A Quick Beginner’s Guide on Website Building: How much does it cost to build a website? (Updated 2021)

As a writer, I have always thought of building my site where I could personally blog and share my thoughts. It’s part of building an identity online and to create a brand for myself – a travel and lifestyle blogger. 

I have always loved taking photos of people, the urban cityscape, and scenic natural landscapes. And now with quarantine, I think I’ve had so much time. I was surprised to find myself sipping coffee and endlessly scrolling through Korean lifestyle vlogs thinking how much fun it would be to write about these and share some adulting tips on the side to help out lost sheep like me. 

I started drawing out a plan in my head. Back in high school until college, I have always used Tumblr as my blog but I haven’t gotten back to update and maintain it. I’ve tried WordPress but to no successful avail since I always wind up confused. So I tried to search for more avenues to build a website and here’s what I learned. 

There are three different avenues I can actually take into building my website and here is the catch: It involves dollars. Whether I like it or not, creating an online presence through establishing a website does not exactly come in for free especially if I am looking to build a name and brand. Every dream has its costs and if I would spend a few dollars here and there to realize it then it’s worth it, right?

First to pop off the list is a familiar name: WordPress. Somehow, I just can’t escape this and I think it’s time I learn more about it. 

WordPress is a free and open-source content management system (CMS) allowing users to create and organize digital content which makes it a popular choice among professional bloggers, businesses, and companies. Almost a third of the websites found on the Internet is built on WordPress and it’s not a stretch to say that it has become an essential part of the online community. 

But the major drawback with WordPress is that it requires more complicated setup work unlike a Tumblr blog which is easy-peasy or most website builders (which we shall discuss in detail next). But the struggle does not end with the setup. WordPress also requires more maintenance work to make sure that the site is up and running smoothly. 

If you’re uncomfortable with technology, WordPress might not be your best choice but if you’re determined to use this you can seek professional help but that will surely hike up the cost of building your website. 

“Is WordPress free?”

Technically, WordPress is a free website platform and if you’re a private blogger, you’re already good with the free features especially that it’s an open CMS meaning you can easily edit your web content. It also has an architecture of plugin features and a wide array of design choices referred to as Themes both of which are available in Free and Premium. 

Here’s the but: If you want to fully utilize WordPress, there are implicit costs that come with it. It’s tricky to quote a cost on WordPress because it’s dependent on your needs and choices but we’ll be noting here the minimum and an overview of costs that may hopefully help you. 

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org

It’s important to be very clear about the differences between these two since they offer different free and premium services. 

I think most people are more familiar with WordPress.com which provides free themes that I have used in my blog and have found it very useful though free also has its limitations in terms of choices. But having a free theme which is usually the biggest cost in building a website lowers the barriers enabling writers like me to easily start a blog. 

It also comes with a free domain name and hosting services for your site but it will cost you when it comes to site plugins. Free, personal, and premium accounts are not allowed to install plug-ins unless you upgrade to a business plan which costs $299/year. But the good news is you don’t need these at the initial phase of your website.  

On the other hand, WordPress.org does not offer free hosting services do you would have to pay for that but it provides a lot of amenities later on like free software that can help your site run smoothly and efficiently. 

What is the minimum cost of building a site in WordPress?

Exploring different sources written by web development sites, I have pinned three (3) site elements that are essential costs when building a WordPress site:

Domain Name 

In simple terms, this is your online fingerprint or your unique address for example in https://www.anytrademarkname.com, anytrademark identifies as the unique name of your website which should be ideally readily identifiable with your organization or core business. The www is what you call your subdomain while .com is referred to as a top-level domain and this is where costs can vary depending whether you’re using .com or .org – the two most common. 

Usually these cost on average $10 – $15 but there are domain registrars that offer cheaper costs like namecheap which offers its services for as low as $8.88 (.com) to $12.98 (.org). You can explore other cheap but reputable domain registrars such as bluehost, GoDaddy, and Domain.com. 

Note that there are promotional domain names priced as low as $0.48 to $1 but the catch is it’s only available for the first year. A domain name is registered and purchased and then paid on an annual basis. 

Hosting Services

Hosting keeps your site accessible 24/7 for 365 days. This is a very important aspect of your site which affects loading time, website expansion, and customer support. Since “young” websites or those that have just been launched will ideally have lower traffic, it will put less pressure on the server. Economically, it’s best to acquire cheap hosting plans and services at the start since you’re just building. 

WordPress enables a wide array of hosting services but the most recommended among web developers, users, and WordPress itself is bluehost. 

Bluehost is the top 1 WordPress hosting provider. It’s not the cheapest host but it does provide a minimum $2.95 per month plan for shared WordPress hosting which is a very affordable rate compared to the average $24 cost among competitors. You can renew this plan for $7.99 per month which is still less than most. It also offers other plans which depend on your needs but this is the minimum cost. 

Note that some hosting services offer free domain names in their plans by choosing over hundreds or thousands of options. 

SSL Certificate

SSL or Security Sockets Layer certificate protects both the company and the user by safeguarding the transfer of sensitive data. These are priced for free but can go as high as $1500 depending on the level of encryption and warranty. Most web developers encourage going on paid plans for SSL to establish credibility among website viewers especially for e-commerce sites wherein users input personal and financial details. When people trust your site, it also translates to increased traffic and gets ranked higher by Google and other search engines’ platforms. 

