Donald Trump and the $3 website
Written by Matthew Daly, Developer, Astutech ltd.
You may have heard the following from Donald Trump when bemoaning the amount of money spent by governments:
“And remember the $5 billion website[?], 5 billion we spent on a website, and to this day it doesn’t work. A $5 billion dollar website[?]. I have so many website[s]. I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a website. It costs me $3.”
This is a (very!) extreme example, from a man who may well not know the price of a pint of milk, but it’s indicative of a wider misunderstanding about both the cost, and the value, of a website. It’s surprising how many people think that creating a website for their business can be safely left to their “13 year-old nephew who knows Dreamweaver”.
So, what does a website really cost? The up-front cost of creating a website can be broken down into three main elements:
The domain name
This is your website’s “address”, eg. www.astutech.com. The price will depend on which top-level domain (the last part, such as .com or .co.uk) you want to use, as well as the availability of the domain name you want – if someone else already owns it, and they’re willing to sell it, you may be looking at paying considerably more than you would for an unused one. Typically a .co.uk domain will be fairly inexpensive at around £3-4 per year, but this is an ongoing cost as you need to pay it once per year. A .com domain can be more expensive, at around £10 or more. Other, less common top-level domain names are available, and may be more or less expensive, but the .com and .co.uk ones are the most common.
As you can see, this already takes us over Donald Trump’s “$3” website budget…
This is the space on a server from which your website is hosted – think of it as the place where your site “lives”. The cost of hosting your website will depend on what your website actually does. For instance, a brochure-style website that is intended to advertise your services in your local area only, and provides only some content about what you do and details of how to contact you, is not likely to have too many visitors, and they won’t do more than look at a couple of pages, so the site doesn’t need to be able to handle much traffic, so shared hosting should be fine. This will typically cost between £5 and £10 per month.
A site with significantly higher traffic, or one that is more interactive, such as an e-commerce store, will require more resources, and so would need to run on either a virtual private server (VPS) or, for a particularly large or busy site, a dedicated server. For really large sites, you may need to employ multiple dedicated servers.
A basic VPS can be upwards of £10 per month, depending on the specs. A dedicated server can start at around £30 per month. Also, these plans typically do not include having someone set up the server with the software you need, secure it, and keep an eye on its performance. It’s quite common for any one server to experience one or more attempts to break in every day, and if your site is compromised it can be extremely painful to clean up afterwards and secure it again, not to mention the potential for loss of business, so you really do not want to treat this lightly.
Building the site
This is the actual website itself. The cost of this can vary hugely based on what your website needs to do. If you’re using a paid content management system, then the licence fee for that needs to be taken into account, while with a free and open-source content management system such as WordPress there is no licence fee. If your project can be done with off-the-shelf systems and requires little-or-no customization, it can be only a few hundred pounds. If you need some additional functionality that can’t be done with off-the-shelf components, then this can be done by writing custom plugins for your content management system, and the cost of this will depend on how much developer time is required to do so.
For larger and more complex sites, a custom build may be the most appropriate solution. If that’s the case, then the cost will be dependent on the time taken to build the site. The sheer volume of open source libraries and frameworks now available for handling common tasks means that web developers are more productive than ever before – some things can now be done in a fraction of the time they would have taken beforehand.
Both approaches have their pros and cons. An off-the-shelf solution is quicker to put together, is widely supported, and will often offer plugins and themes to allow for easy customization, but that comes at a price – typically they may have more overhead, and if you need to add new functionality that is not provided by an existing plugin, it can be harder to develop. A custom build will offer better performance, and it can often be quicker to add new functionality from scratch, but the downside is that it’s slower to develop the whole thing.
The value of a good website
So, as you can see, Donald Trump has seriously underestimated the cost of building even the most basic website. And this doesn’t really touch on the cost of maintaining and updating the website over time – search engines will always rank your site better if your content is regularly updated, and it’s very sad when you see websites that are left to gather dust.
A good website can bring in a lot of business, and offers a sound return on the investment made, while a bad website will be a complete waste of money at best and actively discourage customers at worse. If someone needs a service you provide, people are less likely to wade through the Yellow Pages than in the past – instead they’ll search online, and if you don’t have at least some presence, you could be missing out. If your website looks unprofessional, it can discourage people from contacting you. If your site is not accessible to people with disabilities, then they’re more likely to go to a competitor whose website they can use without difficulties. If your site can’t handle the traffic it’s receiving, then it will be very slow or go down entirely, meaning that customers will go elsewhere.
Also, don’t discount the effect of having your email on your own domain – it looks a lot more professional to give your email address as
[email protected] than
[email protected], and the cost of a website will normally include mail hosting.
By all means, be careful with your money, but at the same time, building a website is not something that should be done on the cheap if you want to see a good result, as you really do get what you pay for. If it looks something like this, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t lead to more business. Also, don’t neglect the website copy – far too many people will worry about a few pixels not being in the right place, and then the text will be some bland waffle. Hiring a copywriter to write the copy for your site can be well worth your time.
A website for your business is an investment, and skimping on the cost can be a false economy. Do it well and it can help your business tremendously. Do it badly and you’re throwing away good money on a poor website.