How Much Should a Web Design Cost?

The almighty dollar

Every week, I get emails from potential clients who all want to know one thing: How much for a design?

Nine times out of ten, my answer causes them to run for the hills. Scary thing is, based on industry buzz, my prices could actually be considered totally reasonable by comparison. Don’t believe me? Well, today you get the whole scoop—my prices, their prices, and my always-priceless editorial commentary on the subject :-)

My Prices

For the sake of argument, I’m going to constrain today’s post to blog design only.

When people email me and ask for a quote, I always follow the same process. I visit their current site and determine the following:

  • The current CMS platform (WordPress, MovableType, Drupal, etc.)
  • The scope of the site – how many unique styling elements will be required for specialty pages?
  • The perceived complexity of the re-design. Does this person want a graphical masterpiece with all kinds of bells and whistles?

Generally speaking, there’s not a whole lot of variance in these areas from blog to blog, so after checking out the site in question, I usually have a good idea of how much to charge. Now, to answer the question you all want to hear…How much is all this gonna run ya?

At this time, blog designs start at $1500. This price is for a blog that has minimal graphical complexity, no customized icons, and no logo production. What you do get at this price is rock-solid, hand-crafted, browser-tested CSS, XHTML, and simple (but striking) graphic design.

In most cases, bells and whistles like plugin support, unique page designs, and extra graphics push the price up into the $1800-$2000 range. From there, the price is largely dictated by page-specific CSS/XHTML production and custom graphic design. It’s totally conceivable that a pimped out blog could run as much as $3000. Rest assured, though, that it would be totally badass, and the recipient of the design would receive mad props for having such a killer online abode.

Their Prices

Based on my experience, I have reason to believe that about 90% of you who just saw my prices thought, “Gosh, that’s awfully expensive!”

Well, you’re right, but actually, you’re wrong too.

You’re right because $1800 is a decent chunk of change – for an individual. You’re wrong because companies throw this kind of bread around all the time. They do so because they understand that crafting a brand holds a value that is oftentimes hard to measure in dollars and cents alone. On top of that, companies typically have a monetary objective behind the launch of a new design, so to them, there’s a foreseeable payoff. Individuals, on the other hand, are oftentimes unable to see things in such a positive light. Let’s face it – most people don’t make a sustainable (or even decent) income off of their blog.

Everybody wants a killer design, especially after seeing one that they lust over. Problem is, nobody wants to pay for it.

At this year’s SXSW, I attended a very informative roundtable discussion that focused on – what else? – blog design. Naturally, the hottest topic of discussion was pricing, and the panelists freely gave out information regarding not only their prices, but also some info regarding industry pricing trends.

For instance, a company called The Blog Studio charges $3000-$5000 for a blog design. Some people thought this was quite high, but Peter (who runs TBS) was cool enough to break things down into their individual elements to explain pricing more thoroughly. It’s been nearly three months since SXSW, so I’ll try and rehash things as best I can here. The major elements of blog design include:

  • Graphical comps produced in Photoshop
  • Graphical splicing for optimal CSS/XHTML structure
  • CSS/XHTML production in standards-compliant fashion
  • Unique CSS/XHTML adaptation to CMS platform of choice
  • Bell-and-whistle functionality to meet client requirements

All of the steps highlighted above require a certain degree of expertise to be completed in professional fashion. Unfortunately, people who want designs are oftentimes unfamiliar with the amount of knowledge required to pull all this off in seamless fashion. Sometimes I think people see a design and think it’s all just a matter of applying a “look” to stuff that’s already there. In reality, that’s basically what’s going on. In practice, however, things are intensely more complicated.

And this is why you hire a professional.

Another person on the panel at the SXSW design discussion was the female member of a husband and wife design team. While I don’t remember her name, I certainly remember what she said about blog pricing. $2500 and up, and this “just really begins to cover the actual time investment” required to deliver a complete, robust design.

Want another example? Javier Cabrera, a talented designer who’s responsible for some really great stuff, charges $2500 as a base price.

How’s my $1800 price tag sound now? Looks to me like I need to raise my prices :-)

Watch out for that curveball!

People like surprises. Unfortunately, when those surprises include a hefty price tag, people hate them.

Here’s why professional web designs are the curveballs of the site construction process. Well, hey, let’s look at the process first:

  1. Buy a domain name: $10
  2. Buy a hosting package: $60/yr. with two years prepaid – $120
  3. You set everything up, and then you realize you need a design because your site currently looks like 50,000 others out there. Whoops.

The problem here is that when setting up a new site, newbies often think, “$10 for a domain? Awesome, let’s get started!”

Next, they get hit with the reality of hosting fees, and while they’re a little bummed about having to pre-pay for two years in order to lock in that great price of $5.50/mo., they go ahead and kick down $100-$200 to set up their hosting.

Their tab is already up around $200, and now they’re beginning to wonder if this web stuff is all it’s cracked up to be.

Unfortunately, they get hit with a wicked case of design lust while browsing and getting acquainted with the blogosphere, and now they really want a hot design. “Shouldn’t cost too much, right? After all, look at all those cool designs out there!”

And then BAM! They get slapped with the reality that a wicked design is going to cost them $1500+, and they totally reject the idea, especially since the hosting fees were already a tough pill to swallow.

Talk about your curveballs.

Case study: my clients

My clients all have one thing in common. They have a concrete, business-based reason for hiring me to design them a killer site. Thus far, there have been no exceptions to this rule. All of my clients are doing one of the following:

  • Using their site to sell a product
  • Building a subscription list for marketing purposes
  • Building links and increasing exposure to help with ad/referral conversion

Based on this information, I think it’s fair to conclude that professional designs are really only open to the following people:

  • Those with a plan
  • Those with a lot of money

I never really thought of it this way until this morning, but it’s definitely true. Professional blog designs are a luxury item. Look at it like this: plenty of businesses buy 60″ HD TV’s for their stores and displays, but only individual consumers who have money and really want a big, bad TV would ever actually kick down and buy one.

Did you know?

I make software you can use to run a blazing-fast website (like this one).

Check out the Focus WordPress Theme to see how you can run a fast website that delights your visitors, ranks like crazy, and is easy to manage.