I am sure you’ve heard that one before. However, we’ll do our best to demonstrate exactly what the cost of your app depends upon, so by the end of this article you will have an idea of how much it may cost to develop your web application.
What Are We Estimating?
Let’s make sure we are on the same page when talking about a web application, as quite often this term gets misused.
According to Wikipedia, a web app is a client-server software application in which the client (or user interface) runs in a web browser. This is basically a desktop software that runs in your browser and you don’t need to install it on your computer.
Please note that in this article we are considering only custom web application development (because it is what we do). Therefore, we are not talking about websites built with an off-the-shelf CMS like WordPress or Magento.
In addition to that, we are concentrating only on the development cost, excluding custom design and UX from this calculation.
Main Factors Influencing the Cost of Your Web Application
Fundamentally, the cost of creating a web app is composed of the amount of work hours put into it, multiplied by the hourly rate of your web development team.
The amount of work hours that your team will need to develop your software will mostly depend on its complexity. By complexity, we mainly mean the number of custom features you want and how your app will be used. In addition, you should also keep in mind that there will be post-release expenses.
So in this article we are talking about these three factors:
The simplest version of an application is a website where only one person manages content, no online payments are conducted and no integrations are needed. For example, an informational website about a company and its services.
The complexity of a custom web application will increase as soon as you’ll want to:
allow all users to register and add their own content
allow others to buy and sell on your website (C2C)
integrate your app with other apps
localize your website for multiple geographic locations
And so on.
So the cost of your app will depend on:
Let’s go into details…
Here is a list of the most common app features, all of which can influence the complexity of your web application. To keep things simple, we have divided them into three groups.
Social Network and Gamification Features
Management and Operational Tools
Payout/withdrawal (when users can sell on your website)
Recommendation engine (automatic recommendations: ‘people also liked..’, ‘you might also like’, etc.)
Interaction between registered users (liking, sharing, commenting, messaging)
Multiple user roles with various access levels
Statistics and analytics
In a nutshell, the more custom features you’d like to add, the more complex it becomes.
Besides the amount of custom features you’d like to add, there are other things to consider.
API and third-party integrations
You will need API or third-party integration if you want to integrate your web application with another website or web service. For example, say you’d like to automatically transfer all client details, orders and payments data to your company’s ERP or CRM. Sometimes such integrations can take minutes; other times this work can take days. Our job becomes more difficult when, for instance, the third-party system/website we are integrating our client’s website with doesn’t function as it should (has bugs), or when the other app has very poor API documentation so we have to do a lot of guesswork.
High user load
We need to take special measures if a lot of users have to use your app all at the same time. Each piece of software has its own limit of users it can handle simultaneously and we all know what happens when a system is overloaded. So if we know that your website is going to be used by a lot of people at once, we will optimize it for the high load. This happened when we were developing an event application that we knew would be used by over 1,000 people simultaneously.
Additional security measures
With the right approach to coding, your development team will cover all basic software security requirements by default. However, some applications require additional security measures. This usually goes for types of projects that handle highly sensitive data, like credit card details or other private info. So, the security of your app will be more complex if, for instance, you are going to process online payments, and it will be even more complex if you allow one group of users to sell things to other user groups on your website.
The global market of web development services is very diverse and therefore hard to navigate. Just to give you an idea of the market prices, we are sharing a breakdown created by Dave Hecker from SourceSeek. Dave suggests dividing web app developers according to their business type and gives price ranges associated with each vendor type.
500–2,000 employees, work only with budgets starting at six figures, the development period starts at six months.
Body shops & mid-level vendors
50–500 employees, often work as ODC, are very diverse in terms of quality of work (hence the price range is wide).
Boutique & expat-run shops
5–40 developers, have narrow technology or industry focus.
Rising stars, new in business, can be quite professional.
Low-quality companies and freelancers.
$15 and less.
In our opinion, it is possible to achieve a decent price-quality ratio within a $22–$30 range for web development services (for medium to small projects).
Who are you paying this money to?
Typically this hourly rate will be distributed among several specialists, who will develop your app (unless you are hiring a ‘Jack of all trades’ freelancer). Therefore, the amount you pay for the development of your app will be allocated between:
Quality Assurance Engineer.
Most likely you will be set with one project manager, two developers (front end and back end) and one QA engineer.
It is a common misconception to think that the more people you have on the team, the faster they will build a web application. This isn’t always the case, as oftentimes the development process should be done in a strict order and you cannot do most of the tasks simultaneously. Don’t fall into this trap even if you are really in a hurry, as you might end up spending your budget faster than your app is finished.
Post-release expenses typically include:
Post-Release Bug Fixing
Right now, you are probably thinking, “I am already paying for testing, what post-release bugs are you talking about?”
Unfortunately, post-release bugs can happen even if the most brilliant developers and QA engineers are developing your app.
During the testing stage we often will test an app under the conditions and use scenarios that we previously agreed upon with our client. This means that before getting to testing, we will discuss with our client all possible devices an app will be used on, as well as ways this app can be used by different user groups. And then our QA engineer will develop a testing plan according to these conditions and use scenarios.
However, it is impossible to predict everything that may happen with your app. For example, one of the systems that your app is integrated with might release an upgraded/changed version that can deteriorate your app’s functionality.
It would be wise to preserve a part of your budget for the unforeseen bugs that can show up after launch. Usually post-release bug fixing requires 10–25% of the app development budget.
As for the infrastructure costs, they usually involve:
Domain name registration – anything from $5 to $50
Hosting your web app – ranging from $4 to $500, depending on the storage space and features.
Price Ranges for Simple, Medium and Complex Web Applications
Below are oversimplified estimations of the three types of projects based on their complexity. We’ve compiled these to give you an idea of how development costs vary depending on project complexity.
Pages with static information
Pages with static information
API and third-party integration
All from ‘Medium’
Multiple user roles
High user load
How Much Would AirBnB, Etsy and Trello Cost?
To further illustrate how development time and cost vary depending on the complexity, our team leaders gave rough estimations of the three well-known websites.
List of items
Getting payments from users
Boards, list of tasks, tasks, task details
Multiple access roles
List of houses, each house is tied to their locations on the map
Getting payments from users
Sending payments to house owners
The list of factors that we’ve covered in this article is not exhaustive, as each project is unique. Nonetheless, we consider these factors to play a major role in determining the cost of your app.
How complex does the first edition of your app need to be? The amount and complexity of features you’d like to see on your website or web app will lead to the amount of hours put into your project.
Who will develop your app? Do you want to pay extra for a famous established vendor? Or, are you willing to take risks with a rising star? The type of outsourcing company you choose and their hourly rate will also have a great influence on the cost of your app.
And don’t forget the costs you will incur after your app is launched. Post-release expenses are inevitable and hard to predict in the early stages.