When hiring a professional web designer can cost anywhere from $5 to $10,000 for a single site, does the old saying “you get what you pay for” really hold water?
In short, not really.
The truth is – despite what some people on the internet will tell you – it’s perfectly possible to get a good website up and running without breaking the bank. You can even do it for free if you don’t mind sacrificing on a few features – and the end result will look very similar.
How can I say this with such confidence? I’ve built many websites and investigated a lot of pricing plans for this article. Having done all that, I can tell you that there are plenty of affordable, easy-to-use options that will make it seem silly to spend thousands of dollars on a bespoke design.
To bring you a simple, transparent guide to the cost of building a website in 2021, I’ve consolidated the options and compared four different methods, ranging from the totally free to the little bit pricier (but still affordable). Feel free to skip ahead if you’re looking for something specific:
- Build a Site for Free
- Use a Paid Website Builder
- Self-host a WordPress Website
- Hire an Affordable Professional Designer
For each method, I’ll break down the cost involved to help you decide which is right for you. So strap in: we’ve got a lot of choices to explore!
Website builders are one of the cheapest ways to build a website – and they’re the only way to do it for free. Although WordPress.org is technically a free, open-source platform, it actually comes with other costs involved (more on those below).
So, if you want to set up a site without paying a penny, you’ll be looking at using a website builder that offers a “forever free” plan. That’s all of your designing, hosting, and security needs taken care of.
A website builder is ideal for beginners because it allows you to build a website without any coding knowledge. You can simply click, drag, drop, and type your way to the website design you want. And some builders actually offer some pretty solid features with their free plans.
However, these plans also come with some limitations:
- Your website will display ads for the site builder
- You can’t use a custom domain (so you’ll be stuck with something like “blogofchampions.wixsite.com”)
- You won’t get a lot of storage and bandwidth
Some builders’ free plans are fairly generous, while others… are not. Many withhold e-commerce features (meaning you can’t sell online), limit your customization options, or confine you to the most basic customer support.
Because of these limitations, you probably won’t opt for a free plan if you need a kick-ass website for your business. But there are plenty of situations in which a free plan would actually work really well.
I recommend this option if:
- You want to test out a particular website builder
- You want to host a small personal site
- You need to display your portfolio online
- You want to create a site to share family photos
- You’re collecting RSVPs for your wedding (or another event)
If any of this sounds like you, then I recommend you take a closer look at the free plans below.
As far as free plans go, Wix’s is definitely the most generous. It gives you access to pretty much all of this builder’s features (with a few notable exceptions, like e-commerce).
You get 500 MB of storage and bandwidth – more than enough to create a solid starter site – and access to all 900+ of Wix’s beautifully designed templates, which you can customize to your heart’s content using the drag-and-drop editor.
The free plan also gives you access to the Wix App Market, which has hundreds of add-ons to extend your site’s functionality. Some cost money, but many popular ones are free.
You’ll also get some robust built-in marketing tools. Wix Email Marketing, for instance, lets you send up to 5,000 emails across 3 campaigns per month on the free plan. This is great if you produce regular newsletters or updates for your subscribers.
You can’t connect a custom domain, and you’ll have to deal with Wix’s promotional banner sticking to the top of your site. But as far as branding goes, Wix is fairly discrete.
SITE123 is simpler than Wix – it favors quick building over full creative control – so it would be my top choice if you don’t need a super fancy website and want to get online quickly. Seriously, it’s really, really easy to use.
And SITE123’s free plan actually ticks a lot of boxes: 250 MB of storage and bandwidth, access to all 180+ SITE123 templates, blogging features, contact and donation forms, and some business tools like event calendars, restaurant reservations, and appointment scheduling.
It’s worth noting that the free plan limits the types of edits you can make to your site. More advanced customization options like custom color palettes, fonts, and apps are reserved for paid plans.
SITE123’s banner is also a bit less discrete, in my opinion. But for a simple personal website, it works just fine.
WordPress.com offers all of the power of WordPress.org, but in a neatly packaged solution that includes hosting, maintenance, and security.
Unsurprisingly for a software that has its roots in blogging, WordPress.com is the best of the best when it comes to blogging features. And luckily, most if not all of them are available on the free plan.
You get a generous 3 GB of storage and unlimited bandwidth, which makes WordPress.com a good option for a media-heavy website with lots of photos. You also get extra features like security, automatic backups, SEO tools, galleries, slideshows, and contact forms through the Jetpack plugin.
On the downside, the free plan has some important restrictions: you can’t access WordPress’s plugin library, you can only use community support forums, and you’re limited to a smaller selection of free themes. Plus, unlike with other builders, WordPress.com has a pretty steep learning curve.
