There’s a rising trend amongst website development and marketing agencies to embrace an upcoming model called WaaS, short for Website as a Service.
If you’re reading this article, that means that you’re already aware of the model, and you’ve set out to learn more. It could also be that you’ve stumbled upon this content piece by accident via a somewhat related keyword.
In any case, this article outlines the reason why the Website as a Service model is starting to gain traction. It also covers who is adopting this change, and which slice of the market they are capturing.
At the end of this article, you will know everything you need about the Website as a Service model.
But, the article will also provide you with the right toolset to build a Website as a Service that lasts a lifetime, yet will only take minutes to manage.
Let’s define the model
A Website as a Service (WaaS) is a website distribution model in which a service provider offers websites to customers, who subscribe to it as a service. This means that monitoring, maintenance and technical updates are managed by someone else as part of a monthly plan.
The model is overwhelmingly attractive for any business that has few resources, and doesn’t have the in-house skills with relevant competencies.
Why, you might ask? Today, two options exist for those that are in need of a website:
1. Create a website yourself
Either by choosing a CMS that is easy to learn e.g. Shopify, Squarespace, Wix. Or you could invest some time in learning a visual builder such as Elementor, or Divi.
A cost effective option, the appeal of which allowed the above mentioned companies to grow into multi billion dollar companies, and capture large market share.
2. Invest in a custom solution
Hire a website development or even a marketing agency that is able to understand the digital needs of the client and is capable of building a website.
Depending on the complexity of the project, prices range from 1-2k to several tens of thousands of dollars. Payment has to be completed in full prior or on set deadlines, often before revenue is generated for the business.
In the end, the client is responsible for maintaining and updating the website or a maintenance contract is agreed upon.
The gap Website as a Service model is destined to fill
The downside for any business that chooses to build a website themselves is the time investment of learning a complete new skill.
Setting up a basic store in Shopify is easy. But what if you’re someone that needs a few custom features in order to draw in sales, or capture leads?
It turns out, building a website completely to your liking is actually pretty hard.
If you just opened a hair salon, estate agency, physiotherapist practise or yoga studio, building a website will be the last thing you want to be spending your time on.
On the other hand, you might also not have the extra cash laying around to hire an agency.
With a Website as a Service, customers would pay a monthly subscription and in turn not have to worry about their website.
A Website as a Service company could also offer marketing services to the client on the back-end. We will get into the specifics of that later.
From Website Projects to a Websites for Service offering
Not only is there a large demand for hands-off, technically sound websites that need a low initial investment. The model also makes a lot of sense on the supply side.
In agency land, websites are often viewed as project work, with clear deliverables and deadlines.
When those are locked in, the design team begins to work and after several iterations, design mockups are approved by the client, enabling development to begin.
What follows is a set of repetitive tasks that are similar for every one of your websites. Launch a fresh instal, set up SSL, instal your go-to theme, configure the email client and upload your plugin stack to cover security, performance, search engine marketing etc., all adding up to several hours before the first page is created.
Besides the tasks you need to execute to have the website set-up, secure and perform effectively, you’re doing a lot of similar things on the frontend for a lot of your clients as well.
In the end, most websites are designed to generate leads or convert visitors into paying customers.
Most websites are designed to convince visitors that whatever they’re viewing is the right solution for them.
That means sections with authoritative logos, how-to content, video or text testimonials, and social proof that cover those needs and warm visitors up to write down their email address.
This usually works in a predefined order, psychology studies on website behavior have shown.
As it turns out, and any experienced web-developer will tell you this, most of this can be standardized.
What’s left is the copy and catchy headlines to replace the dummy text, as well as great photos and videos.
So why go through the hassle of sitting with the client to draft up the “requirements”? They often don’t know what’s needed on their website in the first place.
Plus, what the above alludes to is that 90% of the time you’ll end up doing the same thing you did last time (if you did a good job, that is).
Of course, it’s an oversimplification and many websites really stand out in design aspects. Though, having great design comes at a cost, as mentioned earlier.
Website as a Service companies cater to businesses who have limited resources, and who don’t have the financial means to invest in flashy websites. Instead, what these companies want is a website that works and has proven to fulfill its goal.
So, why not turn it around? Pivot your approach.
Switch from project work into offering Websites for Service: Build out a Website Product that automatically sets up everything that you would usually do manually.
Then, create prefab website templates that will eliminate the heavy design work at the beginning of a project, and turn it into a portfolio potential customers can choose from.
Customers can browse through live demo versions of your work, and directly sign up when they decide to make the purchase.
A complete, stand-alone website is spun up after the customer finishes the on boarding process.
Keep in mind, this stand-alone website can be visually improved at that point to become a unique piece of design. The website can stay technically completely the same, but be visually stunning and completely differentiated if you want.
You might be thinking: That’s going to be a technical nightmare. Don’t worry, if you stick to the end, it will prove to be much easier than you think.
In fact, a new innovation is making this as easy as developing any other website in WordPress.
How software vendors fell short against SaaS companies
There are parallels of how traditional software vendors have shown to be less attractive to customers, in comparison with SaaS solutions.
