The Factors That Impact Your Website Build Costs
This article explores how much a new website costs - by outlining some of the key drivers of costs including the choice of who you use to build it.
Co-Founder / CEO
September 26, 2023
Before you begin - we need to set expectations. If you are looking for a single figure for a new website, this isn’t the blog for you. A new website can cost anything from $1,000 to $100,000. There is simply no magic formula that can readily spit out a figure. Instead, we attempt to list out some of the key drivers of cost. Producing a tight brief, and listing your specific requirements will help ensure any prospective agencies provide you with a breakdown of costs so you can make an informed decision.
New Website Cost Drivers
When it comes to pricing a new website several factors influence the cost including:
Stage of Business
A brand new startup will have fairly modest requirements and thus can source a basic site ‘on the cheap’ - perhaps using a website builder like Squarespace or Wix as a starting point. On the other hand, a mature marketing site, with hundreds of pages will be in a completely different price bracket.
Who Builds It?
The options you’ll have to build the new site will range from; “in-house”, to freelancer, to an agency. Again the cost will range from circa $5,000 to $100,000 depending on the resource used but also the other factors listed here. Freelancers will tend to range between $5,000 and $50,000 but again, a detailed scope of the actual project is needed to narrow the price range. Agencies bring the added assurance of having multiple specialists working on the build, and will typically range from $20,000 to $100,000 depending on the scope.
While the ‘number of pages’ represents a rudimentary way to measure likely cost, the ‘number of different page types’ will be a more relevant influencing factor. A ten-page site with 100 blog pages is a very different proposition from one with 10 blog pages and 100 different page types. Custom features and integrations will also add to the complexity and the cost as they increase the amount of development time for the project.
Theme Based vs Bespoke
Companies early on their journey are likely to be satisfied with a theme or template-based approach as this helps keep costs down, and may be better off with an all-in-one monolithic CMS like WordPress. For scaling companies who have brand guidelines established and want a beautifully designed bespoke website they are more likely to choose a bespoke Headless CMS based website which significantly increases the investment needed.
Site Migration incl SEO
A major website migration which includes a CMS re-platforming from a legacy or traditional (monolithic) CMS like WordPress to a modern CMS like Contento makes it a bigger project than staying on the same CMS.
The purpose of the site is also an important consideration. Is it a basic brochure website providing basic information or does it need to drive business growth e.g. B2B SaaS website. If the site is the main source of business including specialists from designers to B2B SaaS copywriters is highly recommended, which naturally drives costs also.
Research and Discovery
Finally, most website projects include initial research and discovery, so the website design and messaging aligns with the requirements of the main target personas. Most freelancers and agencies will want to undertake some primary research in advance of any design work to ensure they have a clear understanding of the goals of the site and the primary drivers for the key personas being targeted.
All of these are interlinked. So an early-stage startup will probably be able to build a site in-house, and their requirements will be very basic in stark contrast to a 5-year-old website, with lots of page types where an agency will need to migrate the CMS as part of an upgrade.
So what else do you need to be aware of as you evaluate your options?
Additional Factors Impacting Cost
The additional elements you thus need to factor into any pricing conversation include:
The UX/UI design [if not using a template/existing design]
The Development/ Setup
Ongoing Maintenance (often in the guise of a retainer)
As mentioned the following (non-exhaustive) list of additional elements may also be in play depending on the circumstances:
Visual identity (brand refresh)
Search Engine Optimization
As you can see there is an ever-expanding array of options and flavors, all of which will extend delivery timelines and costs.
By way of a recent example, here in the UK, a former client's vague ‘new website’ request generated an 83-page proposal!
Is it any wonder they were quickly discounted?
But it is also a reminder to deliver a tight brief with very specific requirements.
So let's explore these various elements now in a bit more detail.