A quick disclaimer: GoDaddy doesn’t offer a free plan everywhere. Currently, it’s only available in the US and a few other regions, but if it’s available where you are, you’re in luck.
GoDaddy’s free plan packages together some great features for small businesses, including a fun and easy-to-use builder, some basic blogging and marketing tools, site analytics, and 24/7 customer support.
GoDaddy also lets you schedule one-time appointments and accept payments via PayPal. This is great if you run a services business and want your clients to be able to book appointments with you directly via your website.
On the downside, GoDaddy doesn’t give you as much creative freedom as other builders. And, of course, you have to deal with the GoDaddy banner displayed at the top of your site.
Square Online is one of the few website builders that actually offers e-commerce capability on its free plan (although currently it’s only available in the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom).
The e-commerce features are pretty decent for a free plan, too. You get unlimited items, inventory management, coupons, the ability to send text alerts to customers, gift cards, contact forms, and an Instagram integration that lets you sell directly via social media.
Best of all, there’s no “THIS IS A FREE WEBSITE” banner in sight – just a discrete Square logo in the footer of your site.
It’s worth noting, however, that the plan isn’t, like, free free. You don’t have to spend any money to build and publish your site, but when you make a sale, you pay a transaction fee of 2.9% plus 30¢. You’ve got to spend money to make money, right?
To reduce these transaction fees even slightly, you’d have to upgrade to the top-tier Premium plan (which at $72.00 per month is a significant financial investment).
Not sure which free plan would best suit your needs? Check out this side-by-side comparison:
|Bandwidth||500 MB||250 MB||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Storage||500 MB||250 MB||3 GB||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Apps / Add-ons / Integrations||✔||✘||✘||✘||✔|
Free plans will work just fine for some purposes. But if you want a truly professional website, you’ll probably need to upgrade to a paid plan.
If nothing else, you should do it for the custom domain (because a URL like 9d95jd8d03hg.mywebsite.com isn’t going to do your brand image any good).
Also, it’s worth asking yourself whether you want to advertise how little you spent on your website. All those “I created my website for free” banners aren’t exactly subtle! Especially when it’s perfectly possible to use a premium builder to create a beautiful and functional site for a lot less than what you’d pay a professional designer.
If you do want to invest a little more in your online venture, here’s a breakdown of what you can expect to pay when creating a website with a paid builder:
|Subscription||$3 – $30 per month|
|Website domain||$0 – $15 per year (the first year is usually included in your plan)|
|Website hosting||$0 (included in your plan)|
|SSL certificate||$0 (included in your plan)|
|Website template/theme||$0 (dozens of customizable options included in your plan)|
|Add-ons / Plugins||$0 – $100+ per month|
|Custom email address||$1 – $15 per month|
|Total||$4 – $150 per month|
With a few notable exceptions, most builders price their entry-level plans similarly, at around $10 – $15 per month. But not all website builders are the same, so the features you get with these plans can vary – a lot.
That’s why I’ve extensively tested some of the most popular website builders out there, carefully comparing their pricing plans and features. To make your life easier, I put together this list of my top affordable picks.
Or, if you just want a quick side-by-side comparison of all your options, skip straight to the table below.
Wix’s free plan already gives you access to the builder’s massive library of templates, the App Market, and an editor that lets you customize every aspect of your site. That means you can create a really, really good-looking site on the free plan.
But what the entry-level Combo plan does is take that good-looking site from amateur to pro (for around $14.00 per month). It simply removes all ads and gives you a custom domain name (free for one year).
Plus, no matter what plan you’re on, the Wix App Market gives you the freedom to pay only for the specific extras you need – and as I mentioned above, lots of apps are totally free.
It’s worth noting, though, that there are a handful of tools that you could get for cheaper elsewhere. For instance, the Wix Bookings app starts at around $17 a month, whereas a similar (if simpler) tool can be found for a lot less with GoDaddy, SITE123, or Square Online.
And if you want to be able to accept online payments, you’ll need to upgrade to the Business Basic plan.
But even if you opt for the most expensive Wix plan, you’re still getting a lot of value for your money. There’s just so much included (especially in terms of gorgeous, niche-specific templates) that you can’t really go wrong with this builder.
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Coming in at $12.00 per month, Squarespace’s Personal plan gives you unlimited storage and bandwidth – meaning your website will be able to keep up no matter how many images or videos you want to upload. Only Zyro gives you more for less, and that with a far simpler editor.
