The Hidden Cost of Business Websites
Contrary to popular opinion, running an effective business website can be quite costly. While the barrier-to-entry for a basic, bare-bones website may not be too hard on the wallet, advanced features like ecommerce modules and enhanced functionality often cost significantly more.
In fact, the true costs of a business website are in proportion to how customized the website is for its intended business purpose and how well it operates on a daily basis. You could call these two features the ‘performance-based’ metrics that can be gathered from virtually any business site. So, the more strategically you spend your money on the front end of designing your business website, the better it can pay off for you in the long term.
To anticipate what your ideal business website would likely cost you, you’ve probably thought about the most common factors – things like web hosting fees and domain registration fees. But, there are quite a few ‘hidden’ costs of business websites that most small business owners don’t even think about until it becomes obvious they need to incur the expense. Knowing what these costs are could mean the difference between having a finely tuned, well-oiled website and having a sputtering, clunky and expensive mess on your hands.
In the corporate finance world, there is discipline of accounting known as ‘cost segregation’. This specialization aims to categorize the expenses within a business so that risk can be assessed and higher level business decisions can be made. The cost segregation method can help us better understand where most common website development and maintenance costs can come from.
Consider these three ‘buckets’ that business website costs can almost always be segregated into:
- Upfront, one-time costs. To gain access to the resources you need to build a professional-looking website, you’re going to have to either learn web design and development yourself, or you’re going to have to look to outside help. For a small business website, the upfront costs will typically range from between $2,000 to $8,000.
- Ongoing management and maintenance costs. Once you’ve made the initial investment to get your business website off the ground, it’s time to start budgeting for the routine, ongoing expenses that you’ll incur on a monthly basis. Maintenance fees include web hosting, domain registration, and any licensing fees for content. There may also be fees associated with any integrated web apps you choose to use or advanced user features like blogs, forums, or multimedia creation. Also, like it or not, things are going to need updating and changing from time to time, so you’ll want to include some contingency padding in your budgeted number. Ongoing maintenance and management fees for small business websites typically range from $150 to $500 a month.
- Expansion costs. The last category of ‘hidden’ costs involved in running a business website are expansion costs, also known as the money required to broaden the reach of the website, its functionality, or its operating capacity. Once the decision is made to bring a business website to the next level like this, more sophisticated resources are needed to make everything work well together. Project managers might need to be hired to oversee particularly large website expansions, and many hours of web development work will likely be needed to ensure smooth operation of everything according to plan.Proper business website expansion must also take into account multiple cybersecurity measures and data integrity best practices. These areas are often overlooked as some businesses focus solely on growth while neglecting website protection. They do this at their own eventual expense, however, as 43% of cybersecurity attacks specifically target small businesses.
Business website expansion costs can run between $5,000 for modest small business expansions through to $1 million+ for enterprise-wide, industrial-scale corporate business website expansions.
Understanding how website costs are divvied up helps us to plan for business website cost containment in a smart and realistic way. A piece of good news about website costs is that they continue to go down as technology and automation continues to improve. In fact, many of the drag-and-drop web development tools accessible by anyone for free today would have cost hundreds of dollars a month to use just 20 years ago. Advancements in Content Management Systems (CMS’s) and outsourced coding for technical projects have combined to make the business website development landscape much more navigable now than it has ever been before.
Additional Expenses to Think About
By now, if you’re thinking, “Wow, this is all looking more expensive than I thought,” we haven’t even talked about website marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Nor have we broached the subjects of PPC or social media campaigns. The truth is that costs start to really ratchet up once we get into the marketing of a business website, which is most suited to the experts – those who work in what is known today as Digital Marketing.
Digital Marketing professionals take a holistic look at a website’s structure and performance, looking for areas of improvement like optimizing content, increasing site readability and design, and more. They also spearhead marketing campaigns that target the audience that is most appropriate for the company or brand in question. Often, this last goal involves developing what is known as a ‘Customer Persona’, a term used for assigning traits and features to the individuals who the business website is ‘selling’ to.
Technically proficient digital marketing firms will know exactly what analytical measures need to be taken to come up with next steps for sales and marketing. And, they’ll often charge a pretty penny for it: digital marketing expenses normally come on retainer basis, and range between $1,500 and $20,000 per month. This number can grow even higher when PPC and other paid advertising programs are included.
A Calculated Expense
As I mentioned before, what it costs to run a business website is often underestimated. Once you start peeling back the layers, you find a lot more than just domain registration and hosting fees. Remember that when it comes to investing in a business website, you truly do get out of it what you put into it. If you try to skimp wherever you can and shave as much cost as possible, you are probably going to wind up with a website that costs you more in lost business than if you just invested heavily on the front end, instead.
Now that you know more about the many costs that are involved in running a business website, you can make a more informed decision about where you want to take your own online presence. Good luck!
Kevin is the founder and CEO of Vast Bridges, a customer acquisition and lead generation company in the home services arena. Since 2011 more than 10M consumers and businesses have used Vast Bridges’ web properties to search for Internet and TV service. Most recently he and a small team have launched broadbandsearch.net, the U.S.’s leading home services (broadband and TV) search engine.