Your website is a critical element of your business
We are connected like never before. Your consumers are browsing the web to research, collate information, buy products or services, socialise, and share content. Whether discovered via online search, social media, friends and family, or print media, the first interaction a potential client has with your business is often through your website. You need a strong, high quality online presence to stay competitive in today’s market. Your website is critical to your marketing, 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week.
The kind of website you could acquire is a bit like the kind of car you could acquire; that is, like a car, the amount you spend directly relates to its quality, reliability and performance. And like a car, whether it’s a VW Beetle or a Rolls Royce, a website needs servicing and maintenance in order to do its job consistently, and perform to its optimal potential. Cost and performance go hand in hand.
To get more performance and reliability, you will have to spend more.
The cost of creating and maintaining a successful website is often not apparent
The web evolves extremely quickly and is largely influenced by technological advancements (and limitations), alongside business and consumer needs.
When launching your website you need to factor in the development costs, content creation costs, domain management costs, server hosting costs, cost of integrating other compatible services, maintenance costs and of course the quality of each of these elements and how well they meet your business needs.
You also need to consider things such as;
- The time you are required to provide input into these factors yourself.
- Your budget.
- The goals and aspirations of your business.
- The likeliness your online presence will need to evolve to accommodate change and growth.
The provider, price and package options available to you vary greatly, as does the quality and performance. For example;
→ You can choose to pay a cheap web host to provide a generic, slow, technically archaic website with limited functionality and customisations, hosted on a shared, low performance server.
→ Alternatively, you could hire an independent webmaster / web developer to coordinate, develop and maintain a more premium service that can be more finely tuned to the needs and aspirations of your business.
Building and maintaining a generic, average website is much easier than it was ten years ago. A complete novice can set-up and maintain a very basic site using any number of ‘do it yourself’ options.
The downside to this is that, unless you have a lot of time on your hands, you will become quickly overwhelmed. It is also likely that you may, unknowingly, severely limit the online potential of your business as well as the customer experience of your website. At best, the website will receive negligible traffic and at worst, potentially get hacked, leaving client data vulnerable.
Large businesses tend to have entire departments, and big budgets, dedicated to their online operations. Small businesses don’t have that luxury and need to carefully consider the pros and cons of all available options. If you cut too many corners you could potentially; be offline for days, lose clients through unsuitable online presence, or be dedicating too much of your precious time to maintaining every minute aspect of your website.
The purpose of this document is to provide you greater insight into what it takes to build, maintain and operate a successful online website and why hiring a webmaster is a very good idea.
What it takes to build a website
There are a plethora of considerations in regard to the building of your website all of which factor into the cost, quality and performance of your website.
A brand new domain name doesn’t cost much. Depending on the top level domain (.com/.com.au/.org etc) you can expect to pay anywhere between $5 to $20 per year. Unfortunately, some domain registers charge much more. I have had a client previously paying up to $200 per year out of naivety.
You will need to point the domain name to the Internet Protocol (IP) address of the server that hosts your website.
Premium Domain Name Server (DNS) management account
This is the account you purchase for implementing more advanced requirements for your domain and any services that are attached to it.
For example; Google applications require text records that will verify your ownership of the domain. A text record is a file that is uploaded to the Domain Name Server and attached to your domain.
Domain name and Domain Name Server management
You will need to factor in the cost of actually managing and maintaining your domain name. Like most things, you can save money with DIY, but of course, the time spent learning and applying the skills required for this maintenance is where you end up paying dearly.
Managing your domain will include not only maintaining the renewal of domains, but also taking care of any domain name records that external applications may use in relation to your domain. For example, Google’s G Suite application requires you to maintain Mail eXchanger records (MX) for the purpose of sending and receiving emails on your domain.
Long gone are the days you can get away with a website that is simply a collection of Hyper-Text Markup Language (HTML) pages. Today, a more technically accurate description for a website is Web Application. A piece of software that runs on the web as opposed to a device like your PC or mobile. A highly advanced web application will perform similarly to a mobile or desktop application. Modern, dynamic websites and their advanced user interfaces and backends are web based applications.
