What’s the difference between a $500 website and a $5000 website?

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why do websites vary in cost so much?

If you’ve ever googled “how much does a website cost” you probably noticed that there’s a huge price range. Why does one designer charge $500 when another charges, for example, $5000? You might be thinking “For $5000, that web designer better wash and fold my laundry and change my oil while she’s at it.”

Fair enough! Not everyone is in the market for a website that costs thousands. But if you’re in the market for a website that will be a critical piece of your business– and in 2021, that’s more of you than it used to be– you may want to consider what you’re really paying for. As they say, if you buy cheap, you buy twice.

Read on to get the skinny on what the difference is between a $500 website vs a $5k website.

Someone who charges $500 for a website might not have the skills to deliver what they promise.

There’s a very, very low bar for calling yourself a web designer– all you need is a laptop and an internet connection.
No license, no certifications, no industry-standard classes to take. There’s also a mindset of “fake it till you make it.”

Some coaches and course instructors, who have ditched building websites in favor of teaching others to build websites, encourage students to begin taking on projects that may be outside their current skill level. The idea is to build the skills on the job.

Is this a really good way to learn? Actually, uh, yeah. And it’s how I learned (minus the part about a coach. My learning was via books, blogs, and reverse engineering other people’s websites and then applying that to building websites for family friends and acquaintances). But at the same time, all those websites I learned to build on the job have been rebuilt since then, because even for their time, they weren’t professionally built sites. I would die of embarrassment to have anyone see them today. Fortunately, they’ve all been lost to the sands of time, and like I said, they’ve been rebuilt (mostly by me!)

A $500 website may be delivered much later than you agreed on.

One of the last skills most web designers cultivate is often how to estimate how long a project will take. It might be because they don’t yet know how they will actually build it, and may underestimate how long it will take to learn the necessary skills and implement them.

Another critical skill that comes with experience is guiding you, the website buyer, through the process of what elements your website actually needs. So a $500 website might get delivered and turn out to be missing key features or just look a lot different than you thought it would– discouraging both of you, and causing the project to be delayed even further. Sometimes the delays stretch into many months! Can your business handle that delay? Or would it cost you potentially thousands in lost revenue?

That $500 website may end up costing you more than you bargained.

Because of the aforementioned potential delays and communication problems, a web design project bid at $500 may incur more costs to fill in extra features, pages, or design elements that crop up later in the project. Many designers, especially newer ones but also designers from parts of the world with much lower standard pay rates, charge projects by the hour and you may find yourself receiving additional invoices.

Is that fair? That’s between you and the designer; it’s very fact-specific and each project and relationship is different. But any recourse may be more trouble than it’s worth, especially if the money has already been exchanged.

By contrast to all the above, here’s what you’re paying for if you get a (for example) $5K website, or one in that range, from a professional:

  • The security of knowing this isn’t the designer’s first website– you’re not paying for them to learn how to build a website. They’ve got a portfolio full of happy customers.
  • The experience to know and explain fully how long your project will take, and clearly outline what will be delivered at the end of that timeline.
  • The expertise to deliver all the features that will help grow your business, including SEO, best practices for accessibility, speedy performance, and results-focused design and copy.
Kelsey Barmettler headshot

Kelsey Barmettler

I'm a web designer near Tucson, AZ and I write these articles to help business owners (including my clients) be more informed and empowered about their websites.