Since Squarespace is also known for its drop-dead gorgeous designs, this builder is the logical choice for anyone looking to build a website that’s heavy on visuals, like a portfolio or design blog.
Compared to Wix, Squarespace’s selection of extensions for things like bookkeeping, inventory management, and SEO seems a little limited with this plan.
But if you upgrade to the next highest plan (coming in at $18.00 per month), you can access premium integrations and content blocks, get a custom email address from Google, and start to use e-commerce tools, all for just a few dollars extra per month.
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Lots of website builders try to constantly outdo each other on features, templates, add-ons, and extras. SITE123, on the other hand, is comfortable with keeping things simple and focusing on the features people really need.
That’s why I’d favor this builder if I was just looking to get online quickly and easily, without the distraction of endless customization options and additional tools.
With the Premium plan ($12.80 per month), you get all the must-have tools, like a free domain name for a year, a selection of add-ons (both free and paid) for things like appointments, restaurant reservations, events, live chat, social media integrations, and forms, and 10GB of storage.
All in all, SITE123 can do everything you need for a simple website. And if that’s what you want, why pay for more?
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GoDaddy’s lowest-tier plan comes in a little cheaper than most of the competition, at $6.99 per month. As you might expect, this means it comes with a few more limitations. For instance, you can only connect a custom domain, meaning you have to buy it separately – unlike with other builders, it’s not included in your plan.
However, this plan includes some interesting business-friendly features that you don’t get elsewhere at a similar price point: an appointments tool that lets clients schedule one-time appointments on your site, a social media integration that lets you schedule posts directly from your GoDaddy dashboard, and an email marketing tool with up to 100 sends per month.
Just for comparison’s sake, you get more free emails with Wix, but not the appointments tool. So if you’re a service provider, GoDaddy might be a better option for you.
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Zyro’s not the most advanced website builder out there – but for what it offers, its prices are a steal. At just $2.90 per month, you can’t beat the Basic plan for a starter site – and for just one dollar more, the Unleashed plan gives you pretty much everything you need to create a basic website.
Of course, these are Zyro’s “limited-time-only” sale prices, which are meant to reel you in. They only last for the first four years, and then the standard renewal price kicks in. Once that happens, you can expect to pay up to ten times more.
In addition to a free domain name and unlimited bandwidth and storage, you can accept payments via Stripe (but not list products – for that you’ll need the $9.90 eCommerce plan), add a live chat function, and integrate Google Analytics, as well as a Facebook Pixel.
In terms of add-ons, Zyro doesn’t offer as much as its competitors, but if you only want a basic website for a small price, then this builder is your best bet.
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WordPress.com starts out with the Personal plan ($4.00 per month), which comes with a free domain for a year, lets you collect payments, and gives you unlimited email support.
This is great if, for example, you want a custom domain for not much money and want to take advantage of WordPress’s superior blogging features.
But it’s missing some crucial features, like automatic site backups and access to WordPress’s massive plugin library. These are only available on the Business plan upwards, which is going to set you back $25.00 per month or more. (Remember, you can access the Wix App Market even on the free plan.)
For that reason, I’d only recommend this option if you’re looking to start simple (and maybe get to grips with how WordPress works), but plan to scale your website down the line and need the unparalleled power and flexibility of WordPress’s more expensive plans.
You can upgrade as your website grows and you start to need more features. And once you add plugins into the mix, there really isn’t anything that WordPress can’t do.
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As I mentioned above, Square Online already lets you sell products on its free plan – you only pay when you make a sale. So what’s to be gained by upgrading to a paid plan, you might ask?
Well, the bad news is that Square’s transaction fees stay the same at 2.9% + 30¢, so if you think you’ll be doing a high volume of sales, this isn’t the best choice for you. (Hint: check out the next builder on this list.)
However, if you’re running a modest online store and Square Online’s business model and features are working well for you, I’d say it’s worth it to go pro. The paid plan removes Square branding from your website’s footer and URL, instantly taking your shop from “side hobby” to “legitimate online store”.
For extra tools like customer reviews on your products, discounted shipping labels, and abandoned cart emails, you might want to upgrade to the Performance plan, at $26.00 per month.
At $29.00 per month, Shopify’s cheapest plan is more than double the price of Square Online’s, so it’s clear that this builder is targeting larger online stores.
This is also clear from Shopify’s features list: in addition to the standard e-commerce features, you can set up two staff accounts, sell directly via multiple marketplaces and social media platforms, and assign inventory to up to four locations. You also get abandoned cart recovery emails.
