Your website is like your car. If you never check fluids or get a tune-up, it won’t work when you need it. Maintaining your website requires some effort and includes a price tag. Even if it’s not a “BMW”, it is a vehicle critical to your marketing.

The real cost of creating and then maintaining a website is usually not apparent from its onset. How the internet works is constantly evolving in a strange dance between technology that’s both pushed and pulled into existence by tech leaders and consumers.

Cost and performance go hand-in-hand. Your website can be central to driving business revenue, or operate on the sidelines. To get more, you’ll have to spend more. The better you understand your needs, the less likely you’ll be surprised by unexpected fees.

When first launching a site, you have to register a domain and space on a host server. Then expect to pay an ongoing fee, to continue using the space, at minimum. The provider, price, and package options vary widely. For example, you may pay the web host to maintain your website, or hire an independent webmaster.

Building a website is now super-easy compared to ten years ago, in a relative sense. It’s possible for a complete novice to independently set-up a website for under a hundred dollars. The downside is a novice who’s not a fast learner with TONS of time on his hands can quickly become overwhelmed. At best the site will experience negligible traffic, and at worst get hacked or be suspended by the host if it lacks proper maintenance.

Large companies usually have a contingent of geeks on call who can troubleshoot their problems, but small businesses often have shoestring support operations. But if you cut too many corners, your business could be offline for days. You should ask yourself from the outset what is the right level of website maintenance and support for my business?

Hosting and Domain Names

Getting a domain for your website doesn’t cost much. That’s because most small businesses don’t technically purchase a domain. They rent one. If you obtain a brand new (or not registered to anyone) domain, it’s very affordable. However, an aged domain could cost you thousands or even millions of dollars. For example, was bought for $30.18 million in 2012. The less glamorous cost $35.6 million in 2010 and then sold for $49 million, and some change, in the same year.

The good news for startups is that you don’t have to pay a fortune to buy a domain. Speculation on domains by investors has faded since the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) rolled out more top domains.

In a recent article, Forbes stated the best place to start your search for domains is via GoDaddy or one of the many other name registrars, and it should only cost you $10 – $12 a year. Domain extensions such as .tv and .vs will cost between $20 to $40 for a year. However, you can also get some pretty good deals depending on how the registrar packages their services.

Small businesses should start thinking of a catchy name for their site. If you’ve done your trademark research, getting a domain that matches the name of your company should be doable.

A web host is essentially a company with a bunch of servers connected to the internet and the World Wide Web. Size, quality, and security of service ranges widely. Cost starts as little as $1 a month but you’ll get roped into a contract of least two or three years. I recommend paying a bit more and using a well-known host since they usually have better IT support and are less likely to go out of business.

Recently, PC Mag reviewed the best cheap web hosting services in 2016. They range in price from HostGator at $3.33 a month to HostMonster at $6.95.

There are benefits and downsides to cheap hosting. For one, a low-cost shared or managed WordPress hosting plan is acceptable because sharing doesn’t mean other users can check out your files. The space you use is “partitioned” from other space on the same server. However, crashes can happen periodically when the server space is used up. A good hosting company addresses this quickly and has backups to get everyone back online.

Costlier versions of hosting are dedicated and Virtual Private Servers (VPS). VPSs start at $30 a month and make sense for larger websites that want to reduce their liabilities with downtime and get better customer support.

A dedicated server gives you the entire piece of hardware on which you can host multiple sites or one super-sized site. It’s the best model for high traffic sites that need additional security, but you should expect to pay at least $100 a month.

Besides the storage space issue, cheaper hosting services may lack robust options for managing your site. For example, regular backups and restoration should the server crash, or your website is hacked (which is much more likely than the server getting hacked). You may opt for a low-cost subscription, or tempt fate and take a chance on paying an expensive on-demand restoration fee.

Also, email accounts and content management systems may not be included, requiring you to source them elsewhere. You can save the hosting fee by using free web hosting, but you will have to put up with annoying ads.

One of the first questions you will face when planning a website is whether you should hire an independent designer, a web company, or (shudder) do it yourself.

Many smaller businesses will use a DIY approach to save costs, opting for a CMS provided by the host site or an open source software like WordPress. Also using free or low-cost templates or themes (manages the overall look of the site), so all they need to do is plug in text and images.

Images heavily influence the look of a website. You can expect to pay about $5 to $20 per royalty-free stock image. We recommend using professional photography as much as possible, so your website truly reflects your company.

If you want something unique, custom built themes usually cost $1000 to $3,000. It depends on how much work goes into the design.

There is a gradient between using purchased templates and a custom built one. Purchased templates are customizable to an extent within their settings. A good coder can also revise the template to make it appear fully customized with half the work.

However, this makes the template impossible to update by the original designer (popular template providers are regularly updating their themes with new features), so carefully consider this avenue for the long-term implications.

