This is question I very often hear from people who are moving their business online or simply want to make a website. This is also a question I can’t easily answer within an acceptable ballpark. And I highly doubt that anyone can.
It all entirely depends on what you want out of your project. But I can give you some ideas on what to expect.
Running a website
Before you even start developing a website, you need a platform for it to run on. Which means, you have to pay for a domain and a hosting.
Registering a domain has never been easier. You can even get a free domain at dot.tk and it will remain free as long as your website gets 25 unique visitors per month.
But the fact that you can doesn’t mean you should. Dot.tk is a good solution for a lot of projects, but there are some rather painful limitations.
- Free domains do not belong to you. The registrar keeps ownership of them and only provides you with a license to use them. And they can change the terms and conditions of the license whenever they want.
- Your info will not be confidential. The Terms and Conditions at dot.tk are quite interestingly worded. Basically, the service retains their right to share both your contact information and your actions on their website with third party if you are involved in an IP conflict or any other dispute. This is, simply put, not OK — especially since proper domain registrars usually go out of their way to ensure clients’ privacy.
- Your content will be supervised. Dot.TK’s Terms and Conditions have three pages long list of content that is banned from their servers. Most of it is rather reasonable — like any materials that harm minors, materials that call for violence against other people, etc. But there are some more arbitrary limitations, like a complete ban on adult content, gambling and any material that involves drugs (including alcohol and tobacco). There also is an entry for «any content that is unlawful, harmful, abusive, harassing, threatening, tortuous, vulgar, obscene, libelous, defamatory, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable». Which, with enough mental gymnastics, can mean «any content that we don’t like».
Overall, you are left at a mercy of the corporation without any protection, which is not a good thing when your website is also your income source. Especially since Google itself doesn’t really like .tk and other free domains — as far as to refusing them access to Google Apps.
Besides, a proper solution is not going to be particularly expensive anyway, unless you want it too.
The cost of the domain can vary and there are multiple factors to consider:
- The Domain Zone. Can easily go from a $1 per year (for something like pp.ua) to hundreds of dollars for .luxury.
- The Premium Factor. Basically, some domains are so good that the registrar adds a premium to them. Premium domains usually contain a keyword that makes them get top positions in search engines, which means the price is usually justified. For example, a domain in a .nyc zone costs $30/year, but autoshop.nyc is literally $35,000/year — although being the first one in the list for request «Autoshop new york» is probably worth it.
- Your registrar’s fee. Every registrar has an additional fee for its services, which is included in the price you see on the website. It’s not anything drastic, but you can usually expect a 5-10% difference between the prices at different registrars.
The most popular domain zone is .com. An average domain there costs around $13 per year.
Once again, you can easily get a free hosting if you want to. There are many powerful website constructors, and WordPress.com will even provide you with a proper CMS-based hosting for free. Of course, there are catches.
- Ads. If you ever intend to monetize your website, forget about free hostings. They plant their own ads on your website and have no desire for competition.
- Limited features. I am not talking about something like cPanel or .htaccess editing — even some paid-for hostings are at fault when it comes to this. But, for example, on WordPress.com you are not even able to install WordPress plugins if your account is free.
- Higher prices. Yeah, it’s not all free. If your website ever manages to grow beyond some arbitrary limit, you will be asked to switch to a paid hosting — which costs more than a similar alternative at a normal hosting provider. Of course, you can switch providers, but that involves quite a lot of hassle.
Paid web hosting will cost you from $2 to $20 per month, depending on the performance and features.
If you intend your site to come under heavy load — like thousands of visitors per day — you might want to move it to a Virtual Server (VPS). These are higher priced — from $15 to $50 per month and require more maintenance, but offer infinitely better performance.
Unless you are Amazon or running some highly taxing web application, having a website on a dedicated server is a waste. VPS will easily handle any reasonable amount of traffic, but if you want to spend $100+ dollars per month on the hardware — who am I to stop you?
SSL is a certificate that is required to open the HTTPS connection. And HTTPS is an encrypted connection that can not be intercepted. Basically, if the domain is an address and the hosting is a house, then SSL is a high fence that prevents uninvited people from seeing what you are doing at home. And by uninvited people, I mean hackers.
