Things you should know before paying for a website

coffee computer

After many years of designing websites for clients and friends, I'm still amazed with how many people make critical mistakes when it comes to designing or paying for a website.  Those mistakes that were made inspired me to share with you the information that I wished they knew before spending time and money on creating their website.  This information is still relevant to those who already own websites and wish to make improvements.

Websites: Build it yourself or have someone make it?

Below are the 2 options for creating a website
•    Design the website yourself.
•    Have someone design the website for you

Like many options in life, both of these choices have advantages and disadvantages. However, having a good understanding of both will ensure that you have a positive experience and will help you avoid costly mistakes that many make when trying to build their own website or when trying to find a company or freelance to build the website.  The information provided here is the same information that I share with my clients during their free website consultation.  My first goal is to make sure my clients have quality information to help them make the best decision that meets their needs.  Even if my clients seek web design services with another provider, they will have all of the information that they will need to avoid overpriced and below standards services.

 

Option #1: Build your own website

There’s nothing wrong with designing your own website, but you can really make the processes difficult and expensive in the long run if you go about it in the wrong way.  Do it yourself (DIY) website design services like WIX, Weebly, and Squarespace are extremely popular and their services make owners feel empowered.  The downside is that these DIY website services make it impossible for you to move your website from their services to a different hosting company.  They also offer fewer features at a higher price than regular web hosting companies.  Many of the features and services that DIY website companies charge for are free with regular hosting companies like HostGator.  These DIY websites are very limited in what they can do and what they offer.  Ask yourself this question: Why don’t big companies and organizations use DIY website services?  If these services were so good to begin with then it only makes sense that large companies would use these services as well.  Many companies out their use content management systems like Wordpress or Joomla content management systems to build their company websites.  Both of these content management systems are free and will make owning a website a pleasure by allowing you to easily update your website as needed without the need of learning complex coding.  If you can type in a word document, then you'll be able to easily update your website when you want.

Today’s website design software is easier to use and for the most part doesn’t require any knowledge of HTML to design your own website.   You can find beginner videos YouTube that will take you step by step on how to use the software.  There are friendly forums where you can chat with people who are willing to help you if you get stuck.  Below are a few user friendly web design software that can be used to design a website. 

  • Artisteer (for Joomla, WordPress, Drupal, Tumblr, Blogger, DotNetNuke, and HTML)
  • Themeler (uses drag and drop design features without the need of a DIY service)

Regardless of what you use to design your website, you’ll need to learn about the elements that make a good website.  A common beginner mistake is to design the website the way you like it and not the way your customers like it.  This often causes navigation problems for your customers and hurts your ability to successfully market your website.  You will spend quite a bit of time learning a few things about online marketing concepts such as the use of colors, graphic design, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  There’s more to building a website than just building it; and just because you build it doesn't mean that people will automatically come to your website.  The biggest challenge that you’ll have when designing your own website is to not make the same mistakes that were made during the early years of the Internet where people and companies assumed that building a website was all the marketing that you'll need.

What is a Content Management System (CMS)?

A Content Management System (CMS) is a website based software that allows you to manage the look and the content of your website separate through the use of a database.  This makes it possible to change the look of your website with a click of a button without having to re-type or replace any of your existing wording, images, or products.  This is a time saver when it comes to giving your website a better look or if you want to change the look of your website to match holiday seasons (not often done, but possible).  Many of the DIY website services lose your content when changing the look of your website.  This means that you have to replace your wording and images when you want a different look.  This becomes a really big issue when designing websites that sell a variety of products and services.  It's a "game over" for those who have a significant information on the website such as articles, tutorials, or just a lot of information to manage.  Most people who design their own websites find this out the "hard way" and only after they have put a lot of work and time into creating their website.  Using a Joomla or WordPress CMS is a must have for today's website design; especially if you are looking to design your own and manage your own website.

Which Content Management System Should I Use?

This is an easy one.  Joomla for business and WordPress for blogging.  "That's the rule no matter what anyone else says." is what I tell myself because Joomla rarely lets me down when it comes to creating a website that meets a wide range of business needs.  I know people who design their own WordPress site and they always have trouble finding a plugin that meets their needs.  In some cases they were able to find a plugin that they needed but had to pay an expensive monthly subscription just to use it.  With Joomla, you own the plugins that you buy and you don't need a subscription to keep the plugin working.  When it comes to Blogging, then WordPress is going to be your better choice.  WordPress started out as a Blog software which is why it has cool blog features.  Joomla started out meeting the business needs of large organizations, companies, and small businesses which is why it's the better choice for business needs. 

