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5 hidden costs of a free website

Would you cash a check for 13 cents? Trump did.

In 1990, Trump was one of 58 ultra-wealthy Americans who were unwitting participants in an experiment run by Spy Magazine to find out, “Who is America’s Cheapest Zillionaire.” First, these high-net-worth individuals were sent checks for $1.11 and 26 of the 58 cashed those checks. The reporter sent progressively lower value checks. When the dust settled, Trump was 1 of only 2 participants willing to cash the smallest check sent (13 cents). The full experiment was surprisingly involved and the article is worth checking out.

Maybe you wouldn’t cash a 13-cent check. I know I wouldn’t. Then again, maybe that’s why we’re not part of this elite group of zillionaires.

Now, back to the 5 hidden costs of a free website…

1) The cost of upgrades

Upgrade costs are the least hidden of the hidden costs. Most free website builders are based on what’s called a freemium model. The word freemium is a mash-up of the words “free” and “premium.” It’s the strategy of giving away a free, limited, version with the expectation that people will upgrade to a premium version. Most or all of the profit comes from people upgrading, so the main focus in a freemium model is upselling you.

Often, there are premium features that fall into the must have category. As an example, the free version often has advertising. It may be something as small as “build your own free website with…” However, this will instantly hurt your credibility. “Removing branding” is an upgrade that you’ll always want to choose, as is using your own domain name.

The monthly costs of upgrading ranges from $5 – $30. If you do decide to build your own site with a builder, you should plan to spend some money on upgrades. You will want to do some research, so you understand what features they charge for, and how much, before investing a lot of time in building a free site on a platform.

2) The cost of your time

Considering the TV commercials, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you could build a website in 10 minutes and it’s “as easy as 1-2-3.” As a developer, these commercials crack me up. They always breeze over a step that actually represents hours and hours of work. Imagine a commercial about building a car, “Build a car in 3 easy steps: step 1, pick the color; step 2, customize the car; step 3, drive it off the assembly line.”

If you are committed to building an effective and professional website, a good chunk of your time will be devoted to learning. You are probably starting out at the don’t know what you don’t know level of understanding. It’s a long slog to build from that level to knowing enough to do a halfway decent job.

PRO TIP: If you get stuck or need instructions on how to do something specific, try searching on YouTube.

The worst part is when you get stuck. When you run into a problem that you can’t solve, it can eat up an unbelievable amount of time. It could even be something that literally can’t be done within the builder you’ve chosen. If you are a perfectionist, building your own website will take exponentially more time. Sometimes, building your own site is about accepting, good enough.

Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.Jim Rohn

You are likely to spend 10, 20, 40 hours or more between educating yourself and actually designing the site. If you only spend 10 hours, you are likely to suffer additional costs because of mistakes and hits to your reputation.

3) The cost of mistakes

As previously eluded too, you are probably starting out without a clear concept of all the different factors that you need to understand in order to create an effective website. Did you know that you can build a website that looks great and has one or more fatal flaws? This isn’t an exaggeration. A site that looks great on your computer may be literally useless for some of your visitors.

Example Mistake 1: Poorly optimized images

A common mistake is to not properly optimize your images. This leads to very slow load time. In this high tech world, people stand in front of their microwave, muttering, “Come on… I don’t have all minute.” If your site takes too long to load, people will just back out without even seeing your site.

Example Mistake 2: No or bad meta tags

You may not even know what a meta tag is, right now. One thing that isn’t even obvious when you learn about them is how you can use them incorrectly and potentially get penalized by the search engines. Without getting too deep into the subject, you mainly need to understand that the text in the meta tags should match the exact words on the page. The keyword tag is the biggest culprit, and it is widely recommended not to use it at all.

The more time you devote to learning, the fewer costly mistakes you’ll make. Therefore, time spent on learning lowers the cost of mistakes.

4) The cost of lost reputation

As the saying goes, “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” No matter how someone hears about you, the first thing they are likely to do is to look you up online. Your website represents your chance to make that first impression.

When considering the effect of your website on your reputation, there are a few levels. Having no website—or one that people can’t find—is the worst. The second most problematic is having a site that’s obviously built for free—thus, the advice about upgrading if you do use a builder. Even if you clear both those hurdles, you don’t want your site to look like one you built yourself. A professional website is a signal to your prospective customers regarding how seriously you take your business.

As with mistakes, the more time you devote to learning, the better chance you’ll have of creating a professional looking website. If your site doesn’t look professional, fewer people will convert from visitors to customers. In other words, you’ll lose sales.

