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Monday, December 7

5 Ways to Estimate the Cost to Build a Website

I had a friend come to me the other day. He had a web proposal in his hand. As soon as he gave it to me, I knew the next two questions.
Is it a fair price?
How much would you charge for it?
Now to be clear, I know how to develop a pretty decent website. But I do not do it for a living. I do it if the idea strikes me as particularly interesting. Or I do it as a favor for a friend. Less and Less do I do it as the later, it tends to sour the friendship, which I value more than the money.

So I thought I'd give you a few points that I use to "smell test" a proposal or create an estimate.

1: What pages are going to be built?

Look at the site map, if there is none...ignore any quotes, hours or estimates...go make one and come back and try again. The developer has to understand the scope of what you need built. Real Estate agents need to know how many rooms and bathrooms you want in your house. Web developers need to know how many pages and what concepts are on those pages.

2: What's the hourly rate
There is no particular right answer for this one. However the rate will usually indicate the type of work that will be turned out. Less then $25 an hour, your going to get a pretty basic site. More than $50, your going to get a pretty good site. I've seen rates as low as $10/hr and ones as high as $200/hr. More often then not, they came out as the price would indicate. Note: There will be exceptions to this rule!

3: Do you need artwork?
Is the developer providing the artwork? Are you ok with this? A lot of folks don't understand that the art of a website and the workings of a website take two different mindsets. Art can consists of 40% or more of the cost of the project. Personally, I do "ok" artwork. If someone wants the best of the best I refer them to You decide on a price and you get the best artwork possible for that price. Either way art can be a big part of the cost.

4: Cost of the Template
The first thing I calculate is the template. This is how the site would look with no real content. Almost like a mockup. By default a template takes about 1 full work days to make. Add 2 days if I have to make the artwork. So it's either 8 or 24 hours depending on the art.

5: Cost of each Page
This one is a bit harder for the novice but think on it. Take each page, would you consider it "basic"? Meaning nothing is personalized for a visitor to the page and content is updated very rarely. This type of page would take 4 hours. Wanting any of the following adds about 4 to 8 hours a page.
  • Personalized
  • Change the content daily
  • Ads
  • Photo book
  • Selling a product*
When in doubt...I just do 8 hours for the full page.

In summary

So there you have it, this would be how I gauge a websites cost. An example:

Contact us
-- Online Book
-- Special Gadget
8 hours for template
16 hours for 4 basic pages
16 hours for 2 product pages
40 hours x $50/hr

I usually advise the client that the estimate will go up or down 20% as we work through the details. I then follow through and update them as changes happen.

Apps, Programs and Special Features
If you want a web application (calendars, wiki, blogs, to-do list, etc) or special things that the user can do on your site, I will tactfully direct the person to find something that exists on the web already and pay their fee. In all reality building those things from scratch will cost more than they are willing to pay. If they insist, then I usually will do a different quote as those things tend to take a lot of time (money).

A lot of folks want to sell something on their website. The easiest method that I have used is paypal. Normally it takes about 10 hours to integrate this into a site. There are a number of alternatives to paypal. There are also a number of sites that allow you to sell on the web without having to go through a web developer. If you just want to sell online, I'd advise you to research this. (

Build a site for $400
Sometimes you'll run across things were someone is building sites at $400 a pop. Or $50/page or some type of special that really makes things cheap. Two pieces of advice. First, this is usually someone who is just starting a business and wants to get as many new customers as possible. They may develop quality sites, they may not. Second, you get what you paid for. Go look at there past work, or ask them for a sample. If you are looking for a basic/cheap site, this route is the best way to go. If you want/need to look very professional, you may want to avoid these deals.

Accuracy of Estimates
Well, they ain't called estimates for nothing. As web development goes very rarely will a developer "lock" their cost to build a website. This is because you, the client, never knows what you like until I, the developer, have built it. I tell folks my estimates have an 80% accuracy. That can be a $400 swing on a $2,000 project. It seems to surprise a lot of folks.

The one thing you can do to increase the accuracy is present your vision as accurately as possible. I would hazard a guess that even a mockup drawn on paper can increase the estimation accuracy by about 50%. The better the mockup the smoother the project is going to go and the better the estimate. As a developer, I kiss your feet if you come to me with a site map AND a mockup. You're not doing my work for me, you are letting me know exactly how I can exceed your expectation!

Finally...Estimation is an art, which I am by no means an expert at!!!


notenoughblogs said...

Another great post! I've been following your blog for quite sometime, and thanks for another great one.

I'm trying to start a fledgling side business doing mostly web application development, and up until now have had no real guidance on how to approach estimates. So thank you for this great information.

mobeamer said...

Ha, that makes 2 people that hear my words.

Just trying to get to 7 then I know I'm hitting it big time!

notenoughblogs said...

Heh. :) My tagline on my blog is "If even 1 person reads this, I'll consider that a success."

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