The aim is to arm you with the insights needed to discuss project plans confidently with your clients, fitting their budgets.

It’s all about striking the right balance between the client’s vision and what’s realistically achievable within their budget.

Navigating the intricacies of budget planning is a critical step in the web development process, serving as a safeguard against scope creep and ensuring that client expectations are met with precision. Effective budget planning hinges on a thorough project discovery phase, guided by a series of fundamental questions that delve into the heart of what the project aims to achieve. These questions form the backbone of our project discovery, enabling us to tailor our approach to each unique client requirement.

By the end of this guide, not only will you have a clearer understanding, but I’ll also share example project budgets for your critique (feel free to drop me an email with your thoughts on where I hit or miss the mark).

This guide is crafted for agency heads, operations lead, devs, and digital marketing vets with a solid couple of years in the WordPress trenches.

So, without further ado, let’s kick-off.

We’ll start by laying the groundwork with some key questions that will help us navigate the complexities of budgeting for WordPress site builds.

  • What’s the website’s type (brochure site, landing page, e-commerce, membership, service business, etc.)?
  • What’s the size of the website?
  • What’s the expected traffic?
  • Will there be an ongoing digital marketing budget to fuel traffic?
  • Is SEO migration on the table?
  • Are we looking at a custom design, using a template, or a mix of both?
  • What plugins are needed for those unique features?
  • Is this a website overhaul or a brand-new venture?
  • What are the business goals behind the website?

Wondering why these nine questions seem scattered? Stick with me. As we unpack each, you’ll see how, individually, they might not say much, but together, they paint a comprehensive picture of the site’s needs and the budget required to bring it to life.

Each of these questions peels back a layer of the complex decision-making process involved in planning and budgeting for a WordPress site.

1. What’s the website’s type (brochure site, landing page, e-commerce, membership, etc.)?

Starting off, the type of website your client needs is fundamental. It sets the stage for everything that follows. If you’re not clear on this, the other details won’t align.

I could easily turn this guide into a marathon read by diving into every website type I’ve encountered—and trust me, that’s quite the list. But I want to keep things engaging and to the point.

So, let’s bookmark this question. As we explore the other topics, I’ll circle back to the website type, using it as a reference point to underline its importance. This approach will help illustrate why it’s crucial to nail down this detail right from the start.

2. What’s the size of the website?

The size of the website plays a crucial role in determining its cost. It’s a no-brainer that larger websites tend to come with heftier price tags.

Though I can imagine scenarios where this might not strictly be the case—like a website with a thousand pages but only one template used throughout—realistically, I’ve never encountered such an anomaly.

Common sense dictates that a thousand-page website will feature a variety of templates, signup forms, and monetization strategies, all of which bump up the project’s complexity and cost.

Understanding that bigger usually means more expensive is key. But size isn’t the only factor.

As we delve deeper, start picturing two or three ideal client scenarios. This mental exercise will make reading this guide more engaging and worth your while.

Besides the sheer volume of content, the uniqueness of the website also matters. How many distinct page designs will the site need? Take, for example, a pest control service in New York City offering multiple services. If each service page has a unique design and thus a unique page template inside the WordPress theme, the development work increases.

However, if the design is uniform across all service pages, with differences only in the text, then you’re essentially working with a single-page template. This approach significantly simplifies the project scope.

This principle applies not just to service or product pages but to any repetitive page design. It can considerably narrow down a project’s scope.

Recall the first question about the type of website, and you’ll start seeing patterns in page similarity across different website types.

Another aspect to consider is the unique blocks within each page. Regardless of whether a website has two or two hundred pages, the number of distinct blocks—be it sections, containers, or what Gutenberg now popularizes as “blocks”—is vital for budgeting.

Some agencies have a smart approach: they tally the unique blocks required across the site and design those blocks. For instance, if a site predominantly uses an “image-right, content-left” layout, they might design this block once and replicate it across multiple pages. This strategy, especially popular with custom sites built using Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) or similar tools, allows for the reuse of blocks, streamlining development.

