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How Much Does It Cost to Build a Web Application
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How Much Does It Cost to Build a Web Application

Many factors can affect the price of building and maintaining a customer web application. There are also a few ways you can help mitigate costs. Just be careful; there are tradeoffs, and some decisions can be costly down the road, jeopardizing the success of your web application.

You must realize and accept that software is expensive to build and maintain. Anyone who tells you otherwise or gives you a precise cost for the software’s development, maintenance, and operation is lying to you, and you need to run!

What is the difference between a website and a web application?

Websites are relatively simple, and web applications are complex applications that are accessible through the web for users to accomplish tasks.


Static information. Think of a business site or blog. Simple interactions and users cannot drive the content on the website. Websites are simple to develop and use basic technology.

Web Applications

User-driven and dynamic information with an interactive experience. Think of online banking, email, and collaborative software. Web applications use more advanced technology and have complex designs that can interact with databases, search engines, and third-party services.

What affects the cost of building a web application?

Developing a web application involves many tradeoffs, not only in how you create or architect the solution but also in the overall cost and maintenance of the application. Unfortunately, the only way to understand your project’s cost is during the specifications and technical discovery.

Multi-Page vs. Single-Page Application

Does your application need to be a multi-page application (MPA) like Amazon or a single-page application (SPA) like Gmail? If your application is an SPA, the developers will need to spend extra time developing and securing the internal API it talks to. On the upside, having the API already developed makes it easy to develop a Mobile Application at a later date.

Third-Party APIs & Services

Integrating with third-party APIs and services, such as Google Maps and payment processors, will require extra time to ensure the integrations work as expected and do not interfere with the user experience.

Admin Dashboards

Every web application has to have a dashboard for admins to add, edit, or delete user content. Your application may also need other functionality, depending on your project specifications.

Complexity of Features

Depending on the complexity of the features your application needs, this can extend development time. For instance, if your app needs to process videos and images, reformat them for the web and prescreen them for undesired content.

Scaling Plans

Ensuring your application can handle a surge in usage or users will increase the amount of development time and architectural planning.

Architectural Design

Just like building a house, the more complex the architecture of the software, the longer it will take to develop.


Software can be tested manually and on the code level. I have seen too many applications from other agencies that ignore critical code testing and just rely on manual testing. Code testing will extend the development time but will be well worth it, as it can help prevent more errors than any manual testing plan could, saving you money in the future and ensuring a better user experience.

What are the operational costs of a web application?

Once you pay for the application, you must run it somewhere. Many aspects can affect its operational costs; make sure you understand them all.

Cloud Provider

Many cloud providers charge by the server type, how long the server is up, network usage, or a combination of any of them, and not by the month, making it hard to predict the actual cost. Some cloud providers are better at different stages; some are cheaper for startups and more expensive as the application grows; others are cheaper for well-established applications than for startups.

Server Quantity and Type

Some simple applications can get away with cheap servers; however, if you are processing more complex data, you might need some computing power, increasing your monthly operational costs. You may also need a front-end server to handle user requests and a worker server to process data without interfering with user interactions (think sending daily emails).


The last thing you want to do is test new features in the live environment. You want to catch breaking changes before they go live. You need a second set of servers and a sandbox to test and approve changes to do this. You can save on the cost by spinning up the pre-production server only when needed and using cheaper servers.

Third-Party APIs and Integrations

Many third-party APIs and integrations have quota and usage plans—some charge by the month, and some charge for what you use.

Application Logging

You will want to keep the logs generated by the application for a reasonable amount of time to diagnose any bugs. These logs make it easier to reproduce and analyze the errors.

Application Performance Monitoring

You will need performance monitoring if you would like to detect errors or performance issues before users complain. Basic monitoring is usually offered for free from the cloud provider. If you want more advanced and in-depth analysis, you must use a third party specializing in monitoring applications.

What are the maintenance costs for a web application?

No matter the stage or maturity of your application, you’ll have to pay to maintain it. The two significant maintenance costs for an application are new features and bug/issue fixes.

New Features

Maintenance can be the most significant cost, depending on how fast you want your application to adapt to the market. In addition, if the developers do not test the code well, making changes to the application could be much more effort and risky.

