How do web designers determine their pricing - Akamai Websites

How do web designers determine their pricing?

TL;DR Summary: In order to understand how much your website will cost, you should understand the five variables that go into a web designer’s calculations.


There is no other question web designers are asked that comes with as many looks of concern as “how much does a website cost?

The reason this question comes with so much anxiety has nothing to do with whether or not websites are expensive.  It is because nobody knows how much they are supposed to cost.

There is a lot of conflicting information about how much someone should pay for a website.  Plus there is a large knowledge gap about what actually goes into designing a website.

Today we’re going to look at the factors that go in to the costs of website design services, and provide context to help you make the best decisions for your future website investment.

And we’re going to start with something that will probably be a little disheartening.  In fact, it is how this whole situation came about.

There are no standard rates for web design

That’s right.  Part of the problem is that there is no established rate card for web design services. Each web designer you talk to has a different method for determining the amount they charge.

That can be frustrating for you because of the conflicting information floating around.  Advertisements from Weebly, Wix, GoDaddy or Squarespace would have you believe that you can have a beautiful website up and running for almost no cost.

But when you talk to a web designer or agency, you might get quotes that range from several hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

If a website is a website is a website, then why so much variation in pricing, and how do you know which is right for you?

A Lack of Understanding

Part of the problem is that the general public doesn’t really know what a website is in the first place.  Of course, we covered that in a previous post so you already know what you’re getting.

Many also don’t understand the web design process is, or have inaccurate assumptions about how websites are built.  Again, we gave you a look at common web design myths and a detailed look at the web design process, so you shouldn’t have that problem.

We’re going to talk about DIY (Do It Yourself) web design solutions like Wix, Weebly and Squarespace in a future post, but for now let’s address the cost of web design services from a web designer or agency (like Akamai Websites).

To better understand the costs, it’s important to understand the variables that go into each web designer’s pricing calculation.  In fact, there are five variables that have the biggest impact, so let’s tackle one at a time and see if we can’t shed some light on all of this.

Variable #1: Overhead

How much should a website cost - Overhead - Akamai Websites
How much of that conference table are you paying for?

Probably the biggest influence on a web designer’s costs is the amount they have to pay to keep the lights on, also known as their “overhead”.

These are things like rent, taxes, insurance, utilities, equipment, professional services, professional organization membership and more.  Here are a few questions worth asking to evaluate potential costs related to a web designer’s overhead:

  • Do they work in an office, their home, a co-working space or somewhere else?
  • Do they have any employees or do they work by themselves?
  • Are they incorporated, an LLC or a sole proprietor?
  • What is their computer set up?  (A more complex set up might mean higher costs)

Variable #2: Technology

How much should a website cost - Technology - Akamai Websites
Is it custom-built or open-source?

Technology contributes to the costs of a website in two ways:

First: the costs for specific technologies.  These can be things like premium themes, plugins, 3rd party technology integrations, plus software licensing renewals.  Each designer has different tools in their toolkit, each influencing the cost of building your site.

Second, the costs for long-term technologies. For example, whether they build a custom website from scratch, or uses pre-existing software, affects future costs for maintenance and upkeep of your website.

Here are some questions to ask yourself or your potential designer to help you understand these costs:

  • Will the designer be utilizing new, untested technology?  Or is it technology and software they have already had success with?
  • Do they use pre-existing software or build their websites from scratch?
  • What software licenses will you need to renew in the future?

One great way to get an idea of costs is to take a look at the website howmuchdoesawebsiteco.st.  This website shares the results of a survey of over 30,000 successful web design projects and calculates the average costs for the implementation of various website technologies.  It is interesting and, for many people, quite an eye-opener.

Variable #3: Service

How much should a website cost - Service - Akamai Websites
Will you feel special, or is it another McAgency?

There are a couple things that influence costs related to service.

First, how much collaboration is there?  Do they have regular check-ins and communicate with you every step of the way, or are they more of a “set it and forget it” service provider?

Second, how many other projects are they working on at a given time?  This influences both the level of service you receive, as well as the amount you contribute to the web designer’s income statement.

Said another way, if you are the only client a web designer works with, then you are a bigger share of their income and that can reflect their pricing. Or, if you are one of a dozen clients, then the designer is not as reliant on you for their longevity and that might affect what they charge.

Finally, the level of service you receive after the website launches can be important to think about.  These are things like training for your team, maintenance or changes that can be made after the website launches, and much more.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • When and how often will your designer meet with you to discuss the project?
  • How many other clients does your designer have at a given time?
  • What number of employees does the web designer or agency have, and how many of them will be working on your project?
  • Will they train you and your team on how to use your website?
  • Do they provide supplemental support after the website launches?

Variable #4: Experience

How much should a website cost - Experience - Akamai Websites
What sort of things have they seen in their life as a designer?