The essence of website development boils down to creating and styling these blocks. The fewer unique blocks a site requires, the less expensive it will be to build.

As we progress, I’ll connect how these considerations influence the overall budget for a project. Keep these insights in mind—they’re foundational for understanding project design and development costs.

3. What’s the expected traffic?

The topic of website traffic directly impacts how much you should invest in site development. It’s pretty clear-cut: if a site is expected to draw minimal traffic, it doesn’t make sense to pour a fortune into building it.

I came across a stat from HubSpot stating that the average website traffic is around 300,000 visits per month, with a median of 20,000.

From my experience, those numbers seem to reflect well-established sites engaged in active SEO or other traffic-boosting activities.

The smaller, newer, or less optimized sites likely see traffic in the range of 500 to 1,000 visitors a month, with a significant portion being non-ideal visitors like bots, competitors, and telemarketers.

This reality underlines why so many small businesses are on the lookout for digital marketing services they often find financially out of reach.

Let’s sidestep the broader debate on traffic and marketing to focus on the core of this question. A crucial point to consider is the difference in value between traffic to business landing pages versus blog pages. Traffic to blogs does not equate to the same level of conversions as landing page traffic.

When dealing with traffic exceeding 3,000 visits per month, it’s time to pay closer attention to the development process. This level of traffic suggests that the business is likely generating leads.

For sites attracting over 20,000 visitors monthly, the focus should shift even more toward conversion optimization and user experience rather than just design.

For example, two sites—one with an estimated 10,000 monthly visitors and the other with 1,500, both with the same number of pages and targeting similar markets—will necessitate different budgeting. The site with higher traffic requires more investment, not just in terms of design but significantly in planning and execution.

More traffic typically means a higher budget.

If you’ve made it this far into the guide, I hope you’re finding it insightful. We’ll tie all these questions together towards the end and review some sample budgets for sites with various characteristics based on the topics we’ve discussed.

4. Will there be an ongoing digital marketing budget to fuel traffic?

This question is all about the relationship between a client’s marketing budget and their website development budget.

The more a client plans to spend on marketing, the more they’ll likely need to invest in their website.

This parallels the discussion on traffic: higher marketing spend usually translates to increased traffic, which in turn, elevates the website’s development and post-launch support costs to ensure the infrastructure can handle the traffic while maximizing conversions and ROI.

Beyond the similarities with traffic considerations, there are a couple of unique points to highlight.

Firstly, websites backed by substantial digital marketing budgets often require a greater number of landing pages. These are essential for running ads or offering lead magnets. If a client is investing in digital marketing, you can bet they’ll need more from their website. Anyone who’s worked closely with a marketing team will tell you they’re always in need of new pages for their campaigns.

The second point touches on the specifics of the marketing work involved, such as the need for SEO. An active SEO team will likely request additional features for example, schema markup to help search engines better understand the content, improving search visibility. This is just one example of how a marketing strategy directly influences the scope and complexity of a website project.

In essence, a higher marketing spend doesn’t just mean a larger initial build but also ongoing development to support marketing efforts, from creating new landing pages to integrating advanced SEO techniques.

5. Is SEO migration on the table?

SEO migration is one of those complex topics with plenty of resources available online, so I won’t dive deep into the how-tos—you can easily find detailed guides with a quick Google search.

In essence, SEO migration involves analyzing the current website’s pages, rankings, content, URL structures, and any existing redirects.

In this guide, I’m diving deep into the nitty-gritty of crafting WordPress sites tailored to various budgets.

Through my journey with UnlimitedWP, where I’ve partnered with over 200 agencies on thousands of site builds, I’ve gained a unique perspective on the often nuanced process of budgeting for these projects.

You’ve likely heard about the multitude of factors involved in budget or estimate planning from your in-house dev team or external WordPress pros you’ve brought on board from UnlimitedWP.

