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The Hidden Costs of Websites

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The first question most new clients asked me is “how much does a website cost?”. And of course, this depends on the size of the site, its functionality, and if any special features need to be added. This is to be expected.

For instance, a simple five-page site telling visitors about your business is a lot different than a website with 20 products for sale and an integrated shopping cart.

Some sites need customized forms, downloadable resources, login areas for staff, video galleries, donation pages, and more. This, of course, affects the price of the site. If you are interested in a new website, check out our web design for Alaska businesses.

But there are other expenses, outside of making the website, that I find many people are not aware of. This article talks about those expenses, what they are, and what they cost.

Hosting – What is it, and What Does it Cost?

Hosting is where your website is installed and stored and is available in three different types:

  • Shared Hosting – Your website is stored on a server alongside many other sites. All sites are sharing the resources of the one server.
  • VPS Hosting – A VPS is a virtualized server running as software on a more powerful server. Server resources are divided between each VPS. Technically, it’s shared hosting, but there are fewer websites on the one server. Therefore, each site has access to more processing power than they would have available on shared hosting.
  • Dedicated Hosting – A dedicated host serves just one website. This type of hosting is reserved for sites that demand a lot of server resources, such as online shopping sites.

For most sites, shared hosting is all they need.

Hosting fees start at $5 and can go up to $100 / month or more if you are on a VPS or dedicated server. Paying for hosting annually can usually reduce your costs by 10-20%.


Plugins are software you can add to a site to increase its functionality. For example, a plugin can help you improve your site’s SEO, build a contact form, or add a popup box to advertise a flash sale or special offer to your visitors.

Plugins come in free versions, or as paid subscriptions. Free versions may not get updated very often and come with limited support. If something breaks on a free plugin, you are usually left to try and fix it on your own or wait for the next update.

Paid plugins are updated more often, include more features, and are more reliable. If paid plugins break, there is support available to help you fix the problem.

You can expect to have a mix of free and some paid plugins on your site.

Free plugins are of course free. Premium plugins can range in costs for $35-$100 and some require annual renewals.


Website themes change the look and feel of your website. There is a theme to suit every industry – from the clean lines of a corporate identity to more artistic designs, which are a good fit for illustrators, musicians, or creative designers.  In some cases, a theme can also enhance your site’s functionality.

For example, a theme developed for artists or photographers will include a gallery function to display a portfolio of creative works. Themes aimed at bloggers can arrange blog posts and present them to visitors in an attractive format.

Like plugins, themes can be free, but these too will lack support and advanced features. If an update to your website breaks something with your theme, you may be left to deal with it on your own. So, I always recommend researching a good quality premium theme.

Premium themes are available from $35 to $100 and are usually a one-time fee.

Gateway / Merchant Fees

PayPal is an excellent example of a gateway service with which most people would be familiar. Gateway services act as the go-between for your bank and your customer’s financial institution to facilitate the transfer of funds.

When you use a gateway service on your site, each transaction will incur a small fee. For example, PayPal charges a 2.7% fee on every purchase.

You will need to implement a gateway on your website if you are selling anything online such as products through an e-commerce store, making a digital product available as a paid download, or providing an online location for people to donate funds to a charity.

Some gateways do require premium plugins to function well on your site. I find it is worth the extra $50/year that the plugin may costs because it greatly improved the ease of use of your website.

Website Software Updates

Just like mobile phones receive regular updates to keep them secure, a website will also need regular updating to plug up holes in security and maintain compatibility with plugins and themes.

Out of date websites can cease to function as expected or become infected with malware. A managed hosting service provides an affordable solution for website software updates that removes this worry.

Managed hosting is a service that provides updates to your website’s software (plugins, themes, WordPress, etc.) on a regular basis. It can also include backup services, security scans, database optimization and more.

Costs can range between $30 – $100 / month depending on the complexity of your site. Unless you are committed to doing all the updates yourself, I highly recommend some sort of managed hosting for your website.

Secure Socket Layer (SSL)

SSL certificates are small data files used to create a secure communication channel between visitors to your website and your website’s hosting server.

When a website has SSL installed, it activates the padlock or green bar in the browser’s address bar. Visitors will also see the URL change from http to https. All information passing between the server and the visitor’s computer is now secure via encryption.

SSL certificates start at free and can go up to $100 or more.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Your site won’t automatically get ranked in Google once it goes live. For that to happen, your site needs to use good SEO principles. Ensuring your website has excellent content, updated sitemaps, backlinks, and Google Analytics are all part of a sound SEO strategy.

Keywords are also important. A keyword is a phrase a person will type into the search bar to find your business. Using relevant keywords in your content will help your site get indexed accurately, so your visitors can find the information they need when they need it.

Optimizing your site for the search engines is a technical process that increases the search visibility of your website, which in turn will bring in more leads and improve your search page rankings.

SEO prices range from $300 to $1800 month.

Routine Maintenance

Other challenges your website will face include plugin and theme developers dropping support without notice, software updates creating incompatibilities, servers going down, and themes needing renewals.

Just like a car needs regular maintenance and oil changes, your website also requires a routine check-up.

If something breaks on your site you will need someone to troubleshoot the issue and repair it. This may require getting new plugins or themes. It may require reconfiguration of a setting or updating the server software.

The hourly rate for a service like this can range from $50 – $150.

The two analogies I like best are worth repeating here.

Your website is like a smartphone. It is constantly going to be updating its software which will require continued management of your site’s themes, plugins and WordPress installation. As well as routine backups, security scans, and database optimization.

Your website is also like a car. It’s going to need some routine maintenance when plugins fail or conflict, when themes break or when other errors happen.

By being aware of all the moving parts of your website you won’t get unexpected (and costly) surprises.