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Matthew Karge

WordPress Practice Director & Business Development Manager

Matt is the WordPress Practice Director and a Business Development Manager at Northwoods. He works with clients in many different industries, helping them to pursue a digital marketing path with the greatest amount of return. He’s always happy to meet over a cup of coffee (either in person or virtually!) to listen to your needs and provide as many resources as possible to help you succeed.

How Much Does it Cost to Build a Website?

August 28, 2023 | Matthew Karge, WordPress Practice Director & Business Development Manager

10 Minute Read

Updated: August 28, 2023
Originally Published: March 19, 2019


Want to make a website vendor squirm? Ask “How much does it cost to build a website?”

It's like asking about the secret to one-handed clapping—there's no definitive answer. Each organization is a unique puzzle, and the digital landscape it navigates shapes the online strategy, making cost predictions tricky.

Instead, try a more practical question: "What content does my organization need to be competitive?"

The answer is what drives all the costs for a website project – and it also determines its success.

So, where does an organization begin?

Step 1: Develop a Digital Strategy 

Crafting a robust digital strategy is the crucial first step that lays the foundation for a successful website redesign. Successful websites are built upon a solid understanding of how their users search and consume the content it provides.

What Should a Digital Strategy Include?

What should a digital strategy include to provide the right data to define the most successful content for your website?

  • A review of the traffic on the current website to determine what content is most successful at engaging and converting users.
  • An analysis of the keywords that drive users to the website and whether it matches your website’s intent.
  • A competitive evaluation to determine how to level the digital playing field in terms of content, functionality, and other parameters that convert users.

A great resource for additional detail is our “Thinking About a Website Redesign? Start with Strategy” blog post.

What Should a Digital Strategy Provide?

All the data that comes from your digital strategy will set several important pieces in place that lead to a proper budgeting for a website redesign. These include:

  • A content checklist that shows what’s working, what’s not, and what’s missing.
  • A site map that lays out all the content needed to be successful.
  • All the keywords and SEO strategies that are important to attracting ideal users.

What Does a Digital Strategy Cost?

Contracting with a vendor to create your digital strategy is the smartest, most cost-effective, and ROI-friendly decision. There are varying degrees of possible fees that are all based on the size of a website. Here’s a reasonable range to consider:

  • $1,000 to $5,000 – The ideal range for small websites with less than 50 pages of content. Example sites include churches, small businesses, or small brick and mortar retailers.
  • $5,000 to $10,000 – Websites with a lot of content, small product catalogs, or multiple audiences require more time and research. Example sites include small to mid-sized manufacturers and e-commerce sites.
  • $10,000+ - Websites with hundreds or thousands of products or blogs need a lot of time and attention to effectively sort through all the data. Example sites include large manufacturers, online publications, and nonprofit organizations that serve a nationwide audience.

I wouldn’t recommend formulating a digital strategy on your own unless you have someone within your organization who has a long history of researching and successfully creating them. It takes a lot of experience to understand and accurately interpret the data and to create a suitable strategy for your website – not to mention understanding all the nuances of and changes search engines have made in the past several years.

Step 2: Budgeting for a Website Build

Every thoughtful recommendation made during the digital strategy phase paves the way for an informed and well-budgeted website build. The budget is defined by these four key things:


Content is by far the most important piece that defines the budget because it defines what design elements are needed for the new website and how users will be converted into customers.

But the time and money needed to create and update content is always underestimated. This is because most organizations don’t realize how hard it is to create content that’s good for SEO and conversions.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Estimate what you think you need to create your content and then triple it. If you follow this, you won’t be far away from the actual amount required.

What Does it Cost to Create Content?

The cost to write content for a website should be defined by the value of time. What is your time worth?

  • New Content – Writing new content with research, editing, SEO optimization, and publishing will likely take four to eight hours per page to complete.
    • A vendor that specializes in writing content can interview subject matter experts and write optimized content in about four hours. Pricing could range from $100 to $500 per page per vendor.
    • Writing optimized content on your own will easily take eight hours to complete. Do you have eight hours to give up from your normal duties?
  • Existing Content – Optimizing existing content based on recommendations from your digital strategy will range from 30 minutes to a few hours per page.
    • Vendors with a content team can crank out optimized content quickly. Considering both simple and complex pages, their efforts often average out to an hour per page. Pricing could range from $25 to $150 per page.
    • Optimizing existing content on your own will take two to three hours.

Vendors charge a wide array of fees for content efforts, so it’s important to consider their experience. A vendor charging $25 an hour usually has limited experience or a low-level staffer working on your content. Vendors charging $100 or more have highly experienced experts preparing your content.


The digital strategy will provide specific recommendations on functionality your website needs to be competitive in your industry. For some, a simple website with strategic content will do, while others will need a website with a lot of features to guide a user’s experience. The price to build, obviously, varies.

A prime goal is to make the site as user-friendly as possible. Don’t add functionality just because it’s cool or different. Users don’t want to make too many decisions or think too hard – or at all – when they visit a website. They want to find information quickly, easily, and intuitively.

What Does it Cost to Add Web Functionality?

