirements. And there are a lot of factors that can shape those goals and requirements. So your website project is, in many ways, unique.

Here are seven final, critical takeaways as you consider how to proceed with your website design project and assess the right investment level for your business.

  1. Define your business goals first. They will inform the vision for your site.
  2. Match your goals to your budget right from the start.
  3. Work only with a vendor or partner that offers the capabilities you need and a working process that suits your business, budget and resource levels.
  4. Be clear-eyed about what will be required of you in the website design process.
  5. Consider post-launch requirements right from the start.
  6. Optimize your spending choices for value rather than just pure cost whenever you can.
  7. Remember that your website – like your house – only needs to serve your interests. Pay for what’s valuable. Leave the rest.

Want to know how much your website will cost?

Get a proposal

Keep Reading