The great $99 website lie

The great $99 website lie
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Every day small business types like us are bombarded with offers for first page rankings, bargain social media set up and super cheap websites.

But how many of you have actually taken the plunge and tested these offers out?

I decided to remove my cynic hat and give one of these offers a go. I did this for you people. Feel free to think of me as your guardian angel.

Please note: This is a general advice piece, not a name and shame exercise.

How it all began

Recently a chum sent me a link to this deal on a well-known business offer site

Wowzers. A $1500 website for just $99. That’s an awesome offer. And the perfect test case.


Step 1. Paying for the offer

Sure, there was small print, but I didn’t read it (who does?) I was too excited for that. I happily gave my credit card details thinking “Well, what’s the worst that could happen?”

A little while after paying I received my voucher. Now I could read the fine print.


99 dollar website



I quickly scrambled to review the original offer. Were all these bullet points listed? But the offer was gone, removed from the site. I would never know the truth. But I’m telling you now – I’m 87.5% sure that all these bits and bobs weren’t there.

Toon Tip number one: ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT!

Step 2. Reading the fine print

So let’s break down these fine print points.

  • 1 initial design and 1 design revision for each website.

This is really a one-shot deal. You’re getting one concept only (no doubt an off-the-shelf WordPress theme), so toes crossed you like it.

Design revision is a pretty loose term. What does it mean? Can I change the colours and text? Can I move or add things? What functionality can I fiddle with? My guess is if you stray outside the (unspoken) guidelines you’ll start paying extra.

  • Content needs to be supplied by the client

From experience I know this means everything. All the words, images, videos, title tags, meta tags, logo, icons etc. If you don’t provide it, it isn’t going on the site. That’s fair enough given the price, but would the average Joe feel 100% confident pulling all of this together without guidance?

  • Ecommerce sites attract a $500 set-up fee

I love the use of the word ‘attract’ here. It makes the fact your website cost just went up 500% sound so much more attractive.

  • Subject to booking

What does that even mean? I’ve just booked, haven’t I? Is this some kind of get out clause?

  • One year hosting charge applies to upload your site to your preferred host.

We’re not told how much this is upfront (I later found out it’s $300).

  • Minimum hosting for 12 months and then you are free to move the site to another host.
  • Hosting is $25 per month.

Ah, here’s the rub. So now our $99 website is $399, and we’re tied into hosting with this unknown company. We know nothing about the hosting environment, and $25 a month is pretty steep when hosting from costs around $6 a month.

If things go sour with this company they have the power to delete your site. Not good.


Step 3. Contacting the business

The first thing I did after receiving my voucher was to try and contact the site via the email address and website address listed.

Neither worked.

I emailed the offer site and got a quick response. Yes the details on the voucher were incorrect. That’s the way to fill me with confidence, guys.

When I finally got in touch with the website dude and pointed this out he told me:

 “Interesting social experiment though. Out of all my purchasers, you’re the only one who pointed that out!”

Kind of missing my point that having incorrect voucher details is a bit dodgy.

When I also pointed out that deal site the offer price of $99 was essentially a lie, since whatever way you swung it the site will always cost $399, the deal dude told me:

“The merchant needs to make some money over the longer term on this offer, as otherwise, they couldn’t afford to provide this level of upfront value.”

Kind of missing my point that the ‘upfront value’ was in fact a big fat lie.

 But the website guy seemed nice, he told me this:

“I can’t stress enough that you know all the costs involved. I don’t want us to start on the wrong footing from the get go.”

Which kind of made me like him again. So I kept going.

Step 4. The questionnaire

Then I received a pre-build website questionnaire from the website guy asking six questions about my site:

1. What is the purpose of your website?
2. If your website is an employee of yours, what would it’s position be?
3. How would you measure success, based on 1 and 2 above?

Question 2 confused me a little, and I wonder how most people would answer question 3? What would your answer be?

4. Point me to 3 different websites that you find appealing/you like the design
5. Point me to 1 website that you envision your site to look like
6. Do you have a domain name that you want to use with the site?  

All totally reasonable questions. I checked on the domain name, and he told me it was best to register it myself so I own it. (Good answer!)

But then came the next bump in the road.

“Would you like to have your site responsive? Some industries have clients who are always on the move and accessing their site via mobile and vice versa. A responsive site will scale properly to all devices.”

If I were a non-webby type I wouldn’t really get this. I’d probably think, “Well, I don’t really need that, do I?” Especially when I read that:

“Turning a site into a responsive site will usually cost an additional $1000, but as part of this special offer, it will only cost $300 extra. This is entirely optional.”

And this is where I called bulls**t.

While turning a non-responsive site into a responsive site is expensive, building a brand new responsive site on a platform such as WordPress is as simple as choosing a responsive theme. Generally they don’t cost any more than regular themes.  And although I’ll admit they require a little extra testing time – I think a 300% price hike is extreme.


Step 5. What we don’t know

Here’s everything I didn’t know at this point.

1)    What platform the site is being developed on

2)    Whether I’ll be able to edit the site content after it’s live

3)    How many pages my site can have (one or one hundred)

4)    Whether I’ll have to upload the content myself

5)    Whether I get a blog

6)    Whether I get a newsletter sign up

7)    Whether the build include things such as:

1. An XML and HTML sitemap
2. A robots.txt file
3. A favicon
4. Google analytics installation

8)    Whether any useful plugins will be installed to make my life easier

In reality, you could be buying a very basic site that’s pretty much useless for your business.

Like this one:

basic website

Step 6. Refund

At this stage I got a refund. The ‘just a little bit more’ approach made me nervous. Especially when I know that even the technically-challenged can learn to build a basic WordPress site in about two hours.

What should a website cost?

Was it a con? Well, kind of. Essentially, to get a responsive site with hosting you’d end up paying $699. Which is still a good price for basic website.

But this reverse selling method is problematic for a small business owner who isn’t tech savvy. How can you possibly know the right questions to ask?

Take a recent copywriting client of mine who paid $1799 for a website from a reasonably well-respected developer.

There was no specification of what this price included other than ‘a WordPress website’. So when it came to asking the developer to add the title tags, build a sitemap, fix the footer, name images correctly, etc. they were told this was all ‘out of scope’. Not good.

I think a fair starting price for a (SMALL, BASIC, 7 or so page website, with a non custom theme) is in the region of $2000-$3000.

An e-commerce site may be more like $4000-$8000.

If anyone reading this wants a recommendation for a good website designer/ developer, shoot me an email.



As with everything, you generally get what you pay for. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Over to you

How much did you pay for your website? Do you think it was good value for money? Have you ever been tempted by low price offers like this?

Did you like this post?

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