The Hidden Costs of Building a Website

By Milo Cruz | Last Updated: July 10, 2018


How Much Does a Website Really Cost?

Most website builder services will tell you that you can have a website up in a flash. Sure, there’s nobody stopping you from launching a site in five minutes. But it takes a lot more than speed to get a truly amazing website.

Don’t underestimate how much time, effort, and money you’ll need for a successful online business. From vital site-building resources to maintenance essentials, there are costs at every stage of your site’s life cycle.

Luckily, we’ve rounded up the most common ones you should prepare for.


Domains and Web Hosting

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It’s easy to assume that you can set up a professional site for absolutely zero cost. After all, aren’t there tons of free website builders out there?

In truth, that’s never the case. Most “free” hosting services will only give you a subdomain (e.g., “”), and many free website builders will still need you to purchase hosting if you want your creation to actually go live.

For a good, professional first impression, you’ll need your own domain. The good news: there’s plenty of reliable domain name registrars out there. Getting a domain name will set you back around $10-15 a year on average. (RELATED: Here’s how to pick the best domain registrar for you.)

Meanwhile, expect to pay anywhere from $4-15 a month for web hosting.

You’ll see higher prices for options like VPS or dedicated servers if you need some extra punch from your hosting plan. Most of the time, lower-end shared hosting plans will work just fine. But if you’re planning to run a media-intensive site or you expect lots of traffic, consider putting down a few extra dollars for the added resources of VPS or dedicated hosting.

Premium Designs

Do you have stellar coding and design skills? (Here are great web design resources if you’d like to brush up.)

If not, you’ll have to pay for great website design, one way or another.

If branding and functionality are some of your top concerns and you’ve got several thousand dollars to spare, you can hire a professional website designer.

Otherwise, you can check out one of the many website builders available today.

Website builders come in offline (installed software) or online forms. As for cost, options run anywhere from free to a couple of hundred dollars.

Most website builders use WYSIWYG or similar code-independent interfaces. You’ll also get galleries of pre-made themes and templates that you can modify as needed. Some will charge extra for more extensive customization options or more elaborate themes — be sure to factor that in if you’re aiming for a completely off-the-wall website design.

Extended Functionality

Illustration of multiple productivity tools like smartphone, laptop, and file folders

Most sites only need standard elements like an “About” page, a blog, a contact form, or a calendar. Most website builders can help you create those without breaking a sweat.

For adding functions like music streaming, your own dedicated online store and catalog, and more, though, you’ll need more. Top website builders offer additional widgets and/or integrations with established services like Shopify (e-commerce), Instagram and Flickr (photos), Spotify and Soundcloud (music streaming), and more.

The best and most cost-effective website builders will give you access to a varied selection of useful widgets or modules free of charge.

However, some are just as likely to make you paying extra for premium widgets — sometimes even with separate fees per widget.

Of course, each website will have its own set of needed features. It’s up to you to check if your chosen builder will get you what you need without breaking the bank. Whichever builder you use, though, it’s best to budget for any bells and whistles you might want to include.


Illustration of laptop surrounded by devices with a lock and password code onscreen

So you’ve launched your site. What now?

First, you need to make sure it stays up and running.

Security is a big factor in any site’s longevity, and that means you’ll need to shell out some money for adequate, if not great, security coverage. Some web hosts promise you security measures like proactive network screening and regular data backups. If your site is the heart of your business, though, it’s best to add extensive security of your own.

Dedicated SSL certificates, reliable malware and virus scanning services, automatic and comprehensive data backups, and more will cost you at least $100 a year. That might look a bit daunting, especially if you’re a micro-business owner with a limited budget, but trust me: your peace of mind is more than worth it.

System Management and Updates

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The work of a website doesn’t end on launch day.

For top-notch performance and security, you need to keep your site up-to-date. That means upkeep like:

  • upgrading to the latest version of your system (e.g., installing the most recent WordPress or Drupal version)
  • updating your widgets
  • sprucing up or streamlining your design from time to time

Basically, you have to keep retooling everything to fit the evolving needs of your target market.

It’s a lot of work, but most of the time your web host or a separate service can shoulder those tasks for a fee.

Managed hosting services can be a lifesaver if you’ve simply got too much on your plate (and too little available manpower). However, expect to pay anywhere from $20-100+ if you spring for these conveniences.

Alternatively, you can do it all yourself. (Not sure how websites even work? Here’s a beginner’s guide.) Depending on the specific system or widget, though, you might need to pay extra to upgrade, troubleshoot, or replace various elements of your website and hosting.

Marketing and SEO

Illustration of different aspects of SEO

Visitors are your site’s lifeblood. You’ll want as many as possible finding their way to you.

Consider purchasing ad credits, putting out ads, and investing in SEO to boost your site’s visibility. (If you’re not sure where to start, check out our guide to SEO.)

Some web hosts will include some ad credits for free, but you’ll no doubt need more than just that initial burst. Be prepared to dedicate a sizable chunk of your budget to advertising and marketing.

It’s Not Just About the Money

We’ve been discussing dollar amounts so far, but there’s another major cost that you should take into account: time.

From refining your core concept to performing day-to-day maintenance, you’ll be sinking a lot of hours into your website. Not only does that eat up your available time, but it can spell significant opportunity costs as well.

After all, every hour you spend editing your template is an hour you can’t spend on other tasks like marketing or content creation.

Here are the most common time-sinks you’ll encounter:

Initial Design and Development

Hashing out the core details of your website–from concept to branding to type of content–can save you a lot of trial and error in the long run.

However, nailing that idea requires hours upon hours of its own, too. Even something as basic as figuring out how you want your site to look can take a lot of time.

Content Creation and Collation

Your site has to contain something. People aren’t going to flock to a virtual wasteland.

It takes time and effort to create the kind of content that captures people’s interest, though — and it doesn’t end there. Even the mundane task of putting all of that brilliant content onto your website will take more time than you’d expect.

Creating webpages for articles, creating or sorting into appropriate categories, applying the right metadata for SEO and site organization, and more are all part and parcel of producing content worth visiting.

Site Testing

Visitors won’t have patience for a site that doesn’t display or load correctly. It’s imperative that your website works well on all possible devices and browser types.

The only way to make sure of that is to do some testing of your own. You won’t get everything right the first time, though. Get ready for a potentially long process of visiting your site on Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, IE, and more. You might be jotting down bugs, retooling your site’s innards for a fix, or checking on multiple browsers — whatever it takes to get your site working just the way it should.

Marketing and Search Engine Optimization

The best site is useless if people can’t find it (or don’t even know what it is).

Visibility is a big part of your site’s success (or failure). Aside from the financial costs, though, you’ll also have to tally the time it takes to actually craft and execute your SEO strategy.

Of course, this matters less for personal sites and similar projects that don’t need to bring in a consistent stream of visitors.

Website Maintenance

There are a lot of tasks, small and otherwise, that go into keeping your website updated. If you choose to go the DIY route, these will take up an even bigger chunk of your time.

You don’t want to get so bogged down by site maintenance that you neglect other important factors in keeping your site afloat.

Do You Need to Cover Everything?

The short answer: yes and no.

How much time, effort, and money you put into building and running your website depends on what you want to accomplish.

An online store might measure its success in the number of unique visitors and product sales it registers per month. Meanwhile, a personal blog might aim mostly to have new content available every day. Web hosting is absolutely essential, but beyond that, a successful expense profile can take many forms.

In the end, it’s not about covering a particular set of bases. It’s about plotting your priority expenses in a way that best fits the goals you’ve set for your website.