The purpose of this document is to provide an update on our progress toward establishing an organizational web presence. The board authorized $95 for the purchase of a domain and web hosting package from Bluehost.com at last month’s meeting. We presented what we thought was the most cost effective option to the board during that discussion. As we learned more, it became clear that our initial recommendations for both cost effective and easily implemented options were incomplete. A range of options exist from do-it-yourself plans that require one to do all the coding, through what I call “Fully managed content solutions.” This type of service provides templates and web designs enabling a broad base of users to create a professional impact.
We did not purchase the Bluehost package. This document provides the background about why. We recommend stepping back and working with an intermediate solution based on hosting our pages using a free plan from weebly.com. Once we gain experience with creating and managing content, we can revisit this issue and pursue other options.
One can divide the ways people create website content into three broad categories: static sites, WordPress hosted platforms , and fully managed content sites using online editors and templates. Each of these concepts is explained in following sections.
“Static” websites are created by uploading both the content and formatting directly to a server like Amazon’s S3 service. Most static web sites use a templating system. Examples of products often used include: Node.js, jekyll, and hugo. These systems integrate the content of a site with pre-built templates to produce a self-contained presentation. The work flow looks something like this:
- Install the development framework onto a computer.
- Download a production theme. This theme sets up the basic look and feel of the web site and includes fonts, colors, and formatting information.
- Create content, usually in Markdown.
- Run the development program to create the website. This combines the content with the information contained in the theme to produce a final product.
- examine the output on the creator’s computer to make certain everything works as expected.
- Upload this website to the server.
- Add additional content as the site grows; rerun and re-upload.
The advantages of this way of creating websites are that content is portable and flexible. One is not tied to a specific vendor or hosting platform. The organization “owns” the content and its supporting code. The disadvantage is that someone must know a fair amount about how the themes and templates are constructed in order to make even small modifications to how a site looks. I got inspired by this project and started a site to host my own pages. This website uses a static design to create content. Below is a screenshot of this article as it is currently formatted.
Cost of ownership.
Using Amazon S3 services:
- $12.00 per year to register and maintaine a domain name.
- Between $.50 and $1.00 per month to house the content.
- Time to compile and modify the site as it develops.
WordPress Type Sites
WordPress is software which is run as part of a website. Many hosting services offer it as part of their base plan. The basic installation is free to use, but provides little in the way of formatting or organization. These tasks are performed by “themes.” Many themes are free. Sorting through the huge variety of offerings can be daunting. Additionally, concerns exist about embedded viruses or other malware.
Once WordPress and an associated theme is installed, the content creator adds material through a web interface much like what one would see on Facebook. However, the basic structure (look and feel) of the site is determined by the underlying theme.
Here is an example of one theme available for purchase: It costs $60 per year.
Cost of Ownership
Most hosting companies offer a WordPress installation as part of their services. Themes are an additional add-on from third party vendors and appear to cost from between $50 and $75 per year, depending on options and levels of support. Free options exist, but are limited in some way, for example: no choice in colors or fonts.
We looked at two hosting companies: bluehost and 1 and 1. Both companies offer excellent introductions to their services with greatly reduced pricing. Bluehost offers a single domain and hosting for $95.00 for the first two years, while 1and1 offers a $.99 hosting plan for the first year. Both companies include domain registration for the first year for no additional charges.
- Following introductory periods, prices increase to $6.95 or $8.95 per month, if paid annually.
- Use of a third-party theme costs from between $50 and $70.
- Time to manage the content and site.
Fully Managed Content
The benefits of using this type of service relate to simplicity. Pre-built templates help create a site’s initial organization. Content can be pasted directly into these templates, making it much simpler to create and maintain the website. One need not be a designer or developer to create an online presence. Drawbacks to this approach are that one tends to be limited to what is pre-built inside the web editor. Customizing or adapting a pre-built format are difficult or impossible.
Here is an example of a web site built on the Weebly platform.
Cost of ownership.
Fully managed content solutions from the companies described above offer free plans which create URLS using their corporate addresses. Examples: idahofallsprogressives.squarespace.com, or e-id-progressives.weebly.com.
- GoDaddy offers a simple landing page hosting one domain address for $4.95 a month.
- wix offers a plan for $10 per month.
- Weebly offers a plan for $12.00 per month.
- time and technical expertise are less important than for static or WordPress solutions.
Summary and Recommendations
- Static web site
- Creating a static web site is the least expensive option, but requires the most work.
- Having our own web presence is a plus. No “.Weebly” suffix at the end of our address to confuse people.
- Creating the site will take a lot of time and energy.
- Knowledge of web formats (Markdown, CSS, basic web design) is required for people to operate the site.
- The nature of a static, distributed site provides Less flexibility if we need to quickly change/update content.
- WordPress hosted site:
- Costs for keeping the site hosted (after promotional periods expire)are $6.95 per month for Bluehost and $8.95 per month for 1and1.com. Both companies charge $20/ year to register domain names.
- Creating a WordPress installation introduces another level of complexity. First the software, then an associated theme. Many themes require a subscription of $50-$70 per year. This might be appropriate for a large and complex site, but our organization is not at that stage of development.
- Free themes exist, but they lack support or are limited in some other way. For example: only one color option.
- Administration of a WordPress site requires some degree of training. The knowledge required falls in-between what is needed for a static site and a managed solution.
- Fully managed solution:
- A free plan will allow us to put something online, but have ads embedded in the site. We would have a domain something like “idahofallsprogressives.weebley.com”. This is not ideal. It makes our site harder to find and may serve adds antithetical to our mission.
- At some point, the organization might want to upgrade to a paid service. After reviewing plans and features, the one which seems most appropriate is the professional option offered by Weebly at $12.00/month. The cost of ownership for this option is $144+$20 per domain. That’s a lot for a small-budget operation, but not necessarily prohibitive. Some members may wish to donate specifically for the web presence. We might wish to do that in several months, once we gain familiarity with working on the platform.
- After much research and discussion, we have learned that there is no “one perfect solution.” Whatever we choose involves compromises between functionality, complexity, and cost. If the organization had $20/month to spend on a web presence, These compromises would pose fewer barriers.
- No one on our committee is a designer. Regular tasks involved in this project include: setting up and maintaining a web framework, creating content, managing links, and troubleshooting problems. We have good writers. What we need is a place to store and share what they create with little friction and technical intervention.
- Our committee recommends that we start with something simple: idahofallsprogressives.weebley.com. This option represents a temporary solution as we learn what the organization most needs in a web presence. We will eventually have our own domain name. However, spending resources while we experiment and learn seems a poor use of organizational resources. The free site gives us practice in learning how to coordinate our efforts.