The real cost of a cheap website

If you’re considering a new website but worried about the cost, you might be looking at the cheapest way to get your business online. But what’s the real cost of a cheap website? In this article we look at the top 3 traps businesses regularly fall into.

Written by Martin Litt

Partner, Sales & Customer Services, Loves a Chat, Always Laughing (too much laughing...)

June 14, 2021

Build your own website

Trying to reduce the cost of your website? Why not build your own? Sure, you could do that. 

I mean, you built your own house, car, and microwave, right? 

These examples may sound overly reductive (and they are) but they highlight the point. Everyone seems to be aware that a website is a super important resource for your business yet there is the preconception that this should be a ‘cheap and cheerful’ process. That starting with a ‘fixer-upper’ or ‘placeholder’ site will be fine for a year or five.

I want to break down exactly what a ‘cheap’ website will cost you. 

There are three options for a cheap website – jamming something together ‘in house’, a cheap designer or a website building platform. None of these are great options, here’s why. 

My website looks amazing!

That’s fantastic. Do your users feel the same way?

A recent post on Instagram from Code.org posted a picture that illustrated this point better than I could with 1,000 words:

user experience - cost of website

Oftentimes a business creating its own website will fall into the trap of creating something they think the board will approve, rather than creating what their audience will find most useful. Fancy animations that serve no purpose, endless homepage carousels, super flattering headshots of absolutely everyone in the office, and my pet hate; a plethora of industry specific award graphics lining the footer like some hideously niche bunting. Stop it.

Unless you work in website design it’s unlikely you’ll really know exactly how to achieve what you want. 

Finding the balance between what you want to see and what your audience wants to see is the real skill of a website designer – that’s why you should use a specialist.

The trap of pleasing internal stakeholders rather than thinking about your users and audience will cost you three times. Firstly in the time to put the project together – this could be months. Secondly in terms of any plugin licences etc that you may have bought or subscribed to that you simply don’t need.

Finally, on top of this it’ll take at least 12 months before you can restart the process properly as you’ll have to conclusively prove that the ROI on any investment made by the business is lower than it should be. This, in turn, is likely to decrease your budget for the next time.

It’s the worst possible situation and one we see all the time.

Cost vs Control

If you choose to build on a platform like WIX, GoDaddy, or any other free website builder you should be aware of a few things.

  1. You do not own your site, you are renting it.
  2. You’re subject to the T’s and C’s of the host platform. This means the platform can remove items you’re selling (without notice) and you can be kicked off the platform completely if other users complain about you. 

How’s that for security?

Imagine a competitor complaining about your pricing or your listing and that product you make a lot of money from is removed with zero notice from your store. It’s worth noting that this product will remain in place for other businesses – just not for you.

Seems fair, right?

So this may not be a rigid cost – it’s not a consistent drain on your profit – but it is something that could happen at any time with no notice. Spending time constantly reviewing your online portfolio to reassure yourself that everything is still there is a terrible use of your time. 

Whilst we’re on those DIY website builders…

The cost of functionality

A ‘drag and drop’ website builder sounds really appealing to many. 

“It’s got over 1,000 fonts! And soooo many free themes! We’ll definitely be able to create a website that looks different from everybody else’s!” 

Many excitable project managers.

Wrong.

It’s obvious the second a user enters your website if you’re using a platform. There are a few giveaways.

The main one can be the huge lettering in the footer announcing what you’re using. The second is the distinct lack of any functionality that may help a user past the absolute basic navigation of a website. 

Do you need functionality to create a membership space? Do you need to show different pricing to different users? Do you want to show complicated costings over time? Sucks to be you, buddy, Wix ain’t gonna cut it.

Using these free builders sends another message to your audience. It shows that you aren’t prepared to seriously invest in your own business; and if you aren’t prepared to, why should potential customers? Not having customer confidence and weakening your brand in this way will impact your profits.

You need to be realistic about what you need and how you’re going to achieve that.

SEO fixes everything

There seems to be some myth doing the rounds at the moment that with the ‘right amount of SEO’ (an incredibly misleading statement in itself) any website can be successful and a powerful sales tool.

Nope. Nuhuh. No.

Whilst SEO is an incredibly powerful tool and a hugely beneficial service to take advantage of, it can be a double edged sword. 