Bug and Fixing Issues

Even with the best testing, bugs or issues occasionally arise. Anyone who sells you a bug-free application is lying to you. In addition, if you don’t pay for the application to be well tested, you’ll be paying for it in the future; code testing allows developers to make changes and understand how those changes will affect different aspects of the code, hopefully catching errors before the user sees them.

Who should I hire to develop my web application?

Experience is key. Whoever you hire should have the expertise to develop your web application. Do you hire developers directly? Go with an agency? Hire a freelance developer?

In-House Developer


  • You have complete control of who you hire.
  • Direct and constant communication.
  • Experience and quality of work.


  • Expensive! Software engineering salaries can go anywhere from $100K to $300K in the US, depending on experience and expertise.
  • You have to understand how to hire a Software Engineer.

An Agency


They handle all aspects of the project. Have a team of people to work on different aspects of the project. Have the experience to manage different aspects of developing your web application.


Typically, offshore and cheap labor are used to build the application to keep costs down. In addition, they will take a considerable percentage for themselves and pay their employees very little. Ridgid requirements and specifications make it hard to change directions or make changes quickly. You don’t communicate directly with the people building your application.

A Freelance / Contractor Developer


Freelancers are a middle ground between an in-house engineer and an agency. Higher transparency on the status and build of your application. Typically respond quickly to requests and changes. They don’t upsell or try to get all the features done simultaneously, delivering the application in stages.


It may take longer to build the application. You must hire an expert to build your application; otherwise, you may end up with a low-quality product.

So who should you hire?

Ultimately, that is up to you, and your budget, but a good guideline would be:

  • Startup / Small Business: A Freelancer / Contractor.
  • Established Business / Medium to Large Businesses: An Agency or a Freelancer / Contractors.
  • Enterprise: An Agency or an In-House Employees.

On a side note, you may be tempted to offer shares or a percentage of sales instead of paying a developer. Most experienced developers, especially those who have worked with startups, will likely only accept those requests if they are passionate and believe in your vision, which can be a hard sell. Paying a developer for their time will give you the best outcome.

What are some things that come with a high cost later?

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Yet, more expensive sometimes means better. Here are some of the things that will cost you a lot in the future or possibly set your application to fail.

Using cheap offshore labor or inexperienced developers

In most cases, cheap labor and inexperienced developers come with the cost of bad and unmaintainable code. I have also seen situations where promised features did not work and were designed to trick the customer into thinking they did. If the code gets too bad, the only option is to rewrite it from scratch, which is very expensive and time-consuming; I have seen businesses fail due to this.

No code testing (not manual testing)

Code testing gives developers the confidence to change the code. Sometimes, changes to the code can affect different parts of the application we were not expecting; having the code tests helps catch these early before the user does.

Over-architecting and optimizing too early

Good software design and architecture can go a long way. However, trying to solve problems for the future extends the development time. It makes it harder to make changes as the business requirements change. In addition, without actual data, there is no certainty that you will encounter the same problems as another company. Solve the problems of today. Plan and be aware of the potential problems in the future.

Using Templates

Sometimes, it’s tempting to use a prebuilt template to keep the cost down and move faster when building your application. However, these templates only allow you to develop features within their narrow scope. In most cases, trying to extend a template can require more work than if you had started from scratch.

Not willing to give you the code

You are paying someone to develop an application for you, and you are paying for that code. Not having the code will make it impossible to hire someone else to make changes or manage the code for you. Your code should be hosted by a version control provider like GitHub or GitLabs, with you as the primary owner of the code.

What can I do to keep costs down?

The common practice is to plan a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) release for your web application. An MVP will be the core or essential features that prove your idea or web application solves an actual problem users will pay for.

Once you have a solid user base and gather feedback, you can decide what to do next. Do you add features? Do you need to change a feature? Do you need to pivot your business model? Once you have these answers, you can work with the developer or agency on any necessary changes.

Final Thoughts

The only way to gauge the cost of your web application accurately is by knowing the specifications and details of the project. Developing a Minimal Viable Product will help keep those costs down. However, you still have to remember that there are operational and maintenance costs associated with your web application.

Software development is expensive, and it is tempting to choose the cheapest option, especially when you lack the capital. However, there are many risks associated with it that will jeopardize the success of your application or business. That doesn’t mean expensive means quality either, but cheap, as the saying goes, will give you precisely what you paid for.

If you want a web application developed or need someone to review an existing one, I would be happy to help.

Let’s talk.

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