Every business needs a website. Not only does it tell your customers what you do, but it gives you credibility. WordPress is the best website option, but what will it set you back? The WordPress website cost to develop question isn’t so cut and dry.
Eventually, you have to talk about cost.
If you’re a consultant, you’ve been asked how much your services cost. And you have to make some decisions:
- What services am I providing?
- How many hours do I think this will take?
- How much is this worth to the client from a business perspective?
- Does the client have money? How about a business plan?
- Should I charge hourly or by the project?
- Is this a one-off thing, or is there potential for a long-term relationship?
- How busy am I? Do I need this job? Do I want it?
These questions are important. The answers are critical. Gauging the client is vital. Every interaction with the client helps you learn more about them and the project and affects the cost.
Cost often also depends on the market and location. For the purpose of this post, we’re assuming we’re talking to an American audience in U.S. dollars.
How Much Should a Custom WordPress Website Cost to Develop?
Brian has built websites or been part of website projects — all on WordPress — ranging in cost from less than $1,000 to more than $100,000 for complete websites.
So, in short: It always depends.
This differentiation is why we can’t ballpark it for you. It’s essential to build out an estimate specific to your project.
Table of Contents
WordPress Website Cost to Develop
- How Much Should a Custom WordPress Website Cost to Develop?
- Table of Contents
- Types of Websites and their Costs
- Understanding What Goes into Development
- Factors Affecting Website Development Cost
- Considerations for Small Businesses
- Estimating the Cost to Develop a Website
- Working with a Freelancer for Website Development
- Working with an Agency for Website Development
- Comparing Freelancer vs. Agency Rates
- How to Get Your Website Development Started
Types of Websites and their Costs
There are many types of websites, each with its potential costs. Brian ranks sites in complexity like this:
- Simple Blog. Archives and single post views only. A pretty typical layout.
- Complex Blog. A bunch of “out of the box” styles for various templates. It requires attention to detail on archives, single posts, and other stuff like post formats.
- Brochure Site. Fairly standard but custom home page design and page layout. Stock archive/blog setup with little to no customizations.
- Marketing Site. A mashup between a simple brochure and a complicated blog. It requires more designs, and the home page might be a little more advanced than the simple brochure.
- E-Commerce Site. It could be a mix of any of the websites above plus all the needs in e-commerce (like cart/account/checkout views and tons of configuration considerations). This type of project is often a huge PM bump as well.
- Small Business Site. Similar to a marketing site, but often includes a couple of custom content types that require design and code, like events, testimonials, services, etc.
- Large Company Site. Big business websites are like regular business websites, but more. They often have many custom content types, advanced searching needs, tons of content, and some fancy user permissions needs. And, of course, potentially much more.
- Non-Profit or Advocacy Site. Non-profit and advocacy sites are the holy grail of wanting everything on a budget. These are difficult to keep in scope because they often have the exact needs of big businesses without the budgets.
- Large Scale Site. You can take any of these types of websites and then say you need it to handle millions of page views per month without breaking a sweat. A whole new layer of complexity comes into play.
The hours it takes to build these different websites can vary tremendously. It depends on the consultant’s experience, whether they’ve done similar work before, how many “gotchas” appear in the project, how particular the client is about any given feature, and more.
Understanding What Goes into Development
Not all websites are created equal, so not all websites will take the same time and work to create. Here are some factors to consider related to the website development process.
Static vs. Dynamic Websites
Static websites are the easiest types of sites to maintain and build. They’re faster for users because they require little back-end processing, and the server only retrieves the requested files. Static sites make it challenging to execute a site-wide change because they require you to update each HTML file.
Dynamic sites display different information to each visitor. The visitor’s location, time zone, personal preferences, and habits determine the content. This feature creates a more tailored and interactive experience. Instead of building one page that stays the same, web servers build these personalized pages when users request pages. Dynamic sites build these pages on server-side scripting languages like PHP, Python, or Ruby.
Depending on which type of site you need, you may have to work with different developers. Some common types of development include:
- Back-End Development. Working with server-side software to make sure the site is functioning correctly. Backend development focuses on databases, architecture, and servers.