The transaction fees are lower than Square Online’s, at 2.2% + 30¢ per transaction, so depending on your turnover, this option might work out cheaper for you despite the higher monthly subscription.
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Here’s how all of the options on my list compare side by side:
|SITE123 Premium||GoDaddy Basic||Zyro Unleashed||WordPress.com Personal||Square Online Professional||Basic Shopify|
|Domain name included?||Free for 1 year||Free for 1 year||Free for 1 year||✘||Free for 1 year||Free for 1 year||Free for 1 year||✘|
|Templates||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free & Paid||Free||Free & Paid|
|SSL Certificate included?||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|Apps / Add-ons / Integrations included?||✔||Squarespace Extensions||✔||✔||Limited||✘||✔|
|Email address included?||✘||✘||✘||✘||✘||✘||✘||✔|
|E-commerce features included?||✘||✘||✘||✘||✘||✘||✔||✔|
|Transaction fees||–||–||–||–||–||–||2.9% + 30¢||2.2% + 30¢|
Of course, using a website builder isn’t your only option. WordPress.org is a popular CMS (content management system) that you can use to make a website at a pretty low cost.
You might have heard that 40% of all websites on the Internet are built using WordPress. That’s because this option offers outstanding flexibility – you can fine-tune nearly everything about your site, depending on how big or small you want to go. For example, you could build anything from a simple portfolio page to a whole social networking site.
But while WordPress itself is free to use, web hosting isn’t. So you’ll have to factor in a web hosting plan, a kind of rental cost for web server space to store your website. The bigger the website, the more space it takes up, and the more money you’ll be shelling out.
You’ll also have to factor in the expense of purchasing a domain name, an SSL certificate, premium plugins if you want to add specific functionality to your website, and perhaps even a premium theme.
The latter is especially likely if you’re a beginner, since WordPress comes with a steep learning curve, and creating a website from scratch isn’t exactly a walk in the park for complete newbies.
Here’s a breakdown of how much you could expect to pay for a self-hosted WordPress website:
|Website domain||$9 – $15 per year|
|Website hosting||$1.50 – $70 per month|
|SSL certificate||$0 – $200 per year (often included for free with hosting packages)|
|Website template / theme||$0 – $250+ one-off cost|
|Plugins||$0 – $100+ per month|
|Custom email address||$1 – $15 per month|
|Total||$3 – $185 per month (+$0 – $250 one-off cost)|
On the flip side, this method does have a lot to offer if you’re willing to invest some time in teaching yourself how WordPress ticks and how to optimize your hosting.
Of all of the options on this list, WordPress probably offers the best balance of affordability versus flexibility and scalability, although it requires more of a DIY approach than some users would be happy with.
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Before you scroll on, thinking “this option isn’t for me”, it’s worth noting that, while some designers do charge a lot to build bespoke websites, there are some budget-friendly options out there.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and struggling to get your website design off the ground, you might consider checking out a freelance platform like Fiverr. You’ll find some really talented designers who offer their services for much less than what you’d expect to pay.
Most freelancers on Fiverr can build sites on WordPress, but a growing number will also work with website builders. This can make it much easier for you to keep on top of updates and maintenance after your website goes live.
On the higher end of the scale, sociolus will build you a unique, fully responsive and SEO-optimized website in just six days for $950. With over 100 5-star ratings, sociolus is a Level 2 Seller on Fiverr and has been vetted by the site. For some extra money, you can add up to 10 pages, install up to 10 plugins, and even add e-commerce functionality.
If you’re willing to take a punt on a Fiverr freelancer with fewer ratings (they may just be getting started on the site), you can find even cheaper options.
Taibacreation, for example, has received less feedback, but he is still a Level 2 Seller (meaning he has fulfilled more than 50 orders via Fiverr) and can create a responsive website with a plugin installed for just $100, all within three days!
If you do decide to hire a website designer, here’s a breakdown of what you can expect to pay overall. Depending on whether you use WordPress.org or a site builder plan, you’ll still have to factor in costs like hosting or a subscription:
|Website designer||$100 – $1,500 one-off cost|
|Subscription (if using website builder)||$0 – $30 per month|
|Website domain||$9 – $15 per year|
|Website hosting (if using WordPress.org)||$1.50 – $70 per month|
|SSL certificate||$0 – $200 per year (but often included for free with hosting/builder plans)|
|Website template / theme||$0 – $250+ one-off cost|
|Plugins||$0 – $100+ per month|
|Custom email address||$1 – $15 per month|
|Total||$3 – $200 per month (+$100 – $1,750 one-off cost)|
The Answer Is: How Much Do You Want to Spend?