I’ll look at that in a second, but first – in order for SEO to be effective then you have a few bases you need to cover. This includes things like blog posting, backlinks, keyword research and all the rest of it, and that’s fine. But these platforms do not allow you to have any control over your technical SEO at all. 

Apart from optimising your images, you can’t try to improve your page speed. You can’t fiddle around with plug-ins to speed up functionality. You can’t change where your site is hosted to give speed even more of a boost. And with Google’s algorithm attributing more importance to load speed in the coming months you’re putting your business at a distinct disadvantage immediately.

These platforms severely limit your ability to grow and scale your business, even hampering this growth purely due to the way they work.

As for the sword thing I mentioned – if, by some miracle, you smash your SEO goals without utilising technical SEO (at all) you’ll be driving a shitload (technical term) of traffic to a site that simply cannot offer what your audience needs.

Rather than this being a good thing you’re more likely to damage your brand by increasing the amount of users who see you cannot service their needs. Recovering from this set back could take years.

The trickiest decision to make here is how to go about SEO. Using a specialist agency *waves* is a good idea but you must do your due diligence. There are plenty of agencies out there that will charge you lots of money and provide you with a list of keywords and a few graphs every month – assuring you everything is going well. You may not see any tangible results but ‘it would be much worse if you stopped’.

We see businesses being held hostage like this regularly.

SEO is not black magic but it can be complicated. Speak with a few agencies and discuss it with them – don’t just read the SEO page of their website and think ‘that sounds alright’

We take our customers on a journey

How many times have you heard this?

Customer journeys are super important – we talk about them a bit in this previous post

Deliberately plotting how a customer will arrive on your website, how they will move through it and, ultimately, how to part them from their cash is the name of the game.

This is something you cannot modify when using a platform like GoDaddy. You ‘get what you’re given’ regardless of industry, product, or service. It’s up to you to make the best of it.

This also falls under ‘UX’ – user experience. This may sound a bit ‘woo woo’ to you but I guarantee you’ve used a website that has made you think (or even loudly grumble) ‘why the f*ck do I have to do X/Y/Z’ or ‘why can’t I just….’. 

I also guarantee that you’ve used a website that has worked so beautifully, has been so intuitive, and has seemingly known what you wanted before you did that using it was a joy. 

The first is terrible UX, the second is what a properly considered UX and customer journey results in.

Imagine having the freedom to design exactly how you wanted that journey to feel, and then have the ability to implement it. Wouldn’t that be amazing?!

By not allowing yourself this option you’re effectively damming the flow of quality traffic to your website and what does come through is either confused, or disgruntled, or both. 

Whilst brand damage is very difficult to quantify in pounds and pence it is a long term problem and cost that any business could do without.

Knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing

So, we’ve briefly covered ‘wanging something together’ in-house, and the perils of the website platforms – let’s have a look at cheap designers. The ‘I think my brother-in-law does computers’ approach.

Let’s kick off by saying if these guys were good at what they did, they would be doing it full-time.

I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true.

Do you really want to put your online business in the hands of someone who has done nothing since ‘modding’ Sonic 2?

Not only are you risking working with someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing, they are also having to do it outside of their normal working hours as a driving journalist, or whatever they happen to be.

(It may amuse you to learn that this example of a journalist slapping something together for a business completely unrelated to his industry is a true one. It’s not a good website.)

This means the timeline on your project is not only much longer – but entirely open-ended. You can’t chivvy a favour, after all.

The design options you get from this avenue are also likely to be severely limited. The chances of this person spending real money on expensive themes or plugins is slim to none, the chances of expert advice on what to utilise moving forward is slim to none, and the support they are able to provide after the website goes live is slim to none.

This (again) sounds harsh, but it’s the reality.

The chances are, you’re back to square one within a year. You’ve got nothing but issues on your hands and nothing to show for what you’ve spent thus far – both in terms of financially and time.

This outcome is not quite as bad as the first one we mentioned as you have an external source to blame and can use that fact if you have to negotiate your budget. It’s still pretty bad, though.

The final verdict

The truth is that a cheap website option will often cost you far more in the long run. Not just in terms of headspace and stress.

Having the constant firefighting process just isn’t necessary and can often lead to you losing enthusiasm for the project. This is the doomsday scenario. Your website should be a subject of excitement and opportunity.

Get the job done properly first time with a business that knows what it is doing and specialises in what you want. Obviously, we mean us (book a call!).

It is exactly what you would expect of your customers or clients, so do it for yourself.

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