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Are You Still Renting Your Website? You Should Consider Buying.

The concept of “renting a website” might seem strange at first. Renting an apartment makes sense. But renting a website? Why would anyone do that?

Well, many small businesses are renting their websites instead of owning them. There are companies that specialize in renting websites to accountants, lawyers and many other professional and business services providers. Visit enough small firms on the web and you’ll start to see surprisingly similar websites including design, content and images. That’s because these firms pay a monthly or annual fee for a templated and hosted website. They’re renting.

Why would a business choose to rent instead of own their own site?

The main reason is cost…at least upfront cost. Assuming that you don’t have the ability to build a professional looking site yourself, you’ll probably have to lay out a few thousand dollars to have a really good one built for you. The prices will vary depending on the features you want and if you need the content written for you. If you choose to rent, you might need as little as $100 per month to get started. We’ll get deeper into the numbers soon, but the bottom line is that your initial investment is minimal compared to owning your own site.

So why shouldn’t every business rent their website?

Here are 3 reasons:

1. Total cost
Most website venders that specifically target professionals such as lawyers, accountants and mortgage brokers (to name just a few) charge in the neighborhood of a hundred bucks, which includes hosting, template, proprietary CMS (content management system) and rudimentary on-page SEO.  They usually offer extra SEO and marketing packages that can drive up the cost to several hundred dollars per month. (NOTE – I’ve specifically chosen to not mention specific vendor names, but you shouldn’t have much trouble finding them on Google).

What many website renters don’t realize is that if they stop paying the monthly rent, they lose their website. Even if they get to keep their content, it won’t be easy for them to transfer it to a different, non-proprietary, platform like WordPress. So while the upfront cost for a website is small, after two years of renting you’ve spent enough “rent money” to have been able to own your own custom site free and clear. If you’re paying extra for SEO or other services you’ll probably hit that mark after just a year. After year two you’ll probably be paying more for your rental than if you were an owner…and you still lose it all if you stop paying!

In my experience I find that most website renters don’t do the math and miss the fact that they’ll be paying much more in the long run.

But what about hosting and maintenance costs? You can pay as little as around $5 per month for hosting on Bluehost.com or Godaddy.com, and they’ll provide you with the customer support and maintenance you require. Most small professional services companies don’t need more hosting power than that.

2. Flexibility and control
There are hundreds of valuable plugins and tools available, most of them free, that can enhance your website and make it much more effective and productive. Unfortunately, website renters can’t take advantage of them because the proprietary CMS thats powering their template won’t allow it. You’re basically restricted to the features that the template service provides, and nothing more. It’s like being forced to use a 5 year old computer or cell phone instead of upgrading to the latest model. Not too many people would stand for that.

3.  Differentiation
When I was researching this post I visited quite a few local professional firms and easily began to pick out which ones were using a particular template service because not only did they look the same, but they had much of the same content. I’m not just referring to the identical whitepapers or reports that live on the templated resource page of each of the sites. I’m referring to the actual page content. It was almost identical from one site to the next!

Now if I was looking for a lawyer or accountant to entrust my personal finances and future to, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so to someone who is too lazy to write a few original pages of copy.

To get business you need to differentiate yourself from the competition and prove that you’re a notch above them. Using the same template and copy as your competitors just doesn’t cut it. Do you agree?

Now I’m not knocking all subscription based website providers. Some of them are good at what they do. But with a little effort and a small investment, you can own your own site, stand out from the competition and control your digital destiny. And you’ll save a lot of money in the long run.