1- The UX/UI Design
This can represent a core part of the build (assuming a template/existing design is not being used). Figma is often used to create high-fidelity wireframes, alongside mood boards so you get a sense of the visuals. A key driver of cost at this stage will be the number of page types you need to have designed. For most commercial sites (especially B2B SaaS websites) the following represent the key pages to focus on:
Landing page for paid acquisition
2- The Development/ Setup
This stage can cover everything from hosting, to URL management, to the build. The post-launch stage can range from speed tests to 301 redirects, to mobile responsiveness checks to 404 checks. You’ll also want to ensure GA4, and Google Tag Manager is firing correctly, and that you re-index the site in Google Search Console on completion to round off the project. It is worth having a checklist in advance so you remember all the various ‘jobs to be done’. This B2B SaaS Migration Checklist can represent a good starting point.
Again price will be linked to site complexity as a driver of overall cost.
Depending on the route you go down, hosting may or may not be included. A SaaS-based CMS like Contento, will bake hosting in, whereas, with a Traditional CMS like WordPress, you’ll need to source the hosting. Depending on the context, you may want to ensure you are choosing an enterprise-grade hosting provider, rather than an entry-level solution as the hosting will affect website speeds.
4- The Migration
If you are re-platforming your CMS as part of the journey (often a case of moving off a traditional legacy system to a Headless CMS) you’ll need to bake this in as a major cost. Again the price for this will vary given the myriad of CMS available, as well as the site complexity. The migration should cover301 redirect mapping, performance testing, and assistance with deployment to a live environment (DNS).
5- The CMS
In reality, the CMS part will often represent the smallest part of the cost (the majority of Headless CMS solutions will fall in the $5-10k per year range).
Nonetheless, there are a few things to be aware of:
Firstly, it can be hard to do a “like for like” comparison between CMSs. With some CMS offerings, the platform may be open source / free but you then need to pay for themes and plugins to get it to function like you want.
Secondly, the bulk of the cost goes on developer cost - be that initial set-up, the design, or subsequent maintenance - not the Content Management System (CMS).
Thirdly, your use case will largely determine the price bracket you fall into. Use cases can vary considerably, with the size (number of pages) and site complexity representing some cost drivers.
Assuming a business website, an entry-level offering like Squarespace or Wix will suffice to get you up and running, with a natural migration to Webflow and or a Headless CMS representing a typical upgrade path after a few years.
6- Ongoing Maintenance (often in the guise of a retainer)
When it comes to monolithic CMS like WordPress it is recommended that a retainer is in place to help manage maintenance and upgrades. WordPress is a bit of a beast and maturer sites can really struggle with website bloat. Having someone technical on hand to fix any issues that crop up is important.
When it comes to Headless CMS, like Contento (which is a SaaS offering), the need for a developer retainer is removed as you do not need to worry about running updates or security patches. Instead further engagements largely relate to the creation of new modules, designs, or pages. However, the cost of a Headless retainer is likely to be more expensive than a WordPress one as they provide very different services. With WordPress the focus is often on managing updates, fixing bugs etc whereas with Headless the focus is more likely to be on a range of technical front end “jobs” as well as creating designs for new pages.
While the above relate primarily to the actual website design and setup, it is common for ‘website projects’ to also include some extras as mentioned above. The following represent some of the elements to be aware of:
7- Content Modeling
For those moving to Headless a structured content approach is typical and is designed to ensure your content is easy to find, is in a usable format, and is useful.
"Structured content” means content that is broken into smaller parts, or “chunks” that can be mixed and matched in multiple ways. Essentially, it turns content into data.
— Source: Carrie Hane
As our CTO Josh Angell argues:
“As a dev myself, I see content modeling as part of the design process. Back and forth between visual and content design until a model and a design framework emerge and coexist in harmony. But I wouldn’t rule out devs continuing to play a part in the modeling stage, some of us have been unknowingly doing it as part of pre-code work all along.”