As such, in order to build a website you will need a platform for building it. Today there are many frameworks and platforms available that do a large amount of the work for you straight out of the box. These platforms range in complexity, flexibility and ease of use. Typically, the more complex and advanced a platform you use, the more you can do with it, the more you can optimise it and the more you can customize it. Platforms that are designed for novice users are typically slower, less flexible, less customisable, limited in functionality and often involve some form of lock in, this can be via a contract, data restrictions, or both.
Some example platforms are;
Wix – A complete ‘Do It Yourself’ platform designed and developed for novices. The cost varies but it is a relatively cheap option. You have very limited control over their templates, you pay extra for their premium plugin applications, you do not control the hosting environment and to access more advanced functionality you need to use their Application Programming Interface (API) Wix Code.
WordPress – WordPress is an open source, free to use, extendable Content Management System (CMS). It is the most used CMS on the Internet, capturing nearly 60% of the market and accounts for nearly 30% of all websites. Some notable brands that use WordPress are; Sony, BBC America, Disney, PlayStation, Facebook (Newsroom) and Star Wars.
WordPress allows you to build and manage your own site, purchase and interchange countless themes (pre-designed templates) as well as heavily modify, extend and optimise those themes. You can also extend it with the countless plugins available that enhance its functionality. Additionally, you can build your own themes and plugins that are specific to your own needs.
For a novice, the learning curve is very high and to optimise WordPress you need to be a web developer experienced in WordPress development. Most businesses will hire staff or employ developers and designers to build and manage their WordPress based site and the logistics required to run it.
As a user you will also need to manage the hosting, administration and backend yourself or pay someone to handle it for you.
The cost of building a WordPress powered website varies greatly both in time and money. A professionally developed WordPress site can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands.
django – A more robust framework designed and developed for web developers to create highly customised web applications. If you wanted a very high-end web application with very specific and/or unique requirements, you would typically hire a web developer or team of developers who specialise in this framework. Instagram and Pinterest are both powered by django.
A high end solution powered by django will typically cost thousands of dollars to build.
Website Platform Skills
Once you have decided on the platform that best suits your business needs and budget, you will need to acquire the skills to use it. These skills are not static, web development technologies are constantly evolving – for example, m.dot websites, such as m.facebook.com, used to be heavily relied on for providing mobile friendly versions of a website. Today, this would be considered a massive waste of resources as we can now create a single site that works on all devices by using responsive web design. Web development and webmastering is a never ending cycle of learning and application.
Again, there are costs involved whether you decide to constantly be learning these skills yourself or hiring skilled individuals to do it for you.
A web host is a company with server computers connected to the internet. Your website platform and your website will reside on such a server. The size, quality and security of servers vary considerably, along with the cost.
Hosting a site can be very cheap if you opt for shared hosting. Shared hosting is where you share server space with several hundred other websites. While this is a cheap option, it can be less secure, less reliable and perform much slower than other, more tailored and well maintained solutions. You cannot optimise a shared server specifically for your website.
The ideal solution for business is hosting via a managed Virtual Private Server (VPS)
A VPS is a machine with partitioned resources dedicated to a private server instance. This is a service that needs to be managed and maintained by a professional. It is more expensive but allows for greater security control and performance optimisations. Good examples of current market leaders in the space are Google Compute Engine and Amazon Web Services.
The technical and maintenance requirements of your site will determine the cost for provisioning a VPS. Where shared hosting typically costs around $10 a month to maintain, a privately managed and configured VPS can cost significantly more (fifty to several hundred a month).
Once you have determined your hosting provider you will need to purchase, install and maintain Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificates for your domain/s. The cost will, again, vary on the provider of this service.
Website Setup and Design
Once you have determined the platform, and acquired the skills to use it (either yourself or via a professional), you need to install and configure the platform on your chosen hosting service, you will then need to design and build the website.