5) The cost of lost sales

As you probably expect, you’ll make fewer sales from a DIY website, versus one that is professionally designed by a developer. Both the amount of people who find your site, as well as the number of those people who convert into customers, are likely to be better with a professionally built website.

The value of lost sales can be considered an opportunity cost and should be part of your calculations. While it’s virtually impossible to calculate an exact cost, it is useful to consider the value of one lost customer. From there, you can make an educated guess as to how many sales you may lose each month based on how confident you are about building your own website.

PRO TIP: When calculating the costs of losing a sale/customer, you want to use the lifetime value of the customer. This is calculated by multiplying the average number of times a customer will buy from you, by the average profit you make from each purchase. Example: A hair stylist has customers who come back an average of 6 times per year, and remain a customer for an average of 2 years. The average ticket is $35, and of that, $25 is profit. The lifetime value would be 12 (total number of haircuts) X 25 (profit per haircut) = 300. This is important to keep in mind for all of your marketing expenditures.

You get what you pay for

Now, you have a better understanding of all the costs related to building a free website. It might surprise you to learn that this article wasn’t created with the intention of talking you out of building your own site. Yes, I am a professional website developer and I strongly believe that the sites I build offer an exceptional return on your investment. However, my main goal is just to help you understand the actual costs so you can make an informed decision.

I’m thinking of creating an article about the top mistakes people make when building their own website. If you think that’s a good idea, shoot me an email and let me know.

Local Web Designer

US-MapA local web designer is someone who builds websites and is geographically close to you, right? Maybe, but let’s look at an alternative concept of what local might mean in this context.

Serving small local businesses

Perhaps it’s about who you serve and your expertise, instead of physical proximity. Since inception, the focus of Justin’s Web Design has been serving small businesses who are local in nature. In other words, if you run a small company with local customers (i.e. roofer, plumber, carpet cleaner, etc.), you have specific needs. Developing the expertise and systems to serve those needs is a big factor that separates JWD from the competition.

Buying local is almost as important as…

…selling local. As a local business owner, one of the best things you can do for your local economy is to sell. Just as buying local helps bring money into the economy, the flip side of the coin is selling local. In order to do that well, you need an exceptional web presence. If you can find a trusted adviser to help you with that locally, great! If not, or if the local solutions aren’t affordable, it’s important that you not let that keep you from doing your part–selling local.

The Beaverton connection

This company was founded and run in Beaverton, OR for the first five years of its existence. Even now, a large percentage of my customers are in the Portland area. A big reason for this is that most of my business comes from word-of-mouth. Additionally, I rank well in the search engines for keywords related to Beaverton web design.

Current location

Currently (as of 8/15/2015), I’m in Reedsport, OR. Reedsport is between Florence and Coos Bay on the Oregon coast. I moved here to be closer to family in order to help with a medical situation.


In this day and age, most people are comfortable with working primarily over the phone and by email. That said, I have some other great tools that allow me to work from any location without compromising customer service. I can do screen sharing, and video conferencing for those who want the face-to-face experience. Overall, my systems allow me to get more done in less time and therefore save you money.

Long-term relationship

This is a good place to explain another key difference between JWD and the competition. Most developers are focused, almost completely, on the ‘big ticket’ initial sale. If your initial budget is too low, they don’t even want to deal with you. If you clear that initial hurdle, it can be difficult to get support once the project is complete. More importantly, those developers are no longer actively involved in helping you keep your site up-to-date and secure.

My packages are configured with a long-term business relationship in mind. The key principle is the necessity for you to have a trusted professional to continually help you with your web presence.

To summarize

While my physical location varies, I am always here to help you with your local business, and in turn that will help your local community. If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Website Upgrades: Is my site secure?

Please take note of this warning advisory: Due to recent technical changes and increased hacker activity, your website may be at risk.

virtual computer lockWhile any aging website can be susceptible to hacking, this article is specifically intended for those running older versions of WordPress. WordPress is one of the most popular platforms for building websites. With the flexibility and functionality provided by WordPress, it’s not hard to understand why it’s a favorite tool. Of course, with the good, comes the not so good…

Over the past few months, it has become increasingly evident that it is crucial to keep your WordPress installation and its plugins up-to-date. Remember, WordPress is the engine that runs your website. Each year, in order to protect against increasingly sophisticated and determined hackers, WordPress makes three or four major revisions to its program and adds a dozen or so new security patches. In addition, each of its plugins — the small programs that run within WordPress for extra functionality — also gets updated.