Blogging isn't as popular these days because of the popularity of Facebook website integrations.  Blogging was originally done to get people to interact with the website, but most people are likely to find your website content by posting and commenting in Facebook.  From a marketing aspect, your website will benefit more from people commenting on Facebook about your articles and information than to actually comment on the website itself.  As a result many websites have Facebook integrations which allow people to comment on Facebook about your article, product, or service through your website.  Here's how Content Management Systems compare to the DIY website services.  Blogging is still important in some industries but for the most part, article writing is going to be the main focus of many websites.  What's the difference?  Blogging seeks interaction with the reader in a similar way that a conversation does.  Article writing seeks to give the reader information that they are seeking in a similar way that Google does when you are looking for information on how to do something.

Website Design Comparison Table

* = Hover mouse over text for additional information

DetailsJoomlaWordPressWixSquarespaceWeebly
Good for Business needsExcellentGoodPoorPoorPoor
Good for Blogging needsGoodExcellentPoorPoorPoor
Easy to ManageExcellentExcellentFair *It becomes more difficult to manage as the number of pages and content increases.Fair *It becomes more difficult to manage as the number of pages and content increases.Fair *It becomes more difficult to manage as the number of pages and content increases.
Can be moved to new hostYesYesNoNoSomtimes *Some hosting companies can transfer content to their servers and some can't.
Content ManagementYesYesNoNoNo
Category Based ContentYesYesNoNoNo
Flexible Settings and ConfigurationsYesYesNoNoNo
Huge Selection of Templates and ThemesYesYesNoNoNo
Multiple Template UseYesYesNoNoNo
Change Template without changing content layoutYesYesNoNoNo
Choose from Multiple E-commerce pluginsYesYesNoNoNo
Requires 3rd party software to design templatesYes *You will need additional software to design your website online or offline.Yes *You will need additional software to design your website online or offline.NoNoNo
Over All StrengthsGreat for beginner, intermediate, and advanced users. Provides advanced website function without the need to know HTML or coding. Provides flexibility to small and large organizations. Grows as the organization grows.Great for beginner, intermediate, and advanced users. Provides a large variety of Blogging solutions without the need to know HTML or coding. Provides flexibility to small and large organizations.Extreme Beginner. Great if you don’t expect your website to grow beyond 5 pages and you are only looking for a website to serve as an online business card and not an extension of your business or organization.Extreme Beginner. Great if you don’t expect your website to grow beyond 5 pages and you are only looking for a website to serve as an online business card and not an extension of your business or organization.Extreme Beginner. Great if you don’t expect your website to grow beyond 5 pages and you are only looking for a website to serve as an online business card and not an extension of your business or organization.

 

What to do if you build your own website

  • Talk to people who design websites either for themselves or for someone else.  You will be surprised at how much information you'll get from others website designers.  You will have a lot to learn and if done correctly, very little of your website design education will deal with HTML5, JAVA, or CSS.  Remember you are trying to build your website, not start a career as a website developer.
  • Don't use a "Do it yourself" website design service like Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace unless you need a very simple website that serves as an online business card.  If you are serious about company or organization, then your websites needs to be an extension of your business.  Only Joomla or WordPress is going to meet the needs of a professional business.
  • Find a good website hosting company like HostGator to host your website.  I've used HostGator for many web design projects and they are a good standard to go by in terms of quality service and features.  Make sure that the hosting company either meets or exceeds what HostGator offers.  Make sure that your hosting company also uses Cpanel

