Trump And The Cost Of Web Development

dollar_computerRecently, Donald Trump entered the Presidential race. In his announcement, he said a lot of silly things. (Alternately: terrifying things if he stood a ghost of a chance of being elected.). As a web developer, one of his statements stood out to me:

And remember the $5 billion website, 5 billion we spent on a website, and to this day it doesn’t work. A $5 billion dollar website.

I have so many websites. I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a website. It costs me $3.

Now, you might be able to argue that the government’s health care website cost too much. Perhaps it could have been developed for a quarter of that amount.  But could Trump really remake the site for less than the price of a Chicken McNugget Happy Meal from McDonald’s?  For that matter, could anyone make a website for $3?  The short answer is yes and no.  (What?  You didn’t think I’d give a clear answer quickly, did you?  Read on for the details!)

Domain Names

Let’s say you’ve decided to set up a website.  Congratulations!  Time to get down and dirty designing your page, right?  Wrong.  First you need a domain name.  A domain name is basically the Internet’s equivalent of a street address – it helps web browsers know just where to get content from.  Domain names are purchased from Registrars.  Some of these cost more than others.  Network Solutions charges about $20 a year.  My registrar, DirectNIC, charges $15 a year.  Others charge less.  (I stick with DirectNIC thanks to good customer service.  I could probably save a small amount of cash elsewhere, but might get worse customer service in exchange.)

You could also get a free domain name by getting a subdomain.  For example, instead of registering, you might get  The benefit here is, obviously, that it is free.  The downside is that your website constantly advertises the free service alongside your brand.


I went over hosting options last year.  To summarize that post, you can get an inexpensive shared hosting, a slightly more expensive but more stable virtual private server, or the most stable but most expensive dedicated server.  Which option you choose depends on your needs.  A new website might start out on one hosting option and move up through the options as it grows.  There’s also a fourth option: The free website hosted by a service such as  This often comes with a free subdomain (see the previous section), can have reduced branding options, and may or may not require you to show ads that profit your free host.

Writing A Website

Now, you’re finally ready to build a website.  At this point, you could install WordPress, grab a free theme, add your content, and call it a day.  The total cost for this would be nothing (except for your time).  If you needed any custom work done – including if you were hoping to construct a massive web application, this would require hiring a web developer, such as myself, either full-time or as a freelancer.  You might also need to hire a designer – to craft your site’s look and create your site’s images – and an SEO expert – to make sure you rank as high as possible in the search engines.  Either way, this would cost you a lot more than $3.

If someone asked me to build them a website for their business with a budget of $3, I’d spend a couple of minutes laughing before declining the position.  If someone claimed they could build a massive web application that would serve millions of users – for the price of a couple of Starbucks coffees – I’d seriously look into what massive corner cutting was going on.  About the only way I could see a major website being built for $3 is by outsourcing to a country (such as China) that has a population of technical people who are very poor and don’t have any minimum wage legislation.  Even then, I’d wonder what those web developers were doing on the side – perhaps saving a copy of secret company data to sell later.


In the end, the price of your website depends on how much work needs to be put into it.  Building a website doesn’t need to break the bank, but in all but the most casual of cases, though, building a website will definitely cost you more than $3.

NOTE: The image above was created by combining "Dollar symbol in 3D" by vijayrajesh and "Cartoon Computer and Desktop" by DTRave.  Both images are available from

A Guide To Website Hosting Options

web_serverCongratulations.  You’ve decided to make a website.  Maybe it’s a little "postcard site" with a single page advertising your business.  Maybe it’s a blog or forum.  Perhaps you are looking to build a huge corporate site or a web application that you hope will take off in popularity.  Before you write one line of code, though, you are going to need some place to put that site.

With a physical house, there are different styles to choose from.  That studio apartment might be cheaper to rent but it isn’t nearly as spacious as the five bedroom house.  The same is true of servers to host your website.  There are options ranging from the limited but inexpensive to the pricier but more robust.  I recently moved my hosting between these options and, during my research, realized that people might not know just what possibilities there are.  What follows is a quick and dirty guide between the most common types of hosting.  As with anything, there can be some that straddle the line or carve out their own niche.  However, I’m confident that 99% of the hosting options out there would fall into the following four categories.

Free Hosting

If you are just starting a small, personal site and don’t have a budget at all, you might want to consider this option.  Free hosts will give you space to create your website for, well, free.  The caveat here is that your site might be required to carry advertising for the hosting provider.  This earns the hosting provider income and you may not be permitted to share in that income.  Furthermore, your options for creating a site might be limited.  You often will be allowed to choose from a small set of templates to create your site.  While this can be a benefit to those who don’t know how to create a website, it can also wind up making your site look like a dozen other sites.  Finally, depending on the host, you may not be allowed to use your own domain name.  In other words, people might access your site via instead of  Needless to say, the latter is much more professional looking.  Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend this option for any but the smallest of hobby sites and even then I’d recommend thinking twice.

