Buying a Website 101

January 26, 2015

Categorized: Non-Technical, Webdev 101

This is a 101 guide to buying a website. It’s intended to guide first-time website buyers through some preliminary preparation steps. As the buyer of a website, these are things you can do to prepare before talking to anyone or asking questions.

Note: if you’re thinking about buying a website and you have a specific developer in mind, you should probably read their information on preparation.

Get Ready for the Cost

Two things tend to blindside people in website costs:

  • Recurring costs;
  • The splintered nature of the costs.

Recurring Costs

Depending on the complexity of your website, some things on a website may need to be re-purchased yearly. Some things require monthly charges.

  • Hosting services and domain names are two guaranteed yearly costs.
  • Annual licenses are common with third-party plugins.
  • Monthly costs for search marketing services are common.

Recurring annual costs can vary wildly. If the initial website build requires a few hundred dollars on plugins and baubles, next year might require license renewal payments in similar amounts. Every website has a minimum of yearly costs including hosting services and a domain name. By the way, purchase those from separate companies if you can.

Splintered Costs

If you need something simple, you can probably skip this section. However — if you plan to build the next big thing, or if you know the work you need is complex and multi-faceted, be prepared to pay splintered costs to different people.

A web designer isn’t a web developer isn’t a web maintainer isn’t a web host isn’t a search engine optimizer isn’t a social media manager isn’t a mobile application programmer isn’t a server administrator. Those are all different services. You’ll probably be pretty hard-pressed to find one individual who does all of the above. You cannot find one individual person who does all of the above at professional-grade quality.

A motivated, very well-compensated person might be able to manage all of the above. But: they’re also very likely to make a few serious mistakes along the way, and it’s going to take them way, way, way longer to accomplish anything.

Websites are weird. A back-end person with a focus on building PHP content management systems might not know JavaScript at all. A server administrator may not be able to change the way a website looks. A WordPress person might not be able to make the jump to Drupal instantaneously.

If you need something complex, and you want a lot of different services for your website — your best results may be with a pursuing a team that offers that range of services. This is why contracting and outsourcing (instead of hiring an in-house web team) is much more financially feasible for most medium-to-small businesses.

Why Buy Professionally

You want a professional web developer to build your website. This is because, put simply, amateurs generally yield amateur work.

Professional work (usually) looks and functions better than amateur work. That’s why we have professionals and specializations — not everyone is a ballet dancer, not everyone is a brickmason, not everyone is a web developer.

Even though he’s a roofer, I wouldn’t ask my uncle to build my house (unless I was okay with it possibly collapsing on me, which I am not). If your second cousin Joey is a graphic and print designer, your website may look good… but it might also adhere to print and graphic design standards instead of web standards. It also may not function very well.

Potential Consequences of Amateur Work

At first glance, the costs and consequences of amateur work may not seem like a big deal. This is especially the case if you only paid Joey $200 for your website. $200 is a cost most businesses can eat. However — the cost to build the website is not the only thing you can end up paying for when using amateur work.

Difficulty Updating or Changing the Website

It could be impossible for the next person to update or change, if Joey used enough non-standard ways of building. There are a billion and two ways to build a website. There are millions of right ways to do it. So, too: there are more than a few horrifically, terribly, awfully bad ways to build a website. When the contractor skimps on the foundation of the house, sometimes it’s better to demolish it and start over. It can be more costly to fix and reinforce the foundation than it is to build anew. The same can sometimes happen with code.

Lost Data, Posts, and Links

It’s a much bigger deal if, due to Joey’s insecure build practices, your website gets hacked and you lose all your information. If you had a blog for three years, imagine those posts permanently disappearing. Worse — if you don’t have a record of those links, you’re probably losing a lot of people who are linking to your page. Links to your pages means people looking at your pages means people buying from your pages or otherwise giving you money.

Security Concerns

It can actually cost you big-time, too: say Joey didn’t know you need to be PCI compliant to store customer credit card information. Say Joey just wrote your customers’ credit card data and information directly to an open file on your server, someone notices that file, and steals every credit card ever used on your website.

I should not have to say how costly that situation could be — and it’s possibly criminal. Target paid $61 million from November 2013 to March 2014 for its data breach. Can your business handle that kind of hit?

User Interaction Concerns

That’s an extreme example, but there are some regulations to the Internet these days — and there have always been unspoken rules of etiquette. For instance, if you create a marketing campaign and send e-mail to users who did not opt into your e-mail service in some way, this too can wind up costing you. It could be a direct cost, such as fines or fees — or it could be an indirect cost. Some recipients of your unsolicited campaign might vow avoid your business. A few vocal recipients write angry blog posts and tweets disparaging your business, drumming up more negative publicity.

Indirect costs from negative user interactions are especially possible on the web. An amateur or careless social media manager might make a serious bumble — bringing your business to many, many eyes — but in a very bad way. Even major brands have made these sorts of mistakes (e.g., American Apparel posting images of the Challenger disaster in a promo, DiGiorno intruding on a domestic violence hashtag with humor and advertisement).

My Website is Static — I Don’t Need Anything Fancy

Okay, so — maybe you just need your menu, prices, and location on the Internet. You don’t need credit cards, just some basics. Maybe you’ll never update your website?

Unlikely. Services, prices, locations, and team information are just a few things that can change over time. Failing to update prices can have annoying consequences even over a few bucks.

Get Ready to Buy a Website

Getting a website is usually a huge process. You should not walk into it unprepared. Gather your information before starting any discussions or asking any questions. You won’t want to info-dump onto every potential developer for feeler quotes; instead, craft a concise document that covers (broadly) what you want to do.