- Database Development. The type of development that focuses on design, programming, construction, and implementation of new databases and modifying existing databases.
Factors Affecting Website Development Cost
Each website project is unique, and the factors surrounding each project help determine the website cost to develop.
Factors that affect every project:
- Level of Complexity. More pages take more time and money to build. Plus, parent and child pages can complicate the process.
- Design Requirements. Some websites need special features and customization. The more design requirements for a specific project, the more it will cost.
- Platforms and Technologies. If the project requires the developer to integrate technologies into the website, it adds to the time and cost to build. While many technologies make integrations easy with API keys, not all companies can quickly provide that to their web designer.
- Functionality. Plugins can be relatively inexpensive, but setting them and ensuring they work well together can take a lot of time.
- Security. You can add different levels of security to websites. The costs can be a one-time fee or ongoing. For any e-commerce site, continuous security monitoring is crucial.
- Maintenance and Updates. The developer will need to add new components to sites, and regular maintenance ensures everything functions probably and is consistently updated.
Considerations for Small Businesses
If you’re a small business owner needing a website, there are some unique factors to consider before you approach a developer.
Factors that affect small business projects:
- Budget. Knowing the limitations of your budget is crucial. This knowledge will help you choose the best web developer for you while also giving you realistic expectations about the type of website you’ll receive.
- Timeline. The more complex a website is, the longer it takes to develop. Plus, if you have a lot of old website content that needs to be accounted for, it can add development time.
- Outsourcing. When you create a website in-house, you have more control of the process and final product. But when you outsource, you don’t have to worry about paying full-time salary and benefits to the developer or tying up team members with the project.
Estimating the Cost to Develop a Website
An estimate takes time. Whether that time is in a paid discovery or a sunk cost the consultant takes on themselves is a different matter. Either way, estimates are expensive because they’re time-consuming. And if a consultant spends a week on an estimate or proposal, they’ll put that cost into the proposal somewhere.
Estimate Cost and Timeline
There are some broad brush typical price ranges we can establish for you. Let’s start by segmenting based on who you’re working with. Basically, working with a freelancer will generally be cheaper than working with an agency. Agencies have more overhead, padding built in, concern about cash flow, and generally just tend to be a bit more expensive.
If you work with an agency, the risk of them falling off the map is generally lower, but they move slower too. And you’ll often have to deal with changing contacts as the project progresses (from sales to design to development to maintenance).
If you work with a freelancer, your risks are a bit higher that they’ll disappear someday. It means vetting them is even more important than with an agency. But they also tend to move quickly and don’t juggle as many projects simultaneously. You also benefit from working with (typically) one person who knows everything about your project, and you don’t feel like you’re constantly getting bounced around between people.
It’s possible to have a great relationship with a freelancer or agency. Which route is better typically depends on the client’s mentality and requirements.
It’s generally good to estimate how many unique views a website has to consider how much it will cost.
Unique views are:
- The home page
- The archive page — although it could be category, search, and more, combined in one unique view
- The blog “post” page
- The generic “page” template, though it can be mashed with the post view
- Custom page templates — like fancy about us pages or a key landing page
- Custom post types — sometimes in the traditional archive/singular sense and other times the way it sits within another view, like how an FAQ content type may fit into a regular page
- Variable sidebars within sections of the website
Unique views aren’t always evident. Depending on how discovery conversations go with the client, you can figure out more necessary unique views.
What’s essential about unique views is that they’re excellent for estimating design time, and they can help guide estimating development time.
If a unique view requires a comp (design preview for the client), then that’s a relatively set number of required hours for design. If it doesn’t require a comp, it’s still best to build in time for the designer to do a quality check after it’s developed, so they can make sure it looks good.
Designing a unique view from the ground up could take a designer between four and 10 hours, depending on the complexity. For certain complex or innovative views, that number could hit upward of 20 hours just for design.
Also, design requires a base set of hours to establish the overall tone of the website and to design things rarely considered with unique views, like the header, footer, and overall style guide. The website’s base elements and style guide could easily range between 10 and 100 hours. It’s a ridiculous range, but it’s necessary.
So, we’ve established a framework for pricing the design of unique views. Developing them is a different story.
