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Website Costs: What it Takes to Run a Website

written by: Jeffrey Davis•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 2/13/2010

A brief guide to typical website costs to maintain it. Discusses common types of costs such as hosting, domain renewal, etc.

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    In today's interconnected world of the information age, it is often not enough to promote yourself -- or your business, for that matter -- using traditional means; therefore, many people and business organizations are increasingly turning to the Internet to promote their services, history, experiences -- whatever it is, it's bound to be on some web site. Using these web sites, it is possible to reach the thousands upon millions of people that utilize the Internet every single day.

    These are but a small number of reasons that running a website is the best and easiest way to introduce yourself online -- or, in the case of a business, introduce your services and publish information relevant to your business -- that increasingly makes the best sense for self-promotion in today's global society, economy, and so forth. However, there are several financial costs to doing so. The purpose of this guide, is to familiarize you with the most common costs associated with an online presence (in other words, your own -- or your business entity's -- actively published website).

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    First things first - choosing your online identity (AKA domain name)

    Before proceeding further, it is necessary to determine what your online identity -- that is, your website's domain name -- is going to be. There are several reasons for this, you should start with the most important one to remember: It must not only reflect who and what you or your company is, but it also must be wholly unique. You read that right: No overlap with any other established website's identity or domain name, ever! Not only because of copyright issues, mind you (though you can read more about that in a future two-part Bright Hub feature) but also because of the underlying structure of the Internet itself.

    All domain names are stored in centralized databases authorized by ICANN, which is just an acronym for the master Internet domain name authority. ICANN, whose full name is Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, serves as the central authorization entity responsible for all domain name standards on the Internet, including the selection of the all-important TLD's (top-level domains, such as .com, .biz, and .org, that we are all familiar with).

    While the TLD's are outside of our control becausethey're chosen directly by ICANN, you do have the control over the part before .whateveryourtldis (albeit not directly, since domain registrars, database supervisors, etc. asre certified directly or indirectly under ICANN regulations). Domain Registrars are companies you go to with your idea for a domain name to check if it is in use; and if it is not, then you can register ownership of the domain name, provided you can legally do so (no copyright conflicts or unauthorized trademark use). Domain registration generally costs at least $10 USD on average; however, you can also add domain privacy (WHOIS database record substitution) either at no cost or for a nominal fee, depending on the registrar.

    Domain privacy may be a suitable add-on for certain types of websites, or for personal reasons -- since it uses a generic record entry instead of the one you provide when you register your domain (as it's a standard requirement for all website configurations) domain privacy virtually guarantees that your website registration details won't be exposed to crooks and hackers without your knowledge -- at least when it comes to public WHOIS database searches. You can add to this protection by not posting sensitive information in easily-accessed portions of your website once it's up and running -- this includes putting email addresses anywhere on the front page, putting contact information in a specifically-designated location, etc. Never post social security numbers or banking information puiblicly... or you're going to regret it!

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    The host that knows - choosing your hosting provider

    Choosing a hosting provider is about as important as choosing a domain name. In fact, you can often do both at the same time. That's bacause some of the biggest hosting providers also include a domain name with some or all of their packages, which can save you a little bit of money on the overall web site creation bill.

    However, before committing to a hosting plan there are several issues you need to sort out. These can be as simple as determining the amount of bandwidth and storage that's included, but it can be as difficult as figuring out what and how much you can afford per month or year depending on the provider's billing cycle. It also pays to comparison shop as you go from each hosting company to the next.

    Some of the more fully-featured hosting plans with the highest per-capita storage and bandwidth limits can cost upward of $60-$100 USD or more. However, if you only need a website for your family, friends, coworkers, or current or potential employers to get to know you better, then you can safely reduce those amounts by at least half. The simple point is this: pay only for what you need, and pay only what you can afford.

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    Continuous costs -- dealing with upgrades, renewals and self-promotion

    Once you have the website up and running, the costs should be all taken care of, right? Wrong! You still have to promote your site, deal with bandwidth upgrades if needed -- and a little self-promotion never hurts, either. Alas, every single one of these items is going to cost you in one way or another.

    Fortunately, these can often be done for less than you initially paid, either for the first instance or completely low-cost. If your bandwidth starts getting eaten up by your visitors to the point of exceeding your agreed-upon limits, you can may be able to upgrade to a higher bandwidth for a nominal one-time discount on the normal rate. After that, however, you may get stuck paying the standard price for the upgraded package so be ready to counter this in some way. Affliliate programs and advertising programs that will bring in revenue are a great way to handle this hurdle.

    Speaking of advertising, why not put some of that money to good use and promote yourself? There are several programs out there available to webmasters to help promote their web site.

    And finally, when it comes time to renew and you've committed to another go, your hosting provider can assist you with this through an automatic billing (like your Internet service provider does) or by providing a link to an area of its website dedicated to account renewals for the hosting services you utilize. Usually, you only need to do this once or twice a year, so that it gives you time to plan ahead. But remember, if you no longer need the hosting services for whatever reason and you're content with closing down your site, that's fine too. Just be sure you know of any deadlines you may have, in case there are any penalties for cancelling a renewal too quickly.

    And that, dear readers, wraps up this discussion. In a future Bright Hub feature, this guide will be referenced and expanded upon to cover the costs associated with actually building a website. In the mean time, be sure to check out the related reading section below.