How Much It Costs to Build a Web Application?

Lena Hagen

Marketing, PR and Social Media Manager

The answer to the question may be even more complicated than the same about mobile apps. And the final sums may vary even bigger.

Why it’s so difficult for developers to tell a price for a web application? Because usually they are asked about something unique. Not like ‘how much is to build another Facebook?’ Specialists estimate that a clone of the social network may cost around $500K and take about 9 months. But it’s not that easy for a custom project. Every unique detail, be it design or a feature, means certain amount of time and talent of a specialist. That means that before telling you even an approximate price we need to evaluate your project and calculate main stages of its development. Normally only this takes a few conversations and at least couple of days of calculations.

Rough Numbers

Of course, there are very rough and average numbers for costs of various web applications depending on their complexity and intended use. Remember that the prices depend on where you order the work. Development houses in North America charge the most. Eastern European developers offer reasonable rates while showing high quality results. Here are some estimates based on the latest prices.

Basic Web Apps: simpe web sites looking like online brochures with templated layouts; landing pages with a few interactive elements; small shops. Costs: $5-15K. Time: 1 month.

Professional Web Apps: interactive websites with more pages and content; ecommerce web sites; large addition to an existing website; prototypes for bigger future projects. Usually ordered by small busineses or self-funded founders. Costs: $15-60K. Time: 2-3 months.

Established Companies: big company web sites with a custom CMS; ecommerce web sites intended to bring in up to $10 mln revenue; web apps intended to automate processes in a department with up to 200 employees. Usually ordered by mid-sized companies or a branch of a large corporation, or by startups with angel or other external investments. Costs: $60-200K. Time: 3-6 months.

Web Apps for Enterprises: software add-ons or complete web sites for corporations, fast-growing mid-sized companies or well-funded startups. Costs: $200-500K. Time: more than 6 months.

And if you need something very special and big, be ready to invest unlimited amount of money starting from $500K and more. However, in our experience designing and development of a minimum viable product (MVP) most usually takes $75-250K.

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Two approaches to cost estimates

There are two different methodologies we use to determine a more probable cost of a specific web application.

The first is based on a functional specification created after detailed consultations with a client. The spec is a document describing what the application should do in details. The method implies so called waterfall approach to development and allows to calculate necessary time and budget rather accurately. But it does not involve changes that are possible throughout the project.

To make the calculations as probable as possible we use three-point estimation technique. The technique implies initial production of three figures for every distribution that is required, based on prior experience or best-guesses:

a = the best-case estimate
m = the most likely estimate
b = the worst-case estimate.

The second approach is based on user stories where the client usually tells us what the final user of the application should receive from the project. The user stories normally underlie Agile software development methodology which is more iterative and incremental. For a client it means that the terms and budget discussed may be more flexible.

None of the methods is better or more correct than the other. Though the first one is more suitable for customers with a fixed budget and time-frame, and for those who look for exact features to be developed. The second is for those who are looking for certain final results and can afford being flexible with their time and budgeting. In this case the process of development lasts until the results are obtained, and a team of developers is paid for a set amounts of time like a week or a month.

Of course, both methods may be incorporated in a hybrid approach to costs calculations — and this happens quite often.

What Lies Beneath

Coding a web application and building a successful web application is not the same. You can invest estimated time and money and create an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), but usually you cannot predict for sure how much more you need to spend to make it eventually successful. Normally success does not come to your 1.0 version — you need 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 etc.

An average app development budget isn’t solely comprised of the funds that you spend on the actual development activities. You should also take into account all the money that goes into growing a product. Just like with any business, an app needs updates, customer support, backend servers maintenance, cloud hosting, and even legal support, not to mention app marketing and promotion that make a huge impact on the product’s success.

So, if you are serious about your idea, try to think about all these post release and long-term development and maintenance costs of your project in advance.

To conclude

Since building a successful web application is a long-term goal, choosing a right web developer becomes especially important. Do not look for the cheapest offer. Do not listen to promises to build you a web site for 2 weeks. Try to find a company with good reputation, a number of successful projects, good references and, first of all, with understanding what you need.

Because you choose not just coders but partners, those who should not just build you another web app but make the most out of it and lead it to success.

Ready to start? Contact us to learn more!

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