You must carefully consider development. Generally, every design hour should get a development hour to go with it. But development hours can easily break that rule, especially when developing something complex.
Development hours can be literally anything for wholly custom functionality, which is entirely outside this post’s scope. Development can cost millions of dollars.
With WordPress, you can add as many posts and pages as you want. But the more posts or pages the client’s existing website has (and expects to transfer to the new site), the more complex the new project will be.
Some levels to consider when pricing content:
- Less than 10 pages – No big deal
- More than 30 pages – Start thinking about structure
- Hierarchical pages (lots of parent > child page relationships) – Require strategic thinking time
- Hundreds of pages – Either a problem or a lot of strategy and design consideration
- Thousands of blog posts, taxonomies (category/tag handling), and searches – Probably cost more
- A lot of content – Navigation needs to be uniquely priced
- Multi-author blog – Needs special consideration
- Pages or posts need editorial workflow (section management, change or publishing approval, etc.) – Need special consideration
- Current CMS isn’t WordPress – Migration requires special language and details to make it happen
- Current CMS is WordPress – Understand plugins or custom code potentially creating shortcodes or weird content handling (maybe with custom fields) or what other bad practices may be present
Time is a huge factor to consider when building a website. Developers need to charge for the time a project will take to complete.
Both freelancers and agencies factor time into their pricing. So the time spent researching a project, bidding on it, and meeting with the clients is built into the pricing structure. It’s not just the cost of the time spent working on WordPress website development, though that is the bulk of the cost.
Pricing Site Factors
Every website development project is different, and the goals of each website owner vary as well. The developer must consider each specification when determining the website’s cost.
Additionally, the client is a huge factor in price. In short, if a client is going to be difficult, it affects the client multiplier on the overall project cost.
Client qualities that end up costing money are when the client:
- Doesn’t have a single point of contact (multiple people always have to be looped into communication)
- Has to get some form of committee approval
- Isn’t decisive or is incapable of playing the “consultant advocate” role well internally
- Has a lot of red tape for decision making
- Payment schedules are awful (payment may take months)
- Is prone to huge email threads about small issues
- Wants daily or frequent phone calls or meetings
- Doesn’t have a clear business plan and will require a lot of advising
These are mostly people and organizational things. They have little to do with the actual project.
Let’s say the work for a project will be about $20,000. Add in these client qualities that could get costly from a project management perspective and apply them to the overall cost.
In a $20,000 project, it’s not uncommon for $5,000 of that to be project management costs. If there are enough concerns to warrant 50% higher PM costs, the project gets a $2,500, or 12.5%, increase in overall project cost.
Looking for client qualities that trigger higher costs is vital as a consultant. For potential clients, remember that your qualities (organizational and behavioral) affect your consultant’s price.
Working with a Freelancer for Website Development
Freelancers can be an affordable option for website development, but not everyone enjoys working with them, and they aren’t the right fit for every project.
Pros and Cons of Freelancers
Working with freelancers can be good if you have a quick turnaround time. Unlike agencies, freelancers tend to work on one project at a time, so they can focus on your website until it’s finished. You’ll also only communicate with the freelancer during the project, unlike with agencies where you may speak to different departments in various project stages.
But freelancers don’t always have the same schedule availability since they’re a smaller business operation. So, if you need updates in the future, it may take a long time to get on the freelancer’s schedule.
Also, many freelancers work alone, leading to a more unstructured process, which means you may not know the project’s stage. The freelancer you work with will also likely be acting as their own project manager, so you won’t necessarily get as many updates or information about the project’s status while they’re working.
When a Freelancer is a Good Fit
In general, freelancers are great for jobs that fit the following criteria:
- Are small enough for one person to handle
- Have a tight timeline, and you want them to start quickly
- Are fine with informal communication channels
- Don’t need big contractor agreements, insurance, or other common big-business requirements
Working with an Agency for Website Development
Agencies are a more established alternative to working with freelancers. They tend to have greater resources and an established process.
