I recently found an article on WikiPedia that suggested numerous benefits to renting your website. It briefly touched on these, but in my mind didn't really go into half as much detail as I would have liked. As the technical development manager of DriveMySite (a company that specialises in web rentals) I knew I couldn't walk away without adding my own two cents, simply because this is a subject I have had some experience with and felt I could at least contribtute some honest opinions to anyone out there considering a move in this direction. Before going any further I should mention that objectivity was a challenge for me as I have some natural biases of my own but hopefully the reader can take from my remarks some genuine benefits of web leasing.
There are several reason why a company might consider leasing or renting a website instead of buying.
Leasing often needs only a small monthly fee instead of a large fee upfront when buying. Startups looking to make a impact on the marketing opportunities of the web understand that a full blown design treatment along with all of the issues of upkeep and SEO on a shoe string budget just isn't realistic. I've seen some bad decisions made in this area because some companies either didn't have all of the available options at hand or didn't really know what they wanted in the first place.
New small business owners can benefit by saving capital.
This is a primary issue for new startups that need a buffer to protect them against a lot of often unforseeable business expenses. I worked for a company that had a client that spent 14,000 for a well designed website without any good SEO. In effect they ran out of the money they should have used to improve their page rankings and were left with a fantastic looking site with no one to see it. Clients don't always understand this and suppliers in my opinion should inform their clients of this.
If a website is only needed for a short amount of time.
This has often been the case for companies I have worked with that need to run mini campaigns or 'sell by date' type brochure sites. In these cases quick turnaround is the key and having a pre-designed template that can be leased for the duration of the campaign makes good sense. After all why spend all that money if you only need the site around for a few months.
If one is unsure their business needs a website leasing is a way to test without paying for a full price site.
This is great for those 'proof of concept' or 'market testing' scenarios in which you want to test the waters without breaking the bank. I spoke with a colleague today about a business idea he had. He had already invested some money to get a developer to build a database, purchase the domain name and setup hosting. After speaking to him about his idea it was clear to me that what he really needed was a place to showcase his ideas, generate a social networking group to field test this and go from there before spending any more time and money on the idea.
The owner is responsible for the technical aspects and upkeep of the site.
I was recently sat in a meeting with a client that wanted a awesome looking website and told me that he wanted it to be high up on the rankings in Google. He was uncomfortable with my explanation that to do this organically he would need to invest some time to keep the content updated. After talking this through with him I learned that they used a very clunky FTP based method of updating content. It was time consuming and prone to breaking their existing pages which to some degree explained some his reluctance in relation to keeping his site updated. I was able to explain that a good Content Management System can take care of this without the worry of breaking a page. The more reputable site leasing companies provide these. At drivemysite.co.uk we provide our customers with Umbraco an open source CMS that has recently been endorsed by Microsoft but more importantly has been used by many of the clients I have with worked with and to good effect.
Changes and updates are often included in the monthly fee.
This has to be one of the best benefits of leasing. Like leasing a TV or a Car you pass it back and get a newer model without the hassle of selling it first and losing money in between. A lot of clients I have worked with would often come to me asking for a feature or technology they had seen on a competitors site but because the technology itself had been superceded, it wouldn't be possible with a complete rewrite of the site and its underlying technology.
There are also tax benefits of leasing a website.
This goes without saying. Although most CEO's will completely endorse and understand the benefits of leasing when dealing with tangible assets many still don't consider digital assets in the same way. Changing the mindset of the Managing Director is often the biggest challenge here.
Some companies that offer a website leasing or rental service also give the option for the user to buy the full rights to the site either after a certain amount of time (leasing) or at any time (rental).
This is a real win/win if the website leasing company are prepared to do this as it gives the customer the assurance that the site they have been renting for the duration of the lease already has a proven ROI.
Website leasing and rental companies may also offer Search engine optimization services as part of the leasing or rental package.
This is almost an expectation these days. To me it would be like going into a car showroom and having a salesman show me a car without wheels. SEO enabling technologies need to be baked into the content management system in order to be able to compete in this area. Umbraco takes care of most of this for us, i.e. it allows good naming conventions of URLs, provides Sitemaps for your robots file and allows custom html injection of meta data on a page by page basis.
In summary, leasing your website should be as viable an option to your company as leasing any other asset. If the figures stack up and the SEO investment is their then you could do a lot worse with a lot more money at stake. On the other hand if you make a poor choice with website rental you can always pull out early with the minimal loss.
George Robinson is the technical development manager of drivemysite.co.uk a web company that provides a low cost way to get a SEO powered website up and running quickly and without the stress.