8- Visual Identity (brand refresh)
A brand refresh is a significant undertaking and a decision to upgrade a brand identity should not be taken lightly. Again, context is everything. For an early stage, resource-constrained startup investments in visual identity are usually pretty modest. A significant investment raise often acts as a catalyst to invest in a visual identity refresh or overall rebrand. If you do want to bake a refresh in, it is important to plan the rollout - as you will need to make updates online and offline to reflect the new visual identity.
A typical process would include elements like these:
Moodboard for different directions
Key visual direction
Again price points will vary considerably - with a range between $5-25,000 representing some B2B SaaS visual identity briefs we’ve been involved with.
One final note on - brand refreshes. In many instances, I’d recommend this is done using a dedicated specialist rather than via the web development agency. From my experience, agencies that roll up a myriad of different service offerings may offer some efficiencies and cost benefits but are unlikely to excel at all of the constituent elements described herein.
There is an increasing number of specialist B2B SaaS copywriters who can help ensure on-site messaging is on point and optimized to drive conversions. Historically, web copy was considered of limited importance and was often the responsibility of a junior marketing person. Using a dedicated external messaging expert has become the norm, especially for home page and landing page copy.
10- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
With any major SaaS site migration, it is important to ensure that the SEO elements are not neglected. Too many site upgrades result in a dip in traffic after relaunch. Baking in some SEO expertise helps you avoid this scenario.
Adding subtle illustrations can be an effective way to differentiate images from competitors. When it comes to B2B Software, image selection can be tricky (mixing people shots with up-close images of the software) and illustrations can help make the visuals more engaging.
With any website handover, baking in training is crucial so that post-launch the marketing team is relatively self-sufficient. These calls should be recorded and saved - after all, churn rates in the marketing function are usually quite high, so video recordings help ensure future team members can easily familiarize themselves with the core features.
Return on Investment (RoI)
Calculating the RoI on a website upgrade is notoriously difficult. There are so many variables, and decisions that can impact the return. Several Headless CMS vendors have attempted to use case studies to assess the RoI but despite the headline figures looking good, the underlying research methodologies are often unconvincing.
Here are some of the things to think about when trying to assess the ROI.
The current CMS costs including hosting
The current retainer costs (often external) to keep the site maintained
The hidden costs from the internal tech/dev team as to the annual effort they provide
Build and migration costs of a new deployment
Estimate as to revenue uplift from performance improvements (particularly relevant with legacy WordPress installs)
Associated training costs and ongoing maintenance costs with the new platform
In an ideal scenario, the one-off cost should be covered by the following elements
Improved performance (via better design optimized for conversions + site speed improvements)
Improved workflows via a Modern CMS
Reduction in developer input needed.
Given the above, “like for like” pricing comparisons can be hard to make. Similarly, it is important to align the business lifecycle with the investment decision as “context is everything” when it comes to making smart choices.
B2B SaaS Startups will happily choose a theme-based “website builder” to get up and running. The real pinch point is for scaling B2B SaaS businesses who outgrow their WordPress install or need to leave it due to ongoing WordPress issues. Realistically a new site with a full site migration could be in the region of €50,000 to €100,000 which most CFOs will balk at. However, after a Series A or B raise the growth expectations will often necessitate significant investment.
In reality, much of the historic website costs may have been ‘hidden’ as there may well have been an internal reliance on developers to manage and maintain the site when they’d be better served working on ‘the product’. Chronic underinvestment in the early years of most B2B SaaS and technology websites will also likely mean that much of the core elements of the site (as well as the brand) will have been neglected.
It is one of the reasons one of the first ‘jobs’ a Chief Marketing Officer will look to deliver post an investment raise is a website upgrade which could include a website re-platform where you move off a traditional legacy CMS to a modern CMS (often a Headless CMS).
One of the main decision criteria is thus the amount of ongoing external maintenance and developer input that will be required after the site is launched. Establishing that and assigning a cost to it will help with the decision.
Perhaps the easiest heuristic is to consider the following as rough guidelines:
New SaaS startup $5,000 - $30,000
Post Series A startup $50,000-$100,000
Series B Scaleup $100,000+