How much does it cost to start and run a website?

How much does it cost to start and run a website?

Building and launching a new website is full of hidden costs. Deep dive into everything you need to consider during the process.

How much does it cost to start and run a website?

Building and launching a new website is full of hidden costs. Deep dive into everything you need to consider during the process.

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Written by
Jeff Cardello
Jeff Cardello
Jeff Cardello
Jeff Cardello

Are you thinking about building a new website?

There’s so much to consider in figuring out the scale and potential costs of what you want to create. Questions you ask may include:

  • Can you build your own website or will you need to hire a developer or agency? 
  • Do you want to do the copywriting, or find someone to help you?
  • Do you want custom photography or graphics? 

We’re going to answer these questions and more, below. We hope these tips will give you a better picture of your budget and will help you understand what the cost will be to #shipit.

Hiring a developer

An image of a desktop. On the desktop there is a laptop, a plant, a notebook, a pencil, and a Sharpie.

One of the biggest factors in your web development cost may be hiring someone to build it out. Web developers create the layout, design the user interface, add in the functionality, and manage the logistics to launch your website. Generally, this is one lump sum you’ll pay for someone to provide the services it takes to design and launch it. But, you still might have to pay for updates and regular maintenance in the future. 

The scope and sophistication of what you need are important variables in how much you’re going to pay a developer to build your site. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor and Statistics, web developers are paid at a base rate of $37 an hour, and Upwork lists the average rates for full development web design ranging from $45–$75 an hour. And obviously, a one-page design for a small business (like a coffee shop) is going to cost far less than an expansive online store that includes moving parts like payment systems and customer databases. Depending on what you require, your web design costs could be anywhere from the low hundreds all the way up to thousands.

The cost of doing it yourself 

Maybe you built your own simple websites back in the day by writing down HTML code in Notepad. Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to design a website, but things like knowing how to code or how CSS works have been holding you back.  

But we’ve got good news: If you’ve never designed a website before, it’s pretty simple to use a visual website builder, like Webflow, to build and launch a pretty cool site. 

Pricing for a “do-it-yourself” website ranges from free (!) up to several thousand, depending on what page builder you use, hosting plan, or if you have any additional add-ons like a premium template. And if you’re a first-time website builder, we highly recommend using a template. Webflow templates provide the building blocks you need to to build a site while still allowing for full customization.

An image of a Feature section in the Webflow Editor.
For those wanting to design their own websites, Webflow offers an easy and intuitive place to start.

The best part of taking the reins in building your own web design is having complete control. You don’t have to wait around for a developer to make changes — you’re fully empowered to switch up your web design or content whenever you want. Of course, with more complicated endeavors like an ecommerce website, it isn’t a bad idea to get the help of a developer. 

Hiring content and copywriters 

An image of a pencil and notebook.

Content is more than filler. The copywriting on your website communicates the value and identity of your brand, provides visitors with important information, and factors into your website’s organic search ranking. Professional copywriters are able to do all of this as well as capture your brand’s voice and make a connection with your intended audience. Another benefit in hiring content writers is that their skill sets often overlap with other areas, like social media, search engine optimization (SEO), web copy, and email marketing. 

That’s not to say you can’t do it on your own — anyone with a bit of writing experience and the willingness to learn can pick up some decent copywriting skills. Alas, it takes a lot of time, patience, and skill to make it good. That’s why it’s a good idea to hire an expert, especially if you don’t have the bandwidth to take it on by yourself.

According to Upwork, you’ll pay anywhere from $19 an hour up to $45 dollars an hour for a freelance writer, depending on their experience and the market you’re in.

Bringing on an SEO specialist

There are web designers, content writers, and others who may be able to help you out with SEO. And there are enough step-by-step tutorials, articles, and other resources out there to get a handle on how to do this on your own. However, there are a fair share of situations where hiring an SEO expert can make a huge difference — and should be considered a necessary part of your web dev costs. If you depend on your website to capture new leads, have the majority of sales come in online, or you’re in a saturated market, an SEO expert may be necessary to stay competitive.

The basics of SEO aren’t too difficult to comprehend, but there are aspects of it that are easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re doing. SEO experts are like the special forces of optimization. They’re an elite group with a singular mission, and that’s making your page rank higher. They can also help out with paid ads.

SEO experts can improve your website’s organic search rankings in a number of ways, including:

  • Analyzing your website design and content
  • Developing a technical SEO plan
  • Integrating keywords into your website content, or giving a copywriter a list of words to work with
  • Looking at the code on both the front and back-end to identify ways to make page load times more efficient
  • Keeping track of Google Analytics (GA) and fine-tuning a website for lower bounce rates and higher click-throughs
  • Creating specialized landing pages that fit into a brand’s marketing strategies

According to ahrefs, freelance SEO experts charge around $41–$50 an hour, agencies may charge $100–$150 an hour, and SEO consultants $75–$100 an hour. Upwork lists a general range of $15–$30 an hour, and that can go all the way up to $300 an hour. 

Hiring a photographer

An image of a person taking a picture with a Canon camera.

Taking photos is easy, right? All you have to do is take out your phone, snap a few shots, and put them up on your new website. Though this may sound simple, there’s a bit more involved with taking high-quality photos than you think, and lousy pictures can be a bummer for an otherwise well-designed website.

It’s entirely possible to read articles about DIY photography, buy a simple light kit, and with a decent digital camera (or smartphone) take the photos you need for your site. But this is another area where putting a professional in charge can have a massive impact.

