Comparing apples and oranges

Your options for a modern website

If you’re the owner of an established business, or just getting started, pricing out a website for your business can be an exercise in frustration. The lack of tangible inputs allows you to purchase ‘a website’ for little more than free on the low-end, or tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on the high-end. How can the cost of a website for the same business vary so widely? In almost every case, the difference is time.

What does a modern website do?

Your website is your #1 marketing asset -- it sits at the center of everything else you do. Whether you are a bricks and mortar business, or you operate online, your customers are looking for your website to learn more about you.

A modern website sits at the centre of a broader marketing strategy. The work you do to grow awareness of your company should all point people back to your website, and your website should in-turn help to sell your company for you. You might not be able to fit your pitch onto your business card or an instagram photo, but you have the opportunity on a website to tell a nuanced and captivating story about what sets your company apart.

Social media has enjoyed a lot of fan-fare in the past several years. You might wonder if you still need a website with Twitter, Linkedin, and Instagram as new channels for communication. We see these services as useful additions to a website, but never a replacement for it. Their strengths as communication tools are also their weakness when contrasted against a website. They are ephemeral - a website is permanent, they are generic - a website reinforces your brand, and they are largely out of your control - where as you have complete control over your own website.

Our recommendation is to use these services to grow awareness, to interact with your customers as appropriate, and to bring traffic back to your website for the fully branded experience of your company.

What's behind the wide range in prices for a website?

You know the saying: “Time is money”. Well the constant factor in any web project is time. How much time you're paying for, and the quality of that time, plays a major role in the final price of any project. In the marketplace you'll find a full spectrum of price-points roughly coinciding with the time spent on the project.

Optimization is the key to increased productivity and to being competitive in business. Many clever business-people have figured out how to optimize most of the time out of the equation when delivering a website. These companies sell you a "design product" rather than a "design service", and they give you something tangible at a rock bottom price, or even for free. This seems like a compelling offer for some businesses, but in selecting the pre-made solution, businesses give up the opportunity of gaining a competitive edge over their competition that comes from true design work. Further, with any optimization you give up flexibility. If that pre-made solution doesn't fit your needs exactly, you may end up paying more to adapt it than you would to just build from scratch.

What are my options?

In the text below, I've outlined a few of the options available when you're looking for a new website. This behind the scenes look will give you some information to better judge the value you receive in each case, and to determine what's right for your business.


Examples of freemium offers include: Facebook, Tumblr, Blogger, Squarespace,, Wix, Shopify.

The business model of the Freemium tier is to make it very easy to buy, and very difficult to leave. The freemium providers invest a great deal in advertising and promotions in order to attract new customers to their service. Their cost to deliver is virtually nil, so they want as much business as they can get. Once you're in, however, they sell you additional services at inflated prices. Did you want to know if anyone visited your website? $5/mo. Did you want a product page? $5/mo, Did you want your website to load faster? $10/mo. Did you want to remove your competitor’s ad from your website? $10/mo. A lot of these "features" are free or implied at the higher price points, but because we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, any revenue opportunity is going to be leveraged.

In the Freemium tier, the reality is you aren’t really buying design, but rather an assembly-line product that they hope to sell a million of. This approach works well for smartphones or automobiles, but for a businesses with competitors, looking identical doesn’t work so well. In our experience, most business owners want some expert advice on how to best tell their story online, and unless you’re particularly skilled and talented, the freemium website won’t live up to the sales pitch, or the flashy promotional screen-shots.

As the freemium tier are all online software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, the hosting of the website on a webserver is included in their monthly fee.


One step up from the Freemium tier is the Template shop. The template shop specializes in delivering a pre-formatted solution based on open-source software like Wordpress or Drupal. These softwares have marketplaces attached which sell design themes and widgets that can be installed on the website, and which deliver additional functionality.

Like the freemium tier, this is a design product rather than a design service, but in this case you'll have a marketing or web development firm to guide you in the implementation of the components, and you may or may not receive some consulting on the overall look and messaging that goes into your website.

The promoters of these products tend to fall into two buckets: Marketing firms that offer a website as a component of a larger basket of services, or web development firms which specialize in delivering a technical solution efficiently.

For marketing firms, websites aren’t their bread and butter, but they’ll offer them as a hook in order to sell you a basket of higher-margin services. They know a website is difficult to move so it’s a great way to secure a captive audience. The web development firm tends toward efficiency and technical solutions, so their consultative time may be limited in order to maximize their profit margins.

For some businesses, this service tier is perfect. They just need the platform, and they have someone technically-minded on staff who they can put in charge of the website. For other companies, they need some reliable help to keep their website up to date, secure, and representing the company the best it can.

The hosting of the website on a webserver may be arranged by this provider, or may be left up to you as a business. Typical hosting costs range from $10-$300/mo depending on your business's needs.

Custom Design

Up from the template shop is where the solution becomes more tailored to your specific needs. Where the other offerings are products that anyone can buy, the result of custom design is proprietary. This is where real expertise and planning come into play, and you have a variety of factors to consider.

In custom design, we still have time as the major measure of project complexity, but now you really have to weigh experience as a factor of that time. Experience tends to cost more, but leads to more efficient planning and implementation, saving time and hitting deadlines. You have to consider the overhead of the design firm you partner with. Are they big with a lot of layers of management? --these can move quickly on large projects, but there’s a lot of baggage they carry to do that.

When selecting a design firm, you have to consider the uniqueness of your goal. A design firm that invests in R&D and creative exploration will tend to have a higher overhead, but may be more efficient in delivering more unique or sophisticated solutions because they know the territory. A less expensive firm that doesn’t invest in R&D may overshoot deadlines as they’re figuring this stuff out as they go along. Niche-focused design firms are a good example of long-term R&D at work, firms that specialize in a particular niche build up domain knowledge and expertise in the things that work for a specific type of business.

For your business, you need to consider the importance of your deadlines, the uniqueness of your goals, and then weigh that against the ultimate price you attach to the project.

You can learn more about the design process here: What is design?

Final Words

I hope this article has helped you to better understand the options available when you're shopping for your next website. There is no one price for a website, as there are many different solutions available for your business. We think that a website should be a constantly evolving, continuously improving piece of your marketing and communications. Your website is your #1 marketing asset, and it should have a prominent position in your budget, not just every few years, but yearly, and possibly monthly depending on your business. The more you invest in adding value to your website in the form of content, design and refinement, the better your return on that investment. As for the final price: your specific needs will best determine the correct path to take.

As a general rule of thumb: for businesses that sell a commodity product, and who mainly differentiate based on price, a pre-made product will suit them well. But for businesses who are more unique and nuanced, and who need to differentiate themselves in order to compete on more than just price, the design process undertaken in a custom design has tremendous potential to add value.

About us.

At Hi. Creative Agency, we want your customers to fall in love with your business. We know that through the design of your customer’s experience, we can weight the averages in your favour and lead to improved customer loyalty, and profitability. In short, design can help your customers to fall in love.

Give us a call and find out how