A web designer’s experience not only contributes to the cost of your website but also in the speed and ease with which it is built.

Sure, a website built by someone who just came out of school or who taught themselves web design a year ago might be cheaper.  But the decisions made by designers with less experience incur hidden costs down the line.

We’ve often seen situations where a less expensive web designer made a critical mistake due to their lack of experience.  It ended up costing the client much more down the line when it had to be fixed.

Also related to experience is understanding their “web designer type”. If you haven’t seen our article on the different types of web designers be sure to read it since it provides an understanding of the various skill sets they may or may not bring to the table.

Here are some more questions to help you make a decision:

  • How long have they been making websites, both as part of a team or for private clients?
  • What is their philosophy on working with clients?
  • Have they ever built the type of website that you want to make?  How did they approach that project and how will they approach yours?
  • What type of web designer are they and how are they able to fill in any knowledge gaps they may have?

Variable #5: Perception

How much should a website cost - Perception - Akamai Websites
How does your web designer view their place in the world?

Perception is a tricky thing to evaluate.  Primarily because it is related to the feeling a web designer has about their value in the marketplace.  It is also about the perception of their value by potential clients as well as other people in the market, including their peers.

Self-perception for a web designer dictates whether or not they understand the worth of their skills.  A web designer who is confident in their ability to provide great service and ensure results for a client will probably be more inclined to raise their prices.

It is also about whether the web designer can communicate their value to potential clients.  This isn’t done just through obvious things like testimonials or a portfolio, but also in how they present themselves and communicate their ideas.

In any industry, there are the well-known quasi-celebrities.  Web design is no exception.  It will cost more to work with a web designer who is considered by other web designers to be the top of their field.  For example, if you wanted to hire a tailor down the street to make a suit for you, it’s going to cost a lot less than if you hired Tommy Hilfiger to make you a suit.

Some questions to think about:

  • What does the web designer consider to be their “super power”?  How are they unique in the marketplace?
  • Have they won any accolades in their industry, or received any awards?
  • Do they contribute to the web design community through blogs, podcasts or videos?
  • If they could work with any web designer, who would it be?  And why?

Important Paradigm Shifts

Here are a few other things to keep in mind as you make your decision:

A website is an investment

We’ve said this before, but it is important to view a website not as a product, but as an investment in your business.  Imagine you’re actually hiring an employee, rather than buying a computer.  Your website is essentially another member of your team and it will give back to you if you invest your time and money the right way.

A web designer is a collaborator

We’ve said this before too, but you aren’t just paying for someone to do a service, you are finding a partner to collaborate with you to build a specific solution. Using food as an analogy, this isn’t someone just cooking a meal, but it is a professional chef that is helping you develop a menu for your restaurant.

What to do first?  Start with a budget

How much should a website cost - Budget - Akamai Websites
What sort of website and web designer can you afford?

Now that you know the variables which contribute to the cost of a website what should you do?

The first recommendation is to determine your budget and investment for your website.  A website should be a specifically budgeted line item, like planning for a trip.  Figure out what it will cost to take the type of trip you want to take.

There are three steps to this:

  1. Determine your needs: What sort of website do you and your business need?  Technology?  Features?  Design?
  2. Determine your budget: How much can you afford to pay for your website? Both short term and down the line after it launches.
  3. Determine your viability: Does your budgeted investment cover your needs?
    1. If yes, then find a good designer
    2. If no, then either increase your budget or decrease your needs

But wait, what should it cost?

You probably started this article thinking you would get a specific idea of how much your web design project should cost.  Well, the bad news is that any web designer worth their salt can’t give you a specific number unless they’ve had a chance to speak with you, learn about your needs, and come up with a game plan.

A true website solution (and not just a website product) isn’t cookie-cutter.  It is customized to you and your needs.

Using the familiar analogy of a house, if you were going to have a custom house built, then the type of house you have built will depend on a lot of individual factors.  The number of rooms, the location, the type of furniture, and many other things.  All of these change the price you pay.  Any home builder that quotes you a price without knowing what you need is probably not really listening to you, and the same goes for web designers.

Gaining clarity

At the end of the day, speak with at least two or three web designers (if not a lot more), explain your needs, and find one that listens to you, fits your budget and provides great service.

One of the things we at Akamai Websites do with all prospective clients is to have them fill out a client application.  These questions are designed both to help us better understand our client’s needs and to help the client ask themselves the important questions that will provide necessary clarity on how to move forward.

Afterwards, clients receive a copy of their responses, so if you’d like to gain clarity and perspective on your website project just click here and you can get started. Even if you don’t utilize our services we think you’ll find it useful.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or would like to know more about the web design process, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

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2 thoughts on “How do web designers determine their pricing?

    • Thanks Wilson! I’m glad you are finding value from the information on the website. Hope to see you around the islands before too long. I need to get myself to Maui one of these days. 🙂

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