Shared Hosting

Servers are powerful computers that can host web sites.  (They "serve" up webpages.)  Modern servers are so powerful that they can host hundreds or even thousands of websites on a single box.  This is where shared hosting comes in.  With shared hosting, a provider sets up a server and allocates you a set amount of space and bandwidth in exchange for a relatively small monthly fee (around $5 to $30 a month but this varies by host and what is offered).  You are free to make your site however you like, free from almost any restrictions.  Most hosts have provisions against illegal activities and/or porn, but so long as you steer clear of these you should be fine.

The downside of shared hosting is that the server is shared.  Imagine a big pool.  That’s our server.  A swimmer (a website) dives into the pool.  He has plenty of room to swim and splash.  Another jumps in and they can both splash all they want without bothering each other.  As more and more enter the pool, though, it becomes harder to keep swimmers from splashing other swimmers.  When you have a thousand in the pool, each swimmer can still enjoy the water, but they must take care not to splash too much.  If a website uses too much memory/server resources, the hosting provider can kick the website off the server.  You might think that the host wouldn’t want to lose the revenue, but you’d be wrong.  For every site kicked out, there are a dozen ready to sign up.

This happened to me once.  I was running our blogs on a shared hosting environment.  It was nice and inexpensive.  Then, with no warning, we found our sites suspended.  When we asked why, we were told that our two blogs were using too much resources and we needed to pay them to move to a dedicated server which costs much more money.  (More on dedicated servers later.)  Luckily, we were able to get our sites reinstated during the transition, but it was a rude awakening.  A shared server might be a nice place to start out, but it has very little room to grow.

Virtual Private Server Hosting

Instead of thousands of people jumping into the pool, Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting is akin to setting up walls between a dozen or so swimmers in the pool.  Each swimmer has his own section of the pool and each section is prevented from interfering with the other sections.  There are less people per server so the hosting cost can be higher, but you wind up getting more power and resources.  Better still, since your sites are divided, you don’t need to worry about your site being kicked off for using too many resources.  The worst case scenario is that your server uses up its available resources and slows down.  The other sites on the server, though, would continue to operate unimpeded.

VPS hosting has many sub options.  Perhaps you are proficient at managing a server and want to save more money by getting an unmanaged hosting provider.  These plans can even rival shared hosting as far as cost goes.  (Say, about $8 a month.)  Or perhaps you aren’t as comfortable and are willing to pay slightly more for your server to be managed by the hosting providers’ staff.  This can be pricier, but still relatively inexpensive.  (Around $40 a month.)

Another benefit to VPS servers is that they can easily grow.  Suppose you had a VPS server set up with 10GB of hard drive space and you realize your site is now using 8.5GB.  You can upgrade your plan to, say, 20GB (paying more per month, of course) and your virtual server’s specs will be altered on the fly.  There will be no need to move your files/databases to another server at all.  (To use the pool metaphor, imagine the walls separating you from the other swimmers suddenly moved to make your pool segment larger.)  This means you can get a smaller VPS plan at first to save money and grow it as your site grows.

VPS hosting is a very attractive, and often overlooked, option.  In our case, after a stint on a dedicated server, we switched to a VPS server to save money.  We wound up paying only around 20% of our dedicated server cost and only around four times our old shared hosting costs.  I’d definitely recommend VPS hosting to anyone, but with the caveat of hiring someone to help you manage the server – or at least set it up.

Dedicated Server

Dedicated servers are definitely the most powerful option but can also be the most expensive.  Going back to the pool metaphor, we’ve kicked everyone out of the pool except for you.  You can splash, swim, kick, and play in the pool to your hearts’ content without fear of impacting anyone else.  You won’t be kicked off for using too many resources (though you still may be kicked off if you host content against your provider’s terms of service).  This is very much like Virtual Private Server hosting except you are the only one on the actual, physical server.  These plans vary quite a bit depending on the server’s processor, memory, hard drive space, etc., but plans regularly run into the hundreds of dollars per month.

I’d recommend a dedicated server only to the largest of sites and to the sites with plenty of financing.  Even then, dedicated servers have downsides besides price.  Unlike a VPS plan, dedicated servers can’t simply be updated on the fly.  If you need a bigger hard drive on your dedicated server, your host will need to back up your server, shut it down, replace the hard drive, start it back up, and restore the backup.  Then, you will need to test to make sure nothing broke in the transfer.  Upgrading more features might necessitate getting a completely different server – and moving your site between boxes.


No matter what option you choose, I’d definitely recommend hiring someone to set up your site.  It might seem tempting to toss together a site even without any web knowledge – and many programs claim to offer novices the ability to create any website with no experience required.  The fact of the matter, though, is that web developers do this sort of thing every day.  They know what works and what doesn’t.  They know how to avoid security pitfalls and how to increase usability.  The money you spend on a good web developer is well worth it.  Of course, full disclosure, on this last point I might be biased as I am a web developer myself.  (Side note: I am available for freelance projects so if you need a website built, drop me a line.)

