How Cheap Is Expensive and Free Isn’t Free

Last year we touched on the differences between using a DIY website service like Wix or GoDaddy versus hiring a professional to build your website correctly (Developer vs DIY Services: The Developer Is On Your Side). Recently we’ve seen a very similar trend that I’d like to address: ad agencies offering free, or nearly-free, websites. In the previous article we discussed the pros and cons, but today I’m going to explain to you how buying a cheap or free website will cost you thousands.

Before we get started, we need to establish some numbers.

• The average lifespan of a website: 30 Months (2 years 6 months)
• Wix website cost: $25/month (range of $14 – $35)
• GoDaddy website cost: $15/month (range of $10 – $20)
• Ad agency website cost: $0 (included with $30,000 ad buy)
• AJG Interactive website cost: $2,500 (this is an average; each quote is unique)

First, let’s look at what each website would cost you over its lifespan of 30 months, assuming no other expenses.
• Ad agency: $0
• GoDaddy: $450
• Wix: $750
• AJG Interactive: $2,500

The Damage Is Already Done

Most websites we repair suffer in at least one of three major areas: poor organic SEO, missed revenue (i.e., conversions), or security/reliability issues. Let’s break each of these down and look at the numbers.

Poor Organic SEO

Organic SEO is when someone finds your business on a search engine, without you pumping money into that listing. This is the best type of SEO because it costs absolutely nothing. It’s based on a complex algorithm made up of things like page content, speed, links, and so forth. Poor organic SEO is frequently caused by things like drag-and-drop editors, templates, and mistakes made by inexperienced designers. The Band Aid to this . . . is paid SEO. Paid SEO, or Pay Per Click, works the same in that someone finds your business on a search engine; the difference is that you had to spend ad dollars, usually on a per-click basis, to get that exposure. A typical ad agency will charge a fee of $500 – $1,500 per month to manage your PPC campaign, on top of PPC fees to Google or Bing.

Think about this: Your website has poor SEO and the ad management company who built it wants to charge you more money to manage a PPC campaign to boost your traffic. Does this not seem like giving a utility company remote access to control your smart thermostat?

I should add that paid SEO is a great tool as a supplement to organic SEO, NOT a replacement.

Loss of Revenue

Statistically speaking, we know that over 50% of visitors to your website will abandon it if they cannot find the information they are looking for in 3 seconds or fewer. We also know that roughly 52% of internet traffic is from users on a mobile device, and in some demographics that number jumps to over 90%. What this means is that users are on the go and in a hurry, they are frantically scanning through your website, they aren’t reading the body of text, often the only time they look below the fold is to scan the footer, and a competent designer needs to know how to handle these things. By optimizing a website, we can reduce the time it takes to load, and buy more time to keep the user before the three-second timer runs out. By offering mobile-responsive designs, we can tailor the experience to each individual user. By using things like calls-to-action, relevant imagery, and sales-funnels, we can direct the user’s eye exactly where we want it. These are all areas where low-cost websites fall short, and the solution to increase revenue on a website with a low conversion percentage is to boost exposure, which means more ad dollars and a bigger ad buy; whereas a website with a much higher conversion percentage could achieve the same revenue on a much smaller spend.

Be Cheap, Buy Twice

Thus far we have covered the additional expenses needed to keep revenue flowing with a subpar website, though some websites spend very little on PPC or ad buys and still manage to stay afloat. There are, however, technical costs as well. For example: 100% of the DIY and agency websites we rebuild use outdated versions of code and/or plugins, which is the number one reason for compromised websites. How much will it cost your brand to have pornography or drug ads all over your website? How much will it cost to have it removed? And more importantly, how long will it take?

SEO is very much like credit, in that it’s better to have none than to have bad SEO. Starting with a clean slate makes the process very simple, which is reflected in the price to build a new website. Whereas trying to turn the ship around after the damage has been done can take years and thousands of dollars.

These are just a few of the dozens of issues that you will face when building a website twice that could be eliminated by doing it right the first time.

What Does it Really Cost?

It may seem like we have covered a ton of information, but in reality, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. The truth is that over its lifespan a cheap or free website will cost, on average, between $28,000 and $103,875 over the same 30-month span to generate the same revenue, which makes spending a few thousand up front to do it right the obvious choice.

TL;DR: Buy once, cry once. In the end it’s cheaper to do it right the first time, because it’s expensive as hell to be cheap.