Renting vs Owning Your Website

When it comes to small business website design, it’s important to research before hiring an agency or building the website yourself.

This blog post reveals the differences and benefits of various website platforms.
Being 20+ years since I designed my first website, technology has come a long way. I remember the days of Geocities, blue hyperlinks, animated GIFs, clipart and midi music that played when you loaded a website. And depending on your internet dial-up speed, you could grab a coffee while most sites loaded.

Even worse were websites stuffed with unrelated keywords just to rank higher in search results. So there’s definitely much more to search ranking now!

Fast forward 20 years, and we enjoy websites with an embedded video playing in the background, parallax full-screen images, social media integration and online shopping purchases with a single click. If your website is still stuck in the stone age, perhaps it’s time for a website redesign.

Have a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer? No worries, most of today’s websites are auto-responsive to adjust to the device’s screen resolution, providing the best user experience.

What is Website CMS?

Building web pages has always been a job for highly technical people who enjoy looking at code all day long. Though more complex websites require a skilled web developer, small businesses now have affordable options.

Thanks to computer nerds, drag-n-drop web platforms have been developed to allow do-it-yourself-ers to build a website that looks pretty decent.

If you want a web agency to take care of the design process, it’s also become much easier for them. A Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal makes it easier for small business owners to have a website that looks like a big business without the hefty price tag!

This means that affordable web design for small businesses is possible now because hard-coding a site from scratch is no longer needed, saving tens of thousands of dollars while ending up with a professional product.

What is a Rented Website?

Websites are a collection of code and images in folders on a computer (server) somewhere in the world. When you type in a website address in your web browser, it is pointed to the computer where your files are located, and your browser displays them. This is the basics of web hosting, and it’s required to have a website on the internet.

Web hosting is required for all websites, and most web host companies provide this service for a monthly fee. However, some websites combine services (website platform and web hosting) into one price. In this case, we consider it a rented website. A rented website will work on its proprietary platform but cannot be moved or migrated to another web hosting company.

Rented website platforms are typically do-it-yourself platforms where a business owner can create the website or, in some cases, hire a web design agency to create the site.

The platform is kept up-to-date by the service provider. It includes popular features like social media integration, ecommerce, contact forms, basic search engine optimization (SEO), photo sliders and more.

Proprietary Website Limitations and Benefits

Unfortunately, there are limitations if you look for a more customized solution. A major hurdle regarding a DIY website builder is the lack of proper SEO. This means that ranking well in search results tends to be more difficult than an owned (open source) website platform.

If the customer service is poor, you aren’t happy with the options or you want a cheaper hosting service, you cannot transfer your website because it is on a proprietary framework.

It’s similar to transferring your cell phone to another service provider but being forced to buy a new phone because your existing phone isn’t compatible with the new network.

Because you cannot migrate your website to another web host, you would be stuck having to redesign your website.

Prices for rented websites can average $26/month for a personal website, $37/month for a business website or $56/month to as much as $395/month for an ecommerce website.

The cheaper proprietary websites are usually canned sites. This means you choose from a list of pre-designed static templates and simply add your photos and text. Unfortunately, most of these templates look dated and lack the “wow factor” that a custom website can get you.

DIY website platforms lack the most when it comes to marketing. You’re on the right track if you desire a pretty website. But if you want a website that does more than look pretty, find a trusted web design agency to develop a website that is an investment—turning visitors into customers.

It really depends on what your needs are as a small business owner. Rented websites are usually a cheap start if you want to design your own website. However, make sure to consider your goals and the growth of your business before making any decisions.

What is an Owned Website?

Last year Jeff spent a few thousand dollars having a reputable marketing agency design his company website. Within the following 12 months, his sister married a great guy who happens to have started a web design firm. He wanted to support his new brother-in-law, so he contacted his current web design agency. They were happy to assist in the transfer. This worked because Jeff was a website owner.

An owned website is not on a proprietary platform and can be migrated to a different web host if required.

Whether you build a DIY web page or have a website company create one for your business, you want to be able to control the platform without losing data, having price increases or compromising on options that you really want.

Owned websites are typically built on open source software or hard-coded HTML and PHP. Open source websites are based on a framework that can be downloaded by anyone, used in its current state or improved by coding new features and sharing them with the world.

The framework is usually free for download and is flexible, with highly customizable templates, plugins and modules to accomplish virtually anything you want to integrate into your website without knowing how to code.

Benefits of Open Source Website Platforms

Need a mortgage calculator? There’s a plugin for that.

Want a popup to subscribe form? There’s a plugin for that.

Need a wholesale order form that provides discounts based on quantity? There’s a plugin for that.

Want a website that integrates with your accounting software? There’s a plugin for that.

Here are just a few features we have built for small business customers using open source platforms:

  • An estimate form calculates the concrete required for a job and then provides an instant quote.
  • An affiliate system that calculates commissions for referrals from other websites.
  • An ecommerce website that links and syncs with Google Shopping to drive more sales.
  • A newspaper website with an ad platform generates income for the website owner.
  • REALTOR® websites with embedded real estate listings and lead generation.
  • Appointment booking and payment solution for a beauty salon business.
  • Integration with customer relationship management (CRM) software for lead generation.
  • A membership directory for local businesses, listed by category and searchable.

There are many open source platforms, the most popular being WordPress, Joomla, Magento and Drupal. In addition, free, open source, and paid plugins are available depending on the developer and the complexity of the plugin.

We use WordPress as our first choice because it’s customizable and features countless themes and over 54,000 plugins! WordPress is used by over 43% of the world’s websites.

As mentioned earlier, web hosting is required, regardless of the website platform you choose. However, owned websites usually cost less to host, often between $5 to $20/month through most service providers.

The downside to an owned website is having to pay for the website development upfront. We often work with small business owners to arrange a payment plan that fits the budget.

Website maintenance may also be required if you wish to update or make changes to your website.

Updating most open source websites is fairly easy with a little determination or training. If you aren’t interested in updating the site yourself, the web design company that built your site should be able to help you. If not, because the website is open source, you should be able to use another company with the skills needed to perform updates for you.

Open Source vs Proprietary

Deciding on a website platform really depends on your vision and goals. If you are looking for a quick website that you can build and update yourself, a DIY rented proprietary website may be your best option.

If you are looking for a long-term solution with flexibility, custom options, and control over your website, you may choose an open-source website.

Remember that a web design firm may still use its proprietary website platform when they build a site. This means that it may not transfer to another web host or be easily updated by you or other developers.

If you are hiring a web design company to create your site, make sure you know if it’s open-source or proprietary before signing on the dotted line.

Picture of Ryan Boutin
Ryan Boutin
Owner of Zeal Media, Ryan, is passionate about helping owners take their small businesses to the next level. As a long-term entrepreneur, he has started and grown multiple small businesses for himself and his kids, from building homes to selling online products.
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