Let me start by saying this is a loaded question. The real answer is that your website can cost as much or as little as you want or need it to. I've built websites for around $1,500 and I've built websites that have cost upwards of $250,000.

So what is the difference between a $1,500 website and a $250,000 website? In general, the $1,500 website is a "set it and forget it" down-and-dirty, DIY site. You need somebody to get you started with a mobile-first responsive design on a CMS platform like WordPress and you're asking us to hand over the keys as soon as we're done. These projects are rare for us because we simply don't believe in them. You're wasting $1,500 instead of investing $4,000.

The $250,000 website is the mission-critical, "runs-your-entire-business" website. This is a site that does deep-dive analytics, segments your customers into cohorts, markets to those cohorts individually, maximizes lead conversions, automates processes, does in-depth reporting, and most likely is a part (if not all) of your product offering.

Great, so we've covered the extreme ends of the spectrum (in reality, you could get someone to do something for you for as little as a few hundred dollars - I've seen it, don't - and there are companies like Facebook who spend billions of dollars a year on their platform), but where does that leave you?

When thinking about your website cost, pay attention to where those fees are going. The single most important aspect to your website is regular maintenance. I have a lot of customers that resist maintenance when they first see the line item on the proposal, but my advice is if you had to pick between a maintenance plan spread out over a year or two and a one-time up-front development effort to deliver you a brand new website in a few weeks, take the maintenance plan. Everything from SEO (search engine optimization) to your customers' view of your brand is highly dependent on how often your website is updated. A website designer or developer that doesn't offer to maintain your website on a regular basis whether you ask them to or not isn't doing you any favors.

A good maintenance plan should cost you at least a few hundred dollars per month, and depending on the size of your business and how much you want someone to do for you, upwards of five to 10-thousand dollars a month. For example, we have options that range from $250 a month for small businesses, up to $8,000 per month to manage all of the content marketing efforts of a medium-sized business.

As far as up-front fees are concerned, expect to pay at least $3,500 for a basic informational website that's designed to be mobile-first and responsive. If you're unfamiliar with the terminology, mobile-first means the website is designed for the smallest screen first (it's the hardest to get right), and then responds accordingly to larger screen sizes. This means you only need one website and one code-base to drive your site across the broad range of devices being used to access your website. That should get you a well-built, well-designed website that's optimized for search engines and offers a basic set of features like a contact form.

If your needs are a little greater and you need something a little more custom, your costs can start to vary greatly depending on your specific requirements. This is when it becomes important to work with a developer that can analyze your requirements and determine the best approach to your project. In general, expect any custom functionality that requires interaction with a database (media sites, inventory management, customer information capture, reporting, etc.) to at least double your up-front costs. In these cases, plan $10,000 as a good starting figure.

As for what an ecommerce website costs, that's another animal altogether.

Photo: Flickr | photosteve101

Chris Searles is President of Searles Media and specializes in helping small businesses maximize their available resources to market themselves effectively using a wide variety of media. Visit Website

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