Your website builder may or may not help you maintain the site. If not, you need a webmaster who will be your go-to man for monitoring it and making updates.

A webmaster can charge up to $150 an hour and package their services starting at 2-5 hours a month. There are smaller web design companies that charge $50 or less an hour. Skill level and responsiveness vary widely. Know what you need before looking around, and then check references. Nothing is more frustrating than an incapable or non-accessible webmaster.

Small website owners can expect to spend approximately $100 a month, and medium sized site owners (15-50 pages) can spend approximately $400 to $450 a month for a webmaster to watch their precious digital marketing tool or point of sale system.

Make sure the web company you hire doesn’t cut corners when it comes to security systems and backups. The savings you claimed on that bargain basement service will be wiped out when you have to rebuild from scratch.

Ask yourself from the outset if your website budget will stretch from construction to on-going maintenance.

For more information about the costs of building a website, including a comparison of a DIY job to a professional designer, you can review’s article on the subject: How Much Does a Website Cost to Build? DIY vs. Professionals

Updating Costs

If you have a static website, you are likely to have a static business. Beyond routine maintenance, consider how often you want to overhaul your website. Some companies do small updates every quarter and then an extensive overhaul every two years. Others continually work on their site, so overhauls are far apart.

The look and feel of websites change almost as quickly as fashion, and updates in Google’s algorithms can penalize static sites. There’s also the self-evident point that your website will become boring if it remains the same.

If Giorgio Armani made his models wear the same clothes in Milan from one year to the next, his brand would suffer. It’s the same with your website. No matter the industry, a dated look implies a dated company.

Reasons Why You Need to Update Your Website

  • The Content is Out of Date

If your site refers to events that are old or hosts out-of-date reports, it will look dated to the visitor. Time sensitive material that’s old gives the impression your business is stagnating.

Your webmaster can easily handle small improvements such as replacing photos or adding links. But, if you are adding or revising entire sections, consider hiring an SEO writer and website designer to give the content in your site an edge over the competition.

  • To take Advantage of New Features

Website technology is evolving fast. In recent years, it has become increasingly important to have features on your site that integrate with social media because of how much traffic it can send your way.

Online security is another area that’s fast-moving. You will need to invest in securing your site with an SSL certificate that will encrypt communications to assure customers their personal details are safe with you. We deal with the costs of SSL certificates in the next section.

  • The Look May Be Out of Date

Animated graphics and flash elements went out of date in the 1990s. Now and again we still see websites that look obviously dated. It’s unlikely that you will dress in flares or rah-rah skirts. Update your website as well as your wardrobe. Today’s most successful sites embrace simplicity and clean lines

If your website looks like this, it needs an upgrade intervention

  • It’s Not Responsive for Mobile

In May 2015, Google revealed that more searches are taking place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 leading countries including the US and Japan. The announcement marked a significant milestone and one that Google anticipated the previous month when it brought in an algorithm change that benefits sites optimized for mobile.

The Wall Street Journal reported on how the leading search engine had tweaked its algorithm for mobile searches to “favor sites that look good on smartphone screens.” If the content of a site is too wide for a phone screen and links are too small your site will be negatively affected.

Most all websites built today use responsive design, so it displays cleanly on multiple devices. You can learn more about responsive versus standalone mobile websites in a few of our other posts. A fully responsive site that can adapt to any device or screen can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $25,000.

The Cost of an SSL Certificate

An SSL certificate (security socket layer) is important to apply to a website that collects a lot of personal data from visitors. It ensures the information they enter through their browser securely reaches your server. Don’t worry, the cost of an SSL won’t break the bank.

This article in About Tech evaluated 80 SSL budget certificates from 30 different certificate companies. The certificates that were evaluated ranged from about $9 a year to $60.

Companies such as Thawte offer five SSL certificate options ranging from the $149 year to the Wildcard SSL option starting at $499 a year that cover multiple subdomains. All the certificates have 128/256 bit encryption and come with a warranty ranging from $100,000 to $500,000.

Many of the cheaper SSL options offer a lower warranty. If you do a lot of e-commerce, it’s worth considering the higher end plans. Savvy buyers will not make purchases if they see the site is not secured.

Form Processing Fees

If you are handling large amounts of form information or receiving large file uploads, you may need to buy forms.

Forms can resemble paper or database forms because web users fill them out online using checkboxes, or text fields. Forms are used to collect credit card information and shipping details, for example. Building online forms that sync to a custom database can be difficult, not to mention costly. Services such as Wufoo will make it easy for you – at a price.

Wufoo offers four packages. The first three forms are free. For $14.95 a month, you can get ten forms and up to 250 MB in uploads. An unlimited number of forms and 1 GB of uploads is $29.95 a month, and 3 GB is $69.95 a month.