Who is your website expected to serve? The market for Manhattan small-dog walking services is markedly different from the market for diesel work trucks in Montana. Trying to apply the same strategy for these different demographics is an easy way to set yourself up for failure. If you know who you’re serving, you’ll be able to more tightly craft everything else about your project so that it works for that demographic.

It can help your web designer better understand the direction of your site’s look and graphics. It can help your copywriter know what tone they should use in written materials. It can even help the people who set up your web server understand what kind of traffic you can expect (e.g., if you’re launching with a huge Manhattan party for the site, and expect hundreds of visitors at a time on your site, that’s something to mention).

It also helps you dismiss certain kinds of criticism: for instance, if someone tells you your diesel work truck sales site needs more information on Manhattan latte locations and Yorkshire Terrier breeders, you can safely ignore that criticism. That critique might be perfectly valid if your site was serving a different demographic… but not so much for your site and the users you expect your website will serve.


Who will be updating your website? This is important because it can determine how your website is set up. If you say you’re planning to update everything yourself, your web developer can make that easier for you.

Previous Websites

Does this website already exist? Did it exist before? Do you have a copy of it? If you have a website already, you’re probably changing it for a reason, right? Writing down what you like and don’t like about the website you already have is a big help. Your web developer will want to take a look at your current site, too, so it’s helpful to include a link.

If you have any information about how to log into that site, this can also help — but don’t give your passwords out prematurely. Make sure you really want to work with someone before handing over the passwords. They might want to check out what kind of a system you have behind your website — which is fine, and a totally valid inquiry.

However, most of the time, a web developer should be able to tell from the front end if a website is, for example, built with WordPress or Drupal. It can be tough identifying custom-built websites, sure — but in that case, the developer probably won’t learn much from poking around the restricted administrator areas where you can access. They’ll only know what to do and how to do it when they look at your files, requiring even more access you probably don’t want to give them until you’re sure you’ll be working together.


List of Starting Features

Are there things you know you need? For instance, if you know you need users to be able to order and pay online, you’ll want to add that to the list. If you know you want users to be able to use a chatroom for instant live support, that goes on the list. Basically, anything that is must-have for you goes on this list.

List of Considered Features

Are there things you might want? If there are things you’re not sure about but are considering, stick them on this list. For example, you might want that pop-up feature that happens on other websites asking users to sign up, but you aren’t sure if it’s right for what you do. You know you want that chatroom feature, but you don’t want to pay a ton of money for it, either, and you’re okay skipping it.

These are things you’ll want to know more about and discuss before implementing for sure. Your web developer might mention, for instance, that a live chat feature can be purchased for around $20 on CodeCanyon — but that someone will have to be on the other end of the chat in order to answer any inquiries. You might decide the code cost is perfectly okay — but that the employee cost of having someone sit in the chatroom during business hours is not so okay.

List of Future Features

Are there things you know you want in the future? For example: you might be just starting your business, and you want to offer location, hours, and information but not online buying. Later, though, you know you want to sell online, too. It’s just not something you want to do right now while you’re busy and still settling into your physical store. Let your web developer know. If they don’t know you want e-commerce eventually, they might build something that doesn’t play so well with some e-commerce solutions (e.g., building a flat-file based website) and will require more work later on.


Are there websites you like? Websites you don’t like? Keep them related to your business. If there are any competitor sites that you really like, write down what you like about those websites and why. If there are any sites similar to your website you really like or dislike, go ahead and throw those in there, too.

Again, think about demographic — if you’re making a website for people buying diesel trucks, they probably don’t have an interest in a green-wearing, ecologically-conscious wood nymph popping up from the bottom of the site reminding them to recycle, even if you found that on your favorite site and really, really, really like it.

Add in a few examples to direct competitors, too, even if you don’t like or dislike anything about their sites. This can also help your web developer determine what they can and should do for your website.

Website Content

Most importantly, you should have the content ready for your website:

  • Completed, finished text.
  • Production-ready images.
  • Completed, finished text for the expected interactions (e.g., questions for a contact form) on each of your websites’ pages.
  • Product information, if applicable.

Yes, you can find someone offering copy-editing services, image editing services, and even image-finding services. However, the more completed content you can bring to your web developer, the less you’ll pay them, and the more ready you will be to engage in discussions with them.

It’s usually okay if you only have ideas of what you want rather than finished content, but it can also help everyone if you do have at least some examples of the types of content you want to show on your website.

Preparation Overview


  • Who is your website expected to serve?
  • Can you provide an example of the typical customer you receive or expect to receive?


  • Who will be updating your website?
  • How much experience do they have updating websites?

Prior Websites

  • Does this website already exist?
  • Did it exist before? Do you have a copy of it?
  • Do you have login information for an existing website? If not, do you know how to find it? Reminder: Don’t give out login information prematurely; make sure you really want to work with someone before handing them any passwords.


  • Are there things you know you need?
  • Are there things you might want?
  • Are there things you know you want in the future?


  • Are there websites you like?
  • What are some specific things about the websites you like?
  • Are there websites you don’t like?
  • What are some specific things about the websites you don’t like?
  • Can you provide some links to your direct competition?
  • Are there things about your competitor’s sites you like? Things about competitor’s sites you dislike?
  • Are there things that, regardless of personal preference, your competitors do really well — or really poorly — within your industry or demographic?


  • Completed, finished text.
  • Production-ready images.
  • Completed, finished text for the expected interactions (e.g., questions for a contact form) on each of your websites’ pages.
  • Product information, if applicable.