  • For those lucky enough to need nothing more than a simple, yet strategic website, costs for added functions link directly to optimizing user conversions. Tools such as optimized conversion forms, robust internal search, and analytical tools give your users the best experience and drive conversions. This baseline functionality usually comes out of the box with most web platforms.
  • If your industry requires a robust website, the cost of its functionality can range from several thousand dollars to tens of thousands. Use the competitive analysis from the digital strategy step to guide you in choosing the functions that are absolutely necessary to serve your users. Third-party integrations, calculators, shopping carts, robust search, and other tools often come with additional licensing and/or development fees.

Website Design

The third most important piece to planning a budget is the website’s design. You read that right – the design should come after the content and functionality. Why? Because a designer needs to know what content is going on a page before they can craft an amazing user experience.

The days of lorem ipsum and templated design themes are numbered. Users need websites that help them move from awareness to conversion in the easiest, most user-friendly manner.

What Should it Cost to Design a Website?

Here’s why a digital strategy is important – the research and competitive analysis effectively define how much you should spend on the design.

  • $1,000 to $5,000 – This range is only for organizations with little content. Think websites with 10 pages or less. Most of the costs will be associated with the content management system and/or licensing for a predeveloped theme. Example: A local ice cream shop website.
  • $5,000 to $10,000 – This range is meant for organizations that have a decent amount of content, such as blogs, products, and/or static pages. The cost increases by the number of unique designs that are needed to display the content. Example: A small business website that has several pages for project examples, services provided, and careers.
  • $10,000 to $20,000 – This range fits websites that have a large library of content, a large product catalog, or combination of both. Usually, these sites require multiple steps along the digital path to convert a user. Example: A manufacturer that has thousands of miscellaneous widgets that can be sorted, numerous product details, and a resource library.
  • $20,000+ – Enterprise class websites generally require a lot of effort to create a seamless user-experience. Fees that reach this level are usually for websites that have a massive library of pages, products, and/or functionality. Example: An online retailer with a broad array of unique products that can be searched and filtered and purchased, requiring e-commerce functionality.

It’s important to consider the goals of your website and your competitive landscape when planning the design. For some, a design can be simple while others need a lot of design elements to stay competitive.

Content Management System (CMS) and Hosting

In a perfect world, an organization wouldn’t consider a CMS and hosting until the content and design is complete. This is because content and design help define the selection of the best CMS and hosting platforms. But the world isn’t perfect and, often, the CMS and host are considered well before a digital strategy is started.

There are thousands of platforms available today that fit varying degrees of marketing budgets. Everyone has heard of Squarespace, Wix, and GoDaddy because of their ads, but that doesn’t mean they’re best for your implementation.

The optimal approach is to take your content and functionality needs and compare them to what the CMS and host platforms offer. Some may have all that’s needed right out of the box while others need a developer to add functionality.

Be mindful of your needs and ignore the flashy bells and whistles.

How Much Should a CMS and Host Cost?

The answer varies based on need. This is where your content, functionality needs, and your technical abilities all come together to define the best option.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • Open-Source CMS – Many popular CMS options are open-source, meaning they’re free to use, modify, and distribute. Examples include WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. While the core software is free, you might incur costs for:
    • Hosting: You'll need to pay for website hosting services, which can vary dramatically in price. A rule of thumb to consider is that a good host should cost more than $20 per month. Anything less and you’re asking for major problems down the road.
    • Themes and Plugins: While there are many free themes and plugins available, the best supported ones have a premium (paid) version that offer greater support. Costs vary based on the theme or plugin, but expect to pay anywhere between $20 to $100 per year for a plugin license.
  • Commercial CMS – Some CMS options are proprietary or commercial, meaning you need to purchase a license or subscription fee to use them. Examples include Adobe Experience Manager, Sitecore, Kentico, and Northwoods’ own Titan CMS. Costs for a proprietary CMS can include:
    • License Fees: Proprietary CMS typically require an upfront license fee, and sometimes ongoing subscription fees. The costs can vary significantly based on the CMS and the level of features you need. For example, Titan CMS has a $3,500 one-time license fee.
    • Hosting: Like open-source CMS, you'll need to pay for hosting services. Typically, hosting a commercial CMS is closer to $100 per month.
    • Support and Maintenance: Commercial CMS often include support and maintenance packages, which can incur an ongoing cost, ranging from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Your online presence is often a prospect’s first experience with your organization. You want it to be a great introduction to what you do or sell.

Don’t skimp on spending on a digital strategy. The more data you collect, the more likely you are to develop a site that connects with users and drives conversions. A digital strategy also presents the greatest opportunity for a return on the overall investment in your online presence.

Find the right functionality and platform to match the needs of your users and website. Don’t fall for advertising hype or shiny objects in vendor demos. Keep sharp focus on what your digital strategy recommends and find the best tools to meet your needs.

The digital strategy should remain your guide when building or improving your site. Factor in requirements your industry demands and work to meet them with content that’s strategic and easy to find and read.

Finally, greatness rarely comes at a bargain. Prepare your organization to budget properly and stay focused on your end goals to get the greatest return from your efforts.

If you’re thinking about a website redesign or need to build a brand new website for your business, our team of experienced digital strategists will help you develop an effective strategy to successfully guide your entire project. Contact us for more information or to get started!