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What ongoing website fees will I pay?
A website is a great way to engage with customers and promote your business, but your online investment costs more than a one-off payment. There are ongoing fees and developments to consider to ensure that your website stays fit, active and healthy on the web.
Some points covered below are long-term budgeting necessities from the start, such as domain name and continued hosting, but there are other factors that, although optional, are very beneficial to put in place now, and can actually come to be a necessity in their own right, later down the line.
In this article I will talk about the long-term costs associated with;
- Domain name
- Website hosting
- Updates (new content and SEO)
- Backups (databases / structure / content / images / files)
- Upgrades (security / software patches / new browser support)
- Additional Features (emails / gallery / blog / forum, etc.)
- Increased Resources (traffic / bandwidth / databases / storage)
- Software subscription / licensing or community membership
Your website domain name (the URL or link you see in the address bar of your web browser) is not a one-off buy and you will need to renew the 'hire' of it every few years.
Some domains need renewing every year. Others can be renewed every 5 or more years. Typically, .co.uk domains cost about £10 per year and are renewed every 2 years, most likely by your web developer, although you can handle this aspect yourself if you prefer.
Website hosting is like renting a room where your website can live on the internet and, of course, rent should be paid regularly to keep a roof over it's head.
Hosting for smaller websites costs between £5 and £15 per month and will typically be done on a shared server to keep costs low. The larger your website, and the more resources it uses and visitors it attracts, the more money you will pay to keep it online.
If all goes well, your website will increase in size and popularity, and your web developer will make adjustments to your annual hosting fee to better suit the needs of your investment. See "increased resources (traffic / bandwidth / databases / storage)".
Updates (new content and SEO)
A website that is updated regularly will perform better with search engines, so if you want to stay ahead of the competition, it's a good idea to invest in regular site updates. This could mean advertising special offers, adding new pages or updates about your latest service, or writing weekly help articles and tutorials on how to use your products.
Whatever content you'll be adding or updating, you either need to have the provision to do it yourself, or pay somebody to do it for you.
Updating your own website will involve the use and initial setup fee of a Content Management System (CMS). If you want to update your own website, you should let your web developer know from the start. A CMS is an integral part of a website's foundations and it is often much harder to build a CMS into one as an afterthought (requiring a costly redesign).
There are many CMS platforms on the market today, and many pricing options available depending on the complexity of your site and your individual requirements. I charge £200 for the setup and customisation of my in-house CMS, which will suit the needs of a small-to-medium sized website.
Usually, there are no ongoing monetary payments once you've paid your initial CMS installation fee - not as far as content updates go because you can write new content and make website updates yourself. However, you do need to offset this with the time it takes to make such updates - you might not be spending any additional money, but you will be spending time.
Paying somebody to update your website is the alternative, and this, of course, incurs a fee. You might prefer your web developer to update your website on your behalf - maybe you're too busy or worried about doing something wrong. A few ad-hoc updates here and there probably don't warrant the use (or cost) of a full blown CMS, and can instead be charged by the hour (I charge £25 per hour), but it's more cost effective to work frequent updates into a monthly maintenance plan. This way you guarentee a set number of hours at a reduced hourly rate.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is another factor to consider when updating your website. Dedicated SEO is a science in itself and requires much time, effort and research to ensure that your website is targeting the right people, and that all of your keywords and key phrases are reaching top slot on Google (although nothing is 100% guaranteed).
Dedicated companies charge thousands of pounds to do this at a highly specialised level, over many months (achieving good results takes time and study) but your web developer can also perform more general SEO functions that also improves website weight with search engines, and at a lesser cost. This will involve reorganising your text (often rewriting whole paragraphs) and highlighting keywords and phrases to make your content more appealing to search engines.
Backups (databases / structure / content / images / files)
Some people think backups are unnecessary - that is, until they lose something important to them. And what could be more important in this online world than your website - your online presence, your reputation, the face of your business, your shop front, your hard work and investment!?
Regular backups of your website structure, databases, content and other resources, are your safety net when something goes wrong. And things do go wrong, even with the best intentions (a server goes down, a database crashes, data gets corrupted, you accidentally delete something in bulk). It can take several fraught days, or even weeks, of reconstruction to manually put a site without backups back together - and just think of the time and money-making opportunities you could have lost. Restoring a website from a backup can take between a few minutes and a few hours, and saves much heartache and upset in the long run.
But backups come with a cost. A backup is a copy of your website (and all the things that make up your website), and in just the same way that your live website takes up space on the server, so too do backups. And typically, you won't rely on just one backup. Depending on the update frequency, and complexity of your site and the data/resources stored within it, your web developer will schedule a number of backups to run automatically, every day, week and month, that can be downloaded onto hard drive or burnt to DVD for safekeeping.
Typically, with regular backups you will pay an additional charge for online backup storage, and a fee for offline media storage. There will also be a charge for man hours taken to perform these tasks. All of this can be included in a maintenance plan, so speak to your web developer and ask them to recommend a suitable backup schedule for your particular site.
Upgrades (security / software patches / new browser support)
If you pay for an ongoing maintenance plan for your website, it hopefully already includes upgrades for various components of your website;
Security upgrades are necessary to protect your website and server from hackers and other bad sorts who could potentially cause trouble for you online. Hackers tend to target popular online softwares to find loopholes and work them to their advantage. Of course, you might never fall foul of an attack directly but it's always comforting to know that somebody in web-world has an ear to the ground, can learn of any potential threats that are doing the rounds, and impliment a security fix before an attacker lands on your doorstep.
Software patches and upgrades are heavily linked to the security factors mentioned above. Script and software developers constantly work on their products to eliminate security holes, improve functionality and add useful new features that make your life as a website owner easier. If you haven't got an overseeing eye to install these upgrades for you, you and your visitors will never benefit from the great developments that your website can potentially offer.