Regular website hosting services vs DIY services

* = Hover mouse over text for additional information

FeaturesRecommended plan for most small business and small organization websites that don't sell products.  Hostgator has a Business Plan that provides more featuresHostgator Baby Plan*Top plan for WixWix VIP Plan *Business Website Plan.  They also offer separate online store plans which is different from their business websiteSquarespace Business Plan *Business Website Plan.  They also offer separate online store plans which is different from their business websiteWeebly Business Plan *Small business and store plan
Total Cost Per Year (without discounts) *Unmetered is the same as unlimited.$188$300$216$300
Storage SpaceUnmetered is the same as unlimited.Unmetered *Unmetered is the same as unlimited.20GBUnlimitedUnlimited
cPanel *YesNoNoNo
File ManagerYesNoIt becomes more difficult to manage as the number of pages and content increases.NoIt becomes more difficult to manage as the number of pages and content increases.NoIt becomes more difficult to manage as the number of pages and content increases.
Database ManagerYesNoNoNo
Advance Email ManagerYesNoNoNo
Advance Web Analytics ManagerYesNoNoNo
Advanced Security ManagerYesNoNoNo
Free Website SoftwareYes (300+ free apps) Click to view full list of appsNoNoNo
Multiple Website BuildersYesNoNoNo
Host Multiple Domains for FreeYesNoNoNo

 

Why it's important to pay for a quality hosting service?

A website is your business so don't try to go cheap and free on a service that will help your business to be successful.  This means that you'll need to pay for a quality website hosting service that will be up 99.9999% of the time.  The .0001% downtime should only be caused by serious natural disasters like huge earthquakes are an entire city burning to the ground.  Other than those type of things, your website should always be running without problems (other than those that you may have caused intentionally or by accident).

There are 2 main things that you'll need to invest in: a domain name (no they aren't free) and website hosting service.  Most companies that advertise free domain names are just adding the cost of the domain name to the cost of your hosting package.  If you wanted to close your hosting account but keep the domain name, then you'll quickly discover that you have to pay for the domain name. The average yearly price for a domain is around $20 depending on how many years you pay in advance and the additional domain features that may be added.  If you are trying to save money then the domain is not the best place to save money.  Your best opportunity to save money is going to be with purchasing multiple years of hosting service at once.  There have been a couple of projects that I've done where I was able to get my client 3 years worth of web hosting service for the price of 1 year at the normal price.  Here's what I'm currently have through HostGator in comparison to the DIY websites.

 

Option #2: Have someone build a website for you

The biggest benefit to having someone build your website is that it will free up some time for you.  The time that you would have spent learning how to design your own website can now be spent preparing the wording for your website.  Another benefit is that you don't have to troubleshoot any of the web design problems that will pop-up during the design process.  Things like graphic design and the configuration of the content management system are things you don't have to worry about when you have someone else creating your website.  Here are some rules to follow when having your website created

 

Use either Joomla or WordPress. You can get a lot of great and free features by choosing Joomla or WordPress.  Learn what these features are because you shouldn't be charged for something that you already get for free.  For example a web designer shouldn't be charging extra for a membership feature when it comes free with Joomla.  The only reason you should be charged extra for this feature is if you are purchasing a 3rd party membership feature to enhance Joomla's core membership feature.  Here are some of the core features that come free with Joomla and WordPress.

  • Membership - Joomla's membership feature is basic and is often expanded use of 3rd party products.  This usually occurs when a website accepts membership fees or when the website is an e-commerce website
  • Email Contact Form - the email contact form is very basic in comparison to many of the 3rd party email contact solutions out there.  For most basic websites the Joomla contacts feature is more than enough.
  • User/Membership Management - this is core for Joomla and almost all 3rd party plugins / extensions are created to integrate with the core management feature.  Don't let the website developer talk you into paying extra for this if you are using Joomla.
  • Banner Management - if you want to place ads on your website then you can do so with this feature that comes.  It will allow you to keep track of how my times an ad was seen and clicked on.  It's great for selling advertising space on your computer.
  • Search / Smart Search - another great feature that is free with Joomla. Don't pay extra for this.
  • Tags - Free but only applies to the articles that you write.  There are more advanced 3rd solutions that you can buy if needed.
  • Breadcrumbs - most likely you won't need this feature.  It's great if you have a lot of content
  • Media Management - Joomla has a great way to manage images and files.  The best use for this feature is for adding media to your articles. If you want people to have access to member only content then you'll need to invest in a 3rd party extension that will improve the management of your memberships.

If you decide not to use Joomla or WordPress for your website then many of these DIY website design companies and freelancers are going charge you extra.  This is especially true for static website designs.