In plain English: It is absolutely essential that WordPress updates be applied to your website on a regular, ongoing basis — for your security and convenience as well as that of visitors to your site.

If your site seems to be running smoothly, you may be asking, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” So long as your site is working, is updating really necessary? The short answer is “yes.” A neglected website isn’t like a car in need of an oil change that gradually runs rougher and rougher, emitting black smoke and making weird noises, giving you plenty of warning before the engine is seriously damaged. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) your website will probably work just fine without the protection of updates — right up to the moment it crashes and/or is hacked. Once that happens, repairing it will be time-intensive and expensive.

While there are “upgrade buttons” available in WordPress, the process actually requires a high level of technical proficiency, so it’s not generally recommended as a DYI project. If you are considering tackling the upgrade of your site, please click here to read my article, “What you should know before upgrading WordPress yourself.

Help Computer SupportAlternatively, you may prefer to engage one of our professional maintenance/upgrade technicians to bring your site up-to-date and keep it that way. If you are interested in this option, you are welcome to simply shoot me an email or give me a call, and I’ll be glad to send you a cost estimate, based on the age and complexity of your particular site.

You may also want to take this opportunity to add new features to your site or even to do a full facelift. Just let me know what you are considering, and I’ll be happy to discuss the options with you.

Please feel free to call (503-828-1763) or email me with any questions.

What you need to know before upgrading WordPress yourself

On the surface it may seem that upgrading WordPress is simple. Click a few buttons, and *poof* you are upgraded. The truth is, upgrading a site correctly is considerably more complicated than it may appear. It is also essential to recognize that if you happen to make a mistake while undertaking the process, you may actually lose your site entirely.

So, please be sure that you fully understand the following information and advice before attempting to upgrade WordPress yourself.


Every set of instructions for upgrading WordPress starts with backing up. Often you are told to back up the WordPress files, and the WordPress database, but there are also many plugins and systems that need to be backed up.

Most instructions for back up fail to mention one important detail about doing back up which is this: In addition to knowing how to back up your site’s components, you also need know how to restore your website from the backup data, if something goes wrong. If you don’t know how to restore your site from its backup, and you have a major problem, the downtime and expense of hiring a professional to resurrect your site (and then upgrade it correctly) are likely to be costly. If you are not fully confident in your ability to cope with such issues yourself, you may do well to simply choose the less costly and frustrating option of simply engaging a professional to do the upgrade for you.

Note: If you do attempt to do an upgrade, and you do run into problems and then can’t restore your site from backup, you should promptly contact your host. In some cases your host may be able to do a server-level backup restoration for a nominal cost. It’s essential to request this service as soon as possible, because automatic host-backups are conducted frequently. If you call for help after the host has already backed up your new broken version, they won’t be able to restore your old working version.

Check current functionality

An often overlooked step in preparation for upgrading is to first check all working details of your site to make sure everything is currently functioning correctly. If you run the upgrade without having first carefully looked at every aspect of the site, if a problem shows up, you won’t know if it was already there or is a result of the update. This confusion can make troubleshooting much more difficult.

Check for server space

Before upgrading, you should verify that you have plenty of disk space available within your hosting account. If you are saving your backup to your hosting space, check the space after running the backup, as it will take up quite a bit of space. You want to have at least 100mb of space available before running the upgrade. If you run out, you will have problems. If you run out of space, you may not be able to restore your backup.

Upgrade order

It’s best to run the update in a specific order. You should upgrade your plugins first, WordPress second, and lastly themes. After upgrading WordPress, some plugins may need to be upgraded again.

Check plugin upgrade functionality

The most common problem people run into when upgrading is that they have a plugin that’s not compatible with the newest version of WordPress. You might expect this would simply affect the functionality of the offending plugin, but it often crashes WordPress altogether. It’s important to research your plugins and replace any that won’t be compatible with the new version of WordPress. Replacing a plugin requires that you understand exactly what it does so that you can find a suitable, compatible alternative.

Note: When choosing a plugin (to replace an incompatible one or to add functionality to your site), it’s important to find one that’s well supported. You want one that has a lot of downloads, good ratings and that has been recently updated. Often older plugins that meet these criteria are the most reliable. There’s also some advantage to choosing a plugin that has a paid upgrade option, even if you’ll only be using the free version. This gives you a potential avenue for obtaining more support in case of a problem, and if the author is making money from the plugin, he or she is more likely to keep it up-to-date.