Whatever your budget, and whatever your plans for your website, there are options to suit everyone.
While using a website builder is probably the simplest way to get started – and the only way to do it for free – WordPress.org gives you greater flexibility and scalability, if you don’t mind taking a bit more of a DIY approach. It won’t break the bank, either, especially if you opt for an affordable host like Hostinger.
If you’re not sure you want to pay for your site, I’d recommend the Wix free plan. It’s by far the most generous in terms of features, so you’re free to play around and see if you actually need to buy a subscription.
A lot of people, however, will want a custom domain, and that means money. You could certainly find a cheap self-hosted option, but if you want your hand held a little more, Zyro offers a bunch of budget-friendly plans for relatively simple websites.
If you want to sell online, a self-hosted WordPress.org site is probably the most budget-friendly way to go about it, but it does take some technical know-how.
Finally, you could also hire a freelancer on Fiverr to design a website with e-commerce functionality for you. I think this option makes the most sense if you’re creating a website specifically to make money. For others, the time and financial investment may not be worth it.
What’s that I hear you say? Sum up this whole article in a table? I’m glad you asked. Here’s how all of the different paid options compare, side by side:
|Paid website builder||Self-hosted WordPress website||Professional designer|
|Website design||$0||$0||$100 – $1,500 one-off cost|
|Subscription||$3 – $30 per month||$0||(If using website builder) $0 – $30 per month|
|Website domain||$9 – $15 per year||$9 – $15 per year||$9 – $15 per year|
|Website hosting||$0||$1.50 – $70 per month||(If using WordPress.org) $1.50 – $70 per month|
|SSL certificate||$0||$0 – $200 per year (but often included for free with hosting packages)||$0 – $200 per year (but often included for free with hosting packages and builder plans)|
|Website template / theme||$0 – $250+ one-off cost||$0 – $250+ one-off cost||$0 – $250+ one-off cost|
|Plugins||$0 – $100+ per month||$0 – $100+ per month||$0 – $100+ per month|
|Custom email address||$1 – $15 per month||$1 – $15 per month||$1 – $15 per month|
|Total||$4 – $150 per month
+ $0 – $250+ one-off costs
|$3 – $185 per month
+ $0 – $250+ one-off cost
|$3 – $200 per month
+ $100 – $1,750 one-off costs
How much does it cost to build a website for a small business?This depends on a number of factors, including whether you use a website builder or self-host a WordPress website, if you hire a designer, and what kind of functionality you need.
For a basic website, you can end up paying somewhere between $3 and $30 per month for a subscription with a builder, while self-hosting costs somewhere between $1 and $70 per month (you can read more about the cost of hosting in our detailed guide). Can you build a website for free?Yes! You can create a fully-functional site by signing up for a free plan with a website builder like Wix, SITE123, or WordPress.com. However, free plans do come with some limitations: you can’t connect a custom domain, your website will show ads for the builder you used, and you normally can’t sell products (Square Online is the exception). For this reason, many users decide to upgrade to a paid plan. But that doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot, especially if you take advantage of the deals on our coupon page. Is it expensive to build a website on Wix?You can actually build a website for no cost on Wix, since it has the most generous free plan of almost any website builder. Wix’s paid subscriptions are pretty standard compared to the competition – they start at around $14.00 per month, and you get quite a lot of features for that price (for more info, read our in-depth Wix review). Things can get a bit more expensive if you start using a lot of apps that require additional monthly subscriptions. If you want e-commerce functionality, you’ll also have to upgrade to a more expensive plan, but this is pretty standard across all website builders. To see how some of the most popular website builders stack up on a number of factors – including price – check out our list of the best website builders in 2021.How much should I pay for an e-commerce website?Since even the most basic e-commerce websites require more features than regular ones – product listings, online payment options, and shopping carts, for example – e-commerce plans tend to be a bit more expensive, starting at around $20 per month. Square Online actually lets you sell online for free, but you do pay transaction fees on any sales you make. As a general rule of thumb, the cheaper the e-commerce builder, the more limited its plan, so it’s all about weighing the sales you expect to make and the features you need against the cost of running your website. Sites with a higher turnover – which undoubtedly need more advanced features – can and should cost more. If this is the kind of online store you want to build, then I recommend you look at Shopify or BigCommerce.How much does it cost to hire someone to build a website?Hiring someone to build a website for you used to be a serious financial investment. Nowadays, however, you can find talented freelancers who will build sites for far less money. Freelance designers on Fiverr, for example, can create custom websites for both WordPress and website builders like Wix and Square Online for as little as $100.