When you’re researching design agencies to work with for your website, you may find that the costs quoted by top design firms vary drastically. Some firms may only charge a few hundred dollars for website design or other services, while others will ask for tens or thousands of dollars. How do you get your money’s worth?

Here’s some information you may find helpful when researching the costs of a top design firm and determining how you can get the most out of your investment.

The Costs of a Website

The amount of money required to design or redesign a website has changed over time. Ten years ago, a world-class website could have cost tens of thousands of dollars. This is because the amount of time and custom development needed to create a site was very high. It was time-consuming and difficult to create a functional and beautiful website, so the costs were high as well.

Now, attractive and highly functional websites can be built for as little as a few hundred dollars. Advances in technology and website content management systems have allowed the costs of design and development to drop, because less time is needed to perform simple tasks.

Website costs now vary based on the level of design and custom development required. In 2014, a design firm should quote you between $2,000 and $10,000 to create a new site, or to completely redesign an existing site.

The Costs of Maintenance and Updates

Websites require updates and maintenance to stay fresh, current, and appealing to visitors. These updates can range from very simple — adding new products to ecommerce stores or changing text on a static page — to complicated. These updates take time, and if you’re not familiar with your site or CMS, could cause you frustration or even website errors.

A maintenance plan is something else that can add to the costs of retaining a design firm. Most reputable agencies offer a package that allows you a set amount of time or tickets per month, which ensures that they can offer you the resources you need to keep your site running smoothly. They may also offer an hourly rate for on-demand maintenance or services.

You should expect to pay between $100 and $500 a month for ongoing maintenance plans or packages, while per-hour rates may be between $50 for basic tasks to $150 for development.

The Cost of SEO and Marketing

It’s not enough to have a great looking website. Your website needs to be found in search by users, whether they are searching for your brand name or looking for the products or services you offer. That’s why it’s so important to look for a design agency that offers search engine optimization (or SEO) services.

SEO pricing can vary based on the kinds of services offered. A full SEO package will include everything from website copywriting and on-page optimization to link building and targeted outreach. Some firms may also offer more advanced SEO services, like website audits or even a guarantee on terms and phrases ranked on Google.

You should expect to pay between $500 and $1500 a month for SEO services from an agency. Those who charge significantly more or less than this, or who make unrealistic promises — like “we’ll rank you for 10 phrases in a week” — should not be trusted.

What’s the Overall Cost of Hiring a Top Design Firm?

There are two costs you have to consider when calculating the overall price of a top design agency: the initial investment (how much you spend for your first project) and the ongoing investment (how much you spend monthly for maintenance or ongoing work).

The initial investment to design a website, perform basic setup or data population, light development, and a basic SEO package should be around $3500 to $7000. For more advanced development, larger websites, or higher grade design work, this investment should look something like $7500 to $15000.

Monthly maintenance and ongoing SEO work may cost as little as $500 or go as high as $3500. This all depends on how much you would like done and how difficult it is to rank your site for your intended keywords, or how much design work you need done for new pages or products.

It is possible to keep the cost of hiring a design firm low, but remember: you get what you pay for. So unless you have a very small site that needs very little optimization or maintenance, you should not expect, or plan, to spend less than $250 a month.

Want to start looking for the top design firms that fit your budget and deliver the results you need? Visit our 2014 list of the top design agencies to get started.