You might be perfectly fine with this, but if your competition is enjoying additional sales due to a better working menu or internal search engine, wouldn't you like to join the party too?
New browser support can make or break your website. Considering that the internet and its technologies are some of the fastest changing, growing and developing avenues today, common sense tells us that in years to come, technology will outgrow your current website and leave it behind.
At its most basic level, a website needs to function and be usable by visitors, but what happens if the latest web browser doesn't function with your website? Things may work perfectly well now (your web developer will ensure that your website works in all current major browsers and operating systems prior to launch) but nobody can predict the future, so you need somebody around to stay on top of these technological developments and tweak your site accordingly.
So, if you're not currently partaking in a maintenance plan, it might be time to consider paying that little bit extra to avoid getting hacked or left behind.
Additional Features (emails / gallery / blog / forum, etc.)
In the beginning, you discussed your design brief with your web developer, and he made you a fantastic site that met all of your needs... at the time..., but now you need to expand.
Growth is good. Information encourages visitors to return, and the more content you have to talk about, the more people will want to talk about it. Good word-of-mouth draws in new customers, who then become repeat customers. But, to keep the ball rolling, you should continue investing in your website, providing more advanced features that encourage returns and participation. This is where mailing lists, blogs, forums and galleries (to name but a few) come into play.
Some website add-ons require initial payment, others, an annual subscription fee, while some are open source, or freeware. But, even when a software is free to download and use, it must still be installed and configured to make it work on the hosting server, it must still be integrated into your site to make it work seamlessly with existing programming, and it must still be setup and customised to adopt the look and design of your website. Unfortunately, all of this takes time and effort, which roughly translates as "things that cost money".
Other hits to the pocket can come from the extras that additional features also command. For example, with an online shopping cart, you might have to pay for the actual software, and also for the provision of a dedicated database and an additional security certificate from the web host.
Additional features will not be included in your maintenance plan so you should budget to include them in the future when your website needs advancement.
Increased Resources (traffic / bandwidth / databases / storage)
As a website grows it uses more resources and puts a bigger drain on the server;
- More visitors = more traffic and site throughput
- More content + more traffic = increased bandwidth usage
- More content + more resources (images/files) = bigger databases and bandwidth usage
- More content + more resources (images/files) + bigger databases = more storage
These are not exhaustive equations and only serve as a simple visual to help explain some of your hosting costs. Your web developer will periodically assess your website needs and decide if an increased fee is necessary to accommodate one, some or all of the points above.
Be prepared to pay extra if your website becomes a big hit. Your web developer isn't spinning you a yarn or wanting to hitch a ride on your wave of success; He's simple ensuring that the demands made by your visitors on your website, and consequently the demands made by your website on the hosting server, are well catered for and don't fall short of their requirements.
Ask yourself these questions;
- If your visitors couldn't discuss how great your products and services are in your forum because the database reached its full capacity, how would you feel?
- If you couldn't upload new product images because you'd already used up all of your online storage space, how would you feel?
- If your web host temporarily suspended visitor website access for the last week of every month because you regularly exceeded bandwidth limits, how would you feel?
You'd feel pretty annoyed I bet, because a website that can't function effectively will lose you sales and lose face with your visitors. But, you can avoid these problems if you listen to your web developer and pay a bit extra if, and when, the time comes.
Software subscription / licensing or community membership
You might have requested a website tool or software that requires an ongoing subscription fee, or annual licensing renewal, to allow unlimited use of certain features. These could include;
- Newsletters, mailing lists, email filters
- Content Management System (CMS)
- Payment gateways for an online shopping cart
- Online data analysis tools
- Online accounting software
Failure to keep-up with ongoing fees could mean that data becomes 'locked' and parts of your website might cease to function.
Sometimes the software doesn't require an ongoing payment, but support from it's developing community could be chargeable by way of a membership subscription fee. It can be rather upsetting when you suddenly hit a problem and realise that you need help that you're not eligible for unless you pay. If this happens, please do not take it out on your web developer by expecting them to cover the cost or take unpaid training on your behalf. Speak to them. If you're on good terms, they may offer to sit in with you or act as intermediary between you and the software support line, which can be mutually beneficial for you both; You get another techy-bod onside to interpret the more complex nuances of your problem and they get to expand their knowledge that may, in turn, serve to help you again in the future.
Following on from above, when you need help and support, it's good to know that it's on hand. If you've got a maintenance plan, you never need to worry about your saviour being on the other end of the phone or an email - you've paid for the service so it's guaranteed to be there when you ask.
Even without a maintenance plan, your web developer can still offer help, support and advice. Depending on the problem, you might get a free and convenient answer there and then, but for more time consuming issues, expect to be charged on an ad-hoc basis.
The thing to bear in mind though is that unscheduled support is at the mercy of you're web developer's diary. They have other clients too, and in the same way that paying subscribers get preferential treatment in developer communities, website clients with ongoing maintenance plans often take priority over those without.
I think it's worth noting here that the type of support you're entitled to will vary greatly with your web developer. Ongoing website support is for just that - website related support. Paying for web support is not an open invitation to make other IT related demands, such as help in setting up a home network or wanting somebody to come around to fix your printer. For that, you should look for an IT hardware engineer. Your web developer can probably recommend someone, but only if you're lucky can you expect your web guy to fix your computer too.
Related articles you might enjoy
- Learn more about website prices in my "How much does a website cost?" article.
- Learn about database expenses in my "Why do database driven websites cost more?" article.
Contact me for prices, discuss a project, or ask a question
Do you need a maintenance plan? Are you pricing up a new website and need advice on future expansion? Feel free to contact me for a price summary that suits your individual needs.