Standard things you will need to consider are;
- Branding and imagery
- Content creation
- Data collections and Input / Output (I/O) of that data
- Website structure
- User Interface (UI)
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
- Social media integration
- Integration of any external features and their APIs or embedded code (Google Maps, Email Form Processing, Subscriptions, E-commerce, AdWords, Social Media Marketing etc)
- User data
- Website optimisation (Speed)
- Mobile responsiveness
While the backbone of your website is achievable out of the box with most website platforms, the performance and quality of the end result will depend on both the platform chosen and skill sets employed to create the content of the site, its appearance and functionality. Not only do all of these things require the combined skill sets used by web developers, graphic designers and desktop publishers, they also need to be coordinated in order to work seamlessly together.
What it takes to maintain a website
Websites, the platforms supporting them and the hosting environment running them, all require ongoing maintenance and service. They all require regular security and software updates as well as monitoring and backing up of data.
You can either take responsibility for maintaining all of this yourself, often with the help of your chosen website platform and hosting solution, or hire a professional webmaster to manage it for you. A small business with minimum website requirements should expect to pay over $100 a month for webmaster support. Medium businesses or businesses requiring more advanced online solutions such as e-commerce, should expect to pay over $500 a month for webmaster maintenance support.
There is also the requirement of aftermarket support. Who will look after you if your website is hacked, or you want to add additional features and services, or modify existing ones? In these situations you will need the aid of a web developer and a webmaster. These are two separate roles but often one person can perform both.
Then there are content updates, and user support to consider. What if you need help using your website platform? What if you don’t have the time to update content yourself? A good webmaster will also help you manage these aspects of your website.
What it takes have a successful website
When a consumer looking for the goods and services you offer finds your website, you want to convert them into a customer. A successful website is one that enables exactly that. A successful website is one that also helps you service customers and keep existing customers coming back. In order to achieve this, you must provide a delightful web experience that helps customers achieve what they expect to achieve. So what defines a delightful experience?
A high quality web experience is one that is;
Users do NOT want slow load times or clunky unresponsive scrolling. They WILL abandon your site if it is slow or unresponsive. The internet is full of abandoned shopping carts due to poor performance.
The user experience of your website should feel like it is an integrated part of the user’s device. You do not want the user to feel as though they are accessing your site through a browser, instead, the experience should feel true to the device they are using.
Your website needs to function on slow networks as well as faster networks. It also needs to be available when it is needed and always function as expected.
An engaging website is one that goes beyond function. A delightful user experience is one that makes it easy for users to consume your content, relate to your business message and achieve what they set out to achieve. Mobile users are extremely goal-orientated. They expect to get what they want immediately and on their terms.
The many design and implementation choices you make when deciding how you will build and maintain your website will play the biggest factor in determining its success. However, it doesn’t end there.
A good website and webmaster will help you use your website to collect data on how consumers are using it. This data will help you identify any deficits and also make informed marketing choices when it comes to advertising your services.
Say, for example, you notice that customers within a certain demographic prefer browsing a certain product or service over others. You may wish to build a landing page specifically for that product that helps consumers convert to customers. You could then market that product using ads targeting the identified demographic when they are searching for that particular product or service.
Another scenario is identifying consumer abandonment. What if users are abandoning the website on a certain page? With good data, and the assistance of a good webmaster, you will be able to identify the reasons this might be happening and find the solutions to prevent it.
Do it yourself or hire a webmaster
Each of the aspects discussed in this document are individual components, each of which require integration into every other component. Making these components work individually, as well as together, requires ongoing coordination and management.
That is what a skilled webmaster and or web developer can do for you. They will coordinate all of these components, not only to work together, but to work together seamlessly. To create the best quality website you can have within your budget.
Hopefully, the information I have provided here will give you a greater understanding of the requirements needed to build a website and place you in a better position to discuss your needs and make informed decisions; whether you choose to go it alone, outsource individual components and responsibilities to other providers, or hire a webmaster such as myself.