The cost of maintaining a website should factor into every annual budget. Some costs are associated with technology and others with marketing. Regardless of the breakdown, a maintenance plan will save businesses and organizations money in the long term.
Think of your car. What would happen if you didn’t pay for oil changes? It will run fine for quite a while. Then the engine will seize up, and deferred maintenance costs – and then some -- will be conveniently itemized on the mechanic’s bill.
What should it cost to maintain a website? Maintenance costs vary based on the technology and scale of the site, but all sites require a maintenance plan and budget.
That plan is in part determined by the category of the site:
- Software as a Service (SAAS) – Websites built on these platforms pay a monthly fee for access to the tools. Everything comes in a single package. Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly are examples. These are great for small, entry-level websites.
- Open Source – These platforms have a core tool that manages the website. The owner adds features to the website by installing applications, just as you would add apps to your cell phone. Anyone can develop an app, hence the term “open source.” WordPress, Drupal, and DotNetNuke are examples. These are great for mid-sized websites.
- Enterprise – The most robust platforms have all the bells and whistles built in and are capable of handling loads of data. These licensed platforms are built on highly stable environments and can be customized for each business. Titan CMS, Sitecore, and Kentico are examples. These are great for mid- to large-sized websites.
(Full disclosure: Northwoods builds websites on open source WordPress and enterprise Titan CMS.)
Building a website on a SAAS or open source platform often is less costly up front but requires more maintenance long term. Enterprise platforms have more costs up front but are much more stable and require less maintenance. So lumping them together to figure an industry-wide average cost to maintain a website can be deceptive.
Top Website Maintenance Costs
Establishing an annual and monthly website maintenance plan will spare your organization costly headaches down the road. Taken together, the following elements make up the bulk of industry average website maintenance cost.
Businesses and organizations should never, ever cheap out on hosting. Better, more secure hosts charge more for their services and they earn every penny. Be prepared for unnecessary headaches if you pay a host $5 a month. Instead, search out host providers that are proactive in recommending updates, have exceptional uptime statistics, and offer great support.
Your IT Director may recommend hosting on premises, that is, on a server you buy and maintain. We have found that in-house hosting environments are rarely kept up to date. Updating server security and speed requires significant effort and expenditure. Let a professional host handle such details. You’ll sleep better at night.
Average Monthly Hosting Costs:
Your platform affects hosting cost.
SAAS – The monthly price for access to the tool includes hosting. For cost savings, be sure to check out annual payment plans, as they sometimes offer discounts for fees paid up front.
Open Source – We see lots of problems caused by cheap hosting in the open source category. Based on our vetting and experience, hosting an open source platform should start at around $30 per month.
Enterprise – Larger platforms need more stable and secure environments. Hosting typically starts at around $100 per month for a shared hosting environment and can dramatically rise from there, depending on the need. Dedicated hosting environments can cost several thousand dollars per month.
Website Technology Updates
The technology running your website must be updated often. SAAS platforms are updated regularly because the cost is factored into the recurring fee. Open Source platforms require monthly update vigilance because of the many pieces patched together to make the website work. Enterprise platforms are typically updated on a schedule each year.
When picking a content management system and other applications to run features on your website, it is important to know your developer. How often does the developer release updates? Do they provide support? How stable is the developer, as a business? A platform or application that fails to keep up with the latest technology and security will prove not only frustrating, but downright dangerous.
Hiring a professional to manage the technology updates is in your best interest. These vendors live and breathe the technology changes and are best at updating your technology in a timely and correct manner.
For example, WordPress released version 5.0 with an entirely new content management tool called Gutenberg. Businesses that updated their websites with no understanding – or in some cases, no awareness – of this major feature change suffered significant issues with the designs of their websites. The new feature is not compatible with all the WordPress themes and caused a great stir among website developers.
Take your time vetting and hiring a vendor to maintain your website’s technology. Open source platforms are often “supported” by individuals with limited expertise because these platforms appear to be relatively simple. Some such people offer support agreements for extremely low fees and promise unlimited services. If you come across such a support agreement, RUN! The provider might have good intentions, but the business model is impossible. Most of these providers go out of business or simply disappear – and leave your website unsupported.
Enterprise platforms typically require less ongoing maintenance than open source platforms. These tools often follow an update schedule a few times each year to update security, add functionality, and optimize the code.
Average Website Technology Update Costs
The platform you have affects the cost:
SAAS – The cost for updates are included in the recurring fee. Be sure to factor in cost increases each year.
Open Source – Maintenance MUST be done monthly, preferably by a third-party vendor. The cost can range from $100 to $500 per month based on the number of applications needed to run the website.
Enterprise – A good rule of thumb is to set aside 20% of the original build cost each year for upgrades. Cost ranges into the thousands of dollars and depends on the distance between your platform and the latest version.
The least costly website maintenance best practice is to consistently add new, optimized content to your website. For some, this should be a daily occurrence. For others, less often is fine. The digital competition in your industry should determine your effort level.
Set aside a certain amount of time each month to make consistent, strategic changes to your website content, and share that content. This enhances search engine optimization (SEO) and gives users good reason to come back to your website. The more often users visit, the likelier they are to become clients or brand evangelists.
If your industry is highly competitive online (e.g., a restaurant or a law firm), establish a weekly hours budget to spend on content. Consistency is your friend, in terms of both meeting visitor expectations and making content production more efficient over time.
If your industry is less competitive online (e.g., manufacturing), the number of hours spent on content might be a monthly consideration. Regardless of industry, assume nothing. Research and understand your competitive digital landscape.
Content generation can appear to be a daunting task. Not everyone writes well or has the time to write. A content vendor can be a worthwhile expense, if the return materializes. Most vendors can migrate and optimize your existing content in about an hour per webpage, on average.
To write content from scratch, a vendor must conduct interviews, research, write, edit, and optimize the content for each webpage. Production time varies with the nature and length of a given piece of content, but figure about four hours per item, on average.
Vendors typically charge hourly rates. Usually, the lower the cost, the less experienced the writer. If you rely on a vendor on a monthly basis, try to tie the vendor down to a fixed price to limit surprise costs.
Average content Maintenance Cost:
Your own time (what is that worth?) or about $100 to $800 per webpage for a vendor.
Digital Strategy Updates
User behaviors and search engine algorithms change often. Businesses should set aside budget and time to regularly conduct a digital strategy audit to confirm how user and search engine changes affect the performance of the website, and how that, in turn, affects progress toward your business goals.
Businesses in a highly competitive digital landscape should conduct a monthly digital strategy audit of their websites’ analytics and user search behavior, along with a competitive analysis. Most digital marketing vendors offer retainers with cost breaks for recurring reports. Quarterly or annual audits may be enough for less digitally competitive industries.
A professional should conduct your digital strategy audits. A full-time digital marketing professional keeps up with the latest in search engine and user behaviors. Even larger businesses with internal digital marketing teams are better served by third-party audits. In addition to their expertise and objectivity, third-party auditors arrive with fresh eyes. They see what employees tunneled into the daily grind might miss.
Average Digital Strategy Maintenance Costs:
Again, trust in an outside vendor to give you the best return on this investment in your average monthly maintenance fees.
Monthly digital marketing audits can range from $500 to $2,000 or more depending on the overall scale of the audit.
Annual audits review more data. Plan on spending $2,000 to $6,000, depending on the scale.
Be smart and protect the investment you’ve made in your website. The site is, after all, often your potential customer’s first contact with your business or organization. Creating and implementing a website maintenance plan will save you money so your site can make you money.
Unsure where to start? We can help. Contact us.