Pay monthly websites vs one-off cost websites

Written by Amy Cross-Webber, it'seeze websites.

A website designer reads a client specification document and sketches - wireframe layout design for responsive web content

These days almost every business has a website. Those that don't risk losing out on new business and being left behind by their competitors

If you need a website for your business, you have two choices: invest in building a bespoke website or use an off-the-shelf template from a pay-monthly provider. Today, subscriptions services are a popular way to pay for software and services, from mobile phone contracts to Microsoft Office.

In this article, we compare the two options for building a website for your business.

How do web building services work?

Building a bespoke website can be an expensive process, that demands an investment in time and resources. You'll need to work with an agency or web designer who will build the site. The cheapest option is to use a template hosted on a platform such as WordPress, but if you need something genuinely bespoke, it may need to be coded by a specialist.

As well as design and development costs, you will need to pay for hosting and administration.

The costs can be high, but the pay-off is that, if everything goes to plan, you'll have a website that's built around your business and which is totally unique.

Subscription-based websites are typically built on a limited number of templates. These templates can look professional and perform flawlessly. You can usually add any specific functionality you need, such as online ordering.

You will still need someone to design your site, but using the templates is relatively straightforward. If you're confident with a computer and know what you want to create, it's possible to build and publish a website in a few hours. An additional benefit is that the templates and sites are tested to function on all platforms, including mobile phones, tablets, and computers.

Subscription websites can be better for business because they enable you to spread the cost through a monthly direct debit. The ongoing relationship should come with customer support to help you manage your site's hosting, performance, and continued security.

What are you paying for?

When building a bespoke site, you'll need to define what you want with the designer or design agency. The contract should include website design, build and testing. You will also need a domain name, hosting and ongoing administration support. The costs can quickly add up.

The level of service you receive from a subscription-based provider will depend on the service package you choose. All packages will include a template, domain name, hosting package, email address and a certain level of ongoing support.

More extensive, and expensive, packages could include access to additional functionality, such as online merchant software. You may also have larger server storage capacity, more email addresses and faster support.

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When weighing up whether to go your own way or use a subscription-based website builder, here are five key considerations:

1. Look, feel and functionality

If you use a subscription service, you'll need to use one of the templates they have available. There are literally hundreds to choose from, and many can be customised – but there will be limitations.

Most businesses and organisations should have little trouble finding a template that fits, but if you have detailed and specific requirements, then you may be better off commissioning your own site.

It's not just about how the site looks; it's how it works too. Template sites have limited functionality, and it can be challenging (and in some cases, impossible) to integrate the site with other software such as databases, ecommerce platforms or CRMs.

Before spending money on a site, sketch out the essential functions and any software interactions and choose a site-builder that can accommodate these.

2. Easy editing 

Even if you have very little technical knowledge, there may be times when you want to make a quick tweak to your website. When you're choosing your website provider, ask to see the editor software in action.

It should be simple and straightforward to make small changes to your website, such as adding pages, uploading brochures or menus, and updating opening times and prices.

Most bespoke builds are based on a common platform such as WordPress that's easy to edit. You will have to update the software and any plug-ins to ensure you're on the latest editions.

Subscription website builders use their own bespoke platforms, but they all work in the same way and should be simple to update. Before choosing a platform, you're often able to access a free trial period, so we recommend that you try out various platforms to find one that you like the best.

3. Secure hosting 

Ideally, choose to work with a company that can back up your website and customer data to UK-based data centres. This will help ensure that your site is safe and secure, fast to load, and complies with the latest data protection regulations.

A Google-friendly SSL certificate should also be included as standard. It shows that your site complies with security regulations, lets customers know they can use your site with confidence and helps you rank better in search results, as Google favours websites with SSL certificates.

4. Full ownership 

One thing which sometimes deters business owners from choosing a 'pay monthly' website is the possibility that they will be denied access to their site if they end their subscription. This should never be the case, but before going ahead, confirm with your provider what would happen if you chose to terminate your contract.

Ideally, they should be able to provide you with a 'static' version of your website that can be adapted by whoever you work with next.

If you're building your own site, you should have access to everything. But beware, moving whole sites and hosting can be a challenge that requires professional support and a lot of patience.

5. Support and advice

The website build process is just the start. At some point, it's inevitable you'll need to access some support, so choose wisely.

Most website providers will offer some level of customer support but double-check it will be the kind of support you require. Many subscription-based providers only provide online support via email or chatbots, so it's unlikely you'll get to speak to an actual human once your site has gone live.

Look for UK-based call centres or providers with local-rate or free helpdesk numbers and check that you'll be speaking to a team member with expert knowledge, not simply a person paid to answer a phone.

If you're building your own website but don't have an in-house tech-team, it's worth seeking the services of a local consultant who knows you and your business.

There's often no substitute for a face-to-face meeting in your home or place of work even in this digital age. It's especially valuable as you begin to sketch out your ideas or when you need someone to show you how everything works.

Making your choice

If you can find the budget for a large upfront payment, are digitally confident and have plenty of time on your hands (or a dedicated digital staff member), you might prefer to take delivery of a completed website and maintain it 'in-house'. Then you'll only pay out for large scale changes and bigger fixes that you can't do yourself.

However, it's worth remembering that a website is never really 'finished'. Search engines are continually changing the way they use algorithms and redefining security requirements. Connecting different apps and social media platforms can require regular changes.

This means websites must adapt and change too - to keep them working hard, looking good, staying secure and providing the best possible showcase for your business.

If you want flexibility, ongoing support, and the ability to spread the cost, then a subscription service could be ideal. Your website might not be 100% bespoke for your business, but it should look great and function well across all devices, even with minimal input and effort.

Copyright 2021. Featured article made possible by Amy Cross-Webber of it'sezee Websites.

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