Small Business Owners Beware: Hosted CMS Can Hold You Hostage

By November 7, 2012Web Development

no-choice-150x150 (2)More and more websites are built with content management software. Some of the well known options are WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla; we also have OS Commerce, Zen Cart, Open Cart for ecommerce purposes. With the rise of cloud computing, we have seen an increasing number of hosted CMS providers taking over the market. They are making web building even easier by combining hosting and CMS into one service. So someone can set up a website in just a few minutes and they do not need to worry about where and how to host it. Most hosted CMS providers also offer the web development services to customers. Some of the popular hosted CMS companies include LightCMS, SquareSpace, Webvanta, Shopify and more.

However, hosted CMS, while making website set-up easier at times, comes at a price.

In the past month, I have met two new customers that share the same issue with their websites. Their sites have been largely untouched since their creation and the businesses now want to add some new features and new content. However, the cost estimates provided by their hosting companies (the hosted CMS providers) are unexpectedly high. For example, adding a very common feature such as on-site search can cost up to $600.

When these clients came to my team at Spicy Spirit looking for help, we realize that it is the hosted CMS providers (i.e. the web development vendors) that now hold their clients hostage. Basically once you use a hosted CMS, either you chose it by yourself or your web designer chose it for you, you are stuck to that platform. The hosting provider won’t give you full access to the source code and if you need to modify anything that cannot be done via the admin panel, you have to pay the hosting company to do it for you, such as adding a site-wide search feature, newsletter subscription box, etc. The initial development cost can be low especially when you just need a simple website but the cost of modification is what is going to bite you. The vendors in our cases charge around $150 per hour to do any web changes, a very high tab for small business to pick up. Even the monthly hosting fee, currently somewhere around $20-$40 can go up anytime at the hosting company’s wish. This is a brilliant “lock in” strategy, isn’t it?

Theoretically, there is a solution for a business to get out – the client has to ask for a back up of the whole site and at the risk of being bullied by the vendor, move the website to be hosted somewhere else. This is extremely hard for small businesses because they don’t have the expertise or the money to go through such troubles. Plus, no one wants to rebuild a website when the existing one is still new! Making matters worse, if the site is built with the Ruby language, then finding another hosting company is quite difficult.

I’m not saying that hosted CMS providers are evil. They are definitely very helpful with the initial development, hosting, and content management.  It is the lock in strategy that can be tricky. Hopefully I’m not too harsh on them in this post. Just trying to point out the Pros and Cons, especially to our community of small businesses.

Tell us your experiences?


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