Check functionality after update

Before you start checking your site, be sure that cache is disabled. It’s possible for everything to look ok on your screen because it’s actually a cached version of your old site.

You’ll want to check each page on the site. Keep an eye out for shortcodes. A shortcode is an instruction within square brackets, such as: [EXAMPLE=YXZ]. When looking at a site, the shortcode shouldn’t be visible. If you can see the shortcode, it’s an indication that a plugin isn’t working or conflicts with a shortcode used by the theme.

Don’t forget to check forms, photo galleries (clicking on each image, etc.), and any other dynamic features on your pages. If you have mobile functionality, you should test the site on a smartphone as well.

Once you are satisfied that your site is working properly, you can turn your cache back on, and you’re done.

If you do run into a problem, you’ll have to determine if it’s specific to a plugin or if it’s caused by something else. Depending on your level of expertise, you may need to call in an expert. You’ll want to make that decision quickly, because troubleshooting becomes more difficult the longer you wait. This is why it is so important to promptly, carefully check your website after updating it.

Disclaimer: Please note, that this is not a “how-to” guide for upgrading WordPress.

There’s a reason this is article is called, “What you need to know…” and not “How to….” Its purpose is simply to help ensure that you understand the scope of the process and the technical skills required to upgrade WordPress. If you do not have a solid understanding and the necessary skills to perform all the elements in this process correctly, you are urged to not attempt to run your own update.

If you do decide to do an upgrade and want to learn how to do so in detail, you can search Google and YouTube for tutorials. You should review several tutorials to get a good overview. Focus on those that are most recent, as the upgrade process varies somewhat with each new version.

Note: Consider the age of your current WordPress version. The older versions are more likely to have problems in the upgrading process. If you are updating a version that is more than five major revisions behind the current version, you can expect to have some serious issues. Click here (https://wordpress.org/news/category/releases/) for version release information.

All professionals are not alike

The above information represents our best practices protocols for running upgrades. That said, not every web developer will follow all of these guidelines. Some prefer to just do a backup, immediately start upgrading everything, and then fix things as they go wrong. We don’t recommend this approach for two reasons: First, it often results in excessive downtime for your site, and second, it generally takes longer than just having a system in place that will prevent problems before they happen.

Note: As professionals at Justin’s Web Design, we have more tools and systems for eliminating problems than are available to the average person. For example, when updating a very old, and/or complicated site, we’ll often clone the site and then run the updates in a temporary location. This is the most secure way to run an update, because the live site is not altered and remains fully intact.


The best way to prevent issues and keep your site running well is to have it professionally maintained. Instead of doing major updates infrequently, having monthly maintenance keeps your site consistently current and protected by the most recent updates. Having a professional maintaining your site also gives you the peace of mind of knowing that a knowledgeable technician is on the front lines if you run into a problem. Additionally, a good, proactive webmaster will look for opportunities to make your site run better and be more secure.

If it ain’t broke…

If your site seems to be running smoothly, you may be asking, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” So long as your site is working, is updating really necessary? The short answer is “yes.” A neglected website isn’t like a car in need of an oil change that gradually runs rougher and rougher, emitting black smoke and making weird noises, giving you plenty of warning before the engine is seriously damaged. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) your website will probably work just fine without the protection of updates — right up to the moment it crashes and/or is hacked. Once that happens, repairing it will be time-intensive and expensive.

Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding of what is involved in updating WordPress. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.

About the author

A professional web developer since 1998, Justin Feral-McWhirter launched Justin’s Web Design in 2005. In building more than 100 WordPress sites, his focus has always been creating cost-effective solutions for small businesses. To that end, Justin’s Web Design technicians developed an affordable, professional WordPress website maintenance program, which is now utilized by dozens of satisfied clients.

San Antonio TX Web Design

UPDATE: 8/15/2017
I”m currently in Reedsport, OR. I love San Antonio and look forward to visiting it in the not to distant future. If you are looking for a local web developer in San Antonio, you may be interested in this link.

We’re traveling the country and have setup a virtual office here in San Antonio. We’ll be physically here until 1/19/2013, however as always, we’ve setup our business to help people anywhere. If you are looking for a web developer in Texas, or anywhere in the world, we’re here to help.

Local Contact Details

10919 Town Center Dr.
Suite: 315
San Antonio, TX 78251

Phone: 210-321-9637

Here are some San Antonio Business Resources:

The Chamber of Commerce
The chamber has been helping local businesses since 1894. The focus is on making the ‘River City’ more business friendly by promoting local companies, and creating events.

Official City Website

Wiki Page