You don’t have to be an expert to launch a website anymore. With all the DIY solutions on the market, small businesses can get their brand up and running online within minutes. However, there are unexpected hidden costs of building a personalized site that will sneak up on your expense ledger as you start to grow your business.
With new domains opening for registrations you now have many more options in choosing your domain. And most likely, you'll find that your ideal name has been taken and need options to stand out from the noise. Fortunately, there are domain generators to help come up with new names and premium Top Level Domains, such as .ME, to add a touch of personalization to one’s brand.
With any Top Level Domain, either a monthly or yearly cost will be attached to registering and hosting the domain name. And if you are planning on an ecommerce site, then the SSL certificate will be required.
Plug-Ins, Updates and Templates
Web builders on the market, such as Squarespace and GoDaddy, offer many inexpensive starter plans. But before you commit to a project and settle on a generic template, it’s important to understand your short and long-term goals of the site and how much customization you might need in the future.
Megan Simoes, Director of Web Strategy & Development of The James Agency said, “DIY platforms are great if you want to stick exactly to their template. Challenges occur once you need to customize it at all. Many templates are locked so you cannot add or remove a section without messing up the page layout. Many of these platforms have preferred partners that you will end up needing to hire to develop any custom layouts [outside] of the template.”
For WordPress users, you could get stuck with a low functioning template and end up spending more to fine-tune and protect your site.
Ville Salminen, founder of Cordcutting.com and Flixable, said, “WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) in the world, powering 30 percent of the world’s websites. While there is a great deal of free WordPress themes, they are often limited in functionality. That is why you are usually better off buying the full version of the theme right away.
The other hidden costs of these DIY or free platforms could be subscription costs for themes, plugins, updates and backing up data.
Simoes said, “WordPress websites need to be updated at least every month. I recommend testing the website after updating it to make sure nothing broke during the update. [If it did break] after an update, you may need to hire a professional to fix the website. This can be costly if the website is not backed up or maintained properly.”
Fortunately, there are more web building companies vying for your business and the costs for extra functionalities are decreasing.
Christopher Gruler, CEO of Protege Branding, said, “With more competition in the market, these platforms have been forced to either increase functionality or lower price points to level out control and gain market share.”
EShopping Isn’t Cheap
With more individual brands and small businesses selling more products/services online, having a secure ecommerce element on a site helps build trust with customers.
Salminen said, “If you know that you are going to sell products on your site, it is wise to integrate ecommerce capabilities right off the bat. You will need to have a payment gateway, product descriptions, and product images in place. [And] modifying any software is more difficult and expensive after it has been developed.”
If you are integrating ecommerce from other platforms, eventually you’ll need to build-in a budget for advanced features.
Gruler said, “If you are building your ecommerce site on Shopify, Magento, or Volusion, you will have limitations with their basic platform. You will have the ability to purchase functionalities, [but will need to] learn the program yourself or have a developer assist you. Same with open source elements like woo commerce. [If need be,] find an expert in a specific platform – that tends to save you money.”
Having quality photos and descriptions on your site will be important to attract and retain customers. But this process takes time and money to complete.
Simoes said, “Web design companies often do not include the cost of product photography and add in products to the platform. If there are hundreds of products, it can be costly or time intensive for you to add them.
Hidden costs may also include maintaining the site and managing sales.
“Some do-it-yourself ecommerce solutions charge a percentage of sales,” Simoes said. “They can also charge by website traffic. If your site reaches an amount of website traffic they may have a hidden cost built-in to increase your hosting bandwidth.”
DIY Web Builders Can Only Go so Far
As your business builds, you’re going to have to customize the site and hire a web designer to keep up with the traffic and enhanced features. Salminen suggests to get multiple design bids and work with a reputable designer.
Salminen said, “Hiring a web designer or web developer has become increasingly inexpensive with the multitude of available freelancing platforms. [While] your project will receive bids from all around the world – [and] this is a positive – your money is worth more in some parts of the world than others, and choosing the right designer or developer can be a challenge. There can be language barriers and cultural differences in play, and a seemingly straightforward project can take much longer than anticipated, adding to your costs. On the other hand, hiring a highly rated freelancer is generally a safe bet and can save you a significant amount of money.”
But beware of the lowball bids – they could cost you more money.
“Red flags that I see all the time in our industry are designers/developers with ‘lower hourly rates’ but come in on bids with three or four times the hours to complete a project,” Gruler said. “You end up paying the same amount, if not more, and you run the risk of poor code structure. [Also,] make your potential designer/developer provide a few references and examples of their work. This adds another layer of protection for you while making a decision.”
Before you hire a designer, make sure you have a plan.
Gruler said, “The challenges I see are business owners that don't have a structured game plan for expansion. They solely focus on saving money to get a website up quickly, yet two years down the road, their functionality upgrades/hosting/email/bandwidth have costed them close to the amount of having your website custom designed in an open CRM (like WordPress or Drupal).
“Make sure you have a clear and concise dev direction (RFP) so there are no discrepancies in bidding out the website build. If you want to add/change functionalities, that is great, but make sure it drives revenue to your brand/business.”
Cyber Threats Can Really Cost You
Cyber threats are a real thing for small businesses and reducing risk of losing company and customer data has to be a priority from the beginning. Hidden costs can be in securing the site with malware monitoring and data backup.
Simoes said, “Many websites are vulnerable to malware and if your website is hacked, often a website developer or malware removal company is needed to remove the malicious content.”
The Cost of Clicks
Putting your brand online is just the first step to reaching customers. Before you hit the launch button, set aside money for a marketing and SEO plan, this could include a blend of content, free social platforms and paid advertising.
Salminen said, “You can buy traffic from Google using AdWords, Google’s online advertising service, or produce content that ranks on Google. The latter option is free, aside from the costs associated with producing the content, and can have significant long-term value. An old piece can attract traffic after years of its publication. But producing high-quality content and have it rank on Google can be a slow process, which is why a combination of paid and free strategies is your best bet. Using Google AdWords, you can quickly see what content attracts clicks and how to refine that content to attract even more of them. This way paid advertising can be a valuable ally in content creation. One downside with paid advertising is that keywords with a lot of competition are priced high, and one click can cost you more than $10.”
Consistency Has a Cost
Gruler said, “Marketing your site and creating content is solely derived around the type of business you provide. It is a must to have a creative and leverage video in some capacity in your marketing efforts. Paid media, content and social strategies are also a must in some capacity, but more importantly, it’s always about consistency.”
If you decide to hire a digital marketing company, Gruler suggests to “get a break down of hours, services and actual spend you get into the ad marketplace.”
Before you start throwing your credit card down to build a website, think about what your short- and long- term plans will be to personalize your site and the budget you’ll need to get it done.