Things to avoid

  • Avoid using website design services that charge you per page for a non-ecommerce website.  If you are using Joomla or WordPress then you can easily make any additional pages that you need or want.
  • Avoid using website design services that don't have SEO or Online Marketing experience.  Website designers that understand these things will often design based on the importance of SEO and Online Marketing concepts.  How your website looks matters when it comes to Marketing and SEO.  I've seen people design websites that look good but has a low return on attracting customers and often have a low search engine rank.  It's important to make sure that you understand that a "good looking" website rarely translates into increased business.
  • Avoid using website design services that don't offer a free website consultation and website analysis (if you already have an existing website).  Website designers have to sit down with you and design the website to meet your needs and requirements.  There may be other organizations just like your own, but they may or may not have the same advantages, disadvantages, opportunities, challenges, and market that your business or organization may have.  In terms of the general industry that you operate in, there will be some things that are similar regardless of the business, but most of your success is going to be specific to what you are able to use and how much money you can actually invest in the effort.  Not everyone has a million dollars to invest into marketing, which means that other methods and solutions must be used based on where your business is today.  Startup businesses have different challenges than existing businesses so the more information the website designer can get the more functional your design will be.  If a company can't take the time to talk to you and to learn about your business, then don't take the time to use their services.  Find someone better.
  • Avoid freelance website designers who own websites that don't match the standards of what they claim to be able to do.
  • Avoid extremely expensive website costs. Run away quickly if someone is charging you $4000 for a non-ecommerce website.  You can have a quality website designed for less and you can use the money that's left over for SEO and Marketing investments for your website.  I've talked to some organizations who have paid up to $20,000 for website design that offers less than what Joomla comes with for free.  The only people who should ever pay that much for a website are large corporations that offer a wide range of services and products. Websites like this often have custom coding done to meet a specific design or function that the organization develops.
  • Avoid paying less than $500 for today's website.  Here's why.  Website design is a lot of work and quality website designers just aren't going to put much effort or quality into something that they are only getting paid $100 for.   $500 dollars is as low as you should go for a website investment and even that cost is a risk to quality.  There is a lot of competition out there and requirements for having a productive website and $500 will get you a website but it won't be the best for your money.  Anything less than $500 will most likely be trash or designed in a way that will force you pay for every little upgrade.  The only exception to this are for affiliate marketing landing pages.  Those go for really cheap and shouldn't cost more than $200 at the most.

Never pay to have someone design a website for you in Wix or Weebly.  If you are going to pay good money for a website then you should get a "real" website like most companies have.  Your business and organization should have all of the options, features, and opportunities for website growth that all big businesses have.

What to do if you have someone build it for you

If you decide to build a website yourself then you'll need to talk to people who have successfully "traveled down this road before."  They will share all of their mistakes that were made and warn you of some of the things that you should stay far away from.   If you decide to have someone build a website for you, then you need to talk to someone who has had a website

  • Talk to people who have had websites designed for them and they will tell you all of the good and bad about it.  People who have had bad experiences will warn you about all of the things you should avoid and watch out for.  Some will have some real horror stories, but don't let that scare you away from paying for someone to design your website.  Others will have good stories to tell you about in regards website designers and will share with you the things you should expect.
  • Do research on website hosting and the services that they offer as part of their hosting package.  Some website designers will charge you for features that are actually offered for free through a website hosting company.
  • Do research on SEO.  Understand what SEO is how it helps.  Learn about the things that you can do as a website owner to help your SEO.  SEO can be extremely expensive and not every company is good at it.  Beware of anyone trying to sell you on increasing website traffic SEO is more than that.  You don't need to be a SEO expert but being familiar with SEO in general will help you avoid scams.  Understand the difference between Traffic and Customers.  It doesn't help to have thousands of people to visit your website if no one is buying.  The other risk in terms of traffic that you need to be aware of is that it can be faked.  Your analytics may show that thousands of people are visiting your website, but in reality your website is being viewed by bots (basically a web "robot" application that performs tasks over the internet such as visiting websites and pulling any email that is written in text for the purpose of spamming that email. Bots are famous for exploiting google analytics and making you think that you have thousands of visitors each month.  Website hosting companies often have built in web analytics that you can use to have a more realistic picture of people (not bots) visiting your website.

 

 

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