How much does it really cost to make a website? Are you hunting for answers on Google, typing “How do I make a website on a budget?” or “Can I make a cheap website?”
If so, this post is for you.
You may have heard the saying, “It can be good, it can be fast, or it can be cheap - pick two.” These cynical words, my friends, are no longer words to live by.
In part due to the evolution of website creation platforms, you can find that magical middle ground everyone claims doesn't exist.
To do that, I'm going to help you understand the true costs associated with each part of a website, and what each price point really means.
Where do you begin?
The first thing to remember? Your website is both a productive and creative tool. Sit back and digest that for a minute.
You’re not getting a new passport photo, you’re making a website to foster your business, or to cultivate an engaging personal online presence. The internet is always changing, but now more than ever, it’s matured into a space where content is not merely created, but also shared.
It’s worth taking time and effort to make something you’re proud of. The more creativity/passion you put in, the better off you will be in the future while you grow and promote your business or yourself within your online communities. You are about to become PART of the web, but...
What if you feel like you don’t have the time?
There are platforms and hosting services with templates to speed up the process significantly. Problem is, many of these tools tend to suffocate your creative expression. Kind of like being trapped in a hot car with the windows rolled up.
Carefully choosing the right platform for you (then putting in dedication to using it to it's full advantage) is critical. This will help you produce the results you want, while sticking to your budget.
SAVE FROM THE START.
The whole shebang begins with obtaining a domain and a hosting service. Once you’ve done that, you can start projecting costs for the creation of your content and design.
Let’s pause for a moment before we move on. It's possible you’re going into this unsure about what a domain and a hosting service even are. If so, here’s my take:
Your website is like a tree in a public park. The park is “the internet”. The exact location this tree has been planted is your “domain”. The tree itself is your “hosting service”. The leaves are your “content/design”.
We could take this analogy way too far (because why not) and suggest that the birds that land in your tree are your “visitors”.
DIVING INTO DOMAINS, ON A DIME.
The first step to creating a website for business or personal use is to secure a domain name. It's a big part of the process. What do you want to be called online?
Yes, yes, yes. I hear you in the back. Certain domain names CAN be acquired for free.
The problem is they often sub out “dot com” for things like “dot tk”, which is less intuitive. People are just more accustomed to .com. The type of domain you choose is important, because it usually identifies the type of organization that created it.
"Dot edu"? That's an educational organization. "Dot ca"? A Canadian company.
In this phase, it's important to remember your time again, and how much time you want to spend agonizing over a domain price.
The cost associated with a domain does not usually run more than $10-$20 annually - less than a cent a day. There is heavy competition in the market, so definitely DO check out a few different registrars before settling on one - just don’t let it paralyze you.
Hover.com will price compare for you, and could be a great place to start. You can also get free domains included with certain hosting packages.
One thing to remember, “owning” a domain is more like renting. Nobody can “steal” it if you pay your fees on time, but you can lose your domain if you aren’t diligent with your payments.
TIP #1: Take time to choose your domain carefully.
Please, I beg you. Don’t have that extra glass of wine at dinner and then run home thinking idostuffreallycoolguysforreal.org is the winner with your credit card in hand. Once you’ve paid, your domain name cannot be changed.
Of course, you can always register a new domain, or pony up cancellation fees, but that would be a really pointless way to throw your money around.
TIP #2: Pay ahead.
Many domain registrars offer bundles where you can pay for your domain years in advance at a reduced cost. If you are planning to operate a site on a longterm basis, this could be worthwhile, especially if you think you might forget to renew it.
Life gets hectic, paying for a few years in advance will give you some wiggle room to be absent-minded. Not to mention, the longer you "lease" a domain for, the more favourable it appears in the eyes of search engines, helping you rank sooner and better.
TIP #3: You are never stuck with your registrar.
If you get targeted with a large price increase down the road, you can shop around to move your domain elsewhere. I repeat, this is not a hostage situation.
HOSTING - YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.
