If you have a business, you need a website. But we’ve been talking with some people who essentially rent a website. Is it a better plan than owning your own?
We’re talking here about websites that are provided on a month to month basis, generally for a monthly fee. This is different from a hosting fee. The website you’re currently visiting was built specifically for us and lives at a domain that we own. We pay an annual fee for hosting. If we decide to change our hosting, we still own our website and our domain. The rental sites are a service: they never belong to you and you can’t change hosting. The website itself is a service provided along with the cost of hosting. If you stop paying the fee, the website disappears. If you change services, you start over with a completely different website.
These services don’t call their websites rentals, but we will use the term here for the sake of clarity.
Typically, you choose a template design. The screenshot in this post is from an ad for this type of service, and shows a pretty typical level of variety. Some services have more up to date or more attractive sites than others, but generally they’re simple, inoffensive, and readily identifiable as a site from the service in question.
There is usually some basic content. We plug the first sentence into Google and see millions of websites that have kept the original content, often adding a line of identification such as, “At Whitney Morris…” or “Phillip Goldman is your Nantucket…” I went in and customized the content to the degree we typically see and I was in fact able to get my website ready for launch in less than 10 minutes.
Are rental websites easy?
You get a CMS which allows you to change the content. This is the dashboard from the service that provided the choices shown above, and it is fairly typical:
We’ve helped people update their content at many of these services, and they’re generally easy to use. Keeping the original content is an extremely bad idea from the point of view of search — it’s duplicate content, so it pretty much guarantees that your website will never be indexed. Still, since millions of site owners never change the text, it is probably fair to say that the content management systems are not easy enough to make those changes comfortable for the average site owner.
Only very limited design changes are possible, and the various templates usually look much the same. Pricier services have more options. However, you can usually change a picture and sometimes even add a video.
Clicking through to the sites that come up when we plug that sentence in shows websites with a wide variety of problems, from pictures that have been pulled out of proportion to sites with all the important information below the fold. We’re thinking that the services don’t provide much guidance, but that people do feel free to get in and change things.
Like so many things, it’s probably easy when you know how.
Are rental sites cheap?
We found prices ranging from $49.95 a month to “Request a Quote.” Set up fees range from $0 to $2,000. Naturally, it’s hard to say whether the site owners are saving money or not. If we stick with our example, though, we’re looking at a website for $59.00 a month, or just over $700 each year. We can find website hosting for $10 a month, so let’s call the price of the website $580 per year. A custom website could easily cost us ten times that much as an initial investment. We could argue that owning the website means we wouldn’t have to continue paying after the initial design and building cost, but technology changes. A ten year old website probably needs to be rebuilt.
If you’re paying $200 a month, though, you’re not getting a bargain. You’re not getting a bargain if you, like many of the people we’ve met, have several of these website services in hopes of getting some results from one of them.
You’re certainly not getting a bargain if your website looks terrible and doesn’t come up in search, which was true for many of the sites we’ve looked at. Any amount you pay for a website that makes a bad impression is way too much money.
Advantages of a rental site
If it’s not possible to say with certainty that rental sites are universally cheaper or easier, what advantages do they have?
- They may offer technology, such as realty listings, a large stock catalog, or HIPAA compliance, that your average web designer can’t give you.
- They let you get your feet wet without much initial investment. They’re not an accurate test of the potential value of a website, but you can try it out with current clients and see how they respond, see how you feel about being online, etc.
- They let you get online for a small investment if your business just can’t afford a custom website yet.
- They may be less trouble than having a custom website built. If you have been meaning to get around to having a website built for years and just can’t find the time, a website service can get you online fast.
Do we prefer custom websites? Yes. We’ve worked with both, and we generally see better results with a custom site. However, a rental site can be the best choice for your company’s current circumstances. Just be sure you look at all your options.