Pros and Cons of Agencies
Working with agencies can be good for a lot of reasons. Because they specialize in what you’re paying for, you have the potential to build a long-term relationship with them and will be able to come back to them for future projects. You’ll also have a project or client manager to usher you through the process and explain what’s going on with your website. Plus, agencies have dedicated processes, so you know nothing will be left out or forgotten.
But there are still limitations to working with agencies. They work with a large number of clients, so that means you may have a waiting period before they begin your project. It can also lead to a slower project turnaround time.
As your project progresses, you’ll have different points of contact for the various stages.
Working with an agency also can be expensive since they have more overhead costs.
When an Agency is a Good Fit
In general, agencies are better when you:
- Don’t want to risk your consultant disappearing
- Are comfortable with a project structure you don’t define and following their process
- Can handle a multi-month project that takes two to six months
- Don’t mind waiting 30 to 90 days to start until you can fit into their schedule
- Want a dedicated project manager
- Have a large-scope or fast-turnaround project that requires multiple people working full-time on it
Comparing Freelancer vs. Agency Rates
For most projects, the consultant has to estimate the time it will take them to build and charge at least that. So the consultant probably isn’t charging much more than their cost.
Whether the consultant is an agency or a freelancer, the developer only spends about half their day on the project. Also, that number is probably higher for your average web worker in an agency. It still works as an average because managers and PMs typically won’t hit 50%, and their time may not even factor into direct costs.
Assume the freelancer is billing an end client, not subcontracting to an agency where their costs decrease considerably due to less PM and consistent work.
Finally, utilize these hourly rates as if it’s for billable work and known costs. So, if the rate is $100 per hour and the design will take 50 hours and the development will take 50 hours, and you build in 25 hours for project management, it would be 125 hours, and the project would cost $12,500. Profits, overhead, and everything else are built into the internal hourly rate — just like if someone were billing the client hourly for the work.
Understanding Special Cases
Freelancers and agencies also break their own rules all the time. A great example is when you get an inquiry from a big brand. If it’s a competitive bid, and a consultant wants that brand as a featured client, they could easily drop their rates by a third or more to get it — hoping that that brand will make other folks want to work with them down the road.
Sometimes this is effective. Other times it’s a terrible idea. Referrals can come from anywhere, and generally, bending your rates for a brand name is a bad idea, even though it’s tempting.
Other times, consultants break their own rules or don’t follow their internal rates. Consultants may charge less if it’s a client they work with repeatedly and know the true costs better. Consultants may charge less for non-profit organizations, with a retainer, if work is slow or if they get emotionally invested in the bid. The list of ways to break the guidelines goes on and on.
Common Freelancer Rates
Freelance WordPress website developers today make $30 to $175 an hour, with the average developer charging $70 an hour. Freelancers with good experience, who are more in demand, and those with reputations as specialists charge more for their services.
Common Agency Rates
WordPress website development agencies charge anywhere from $3,000 to $75,000 or more to build a website, depending on your needs, their reputation, and the size of the market they serve. The better their reputation and the bigger, more high-profile projects they’ve completed in the past, the more they can charge. They also can charge more if they have a niche expertise.
Market size is the difference between working in big towns or small cities (small market), cities that are thriving but not huge (medium market), or the type of city that’s got pro sports teams and more than a million people (large market). The bigger the market, the more an agency can charge. Agencies in mega markets, like New York and San Francisco, can charge much more.
How to Get Your Website Development Started
Before you contact a web developer to build your website, there are some things to do to prepare. This list will help you be more intentional about your web development project and ensure you get what you need.
- Assess Any Current Site Failings. What do you wish your site could do that it doesn’t? Are there any functions you absolutely need to add?
- Identify Your Goals. Know what you want from a new site. This direction will help your developer build a better site for you.
- Create a Comprehensive List of Needs. This list will help your developer create a website that works best for your business and help you determine what’s most important during the web development process.
- Determine Your Budget. Knowing how much money you have to work with will help you choose a developer and understand what features you can afford.
- Research Freelancers or Agencies. Think about your timeline and how you’d like the project to proceed. Find a developer that will work well with you.
- Track Progress and Stay Connected. Know where your website is in the development stages. This tracking will help you stay on top of the project.
Do You Want to Learn More About WordPress Development?
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