Let me be frank: your website is bleeding money. There might be an exception here and there, but the great majority of websites spend far, far too much money in their quest for solvency. Some of these expenses seem necessary, the only means to a certain end. Other expenses fly under the radar. The website owner either doesn’t know of any alternatives, or doesn’t know how to even address the problem.

Most websites qualify as small businesses, and few if any small businesses can survive while wasting money. Website owners seeking ways to reduce cost and run a tighter ship can follow these five steps to run a less expensive, more effective website. The bonus in all this: you’ll be a smarter, savvier website owner as you work through the steps.

1. Examine hosting options


If you perform enough research on web hosts, you’ll find that there are almost too many options. Dozens, maybe even hundreds, of companies offer hosting of all types, leaving website owners mired in the paradox of choice. How can we be sure we’re making the right decision when so many present themselves? Chances are we won’t make the right decision. In web hosting, the wrong decision can prove quite costly.

The only solution is to conduct thorough research not only of the hosting companies themselves, but of website hosting itself. You might find your eyes glazing over at first as you encounter unfamiliar jargon and acronyms, but those terms will become clear in time. The benefit to you is a clearer understanding of exactly what you need, and the most efficient path to obtaining proper hosting. You might not be qualified for a system administrator position, but you’ll be able to make the correct decisions about hosting your website — and not fall victim to web host salesmen who prey on ignorant prospects.

2. Rethink customer acquisition

Different types of websites will require different methods of customer acquisition, but the need for, and cost of, customer acquisition is present for any website. Yet so many websites waste their money trying the new-new thing, the method that all the internet marketers are hyping. Perhaps you’re even paying an individual or an agency to handle your customer acquisition needs. Chances are, then, that you’re spending too much money to acquire each customer.

For e-commerce and other businesses that actively sell products and services, SEO and PPC rank among the most effective methods of customer acquisition. They’re both search-based, and when people search they reveal intent. Search marketers can leverage this intent into conversions. The truth is, so can you. It will cost you a few hundred dollars in the form of a subscription to a site such as SEO Book, but that’s money you’re spending on learning rather than paying an agency to do your dirty work for you. In the process you’ll learn more about your customers, too — things that previously only your SEO agency knew.

Digital publishers, on the other hand, waste their time with PPC and SEO. Since their sites are not directly commercial in nature, PPC is a waste of money. Publishers will almost always pay more for a click than they will gain from ad impressions from that visit. In terms of SEO, publishers need only the basics for on-site optimization. The other SEO factors, such as link building, come naturally when promoting content. A heavy social media presence, where publishers can connect directly with readers, serves as a much more efficient customer acquisition method.

3. Seek optimal payment processing

When it comes to accepting credit cards, you can take the old phrase “you have to spend money to make money” literally. Your website itself does not process credit card transactions. Perhaps some companies can afford to build that kind of interface, but small businesses rely on third parties to handle that aspect of business. What that means is that every time a customer buys something, credit card processing companies take a portion of the sale.

Discerning website owners will evaluate all aspects of credit card processing fees. Some processors offer a very low transaction rate, but charge a flat fee per transaction on top of that (e.g., 2.5 percent of the sale, plus a 20 cent per transaction fee). There are also monthly fees to consider as well. So how can a website owner determine the best processor?

It involves plenty of math. You’ll have to run various analysis based on average size of sale, plus variance studies to account for the effects of bigger and smaller sales. Then you’ll have to plug those numbers into each processor’s fee schedule and determine which will work out most cheaply for you. Because when it comes to transaction fees, if you’re paying more than the lowest available rate you’re effectively giving away money.

4. Rebuild your ad inventory


Digital ads have declined in value drastically in the last five years, leaving publishers with fewer options for making profits. Native advertising is the latest industry buzz term, but that’s an option available to only the largest publishers. Mid-tier publishers, even those boasting more than a million page views per month, are stuck mostly with the same old options.

The trick to rebuilding your ad inventory for optimal is to run constant tests. Sign up for every ad network under the sun and test them out in different positions on your site. Use bid-based ad networks to find especially high-yield ads, even if they amounts to only a hundred impressions a day, substituting your other ads when no high-yield ones are available. Make use of A/B tests to serve different iterations of your ad inventory to different users.

It is only with great diligence that digital publishers can make the current ad landscape work for them. It’s not enough to run experiments on a monthly basis. Publishers have to work constantly to optimize their inventories and make the largest possible ad dollar.

5. Keep diligent records for taxes purposes

When the taxman comes calling, small businesses had better answer promptly and accurately. Failure to do so can literally break a small business. The IRS can be heavily discerning if it sees even one red flag, tearing apart your finances to bleed every bit of tax dollar out of you, not to mention penalties and interest. Many a business has gone under due to a minor tax violation that cascaded into a nightmare. That’s just one reason to keep track of every dollar earned, spent, and invested.

The other reason is that, if kept accurately, these records can save you enormously when that tax bill comes due. The IRS affords businesses write-offs of all types, allowing them to reduce their tax burdens. Sure, they might use that to tear apart your company if you deduct improperly. But if you do a meticulous job and keep equally meticulous records, you stand to save plenty of money, keeping it in your bank account and out of Uncle Sam’s.

No one said running a cost-efficient website was easy. In fact, should you choose to undertake these five tasks, you’ll find yourself burning the candle at both ends. You’ll be up early in the morning working on customer acquisition, at your desk during lunch researching web hosting, sipping a much-needed afternoon coffee while running payment analyses, spend dinner at your desk setting up the next A/B test, and up until midnight going over the day’s finance reports. Yet you’ll feel oddly relieved and accomplished when going to bed. Because above all else, you made huge progress for the future of your web business.

Posted by Joe Pawlikowski

Joe Pawlikowski is a writer, editor, and business owner. He writes for a number of blogs, mostly in the tech realm, and owns a digital publishing company. His personal blog, JoePawl.com, touches on many of the lessons he's learned along the way.

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