Now that you have your domain name locked down, you can start looking for the right place to host your website. When you’re on a budget, choosing a host often means settling for a trade-off between price, reliability and the features that you need or are willing to live with.
First thing you’ll notice right off the bat is the wide spectrum of prices and services available. Each hosting service will have different packages to suit a variety of needs. Before you start looking, you need to be sure you have decided what YOUR needs are.
For instance, free web hosting might seem appealing at first, but it’s often a venus fly trap.
While there are free web hosting options available, many will impose advertising on your website. You can expect banners, or pop up windows and you will not have control over their content. In most cases, that’s just like getting a tattoo on your face.
Free hosts do this specifically to satisfy the expenses of operating their servers, so it certainly isn’t malicious and you can’t resent them. In fact, for some people, a free hosting plan IS the way to go. Businesses should consider serious alternatives, though.
HOW MUCH SPACE?
Nearly all web hosts enforce a limit on the amount of traffic your website can use per day and/or per month. This means that if the pages on your site are loaded by visitors beyond a certain number of times, the web host could disable your website, or bill you for the overages.
Check the policies of your potential hosts for additional charges. Chances are you don't need a massive or overly complex hosting package. That being said, don’t settle for too little, either.
The best hosting package will be something unlimited. Be careful of hosts with a confusing plethora of hosting packages, as they may try to charge you extra for services you need down the road. The best packages to simplfy your life will be unlimited, or all inclusive.
TIP #1: Don’t over spend on a hosting package with features you don’t need!
It’s like going grocery shopping when you’re hungry and unusually ambitious - you’re going to end up with too many ingredients for recipes you’ll never actually make.
TIP #2: Free is never “free”.
If a host offers free services without advertising, be skeptical, because that just sounds made up. Without a means to recover the costs of operating their servers, ad free/cost free hosts could go out of business, disrupting your online presence.
TIP#3: Set up automatic monthly payments online.
This will save you time and help you avoid potential late fees. This one simple step has rescued me many times. It’s true, life is hectic (especially if you’re running a business) and some of us are just prone to forgetfulness.
THE TRUE COST OF CONTENT
The role that your content plays is critical in your ability to improve your SEO (or Search Engine Optimization). This is how you will get traffic and customers to your site.
While there are many avenues to get paid traffic through ads online and in social media channels, organic traffic is the most valuable when it comes to ranking on search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo.
You can build and foster organic traffic by researching keywords, taking the time to create quality content. There is a lot of information about SEO practices, so invest the time in learning more about ranking on search engines.
The most impactful saving will begin when you decide choose to create and upload your own content instead of hiring a professional to design your website. This is where the time, the effort and the dedication I was sermonizing about earlier comes in.
TIP #1: Don’t start with a blank slate.
Make your life easier by using templates or themes if you do not have experience designing websites. This will help you to avoid looking tacky (think Geocities in the late 1990’s) and give you time to focus on creating quality content.
TIP #2: Time is money, too.
Remember, your time is also worth money, and should be included in your budget.
How much time are you willing to dedicate to creating your website? Is the amount of time it will take you to create the website you want on your own worth the dollar amount that it would cost for a professional designer or content creator?
TIP#3: ‘Exposure’ will not buy you design or written work.
Do not, I repeat, do NOT contact designers or content developers to ask they create your website for free, "for exposure". Many professionals (and even beginners) will find this insulting. On the other hand, some designers MAY be open to trading for services, dollar for dollar, depending on their needs and interests.
In the past, you may have felt that to create a professional website, you needed to learn about the dark underbelly of web design (ahem, cue the horror movie soundtrack).
Now there are options. The best thing is to find a service that offers both hosting and a design platform that works well for your needs, to expedite the process of getting your content online.
You want to be able to customize the look and feel of your pages, and be able to update your site as your business evolves. Flexibilty is key! For example, if one day you want to move to online sales from a storefront-focused promotion strategy, your platform should never be a barrier to evolving your business.