Moreover, malicious software tends to target more popular systems like WordPress so it’s best to put an extra layer of security. Usually, cheap SSL ranges from $9 -$28 which is already good when you’re just beginning your site. Among the SSL providers you can check in this range is namecheap, the SSL store, and DigiCert. 

The Bottom Line

As most web developers say when starting to build your site, it’s best to invest on the essential costs but it doesn’t mean that you’d have to break the bank. If you add up the minimum costs and put an upfront fee for hosting services (paid in a lump sum for a year instead of the monthly subscription), you can launch your WordPress site at $54.40. This is a safe price point which you can still lessen by scouring more economic plans or taking out SSL costs. The ceiling price is not as helpful to determine since it would highly depend on several variable costs.

The second most popular and the most user-friendly method of building a website is through website builders. 

Website builders are tools that allow the construction of a site without the use of manual coding which is very popular among tech novices, individuals, or businesses who need an urgent live website, or for those who are starting their portfolios. 

The best thing about website builders is that they offer free plans which you can use to test out the features and overall experience to determine whether they fit your choices and needs. And of course, you can do that without the financial pressure. But again, free comes with limited choices and restrictions. 

Free plans have advertisements that can distract site viewers. I find advertisements very annoying and in worst cases can make me quickly exit out of the site. Aside from that, it does not also provide a custom domain and bandwidth and storage are also low. It’s hard to navigate around a free plan and is only encouraged for testing out sites. 

It’s better to pay for services but you don’t have to worry since website builders offer cheap monthly plans covering hosting, security, theme, and built-in features. These usually range from $6 – $50 monthly subscription which is all you need to jumpstart your blog or site. 

There are different website builders you can choose from. Joe Van Brussel of cnet.com compared the top website builders and concluded from his observations that, “even the front-runners aren’t ideally suited for every scenario.” Again, the bottom line is that it depends on your needs, preferences, and budget. 

Here is a list of the top 3 website builders which have earned the trust of many users and web developers as well. 

  1. Wix is the top website builder agreed upon by the numerous sites I have visited on my research. It’s described as the best overall website builder and best for free at that! It has an unlimited free plan and starts its paid plan at $13 per month. 
  2. In terms of prepackaged design, Squarespace is the most popular, and its design flexibility is usually rated 5 stars. It only has a 14-day free trial after which you can purchase its cheapest paid plan at $12 per month. 
  3. Last is Weebly. Weebly is considered the most user-friendly among many website builders and also runs on an unlimited free plan. Its starting price is also cheap at $12 per month. 


The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for an easy way to build your site without the hassle of domain names, hosting services, or SSL certificates, your best option is to use website builders. This has been an increasingly popular method among many businesses because of its ease of use and its cheap monthly plans. 

Last and the bottom on the list is hiring a freelance web designer or a web design agency to do a custom-built website because it’s very expensive. 

If we’re talking with the US rates at around $100 – $350 per hour, we’re looking at a minimum of $17,500 to $61,250. That estimation is just based on the average minimum number of 175 working hours for a basic site. 

The more complex a project can get, the expenses get higher. Some projects can extend up to 535 hours which roughly translates to prices between $53,500 and $187,250

Of course, if you have a more complex site, it’s better to get a professional to do it. But the main perk of having a custom-built site is its very flexible customizability which is a feature that is not found in WordPress or website builders. 

“Why are custom-built websites expensive?”

Before the actual work, web designers need to do extensive research which includes target audience, viewer preferences, as well as competitors. These are heavily weighed-in factors in creating a site and sitting on top is the client’s preferences. Building a wireframe of the site already takes too much time and work which is one of the reasons why they’re highly paid for their services. 

Then you have the actual work or building the prototype of the site. 

  • UI/UX design – This is the base of every website which creates the appearance of the site. Studies have shown that web design has a very huge impact in creating and maintaining viewer traffic on site. And for sales, it’s even more important as it can turn a click to purchase. The web design usually ranges from $1500 – $5250 at a minimum depending on the number of pages and complexity of animations on site.
  • Front End Development – This refers to everything that viewers or users can see when they interact with the website. In technical terms, this is associated with website responsiveness and animation complexity. It takes 20-25 hours to finish this for a basic site. That is $2000 – $8750 at a minimum $100/hr rate.  
  • Back End Development – This is what makes input data travel to the server and register.  Its cost varies and increases with integration with third-party services, nonstandard data processing like audio, and complex queries. The back end powers all the features of the site and takes roughly 80-250 hours to finish. 
  • Admin Panel Management – This is also known as the Content Management System (CMS) which allows creation, management, and revision of website content without professional help. This takes about 60-180 hours to complete. 

After that, there is the testing of the site and ensuring that it runs smoothly on all platforms like mobile, tablet, and desktop. 

The Bottom Line

The rate of web design is highly dependent on the region. India has the lowest rates at $18 – $80 per hour while the US has the highest rates at $100 – $350. Again, more complex projects take more hours to finish which also translates to higher costs. If you’re a blogger like me or someone who does not need a highly-customized site, there is no need to hire a web designer especially when there are easier tools at hand like website builders. But for professional businesses which have complex systems and multi-paged site, it’s best to leave it to the professionals especially if you have the budget to get it done. 

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