As someone who’s owned more internet domain names than pairs of pants over the years, I can tell you that setting up and operating a website can be an expensive proposition. In the early days of the internet boom, it wasn’t uncommon to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year to operate a simple website. Fortunately now that everybody and his uncle has their own website, a lot of competition has cropped up in the web hosting business, driving down prices so that now even a kid can run a popular website on just the pennies in her piggy bank.
Of course, as comparatively inexpensive as it is to run your own website today, it can still put a bit of a drain on your wallet. And if you’re juggling several different sites, you could be looking at a hefty hosting bill year after year. Whether you’re new to the whole website thing or you’ve been doing it for years, here are some ways you can cut down on the cost of being a webmaster.
- Don’t pay too much for a domain name. Somehow, despite all the competition in the domain registrar business, Network Solutions still manages to charge $35 a year for a domain name. If you ever pay this much for your domain name, please call me and I will laugh at you for no extra charge. Your domain registration bill should not be more than $10 per year per domain, and you might be able to knock it down even further by purchasing registration for multiple years in advance. I register nearly all of my domain names with RegisterFly.com and highly recommend their easy-to-use services.
- Determine your audience, and buy accordingly. Are you building a small family website, or are you starting your own business online? Are you expecting a few dozen visitors a month or a few thousand a day? Use your favorite search engine to find websites similar to the one you’re planning to build. Many websites have publicly-viewable visitor statistics that can help you gauge how many people will be visiting your own site. Once you know your expected audience size, you can purchase just enough hosting to serve them.
- Host all of your websites in one plan. Owning just one website is so 2002, and web hosting services have realized this. That’s why, for little or no extra cost, you can now opt to host multiple separate websites on a single hosting account. You can get a different domain name for each site, but they’ll all share the same storage and traffic bandwidth. This way, you get hosting for lots of websites for the price of just one.
- Share costs with a friend. While on the topic of hosting multiple sites in one plan, why not split the cost of hosting with someone else? You can each set up your own websites with completely independent controls all on a single account. Hosts that support multiple sites on one account make it easy to securely subdivide your space among different users, so the only way you’ll ever know you’re sharing an account with someone is that you all get just one bill!
- Pay for a domain name, but use free hosting. Maybe you’re not looking to start the Next Big Internet Thing and you just want a small corner of the Web to share pictures or keep an online journal. There are thousands of completely free web hosts out there that will give you a slice of space that you can use to set up your own small personal website. If you’re a fan of all things Google, then look no further for your free hosting than their own service. And if you really like the idea of having your own domain name, you can still purchase one and set it up to forward your visitors to your free hosting.
- Shop around… but buyer beware! Like any other item you might purchase, you’ll want to shop around for the best price on web hosting. While I’ve used half a dozen different hosts in the last decade and have been happy with just about every one of them, I’ve kept switching every couple of years to take advantage of better deals as more competition enters the web hosting arena. Just be sure to do some research into your potential host. Visit a few hosting review sites before you buy to see what others are saying about the quality of their service. But take most of those reviews with a grain of salt; many bad ones are planted by competing companies, and it’s rare for someone with a positive experience to take the time to post a review. Still, if every review you come across points to the same problems, you might want to keep looking. Absolutely never purchase hosting from a service that doesn’t offer some sort of money-back guarantee; you’ll want one that lasts at least 30 days so you’ll have plenty of time to try their goods.
- Build your website yourself. Unless you’re starting a website for your own business and need a truly professional design, you can probably build one yourself without too much trouble. Even if “teh intarnets” aren’t your thing, you can use free tutorials offered by sites like W3 Schools to learn the basics of HTML and other skills you’ll need to put together a decent website. Or you can use graphical editors now offered by many free and paid web hosts to build a site without ever touching a line of code.
- Never pay for anything beyond your domain and hosting. When you’re putting your website together, you’ll probably want to include some pictures, add in a traffic counter to keep track of visitors, and maybe even submit your website to popular search engines. There are services on the internet that will charge you for all three, but there is absolutely no reason for you to pay for something you can get for free. Need free pictures or stock photographs? stock.xchng to the rescue! Looking for free visitor counters? Look no further than Site Meter! Want your site to show up in search engines? Pick your favorite engines and submit it yourself!
- Be your own web host. You can take the most expensive part of being a webmaster–the hosting–out of the equation by being your own web host. It’s easier than you think, and you can do it using equipment and the broadband internet connection you already have set up at home. First find out if hosting your own website is something your internet service provider allows. They might say no at first, but they’ll usually offer a package upgrade that will allow you to serve websites over your home internet connection for less than it might cost you to pay a separate web host to do it. Then it’s just a simple matter of following some instructions to set up your own web hosting.
- Plan for the future. While this article is geared mainly toward saving you money on websites at startup, it’s also a good idea to think ahead to the future of your website. Sure it might be getting only 20 visitors a week now, but your audience may grow over time… perhaps sooner and bigger than you may expect! If you think your website might experience a growth spurt sometime down the road, be sure to take that into account when looking for a hosting service. While you’ll probably want to start with a cheaper, smaller plan, signing up with a company that offers plan upgrades will make it much easier to expand your site later.
If you’ve been wanting to start your own website for a while but the cost of building or maintaining one has kept you from doing so, it’s never been a better time to hop on the webmastering bandwagon. Come on, don’t you wanna be a computer geek like the rest of us?