Who considers the ongoing cost of owning a website when they commission their website? Modern content management systems like WordPress might be free, and even your hosting might be free, but even though it looks free… it shouldn’t be free if you’re managing your website properly.
A lot of what I’m going to cover here may be able to be done by you, but it will still take up your time, and therefore if you’re running a business it is still effectively a cost to you.
Once your website is built and launched, there is an ongoing cost to keeping it up and running.
You can’t avoid this one. Your website needs to reside on a server somewhere. Occasionally, you can find a free hosting service – try to avoid these, as there will always be a catch, whether it is their right to advertise in your web space, or their high charges when you go over a usage allowance or (perish the thought) if you ever want to transfer your site to another host.
Hosting will generally cost between £50 – £300 per year, although if you want even more performance and a little more exclusivity and security you might consider a VPS or even a dedicated server. These could set you back between £750 and £3000 per year. The more you pay usually (although not always) means you’ll get a better service, and just in case you’re wondering if it’s worth paying more than the lower figure – yes, it most certainly is! You might not need hosting support very often, but on that one occasion when your website crashes and you can’t get it back yourself, you won’t want your site to be out of action for 3 days whilst you’re waiting for your host to respond to your email. So check the support SLA when choosing your host, and try to find some reviews. Performance is another reason to pay more for your hosting – most low-cost hosts will put you on a low-powered server, which you share with literally thousands of other sites. These servers might also be less secure, especially when you consider that a hack on another website on the server might just spread to your site, and could lead to your site being blacklisted.
Apart from the security that comes (or in some cases doesn’t come) from your website hosts, you might also want to consider supplementing your security with an external service. These fall into 2 camps – those that stop malicious traffic from reaching your site in the first place, and those which harden your site to protect it if (or more likely when) bad visitors reach you.
Services like Cloudflare ($20 per month) and Sucuri ($17 per month) are easy to set up, and they act as a Web Firewall to shield your website from malicious visitors before they even reach your server.
You also have a range of ‘in-site’ security options. These might take the form of plugins that save your site from spam comments, or which check the IP address of incoming visitors to match against databases of known hackers, or advise you when a file has been added or modified. These offer varying degrees of success, and can be free or cost a nominal amount (perhaps $20) per year.
If you have visited websites to purchase things, you would have (hopefully) spotted the browser address bar changing to green, and including a padlock icon. This is generated by the site’s SSL certificate. Historically, only website pages that collected sensitive information, such as payment details, were secured in this way. Nowadays, it’s becoming more common to see every page on a website secured in this way, especially now that Google has said it will give a slight ranking boost to pages that are secured.
SSL works by delivering your pages over what’s called HTTPS- instead of the more conventional HTTP protocol. This ensures that the data exchanged between your website and your visitor’s web browser is encrypted.
SSL certificates can cost anything from nothing (if your host provides it) to many hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds per year, if you purchase from one of the top certificating authorities, with a particularly large insured amount, etc. You might also have to pay for it to be installed on your server and make adjustments to your website to make sure it works. For a small business website, plan on spending around £10 – £50 per year on the certificate (although we offer FREE SSL CERTIFICATES for clients hosting with us), and perhaps £50 – £100 for a web developer to make the necessary changes to your website. Certificates offering wildcard domain coverage, or offering greater insurance if things go wrong, can cost a lot more!
Your domain name will cost anything from £5 per year to £30 per year, depending on where you purchase it and what TLD you choose (i.e. .co.uk, .com. .eu, etc.). Some web hosts will throw in a domain name free of charge when you host with them. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but just beware that if you do this they might make it harder for you to transfer your domain or hosting away from them – check their T’s and C’s BEFORE you sign up.
Content Updates and other Maintenance
Your website will need to be updated on a fairly regular basis. It may be that your product or service changes slightly (e.g. your prices), or you want to replace some images, add more products, add blog posts (and write them!), etc., or it may be that you want a more significant change – for example a completely new section for your site, or you might want to introduce some mailing list functionality. If you have one of the more common content management systems, such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, you’ll also need to allow some time on a regular basis to update the CMS and any plugins and extensions. Whatever changes your site needs, you’ll either need to do this yourself (which takes time) or you’ll need to get someone else to do it for you. If you don’t have a regular support contract (our website support package costs £270 per year, for example) you’ll need to pay for your changes on a piecemeal basis. The going rate for general website maintenance is £30 – £60 per hour, and you should budget at least 10 hours per year for this.
SEO or PPC?
You need traffic, right? Unless you are trading in such a rarified niche – where there is little competition and where your customers know exactly which website to come to when they need your product or service – then you’ll need to do some work to attract traffic.
If your site is new, you’ll probably want to consider some type of paid advertising to get visitors. Depending on your target audience, this may take the form of a social media campaign (paid Twitter or Facebook links, for example), or if you operate B2B it’s more likely to be a Google Adwords (or other search engine) paid campaign, where you select the keywords you want to be found for, build an advert, choose a bid price, then pay every time someone clicks on one of your ads. Your spending on this is likely to be between £50 and £2000 per month. Whatever it costs, you should be able to relate your cost directly to sales (or another conversion measure), so that ultimately you’ll look upon it as an investment with a measurable return.
Eventually, you’re going to want your site to start generating its own organic search engine traffic. This can be incredibly difficult. Regular blog writing and social media activity can be a real help here, as well as a really focused effort to get each page on your site as well optimised as possible. Page load speeds can be really important here, and making sure your site is optimised for mobile devices – both of these things help get you a better ranking in search engines.
Professional blog writing should be considered as a content update cost (see above) and may cost £200 per month for a couple of posts. If you think this is expensive, consider the amount of research that needs to go into each post to produce an informative and search-impacting article of 300-600 words. It might easily take 3-4 hours.
So as you can see, the cost of owning a website is far from free, even after your initial development costs have been paid. The annual cost of owning a website is likely to be anything between from £60 per year (if you have basic, low cost hosting plus a .org.uk [or similar] domain name) to £5000 (or more) per year, if you host your site on a dedicated server, have multiple domain names to cover all options (e.g. .co.uk, .com, .eu, etc.), pay for regular maintenance, content writing, SEO and Google Adwords.
…and don’t forget that you’ll probably need to factor in a major site rebuild every 3-5 years, as your business evolves and you want to keep up with changing technology trends.
I’d be interested to hear from you if you’re paying less than £100 per year to run your website (as I suspect your website is missing out on something), or if you are paying more than a few thousand a year (as I would hope we could deliver a better service for less).