You can get by with a free SSL certificate — for example, provided by the Let’s Encrypt. And it will absolutely do for a personal blog or any other project that simply doesn’t require that much protection. But if you collect money or any sensitive information on your website — you will need a proper SSL certificate from a reputable authority.
The pricing on certificates varies from $10 to thousands of dollars per year. It depends on the protection type they offer and the validation methods required to get the certificate. The validation in turn depends on the type of the website you want to protect — a certificate for a bank or a store will require more deep validation and thus will cost much more than a certificate for a blog.
CloudFlare is a CDN. And a CDN is content distribution network that allows people from remote locations to access your website as if it was located in their backyard. It allows them not to wait for 5 seconds until the page loads and overall offers far more enjoyable experience.
Luckily, CloudFlare is free. Well, «free», to be exact. Nothing stops you from using a basic free account, but if you want better services — like additional protection from hackers, pagespeed optimization, mobile optimization etc. — you will have to pay.
Paid CloudFlare plans range from $20 to $200 per month.
Now that you have a platform to build on, it’s time to find out what you are going to spend.
The cost of actually developing a website is based on:
- Creative complexity. Modifying an existing WordPress theme and developing something groundbreaking that takes CSS to its limits are two completely different experiences.
- Technical complexity. There are worlds of difference between developing a simple landing page and a massive online store.
- Brand rate. Web designers and studios who made a name for themselves tend to charge much more than beginners.
The price varies wildly. From absolutely free (apart from time spent, of course) to hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the end result doesn’t always depend on the amount of money spent, there is at least some correlation.
Design and Development
You can get away with WordPress or any other free CMS, a free theme and some plugins. Your website won’t stand out from the others too much, but at the same time you won’t spend a penny on it. Well, apart from the time spent searching for theme and setting it up.
A pre-made premium design for a generic CMS will run you around $100. It’s a good deal if you just want to stand out from the crowd a little and add some useful features to your website. On the other hand, it’s still going to be pretty generic.
If you want the website to be truly unique and actually reflecting your corporate identity — you need a completely custom design. And maybe even a completely custom website, with its own in-house written CMS. Which means that you’ll have to hire developers too.
Mid-level web studios in the US price a small informational or e-commerce website around $7,000. And if you want an enterprise-level website with thousands of meaningful pages or a massive online store — be prepared to spend up to $250,000 and maybe even more.
Keep in mind, that the prices are for US. European and especially Eastern European companies tend to offer better prices.
An empty website has no point. Which means, that you are going to fill it with content — articles, blog posts, product descriptions, illustrations, etc.
Content prices are usually calculated by the word and vary a lot. Mid-level studios will charge around $1 per word on a landing page, with the average word count being 500. As for the other, internal pages (i.e. «About Company» etc.) prices are usually $60-$80 for a single page.
Other types of content — like linkbait articles (articles that have a higher chance other website will link to them) and SEO blog posts are priced completely arbitrarily, depending on the status of the writer and the size of their portfolio.
As with design, you can easily outsource to the offshore — even European content creators are usually willing to work cheaper, not to mention companies from Eastern Europe and Asia. But it’s a question of reliability, responsibility and, sometimes, language barrier.
You can also do it yourself and I do know some website owners who turned out pretty competent writers. You will need to learn about SEO, as well as how to write properly, but those are rather useful skills anyway.
If you decide to hire a content creator, ask your design studio. Usually, they will have a recommendation. Of course, you can also look for one yourself, on websites like Freelancer.
So, at the end of the day, here’s what you end up with:
- Running a website. Regular expenses, necessary.
- Domain. From $1/year. $13/year is the most popular option.
- Hosting. From $2/month. $5-10/month is generally the sweet spot.
- SSL. From $10/year. If you have a store or accept cash in any other way, make it $100/year.
- CloudFlare. Free, but additional features start at $20/month.
- Developing a website. One-time expenses, optional.
- Design and Development. From $100.
- Content. From $60 for a page.
Yet if you intend to make your website your solitary income source (either via monetization or by selling your product) — having a premium-built website really pays off.You should not use free domains and hostings, unless you clearly understand what you are doing. But you can totally skim on the rest — a website with a free theme and self-written content can still carry you pretty far.
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