This article in compares the pricing options ranging from Google Forms which is free to iFormBuilder at $86 a month.

Paid CMS Versus Free CMS

Choosing your content management system (CMS) is as crucial a decision for your website as the design of it. A CMS is the back-end of a website that you access to make updates to the content seen on the front-end or internet side of the site.

Popular and free CMS include Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal. It’s easy to find themes and plugins (additional website functions) for them that cost little to nothing. However, each CMS has their strengths and downsides.

For example, Joomla is often preferred by designers because they have more control over customizing the design, but it’s not super friendly to an average user such as a business owner that wants to make a few updates to a page. To-date, WordPress is the most popular for SMBs.

The alternative is a standalone or custom built CMS. The custom route is for websites that have a unique purpose that an open source CMS can’t support. For example portals for learning, online communities, or systems for research. Costs can range from $10,000 to $100,000 and is usually taken on by purely online businesses.

Custom built CMS are typically proprietary. The company that builds it owns it. They can choose to let others license the system or not. An online business is not likely to share their CMS since it’s unique platform sets them apart from their online competitors. However, it’s not unusual for website design companies to have their own CMS just for clients.

In these situations, you will have to sign at minimum an annual contract for them to build and manage your website. If you want to move to another webmaster or designer at some point, you can’t take the site with you. It’s connected to their proprietary CMS.

On the plus side, you have a company that manages the day-to-day tasks of your website, and you never have to consider such things as security issues, patches, and updates. On the downside, if they don’t maintain a good development team you could be stuck paying for a CMS that is limited and buggy.

It’s wise to plan ahead when you might switch from one CMS to another CMS. The best time is when redesigning the website.


Google and many other SaaS offer website analytics starting from free up to hundreds of dollars a month. The importance of accessing analytics at times is overrated. The data is not very useful if you don’t have someone who can interpret the trends and repurpose your online presence to react to them.

The more help you want with analyzing data, the more it costs. You should plan in this in your budget if your business depends on website traffic.

How Much Should You Pay for Analytics?

Google Analytics Premium starts at a staggering $150,000 a year. You get “higher data limits, more custom variables, a service level agreement, and a dedicated support team.”

Even if they threw in an Audi, we wouldn’t recommend a small business spending this much on analytics.

If you have a web provider that manages your website, analyzing the analytics may be included in the annual contract price. Otherwise, you can use Google Analytics for free. It’s relatively straightforward if you have the time to learn the system and then regularly check what it reports.

The Cost of Plugin/Widget Support

A plugin is a somewhat technical term for a tool or function you can add to your website that helps either the back-end user and/or interfaces with website visitors. Widgets are mainly content or interactive components that you can arrange in the sidebars and footers of your website. Widgets are created via plugins and basic ones come with the CMS.

Many plugins are related to social media, support the play of audio and video media, support e-commerce functions, or help make the site more secure.

Plugins and widgets are predominant in open source CMS. Still, you can build custom plugins for open source CMS, and integrate purchased plugins into proprietary CMS if compatible.

The majority of plugins are free, but you can only use the basic functions. You then either make a donation, pay one time, or subscribe to a service to access the full functionality of a plugin. Costs range widely. Most of the time you’ll spend up to $60 for a one-time purchase and subscriptions are often $5 to $35 a month.

In summary, there are no easy and fast answers to the question about the cost of maintaining a website but there are some helpful estimates.

Scott Darden, president of Devizan Inc., presented the following breakdown of costs in an article in NFIB.

  • Domain name registration = $10-$15 annually;
  • SSL certificate (assuming pricier certificates add greater trustworthiness) = $70-$300 a year;
  • Hosting = $40-$200 annually;
  • Templates and development tools = $100-$200;
  • Design services including graphic design = $400-$1,600;
  • Site development = $600-$2,000;
  • Maintenance (dependent on how well the site is set up) = $400-$1,800/year;
  • Payment processing = $0-$250 a year.

The bottom line of Darden’s realistic calculations is a small business website will cost about $1,100 – $3,800 up front with annual upkeep and maintenance costs of $600-$2,800.

You may keep your site ticking over for a few hundred dollars a year but it’s likely that you will be taking risks. Alternatively, you could be investing five figures a year on a raft of features that you don’t need.

How much it will cost to maintain a website a year may depend on how much you can realistically afford to invest and how much business you generate. Draw up a realistic budget and hire an expert to help you. The more trial and error you can remove from the process, the better.

Author's Bio: 

I am a content writer & blogger at Red Dash Media. And apart from blogging frequently at work, I am into reading, writing poems in the comfort space of my home. Hey, did I tell you that I also like to go trekking with friends when in the mood to explore nature and then post all those adorable pics from my adventure on my Instagram handle!