On-premise software products had to be installed by licensees themselves. The lack of technical personnel for maintaining and updating these machines often resulted in hardware failures and operational errors, sometimes even resulting in significant data loss.
The shift from on-premise to a cloud-based ecosystem has altered the way users buy software products. With Software as a Service (SaaS) companies, there is typically nothing to install to access it.
A lot of the heavy maintenance and updating work is switched back to the people that create the product. The end-user doesn’t have to think about a lot of the processes that are secondary to the service. It just works.
This has turned SaaS companies into some of the fastest growing software companies in history.
Earlier software vendors can be compared to the traditional web development model.
In the traditional agency model, customers would pay a large upfront sum. The agency builds and delivers the website. After project delivery, the customer is responsible for maintenance and updating work.
On the other hand, the Website as a Service model is designed to allocate most of the mental bandwidth away from the end-user, your customer.
This includes, installing and paying for web hosting, web design and plugins, and making sure the website is up to date, secure and performs well.
Most importantly, revenue from both SaaS and WaaS is generally recurring which makes cash flow impressively predictable, which allows businesses to plan long term.
Websites are never completely done
At their core, websites are software, and software has to be maintained and updated continuously. Website as a Service was born out of the need for businesses to keep their websites up to date and evolve over time.
In fact, with Website as a Service, a website development or marketing agency commits to build, maintain and sometimes even promote its clients website in return for a monthly fee.
Let’s take a concrete look at the specifics of the Website as a Service model
1. A clear offering
All costs related to the website will be covered by the monthly subscription. This includes your Website Product, a design template from your portfolio, continuous updates and hosting.
2. Performance optimization
A designer can design the most beautiful website. However, if it isn’t intuitive, difficult to navigate and fails to deliver a consistent message, they’re unlikely to convert visitors into paying customers.
A Website as a Service business offers Website Products that perform. If they were selling a product that didn’t work, they would quickly be out of business.
Website development in WaaS companies aims to improve performance of a website. In concrete terms that means:
- Design and updating: The design of the website is up to date, and has a professional look and feel
- Continuous compliance: The Website as a Service company will always adapt to browser updates, new smartphone sizes, and appearance protocols.
Remember in the traditional model, clients will have to take care of everything by themselves, or be billed for each of the interventions.
At the end, website improvements or updates end up not being done or are executed overdue since the client doesn’t know what’s needed on his website, and you’ve moved on to the next website project to build from scratch.
Do it Yourself or Done For You
Next, you could either choose to have your clients build out their websites by themselves, or you could charge a set-up fee and include it in your service.
This decision solely depends on you, how involved and personal you want to be with your clients, your experience and ultimately your business growth goals.
A Do it Yourself (DIY) service offering for your Website as a Service is less personal. It will require you to build out a complete knowledge base that teaches your customers how to use the visual builder and what other changes to make, etc.
This low touch version is hands-off and can, in theory, scale your Website as a Service business to thousands of monthly paying customers, without any stress.
If you’re more in it for a personal touch, or maybe your agency is specialized in offering marketing services as well, you could charge an initial setup fee in addition to a monthly retainer that includes your other services.
A quick summary of what we’ve covered so far
We have shown that the Website as a Service model is incredibly attractive on both the supply and demand side of websites.
Customers pay a monthly fee that covers all their website needs, and are guaranteed to have a fast, secure, up-to-date, and well-performing website.
What’s more, they have a dedicated support line open to you, the Website as a Service company, to listen, troubleshoot and potentially develop anything that the customer desires.
For a slightly higher monthly fee, they won’t have to do it themselves (using Wix, or Squarespace) and they’re not left in the dark when something goes wrong. They always have experts within reach.
Having experts within reach for crucial business domains is invaluable for any entrepreneur.
You, the agency, on the other hand, have successfully standardized your service offering: A portfolio with selectable website templates to sell to customers.
Are you going to receive custom features and requests from various clients? Sure.
Is that going to influence how you’re managing, monitoring and updating your Website Product? Absolutely not.
The front-end might be different, but what’s under the hood is similar for every one of your clients websites. But hold on, we’ll get into the technical stuff soon.
We took a look at how on-premise software products fell short against more customer-centric SaaS companies.
By just paying for a specific solution, SaaS companies changed how software is delivered. For the first time. users didn’t have to worry about the technical know-how to make it work. It simply works.
Website as a Service businesses design Website Products that drive similar results. Customers pay a monthly fee that eliminates all time spent on creating, building, updating, monitoring, hosting and maintaining websites.
In the end, customers have a high performing website without a large initial investment. What’s more, customers work with a trusted partner that they can reach out to in case anything goes wrong.
How to start your Website as a Service business
If you’ve come this far it means that you’re thrilled about the model. The last item to understand is the technical approach of creating a Website as a Service business that lasts a lifetime, yet only takes minutes to manage.
WPCS has created the first multi-tenant cloud hosting platform on WordPress that is specifically designed for the Website as a Service model.
With WPCS, anyone can build a Website Product that contains your favorite plugins and theme, just as you normally would build a website in WordPress.
You can create different frontend design templates that your customers can choose from. You can load these templates on your website using our API as demo websites that are navigable.
When a customer completes the sign up flow, a new website is automatically spun up and your customer receives their login credentials via email.