Changing the frame (or more accurately the image): Website updating in 2016 has become dirt cheap

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new york cover
Rethinking our websites: Here is test site, Newyorkconstructionreport.com. I'll tweak the site and experiment until it is ready -- and then launch it across our different domains. The theme cost about $60.00 -- the only hard cost related to the site redesign.
new york cover
Rethinking our websites: Here is test site, Newyorkconstructionreport.com. I’ll tweak the site and experiment until it is ready — and then launch it across our different domains. The theme cost about $60.00 — the only hard cost related to the site redesign.

By now, you would be living in a cave if you didn’t realize that your website has become one of your most important marketing resources. It is the hub of your content; the place potential clients will head to first, either after marketing/advertising or through word of mouth (including social media). Your website becomes the validating point for new and existing clients to take the next step and get in touch with you  to do business.

With this level of importance, it is reasonable that website development and content building could justify a rather significant slice of your marketing budget. This means, if you are running a $5 million business and elect to allocate a modest one per cent to marketing, you have $50,000 available — and could rationally justify spending a huge portion of this money on the website. (The one per cent number of course is on the low side and certainly doesn’t include business development — the actual benchmark marketing allocation could go to 3 to 5 per cent and the theoretical funds you could justify allocating to your website could be even higher.)

Yet there is certainly no need to spend anywhere near $25,000 to $75,000.

If you want to be truly frugal, assuming you have an ISP account with a dedicated server/CPanel (which for me costs about $200 a month), think perhaps $25.00 to $75.00 — a year!

You’ll of course need do-it-yourself capacities for these numbers, and in fact it is wrong not to include in the costs your time — especially as you learn the ropes. But once you’ve achieved some understanding of basic WordPress functionalities and set up, you’ll discover the costs go near zero.

To show how this is done, on the weekend I realized our sites have grown outdated. While our publication sites — for which we used an excellent designer, Propel Marketing, about five years ago — were among the first to meet current “responsive design” standards — they haven’t been updated since then. (Responsive design allows one site template to work on all devices, including desktop, tablet and phones — saving coding time and allowing suitable viewing on all device types.) This blog is even older — I built it quickly about six or seven years ago during a Christmas-holiday crisis when I managed to trash the previous site accidentally.

I decided to look at some other sites and figure out how they were designed. The key to the puzzle: Using the source code search function to learn which WordPress themes template they are using. I assumed they would be WordPress-based sites, and I was right. Most businesses now use the free wordpress.org open source software to provide the base engine for their sites. (WordPress.org should not be confused with its namesake WordPresss.com, which provides a hosting service for a fee — and restricts some of your behaviours, including placing third-party advertising on your site if you wish.)

After exploring the available themes, I decided on the “Newspaper” theme — appropriate for my business. There are thousands of other themes on the market; some great ones are free, but a license for a paid theme will set you back $100 or less as a one-time charge. (You can elect to pay modest support fees to theme developers; think less than $50 a year.)

Turning the theme into a workable site takes some manipulation. You need to know how to upload WordPress.org’s code on your server and then how to co-ordinate various “plugins” and “widgets” to create the desired appearance. There are security issues as well. Because the program is so widely available, various evil hackers and spammers will try to break into your account/sites. These problems are alleviated by updating your site/plugins as required (often automatically) and installing suitable security software.

The process of selecting the theme, building the initial set-ups and relaunching the test site took me about eight hours. I chose to work on a site that is new and so far has little traffic — our new Newyorkconstructionreport.com site.  There are still some rough edges, but with a bit more work, it should be in shape.

Then I can simply replicate the procedure for other sites. Once I have the template and systems codified into clear instructions, I can delegate this work to our offshore administrative assistant at a cost of $2.75 US an hour.

Now, you don’t need to be this cheap to get the results you are seeking. You can certainly contract with professional website developers — and several specialize in the AEC community. They’ll be more expensive — after all, they need to earn more than $2.75 an hour if they are in the US. (You can use services such as upwork.com to seek inexpensive offshore developers as well. The risk here is you may get quite what you want on the first try; but if the work isn’t time sensitive, you can simply throw a bad job away and try again. I mean, what is $60 or $70 to your budget!)

I’m not pushing nor advocating the do-it-yourself model for most AEC business/practices. You have better things to do with your time than to learn the nuances of WordPress installation. However, you can certainly easily update your site with fresh content with a brief training session by your developer — and do it at your convenience and schedule. At the extreme outside, you should not need to spend more than a few thousand dollars to develop your website — a drop in the bucket of your overall marketing investment.

Do you have thoughts about how to effectively design and build your website? Please feel free to share them in an email to buckshon@constructionmarketingideas.com or as a comment.

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