Why Do Website Development Costs Vary Widely?

Nothing can be more confusing or frustrating for a client than website development costs and quotes that vary widely for the same or very similar projects. Below, I try to explain some of the reasons, pitfalls, and what to do about them.

While no two websites are alike, in our experience 70% of small to medium business websites are reasonably alike. The prevalence of great software development platforms, content management systems, and open source software components should make the job of pricing, designing and delivering a website really straightforward. However that doesn’t seem to be the case in the market today.


There are many reasons for that discrepancy.  Below is a list of the most common and important ones:

  1. They Will Charge What They Can Get. Unfortunately some developers will charge whatever they believe the client is ready to pay.  This form of non transparent pricing borders of cheating as different people may end up paying different prices for the same product.
  2. 3rd World Development Locations. To add to the complexity there are many entrants into the market from cheaper development locations such as India and Pakistan who can provide somewhat of a reasonable product at much lower prices, although quality is questionable and not always consistent.  Also commitment to copyright and licensing laws may not be there since they are operating outside of the U.S. or Canadian jurisdiction.
  3. Pricing Strategy. The different quotes can also be due to different pricing strategies.  Many developers under cut the initial prices on hopes of charging more for later projects.
  4. Incomplete Requirements.  In many cases the client and developer don’t do their homework to probe the business requirements of the website and end up with a misunderstanding of what is to be delivered.  This should be the first step of any interaction and before prices are discussed.
  5. Not All Websites Are Equal.  The part of the website that is visible in your browser is around 30% of the programming of the website.  The rest is hidden in the platform, theme, plugins, security, performance optimization, and search engine optimization.  It is important to make sure those are done properly.  If you get a very low quote for your website it is important to understand why?  Is the developer going to do those things or not?
  6. Improper licensing.  It is unfortunate, but many developers out there do not respect software licensing laws.  The problem is that when those firms go under, the client will be stuck with the legal consequences.
  7. Developer Is Not Charging Enough.  Many developers do not charge enough for their products and services in the hopes of attracting the bottom end of the market.  The problem with that is that these firms will typically not last long and will go under very quickly leaving the client with a website that is either incomplete, doesn’t work, or can’t be maintained.

So What to do?

As a client it is important to make sure that you work with a reliable and long term partner.  A business website is rarely a static website that will be designed once and then forgotten.  A website is a living project that requires constant maintenance, software upgrades, software updates, security reviews, and reliable support.  It is important to resist the temptation to go with developers who under charge, or over charge.  During your research of potential partners you should at least do the following:

  1. Nail down your requirements.  Before approaching any website development firms it is important to understand your own business objectives. Why do you want a website? Who is your audience? Who are your main competitors?
  2. Know your budget.  A simple, static 5 page website should never cost over $1500. That should include at least 1 year of support, 1 year of hosting, documentation, training, and some basic online marketing.
  3. Digital Marketing. A website is one thing.  You need to understand how you will market your website.  Is it going to be content heavy?  Will you use social media?  You should try to find a partner that will help you answer those questions.  Typically for digital marketing if you are a B2C we highly recommend Facebook advertising, for B2C we recommend targeted Linkedin advertising.
  4. Mobile Applications. Do you need a mobile application? Typically NO, as long as your website is designed in a responsive way.
  5. Ask Questions.  Lots of Questions.  As the developer about their previous work, platforms they use, details of the product they will design, how do they design it, will  you get input into the design?  Will they host your website?  How will they support you?  Ask them for a real customer reference to talk to.  A good developer will go out of their way to educate you even if you didn’t make a commitment to purchase from them.  You will be able to tell if all they are interested in is your money, not you as a long term client.
  6. Know Your Payment Terms.  A good development company will never charge you over 20% before the completion of the project.  At PalGeek we have flexible payment terms, and in many instances we don’t charge anything before the project completes.  However, to be fair, we do understand the apprehension of the smaller development firms from taking such risks.

To help you understand the components of a good business websites, and more questions to ask we have developed the below list.

  1. A good business website will use a known and proven content management system such as WordPress.
  2. You will need to have a premium, high quality, secure, responsive, and current theme.
  3. At least 1 year of premium hosting with a reputable hosting company.
  4. At least 1 year of support (PalGeek offers lifetime support.  Take that for quality commitment!)
  5. Search Engine Optimization setup and programming.
  6. Google search Console setup and programming.
  7. Google Analytics Setup and programming.
  8. Multiple security levels (includes a firewall, network level security and site level security).
  9. Properly purchased software licenses.
  10. Properly purchased stock images.
  11. Documentation.
  12. Training.

Hope this helps!

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