The $500 website – a stepping stone

the $500 website is a stepping stone

It’s not ideal, but it can get you to the next step. Image by Isabelle Lacazotte, via Stockvault.

What does the $500 website do for you? With a budget of $500, chances are high that your site will work against you, and there is a simple reason. If you compare a reasonable starting website budget against the $500 website, the difference is enormous. It boils down largely to time investment, where one budget allows for a basic cookie-cutter site and the other allows enough time for superior coding, professional design, use of a CMS for easy updating, and basic SEO copywriting.

The good news is, a $500 website is an okay stepping stone. Like any starter platform, if you examine what you can do, the most important part of your website is the content. For $500, you can put together some decent content for a basic site. Virtually any other investment will net you a poor site that won’t represent or perform. Arranging priorities, setting realistic goals, and utilizing your budget as smartly as possible can reap rewards.

If you figure that the average business website with a couple of advanced features takes about one hundred hours (or more) to strategize, design, write, and build, a $500 budget will either pay your web designer about 5 bucks per hour, or net you a fairly useless website that will work against your brand. Ever hear someone say, ‘Our website is a work-in-progress’? That’s the $500 site talking. That’s an apology for it being poor quality, and it is detrimental every time.

Why spend your maximum budget on your website?

Your website is likely to be your second most visible form of marketing. It’s easy to see that you don’t want to have to apologize for the state of it. You want it to represent the very best of your organization, giving people a clear idea of who you are, why they should care, and how they should get involved. You want your website to be the voice of your company when you can’t be there in-person.

If you have ever paid for advertising, you know that a small print ad can easily run several hundred or thousands of dollars. (In a leading magazine, you would easily pay $25-35K for a one quarter-page ad that would be on sale for one month.) In fair comparison, a well-done website might cost you $10-20K, and it can easily last 3-8 years. Amortize the cost of a $20K website over eight years, and you might pay $100-200 per month for it. Say you spend just $2K; your monthly cost over eight years drops to about $20 per month.

It’s likely the only other more important marketing tool you will ever have is your brand identity.

The $500 website, meanwhile, will not do any of the things that a website made with a realistic budget will do. It will not represent your brand accurately, will not speak in your tone and voice. It probably will not do much on search engines. It won’t have any special features. That means your website will work against you. That’s the apology website.

In contrast, a realistic budget will net a professional website that helps promote your brand every day, speaking directly to the people who you need to reach, and inciting them to take action.

The $500 website is a myth. It is one that many would like to see come true, but for a reason that makes little, if any, sense. It is an idea that lacks any sort of purposeful reason. If the reason is that $500 is your entire marketing budget, you’re already in trouble, but the situation is not entirely hopeless.

All that said, a decent website can be done for $500. It won’t have a unique design for sure — which means your competitor might have the exact same one — because at that price, there is no budget for design. Where it can be good, however, is in the content. The budget is still extraordinarily low, but it can be done. It can even be built on a powerful CMS, WordPress, and on a free domain. If you start on a free site, once you begin making money and save a realistic website budget, you can easily port your content over to a self-hosted, professionally-designed website.

As with all things marketing, the low-budget website is about balancing budget and expectations. It’s about spending wisely on the most important aspect of your site, the content. It’s also about launching sooner rather than later.

Got the will?

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

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