These days customers expect even the smallest local business to have a website.

And lots of people want a personal site one which to blog and share ideas about everything from politics to recipes. Building a website has gotten easy and cheap—even free.

But you get what you pay for, and how much it costs to build a website will depend on your needs.

Website costs: An overview

Time was when you needed to hire a developer and designer to build a website—then pay every time you wanted to make changes. Today, individuals and small businesses can easily build their own simple websites using free or cheap templates on platforms such as SquareSpace, Wix, Weebly and (not the same as which is open-source and requires more technical input). Platforms operate like cable TV—it’s all about tiered pricing, based on what you want.

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What do I get for free?

Even free platforms require buying your domain name ($10 to $15 a year). After that you pay nothing for a basic website on—emphasis on the basic. You’ll get to choose from hundreds of design templates, but you’ll be limited in customization options, and you’ll only have 3GB of storage.

Also, you’ll get no support (other than the community forum) and your web address will be a sub-domain, as in “” Sub-domains can get lost in Google search results, so they aren’t ideal if you’re trying to draw traffic to your site—and isn’t that the point? Oh, it will also have WordPress ads, and you won’t be able to sell any products.

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What do I get for cheap?

For just $48 a year, will take the same website and give it a custom domain name (not a sub-domain), and eliminate the ads. Other platforms have similar tiering.

For example, SquareSpace’s most basic personal plan costs $144 a year and includes unlimited storage, 24/7 customer support and e-commerce functions like inventory management and order tracking (for a 3 percent transaction fee, plus the credit card processor’s fee, typically around 3 percent). The company’s drag-and-drop design templates are simple to use and customizable. Their basic business plan costs $216 a year and lowers the e-commerce transaction fee to 2 percent.

Need more options?

A Cadillac plan for a small business from Weebly costs $456 a year and includes a bucket of e-commerce bells and whistles, such as real-time shipping rates, high-def video backgrounds, the ability to issue gift cards, recover abandoned shopping carts and run email campaigns. And there’s no transaction fee, although you’ll still pay the card processor’s fee. Other platforms offer similar integrated e-commerce services.

I want total control

There’s something to be said for building your own site from scratch, which you can do at the open-source platform You’ll have the ability to create an original design, not pick and choose from someone else’s templates.

You’ll need to arrange your own web hosting—that’s where the files are stored—which costs around $120 a year for a small site. The advantage of independent hosting is that a platform can’t decide to block your content because they don’t like it. (Web hosts will still block illegal content.)

But unless you have the time and skill to sweat the details, you’ll need to pay a developer and designer anywhere from $30-$60 an hour to build it for you. Many of the extra features you want, called plug-ins, can cost hundreds of dollars. And keeping track of updates will be your responsibility. A completely custom website can cost thousands of dollars to build and maintain.