Many professionals — doctors, lawyers, realtors, and so forth — choose to go with a website service rather than building their own website. Sometimes this is primarily because that’s what their friends and colleagues have chosen to do, but often it’s seen as a cheaper option.
If you’ve just put out your own shingle and you’re having to come up with funds for an office, equipment, staff, practice management software, and other essentials, it’s easy to look at a monthly fee “with no upfront costs” as the economical option.
Is it really less expensive in the long run?
We had the opportunity recently to review some proposals from services of this kind, and we noticed a couple of interesting things.
First, it isn’t always completely clear, but the website is rented, not owned. Sometimes the services come down to hosting plans at the lowest end of services offered — but the lowest end is certain to be higher than a typical hosting plan. Our friends at WP Engine, for example, will give you a website with the latest WordPress theme preinstalled for $29.00 a month. They don’t suggest that they’re building you a website, but the lowest priced option we saw in the proposals we examined was $50.00 a month for hosting with a pre-installed theme.
Higher prices would net you content in a template site, but if you stop your services your website is gone. In one case, reducing the services to the hosting-only option means all content will be removed — or it can be kept, for an undisclosed fee. In no case was the person who paid for the site able to move that site to other hosting. The person paying for the website sometimes wouldn’t even have control of the website’s domain name.
In other words, when you use these services, you are renting rather than owning.
So is it cheaper? When we first examined this option, we thought it was. We were seeing the come-on prices at websites advertising these services, and it looked as though a physical therapist, for example, could get a website for under a thousand dollars a year.
Once we examined the proposals, it was clear that the services really weren’t offering any more than free services like Weebly.com with niche-specific website templates.
Actually, they offered less, since they don’t always include a content management system. One proposal said that clients “may” have access to the websites to add their own content, but in many cases it appeared that the only way to get specific information into the website would be to pay a monthly fee and/or additional hourly fees to have the content placed into the site.
We’ve worked with this type of site, and can tell you from experience that the content management systems for those that have them tend to be very limited. We’d rather go with a Weebly site.
As for the services offered, they were also very limited compared with what companies like Haden Interactive offer. It wasn’t always easy to tell what their services included, frankly, and it was difficult to compare one with another, but we saw specifics like “four pieces of content” per month compared with our three blog posts per week and “two links a week” or “monthly directory submissions” compared with creative content marketing.
Okay, so what’s the price?
For the first year, and assuming that you do want a functional site rather than the equivalent of a free site, these services actually ran about $10,000.
For $10,000, you can get a very nice custom built website.
For the second year, the cost of that website was right about — $10,000.
If you have a custom website built, the cost of ownership for the second year is the cost of hosting, typically somewhere between $60 and $300, depending on the level of service you require. That $10,000 can instead buy you excellent website management services… or stay in your pocket. One proposal said that there was no point in paying for a website without management; it would be, the sales rep said, like putting up a billboard at the bottom of the ocean. We see his point, but a new practice may need to count the pennies. A little DIY on social media makes a lot more sense than trying to DIY your web content.
The third year — and half the proposals we saw required a three year commitment — the cost of ownership for the website was again just about $10,000. There is no reason to think that the cost will decrease. In three years, then, the physical therapist in our example will have paid $30,000 for a cookie-cutter website and limited management services.
It doesn’t sound like a bargain to us.
If you’ve used one of these services and would like to share your experience, I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, I think most new professional service people would be better off hiring a copywriter for their content and a designer (or perhaps a design student) to create a terrific logo and header. Set up a free website — and save up for the upfront cost involved in building a great website. The savings from not using one of those services will cover the cost of a good custom website in less than a year.