Setting an Ongoing Website Budget
What does it cost to run a website? This is a question we often get asked and usually has one of those annoying ‘it depends’ answers. There isn’t a one size fits all model but with a little insight it can be relatively straightforward to work out what is going to be right for your business. And that’s what we’re going to do here.
Most annual web budgets are a mixture of four elements: fixed costs, maintenance, support and new developments. By thinking about your requirements in each of these areas it should be possible to come up with a fairly good understanding of what you are likely to spend in the year ahead.
There will be certain essential services that your website can’t operate without. These fixed costs tend to remain pretty consistent from year to year and should be the first thing to factor into your budget.
Domain names – These are usually renewed annually for somewhere between £10 for a .com up to £90 for a more exotic top level domain like .creditcard.
SSL certificates – If you web pages are delivered to visitors using https (and we would certainly recommend that) the associated SSL certificate will also need renewing on a regular basis. The cost will depend on the type of certificate you have but typically you would expect to pay somewhere between £50 to £250 a year.
Hosting – Hosting packages come in all shapes and sizes, from budget shared options to dedicated servers. We find that most clients benefit from some form of managed solution which includes things like automated backups and uptime monitoring, as this ensure the essentials are being taken care of whilst keeping costs predictable. Expect to pay anywhere between £15 to £50 per month for a good performing managed solution.
Content Delivery Network – If your website receives a lot of traffic or you have an international audience then there’a a good chance that a Content Delivery Network could be an appropriate addition to your core hosting solution. With most CDN’s you’ll be paying either a flat monthly rate or slightly variable based on the bandwidth you use, but either way these costs are fairly predictable. Most of our clients who have adopted a CDN pay somewhere between £10 to £30 a month.
Email services – Most businesses engage in some form of email marketing these days and this usually means relying on a dedicated service such as MailChimp or Constant Contact to store subscriber information and create and send campaigns. If you also opperate an online store, or there is an aspect of your site that depends on individual emails getting delivered to customers, you may also be using a transactional email service for their delivery. In both cases you usually pay based on usage (number of subscribers / emails delivered) starting at around £15 per month.
Other services – There are all manner of other services that your website may depend on that may need to be factored into your budget. These include things like SMS delivery services, plug-in subscriptions, payment gateway fees and font licensing. One of the first things we usually look to get in place when taking on an existing site for a client is some basic documentation on which supportin services are essential as losing access or missing the renewal on just one of these could have a significant impact.
Regular maintenance will help keep your website running at its best. By carrying out essential platform updates and content/functional testing you will benefit from the added protection of the latest security patches and have the peace of mind that key aspects of your site are still working as expected. Carrying out these health-checks on a regular schedule will avoid the build-up of maintenance jobs, ensuring they are resolved before they impact the user experience of your site.
For most websites tackling maintenance every 3 to 6 months is about right, but at the very least you should plan a thorough health-check once every year.
We let clients schedule fixed-price website health-checks that cover all the basic maintenance tasks including things like…
Platform updates – Keeping website secure is a constantly moving target, with new vulnerabilities being discovered every month and most sites experiencing more or less constant attempts to compromise them. This makes a regular platform review, with any major updates being tested in a separate staging environment before being pushed live, an essential part of your maintenance plan.
Content checking – Scanning a site to find and fix common content issues such as broken links, missing images and duplicate or missing SEO information such as page titles and descriptions not only helps maintain a good experience for your users but keeps the Search Engines happy too.
Functionality testing – Manually testing important functionality such as forms, e-commerce elements and search can help identify isssues that might not get reported by visitors or surface during automated testing.
At some point every website owner needs help either with content updates, making small cosmetic / functional changes or resolving bugs. If the web isn’t your focus it can also be hard to keep pace with changes in technology and know what is best practice in any given situation. In all these cases, having someone you can contact for quick, expert support is hugely valuable, leaving you free to get on with running your business.
The amount of support you are likely to need depends largely upon your in-house capabilities, the complexity of your site and how regularly you are publishing new content.
For fairly static brochure-type websites as little as 2 or 3 hours across the year could be enough, but for those with more complex setups who are publishing regular updates you could use that over the course of a single month.
Every agency tends to handle support a bit differently. In our case we let clients pre-purchase blocks of time they can use for support over the year. This makes budgeting simple, keeps control of costs and allows the support spend to easily adjust over time as needs change. For most clients we rcommend a budget of 6 to 12 hours for the year is a good starting-point.
The most effective websites are those which are actively developed over time to introduce new features and tune the user experience to really deliver both for you and your customers. This evolutionary approach to development also helps to put off the time when you might need to embark on a complete redesign by embracing new technologies and ideas as they come along.
This is by far the most discretionary part of your budget, but it is also the area where any time invested can deliver the greatest returns. For that reason we recommend matching your on-going support budget as a good starting-point when planning future spending. We like to work with clients to create a basic development roadmap for the year and as part of that we can put some cost estimates against each of the tasks.
Websites don’t have to be costly to run, very rarely are they the biggest expense in our clients’ annual budgets. But it is important to think about what you can afford to spend and ring-fence the necessary funds, especially for essentials such as supporting services and maintainence.
Think of your website as a bit like a car. The big expense was purchasing it in the first place but you still need to budget for petrol, insurance, road tax and maintainence on a regular basis. Without some of these it simply won’t run and under-investing in others can shorten the useful lifespan of the vehicle or impact performance.
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