I’m keen to dissect these factors with you, one by one.

However, I’ll be steering clear of sites packed with custom features in this blog. Those beasts are a whole other ball game, deserving their own dedicated guide. But don’t worry, we’ll tackle the everyday websites that make up the majority of the web landscape.

6. Are we looking at a custom design, using a template, or a mix of both?

Breaking down the website design options can get a bit complex, but I’ll simplify it as much as possible. There are a few paths you can take, each with its implications on your project’s budget and scope.

Custom Design:

  • For clients seeking a unique, high-end look that truly represents their brand, custom design is the way to go.
  • Assuming you’re also handling branding, the process involves designing the site from scratch using tools like Figma, XD, or Sketch after wireframing.
  • This path allows for complete freedom in design but is the most time-consuming and, therefore, the costliest.
  • The complexity of the design—whether due to elaborate elements or the need for simplicity that requires more development effort—can significantly affect development time.
  • The question becomes whether you can utilize existing page builder blocks with minor CSS tweaks or if you need to build complex custom blocks and use advanced CSS and JS to achieve the design.
  • Custom design demands a higher budget due to the detailed development work involved.

Templated (Theme-Based) Design:

  • Themes offer a quicker, more budget-friendly option.
  • Marketplaces like ThemeForest and theme options like Astra provide hundreds of templates. While these can seem appealing and efficient, there’s a caveat: themes often look great until personalized.
  • Once you move beyond demo content, the design might not hold up as well, leading to potential issues with flow and coherence. The more you tweak, the further you might stray from a cohesive design.
  • However, if the client’s content aligns well with the theme’s design (>80% match), this route can work well, provided you manage expectations about not receiving a bespoke design.

Hybrid Design:

  • A middle-ground approach involves custom-designing the homepage and then using theme-based components for the rest of the site, customized to match the home page’s style.
  • This strategy allows for cost control while delivering a more personalized result than a fully templated approach.
  • It’s a popular choice among agencies looking to balance cost and customization, offering a distinctive design without the full expense of a custom build.

Other Design Options:

  • Beyond these three, there are additional strategies like using boilerplate or starter themes, which are lightweight and offer performance benefits similar to custom designs but at a reduced cost.
  • Another less-known tactic is for designers to create a seemingly custom design using only blocks from a page builder like Elementor, and its third-party add-ons. This approach ensures the design aligns with available blocks, minimizing custom development work and leveraging ready-made blocks with updated styling.
  • Each design option impacts the project’s budget, timeline, and final outcome. Choosing the right path depends on the client’s budget, brand requirements, and how much they value uniqueness, speed, and cost-efficiency on a scale.

7. What plugins are needed for those unique features?

The idea that plugins can instantly equip a WordPress site with any functionality is a bit misleading.

Sure, plugins extend capabilities, but they’re not just plug-and-play solutions.

Take the example of a job board plugin. It’s not just about installing the plugin; there’s a whole process behind making it work seamlessly with your site. You’ll get a few page templates like a job archive page and a job detail page, but these need to be styled to fit the overall look of your site. And that’s just the beginning.

Large plugins come with a lot of components that need configuring. Think about setting up notification emails for the job board—this isn’t just a simple task. You’ll need to integrate with a third-party email service and probably set up a system to log those emails for troubleshooting purposes.

The more plugins your site requires, the higher the costs will climb. This isn’t just about the purchase price of the plugins but the time and expertise needed to customize and integrate them properly.

And we haven’t even touched on the scenario where an off-the-shelf plugin doesn’t meet the client’s needs, and you have to develop a custom plugin. That’s a whole different ball game and could warrant its own guide to delve into the complexities and costs associated with custom plugin development.

8. Is this a website overhaul or a brand-new venture?

Determining whether you’re tackling a site redesign or creating a new website from scratch is crucial during your initial client meeting.

Redesign projects provide a wealth of information that might be more challenging to gather for new builds.

By reviewing the client’s existing site, you can gain insights that help tailor your approach.

