Every potential client is concerned about pricing (if you find one that's not concerned about pricing, send them my way please). On occasion, that's the first question that gets asked! The answer they almost always receive from the web design company is "Well, there's a lot of factors that go into pricing, and we'll need to find out more about what you're trying to accomplish". And that's an honest response. There really are hundreds of ways to go when it comes to web design and web development, and a consultation meeting or phone call is necessary to determine an accurate cost estimate.
The dance is always the same:Client: "How much is this going to cost?"
The one word to keep in mind when it comes to pricing is customization. That includes customization for both design and development. I'd like to break down the general considerations for both design and development:
The untrained eye doesn't normally notice when someone has spent a lot of time on design. You see a really slick logo or color scheme, and you think, "Very nice, that probably took about 30 minutes to whip up". But in reality the designer pours hours upon hours into searching for fonts, trying different colors, bumping pixels up/down/left/right, scanning through stock photography, applying background imagery, and then they have to bring it all together.
When it comes to web design, the designer also needs to take into consideration search engine optimization, conversion rate, content strategy, calls-to-action, and so forth.
So with all that said, complex designs with custom graphics highly customized to the client are naturally going to cost more. More bland designs or designs that don't stray far from a pre-designed template are going to cost less.
Custom development is another big ticket item that can increase the cost of a website or web application. Development efforts are also very difficult to detect because the casual observer doesn't realize what all is happening behind the scenes on a web application. E-commerce sites, social networking platforms, and internet media services all have ridiculous amounts of code making them function correctly. They have to connect to databases, deliver content, perform user access control, process credit card information securely, run sessions or cookies to track users, and so forth.
But once again, it comes down to customization. In this advanced digital age, there are a plethora of web services that already exist. They are tried and true and offer a variety of functions that will satisfy the majority of users. So in most circumstances, a web developer can integrate a pre-existing web application into the current web site he or she is building. On the other hand, if the client needs to highly customize the experience, the existing web application will need to be heavily modified and/or rebuilt. The 2nd case is where the cost starts rising again.
In summary, there are many factors which determine the cost of building a website or web application. Those factors must be discussed and agreed upon before a price estimate can be established.