If you’re launching a basic website where photos are going to have a minimal presence, you might be able to take them on your own or get them from a stock site like nappy. But if your site covers areas like food, fashion, or ecommerce — something where photos are a big part of the user experience — you’ll need to hire a professional. Ecommerce specifically can require a large amount of photography due to incoming inventory, so you’ll likely need to pay someone on an ongoing basis to take photos of your products. 

Don’t forget: Professional photographers add value far beyond taking the actual photo. Editing, staging, and Photoshopping are all time-consuming (but necessary) tasks. According to Fash, professional website photographers range from $35–$150 average per image, and there are “fast casual” studios popping up all over, like soona, who may be able to get you set up for a bit less.

Purchasing a domain name

You have an awesome idea for a website, and now all you need is to buy a domain. This shouldn’t be a problem, right? But if you’re after a desirable name, it could become the biggest part of your website cost.

Let’s take something like This domain netted $872 million dollars for its seller. Most common name domain names, though not as outrageous in pricing, can still set you back thousands of dollars.

So when the going gets tough (or expensive,) the going must get creative. There are quite a few domain name generators out there that you can use to come up with variations of possible web domain names. You can also play around with changing “.com” to “.co” or something specific to your industry, like “.tech” or “.coach.”

Once you find an available name, services like GoDaddy will charge you $1.00 a month simply to register it. This cost will likely be one of the least expensive things in the web dev budget, as long as it’s available.

Unleash your creativity on the web

Build completely custom, production-ready websites — or ultra-high-fidelity prototypes — without writing a line of code. Only with Webflow.

Get started for free
Unleash your creativity on the web

Build completely custom, production-ready websites — or ultra-high-fidelity prototypes — without writing a line of code. Only with Webflow.

Get started for free
Get started for free

Hosting your website

An image of a pile of US one dollar bills.

There are plenty of website hosting companies out there, with each hosting provider offering their own rates and services. Your hosting cost will generally be a monthly or yearly amount to keep your website up and running. 

Here’s how it works: Web hosting providers offer servers and cloud-based services for hosting all of the files and databases a website requires to function. A web host is like an exit on the information superhighway, where your audience connects with you and gets everything they need to experience and interact with your website. Hosting can range from a few dollars a month up to a hundred or more, and there’s a wide disparity in what you get at both the low and high ranges of the spectrum.

Though it's tempting to go with whatever is cheapest when choosing a hosting service — going with a bargain bin web hosting provider may cost you more. Here’s why:

Speed: You get what you pay for

If you go with a less expensive hosting service, it’s likely that the files and all of the assets for your webpage are going to be on one server. The further the distance someone is — whether they’re a couple states, or even countries away — the slower your website is going to load for them. This keeps your site from offering a consistent user experience, and those waiting a long amount of time for your content to appear may bounce before they even get a chance to see it. 

Instead of going with a hosting company that’s limited to a few local servers, you may want to consider going for one that utilizes a Content Distribution Network (CDN). A CDN takes all of the files associated with your website and hosts them on servers spread out geographically. When someone wants to access your website, the files are delivered from whatever data center is closest to them.

PS–Webflow uses a CDN for our hosting if you’d like to learn more!

Security can cost extra

Getting hacked or having your visitors’ data leaked to the dark web can ruin your reputation and business. If you’re collecting data from your customers, and storing other sensitive information, your website needs a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate. 

A SSL makes it so that the data that’s transmitted between someone’s computer and a website stays private. As the name implies, it provides a layer of protection, keeping whatever data goes back and forth safe and secure. If there’s no SSL in place, anyone can tap into this line of communication and see everything that’s happening between someone’s computer and the data they’re interacting with on a server.

Most reputable web hosting companies offer an SSL certificate as part of their services. Webflow issues an SSL certificate as a part of each plan, on top of the protection afforded by Amazon Web Services.

If you have a WordPress website, you’ll most likely need to install security plugins and keep them updated. This adds further complexity to website security and can add to the costs of running it.

A recent post by Tech Radar collecting some of the SSL providers ranged from $7 a year all the way to $188 a year depending on the type of certificate. 

Your website should experience minimal downtime

If people are continually encountering bad gateways, or other errors when trying to access your website, they may never come back, no matter how great the content and design may be. 

Your web host needs to be flexible in accommodating changes in traffic. If you suddenly get a surge of new visitors, it’s even more critical that they’re all able to get on your website and not be driven away by the dreaded 503 error, “services unavailable.”

Your visitors deserve a website that’s up 99.99% of the time. And you deserve this same reliability for the price you’re paying for hosting.

Other ongoing costs that may come up

Once you flip the switch and your website is live, there will be ongoing maintenance and additional costs that are necessary for it to run efficiently, stay optimized for SEO, and maintain top-notch security.

In particular, one cost that can add up over time are website updates. You may need to make changes yourself, and you’ll likely need the ability to give others (like copywriters and marketing teams) access to make changes. To make this happen without having to hit up your developer, you’ll need a Content Management System (CMS).

Why you need a CMS

We touched on this one a bit earlier. If you have to go through a developer every time you need to make a change, you’ll be burning through a lot of money and valuable time. A Content Management System (CMS) is the interface that makes it possible to make edits to your website and publish changes without outside assistance. For blogs, featured products, portfolio projects, and other dynamic content, a CMS is essential in managing and updating your pages.

Another beneficial aspect of using a CMS is being able to use templates. CMS templates can be set up for any type of content, and are easy to fill out with the necessary content or media. 

Start simple

Don’t let the complexities that go into launching a new website keep you from building one. Your initial launch doesn’t have to include every feature or piece of content you can think of. Figure out the most important goal, and build a website that will help you attain it.

Last Updated
June 29, 2021