Asking what the client wishes to keep, discard, add, or change offers direct insight into their needs and preferences.

For instance, if their current dissatisfaction stems from the site’s appearance and it was originally built on a standard theme, this signals a potential move towards a custom design might be in order.

At UnlimitedWP, we’ve observed that most of our projects in 2024 are redesigns, which is not surprising. Most businesses serious about their online presence already have a website, even if it was initially created on platforms like Wix or Squarespace by someone with minimal web development experience.

These cases still offer valuable clues about what the client values in a website and their future aspirations for it.

SEO migration, as we’ve covered, is another critical aspect to consider, especially in redesign projects. It’s essential to ensure the new site maintains or improves its search engine ranking, making this a significant part of the conversation when discussing a website rebuild.

9. What are the business goals behind the website?

Understanding the client’s motivation and goals for their website is essential and often reveals much about the scope and budget they’re willing to commit to.

If a client says they want a website simply because their competitors have one, it suggests they might not be fully aware of the potential and importance of a well-crafted online presence. This scenario might indicate a lower budget or a less complex project, as their commitment to leveraging the website as a strategic business tool might be limited.

Conversely, if a client mentions that their SEO team has recommended a redesign, it signals a deeper understanding of the website’s role in their business strategy. Such clients recognize the value of a high-quality website in improving their online visibility, engaging with their audience, and ultimately driving their business goals. This indicates they’re likely prepared to invest more substantially in the project to ensure their website meets current standards for design, user experience, and SEO optimization.

In essence, a client’s reasons for needing a website offer valuable clues about their priorities, the project’s potential complexity, and the budget they’re willing to allocate. This information can help you tailor your approach, ensuring your proposal aligns with their expectations and business needs.

Wrapping up:

Wrapping up this guide, I realize we’ve covered a ton of ground. Diving any deeper would practically turn this into an ebook, and that’s not the goal here.

While each topic we’ve discussed could easily be expanded with more examples and insights, the aim was to spark your thinking about key factors that influence project budgets.

This guide should set you on the right path, armed with a solid foundation for discussing budgets with clients. After 8 years in the thick of website development, there’s much more I could say, but I’ll hold off for now.

If this guide strikes a chord with you and you’re hungry for more details on any topic, feel free to reach out at [email protected]. I’m open to sharing more through a custom video if you’re genuinely interested.

With the groundwork laid, it’s time to illustrate how everything ties together.

Sample Project Budgets

Below, I’ve outlined sample project scenarios with their corresponding budgets, directly linking back to our discussions.

This should give you a clearer picture of how to estimate budgets based on various project needs, connecting the dots between our questions and their implications for project planning and execution.

For simplicity, these budgets are presented in a summarized format. The actual budgeting process would consider more detailed quotes based on specific project requirements, hourly rates, and other expenses.

For now, let’s focus on your everyday websites—think sites with fewer than 2 big-ticket custom features. I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill additions like social media feeds, newsletter sign-ups, or user logins. I mean the heavy hitters, like a museum site with an auction system or a boat rental company needing a bespoke booking system.

This process usually results in a comprehensive spreadsheet detailing every aspect that needs to be preserved to maintain SEO rankings during and after a site transition.

From a budgeting standpoint, the significance of this question can’t be overstated. Who will handle the additional workload of SEO migration? Will it be an external SEO team, or will your team take on the task? Either way, it’s extra work that needs to be factored into your quote.

For many smaller websites, the scope of SEO migration might be limited to setting up 301 redirects and ensuring that all previously ranked pages are appropriately represented on the new site, complete with their targeted keywords.

However, even these seemingly simple tasks require careful planning and execution to avoid any negative impact on the site’s search engine visibility.

Each budget range is an estimate that considers the complexity and scope of the project as influenced by the nine key questions. These budgets are meant to serve as a starting point for discussions with clients, providing a framework to tailor more precise quotes based on further discovery and specific project needs.