While a website for your business should be considered a serious investment, that doesn’t automatically mean that you need to spend top dollar on everything associated with creating a site.
When I started out, many websites were built from scratch by developers who had to code the pages by hand. Knowing all the code to build a site was still a fairly rare skill, so many of my early clients had websites that they had paid a lot of money for, but had become out of date. It was a common misconception that if they had paid thousands of dollars for a web site, that meant it was a great site. And oftentimes it wasn’t. There was one client I started working with whose entire website had been done (expensively) in Flash. It was hard to break it to them that their site would only show up on a mobile device as a blank gray square.
The good news is that while a good website will still cost money, there are smart ways to spend that money so you end up the best return on your investment.
1: Set up your domain and hosting accounts on your own.
Once you understand what it is that you are doing, setting up a domain name account or a hosting account isn’t really that much different than starting any other online account.
There are companies that use an “All Included” approach and have their clients sign up for services without understanding what they are paying for. Companies like this will add your domain and hosting account to a large umbrella account of their own, often with a cut-rate hosting company, and then add a “managing fee” to your actual hosting and domain costs. Should you decide that you would like to have another company work on your site, you could find it very difficult to gain control over a domain name and a website that you thought was yours.
Instead, set up these two accounts on your own so YOU can have control. It’s well worth it. After all, your website is the hub of your company’s online presence. Wouldn’t it make sense to maintain as much control as possible on something so closely tied to your business identity?
Your domain name account is where you should start first. One you have that done, then it’s easier to get a hosting account so you can point your new name over to that.
Why do it this way? If you are doing a brand new site, having a domain all ready to go when you get hosting means that you can begin to advertise with that name. Anyone who goes to your new domain can find a landing page set up with a brief introduction and contact info while your new site is being built behind the scenes.
Here’s some domain registration companies that are great and fairly easy to work with.
One caveat with Godaddy. They tend to send out a lot of emails. I have had frantic clients who use Godaddy contact me and say that their site has disappeared. It turned out that they were getting so many marketing emails that the all-important renewal notice emails got lost in the shuffle. It’s a wise move to sign up for automatic renewal so you don’t let a domain expire.
Domain names are very affordable, around $20 a year. It’s also worth going the extra mile and getting domain privacy so nobody can see your info if they try looking you up here:
Useful tip: When you are setting up your domain account, make sure you record your account user name and password info. A good way to keep track of all the accounts your site will accumulate is to keep a Google drive spreadsheet on your own Google account. OR/AND keep a small notebook in a safe place with your accounts’ info written down.
2: Spend smart money on solid hosting
A hosting account is basically renting storage on someone’s server in folders. Your site’s folder location on a server is given an address in the form of a series of numbers called an IP address.
And that IP address is the address your domain registrar will then use to locate your site so that it will show up when someone types your domain name into their browser.
You should never overpay for hosting but, you should never underpay as well.
Many hosting companies offer different levels of accounts based in part of how much bandwidth your site uses. While you should be aware of how much actual bandwith and traffic your site is using, don’t over-spend up front.
The first principle of hosting economics states: “A hosting company is far happier to help you upgrade your existing account when your traffic has outgrown it rather than downgrade your existing account because you realize you overestimated your site traffic.”
The first principle of hosting economics states: “You get what you pay for.”
Picking a hosting company can be a tricky business. There are quite a few well-known companies that try their best to promote an image of being a “boutique company” while in reality they are owned by a large conglomerate that scoops up smaller companies and then turns loose their efficiency experts. Customers are none the wiser until they start to notice the monthly charge going up, and the quality of service going down.
After a decade in business, I have worked with lots and lots of hosting companies. Some are good, a few are great and the rest are not worth what they are charging per month.
Here are two hosting companies that Jenn’s Web recommends…and why.
Siteground offers affordable WordPress hosting with backups and auto updating of wp core files.
For a bit extra per year, you can also get their Sitescanner service which will patrol your site for malware and alert you about any suspicious looking files. Siteground offers SSL support but you do have to renew the certificate every few months.
Siteground lets you set up as many business emails under your domain name as you like.
There’s a good knowledge base that you can search, but if you don’t find what you are looking for, then you can either open a support ticket or open an online chat. Their customer chat line is very helpful and usually the queue is pretty short.
WPEngine has some great features that make it worth it’s slightly higher price point. A big one is the ability to have a staging, development & production site so you can always have a “test monkey” if you want to try new plugins or themes out. Another big plus is that WordPress is all WPEngine does so they understand WordPress sites inside and out.
A standard SSL certificate included with your account, and it’s very easy to install.WPEngine offers great site security built into every hosting account already whereas most other companies charge so much extra that the security on their “bargain account” ends up costing much more than a WPEngine account.
WPEngine specializes in WordPress, so, they don’t offer email inboxes. However, they do offer lots of help to set up your business domain email in Gsuite.
WPEngine has some of the best customer support around as well as a well-maintained knowledge base. They are very good about walking their customers through any issues and easy to contact.
“But I have a friend at a hosting company who can get me free hosting!”
As your high school science teacher may have said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” They were right.
Every time a client has insisted on taking advantage of free or severely discounted hosting, their site ended up having all kinds of issues that were due to the hosting company shortchanging them on bandwidth, upload size, uptime and security. And customer service?