There you have it, your four main options.  As I said before, there are other options out there that straddle the line or don’t fit into these neat boxes.  For the most part, though, these represent most of your choices.  while they are all fine options, they aren’t all good options for every website. Don’t set up your corporate page on a free host and don’t set up your tiny hobby page on a dedicated server.  (Well, in the case of the latter, not unless you’ve got money to burn in which case contact me about making your site.)  Choosing which hosting option your site is on is almost as important as choosing what your site will look like.  It is the foundation that your entire site will be built upon.  So take it slow and research your options before you just dive into the pool.

NOTE: The "web server" image above is by lyte and is available via

The Great Google Analytics Crash

Last month, I was browsing through our Google Analytics reports when I saw something shocking:



Yes, that was her analytics numbers flat-lining.  She went from a respectable amount of traffic to only a couple of page views a day.  Something was obviously seriously wrong.  I immediately ruled out her traffic actually dropping.  Traffic numbers just don’t drop like that unless you do something monumentally stupid online to cause your readership to flee, and B didn’t do anything even remotely like that.  So what could it be?

As we thought it over, I suddenly remembered.  B had told me to add in a plug-in for a blogging program she’s a member of.  I installed that plug-in on the night before the analytics plunge.  That must have been to blame.  We e-mailed her contacts and they were very helpful, but they had never seen anything like this before.  After some investigation, I realized that their plug-in was adding Google Analytics code just before my Google Analytics code.  Their code must have been interfering somehow with our code resulting in the lowered numbers.

I couldn’t modify their plug-in, but I was able to modify the theme on B’s site to move our Google Analytics code higher.  (One of the perks of being a web developer.)  Then, it was a matter of waiting to see what would happen.  Would her numbers rise back up?  Or would there be something else preventing the numbers from being reported right?

Analytics_Return Luckily, her numbers started going back up until they were back to normal.

The lesson here is to keep an eye on your Google Analytics closely.  This is especially true if you’ve made any changes to your blog recently.  B was lucky that her reported numbers only dropped for 10 days.  Had I not checked in when I did, we could have gone for much longer and then, when she needed to report recent traffic amounts for blog campaigns, she wouldn’t have had good information to report.

Have you ever encountered a dip in your blog traffic due to technical difficulties?

Self Promotional Failure

megafonoThere are many things in this world that I’m good at.  Give me a web application to build and I’ll excel.  Ask me to debug some JavaScript code and I’ll dive right in.  Is your CSS funky on mobile browsers?  I’ll whip up a nice, responsive design that scales from desktop to tablet to mobile device.  Want a shiny new WordPress website?  I’m on it.

One thing I’m not good at, though, is self promotion.

After helping SelfishMom with her WordPress plight, she asked me if I had a page that she could refer people to in case they wanted to hire me to work on some projects.  Yes, I am available for freelance gigs.  (I’m not available for parties or bar mitzvahs, though.  For some reason, kids just don’t find a guy writing HTML and JavaScript entertaining.  What do they know?)

Whenever I sit down to write my page, it winds up sounding too much like a boring, resume-ish listing of web technologies:

I have extensive knowledge of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, ASP, PHP, mySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, WordPress, and the Twitter API.

See?  I’ll bet half of you are asleep (WAKE UP!!!) and the other half are confused about what some of those strings mean.  You can no clue the cool things I can do when I put my knowledge to work.

I’ve been looking around for some examples of pages other people set up to advertise their services for hire.  Not just web coding, but speaking, social media promotion, and the like.  My conclusion:  There are some people out there who are really good at self promotion.  Maybe I can hire one of them to write the copy for my page.  Will trade promotional copy for web work!

However tough this is, I’m going to spend some time working on a "hire me for freelance gigs" page.  Look for it coming (hopefully) soon.

How are you when it comes to self promotion?

NOTE: The "megafono" image above is by roshellin and is available from

Expanding My Skillset

wordpress_bookIf there’s one thing that working in IT has taught me, it’s that learning is never over.  The minute you stop learning, your value to potential employers drops dramatically.  Instead, one must constantly expand one’s horizons and learn new things.

Recently, my company bought me some books on WordPress and web development.  Though I know how to work in WordPress, these covered areas I had never gotten involved in but meant to such as developing themes and plugins from scratch.

One day, during a very rare end-of-day lull, I decided to crack open "WordPress Plugin Development Cookbook."  Within minutes, I had the basics down and was developing my own plugin.  No, it wasn’t fully functional, but the path to that was laid before me and it looked like it was a short path indeed.

Now my head is buzzing with WordPress plugin ideas (both for work and as side projects).  I can’t wait to apply the knowledge I’ve already gained and I can"t wait to finish the book and gain even more knowledge.

Do you often make it a point to learn new things?  If so, what have you learned recently?

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