Trying to cut corners on something as crucial as a hosting account can easily cost you much more in the end. The bargain hosting account in all likelihood doesn’t offer good security and it’s a big risk that your site gets hacked. Instead of doing their due diligence to protect your account, some cheaper hosting companies will simply shut down your site, citing a vaguely worded “security risk” and then offers to set you up with their partner security service. And when all is said and done, you have shelled out $200 a year for security, on top of your hosting fees, plus any time you’ve had to pay your webmaster to try and figure out what the heck is going on. Also, you may have missed out on quite a bit of potential business while your site was down. Not really a bargain in the end is it?
3: Setting up email the right way the first time is cheaper in the long run.
Your email address could be the first person to person contact your potential customers and clients have with you, especially if you are going to have an e-commerce site. After all, getting a sales receipt from firstname.lastname@example.org looks a lot more reputable than email@example.com right?
Decide early on in your process if you are going to need email addresses mapped to your domain name. Be aware that many hosting companies do include email in their hosting accounts but not all email services are created equal. I have one client that texts me every few months, desperate for help cleaning out her email inbox because she has maxed out her storage and guess what’s clogging up her inbox?
So, what do you recommend?
Here’s the thing…you have your email via a hosting account, but what happens if you decide to switch to a new hosting company? Now, you have to be careful to not lose all your email when you transfer your account over. Plus everyone at your company complains about having to clean out spam, and then there’s trying to route all those addresses into one person’s Outlook account, that person’s phone, and of course your boss insists on Aol for everything…
For $5 a month per user, you can have professional email mapped to your domain name, that will automatically flag spam and is fairly easy to add to a mobile phone setup.
4. Ignore the SEO sales calls and emails. Grow your traffic as organically as possible.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s a collective effort on the part of a website owner to make the site more attractive to search engines which will then encourage them to rank the site higher in a search based on the key words and phrases in the site. SEO is not as easily measurable as website design. After all, if you ask me to create a new page on your site, and once it’s done, I send you an invoice, you can tell by going to your site if the page is actually there. With SEO, it’s not as tangible and it can take a long time to see visible results from any SEO efforts.
Before you sign on with an SEO Marketing agency, take stock on what you can do to enhance your search engine visibility for free. Are you using your social media to its full potential? Are you keeping up your blog on a regular basis with really useful content?
It’s well worth the investment of your time to do a little self-education and make sure your site ‘s SEO is on point rather than spend a ton of money on a self-proclaimed expert without knowing exactly what you are paying for.
5. Get photos that reflect your brand and elevate your site
If you want to sell items on your site, make sure they look their best. Even if you are not actually running an e-commerce site, you are still “selling” your company. I have seen people try to get away with blurry selfies, laptop camera portraits, and even cutting out an old photo and holding it against a new backdrop. Nothing beats quality photography by a professional to make your site look “next level”. So, don’t cheap out on product photography, head shots, or photos of your place of business. Here’s who I recommend
If you want other images on your site then it’s ok to use stock photography. There are some free sites such as Unsplash or Pexels that offer interesting images that can really do the trick. If you are looking for something specific or what you are finding on the free sites isn’t quite doing if for you, ask your web designer to try a search on the sites that they subscribe to. They might have a membership to a site that can provide what you are looking for without having to pay for the photos yourself. (or they might even have images downloaded already that you can use).
6: Know when a premium plugin is worth the expense
Sometimes a client needs to see the math in order to make the right decision. WordPress plugins save time and time is money.
For example, say you run a bar and have different bands that play there as well as regularly scheduled events on certain nights of the week. Since running a bar is very hands-on work, you pay your webmaster to keep your site’s band schedule updated. Most of the bands play at least once a month, and it’s easy with a free calendar plugin for the webmaster to just change the date of the shows from month to month.
But when it comes to the weekly recurring shows, there’s a premium version of the plugin which allows for setting up regularly repeating events. If you pay your webmaster to buy the premium version of the calendar plugin, then they just need to set up a recurring event once. It might take only 15 minutes or so to set all your recurring events for the next two years. If you aren’t willing to pay $90 for a premium version, then what will it cost you in your webmaster’s billable time to keep creating weekly events? Say they pay their webmaster $60 per hour. If that person has to spend just 5 minutes a week changing the dates on the weekly event listing, that’s 20 minutes a month. 240 minutes a year. So, in the end you are paying your webmaster 3X the price of the plugin in billable time.
7: Paying for site maintenance can save money in the long run
If your webmaster offers a maintenance plan, definitely take it into consideration. A WordPress expert knows how to make site updates the right way, and what to do in the rare event an update causes an issue. For example I had a client who was using a popular hosting company because their plans were very cheap. When an update notice popped up in their dashboard, they clicked it without understanding what they were doing. Their bargain hosting company did not maintain the server very well, and there was a coding error that had resulted in the both the front and backend of their site showing up blank aka “The White Screen of Death”. Their host also didn’t provide automatic site backups, so I had to go in and troubleshoot away. The billable time for this ended up being more than what their “bargain plan” cost for a year. Had they had gotten a maintenance plan, the updates would have been handled properly and there would have been a backup to go with in case of emergency.
A few tips to make sure this never happens to you even if you decide not to use a WordPress maintenance service.
- Make sure your hosting company offers automatic backups. If they don’t, ask your webmaster to set that up for you using a WordPress plugin.
- Ask your hosting company if they have a way to keep the php version on your site updated. Some companies do automatic updates and some don’t. At the very least, there should be a way for someone who has access to your hosting control panel, to choose a php version.
- If you don’t have security set up via your hosting company, then use a plugin like Wordfence on your site. And at the very least, use a strong password to log into your site dashboard.