So most people know that the WordPress blogging software, or Content Management system, is free to download and use. And in fact WordPress-powered websites make up close to 20% of all websites currently on the Internet. Impressive. It is popular because of its easy learning curve and the fact that, well, it’s free.
But is it, really, free? Let’s take a look at what goes in to that free WordPress-powered website.
Your Domain Name
Yes, your real estate on the web. Your “.com” (if you’re lucky enough to get it, or your .co or .us or .whatever) if you will. Domain names are not free. They have to be registered by you or your business, and they have to be renewed at least once a year (some registrars offer renewal discounts if you register the domain for multiple years).
There are multiple domain name registrar companies you could use to grab your [companyname].com address. For instance, my current favorite is Hover.com. They’re a no-nonsense registrar that won’t try to up-sell you on things you don’t need, and offer multiple options for .com variants if your desired name isn’t available.
So assuming your company name is Test Company Name, you’d use them to register testcompanyname.com for an initial price of $12.99 for a 1 year registration (assuming you don’t have a coupon code to use at checkout).
Want the variations of that same domain (as I recommend)? Then the .net version will be an extra $13.60, the .co version would be an extra $24.60 and the .org version would be an extra $12.99. All for only 1 year registrations. See how it can potentially add up?
So right off the bat, we’re looking at minimum $12.99 or up to (or above) $64.18, annually.
And that’s just for your domain name.
Note that if the domain you really want is not available, but is for sale, there are ways to acquire it. I’m not going to go into those details in this post. Just keep in mind that if that’s your strategy, then the domain name cost will skyrocket.
Great! You have your testcompanyname.com domain all secured for the foreseeable future. Now you need some space on a server somewhere so that when someone types in that address it actually goes somewhere (not advertising for the domain registrar).
Now we’re talking about hosting. Actual physical storage space on a computer server that is “view-able” by the Internet.
Just like domain name registrars, there are several website hosting companies to choose from (too many to list). Some good, some great, some not so good. Some cheap, some expensive. Bottom line, lots of options. But before we dive in, we need to answer the question: what do you want your website to do? In other words, is it just an online brochure for your company? Are you selling something online? Are you setting up a company Intranet? The purpose of the website will dictate what type of hosting you need.
Right. There are different types of hosting services, and generally speaking they are: shared, dedicated virtual, and dedicated. And on top of those options, each as options like how much memory is available for use, how much storage you get, and how much bandwidth (traffic) the server will accept.
Again, sticking with my favorite companies, we’ll see what MediaTemple has to offer. Their Shared hosting plan is $20/month or $200/year (with bigger discounts for multi-year plans). Their cheapest dedicated virtual plan is $30/month and highest plan is $1,500/month (all with discounts if you do annual or multi-year billing).
Okay. So you want your website to be just a brochure type website. Say, 5 to 10 pages (about us, services, contact page, blog, etc.). You won’t need any of those higher priced options, and MediaTemple’s Shared Grid hosting plan will fit the need nicely.
You want to save some money, so let’s sign up for the annual plan at $200.
We won’t get into how to point your domain name you registered to your new hosting account. It’s fairly simple to do, but I’ll cover that in a future article.
Ah, yes. The meat and potatoes of it all. What will the website look like? What sort of neat, trendy, wiz-bang features will be built in? This is where website consulting firms come into play (such as SIX15 [cough, cough]). Or, if you’re going it alone and doing it yourself, this is where WordPress Theme shops come into play (such as Themeforest.net). Just like domain name and hosting companies, there are dozens of theme directory shops to choose from.
So, you want to go the DIY route and bounce around Theme Forest to find a WordPress theme that would represent your company. Great! Clicking into the popular section within the WordPress group, you’ll see that the most popular themes cost anywhere from $38 to $63. Wow! An entirely designed website for $63?! Seems too good to be true! Well, it is.
Do you have a logo for your business? You do? Awesome! Do you know how to integrate it into the theme you’ve chosen? Some have really neat administration panels that walk you through this process, as well as choosing a color scheme, etc. Others, not so much. Choose wisely.
What I’m alluding to here is time. Your time. You don’t want to spend days, hours or even minute banging your head against your monitor trying to get your awesome logo to fit just right into that awesome theme you purchased for $38.
Then there’s the “me-too” design crowd. Blur your eyes a little and browse through random themes on any of the theme shops and you’ll soon notice patterns. Design trends. Some look almost identical to each other, minus a few layout tweaks. You don’t want your website to look just like your competitor.
Only you can decide the value of your time. So to bottom-line the design, yes you could get a fully designed site for tens of dollars. Heck, you could even use a free theme from WordPress.org. but to avoid the me-too crowd, it really does make sense to invest in your time or hire a web designer to customize that theme so that it is uniquely yours. Better even, hire that designer to create a theme from scratch based on your specific scope and requirements. You avoid theme shops and potential code-bloat that typically come with themes from those shops.
Say you hire a designer (such as SIX15 [cough, cough]) to create a custom theme for your website. Again, depending on the scope of work, the investment could be anywhere from $1,000 to $8,000.
Development & Configuration
You don’t want to spend up to $8,000 to have a theme designed and decide to use that $38 theme because you feel you can do it yourself. No problem, and all the power to you. Seriously. Question: do you know how to install WordPress on your new hosting account, upload that theme, and configure it properly so that it loads fast, is search engine optimized, and secure from hackers?
If not, you’re not alone. Most business owners are not tech savvy, even if they use the Internet everyday. As I’m trying to explain, there’s a lot more to web design and development than “just making websites”. Since we’re in a world of smart phones and tablets, the focus is all about mobile. And making that new website not only mobile friendly, but making sure that the hosting environment is configured properly so that the website loads fast and is secure.
Knowing which plugins to avoid, which ones you should definitely use specific for your site, has value. And that value is tied to that number I mentioned in the Design section.
Even the most basic of websites typically still use some sort of online form processing. Protecting the form, and thereby the website, comes in the form of plugins. The better ones are premium plugins (meaning, they’re not free). Most premium plugins have an annual license plan, similar to domain and hosting contracts. For instance, form processing, photo galleries, SPAM protection, SEO, email address collection/integration, are all premium services and to add those up is around $600 annually. It is something you have to budget for when considering your website design. Yes, there are free versions of plugins, but typically they are not coded well, not efficient, or robust as the premium versions.
Website Launched! Now What?
Say you’ve made it this far, have a website launched and it’s running smooth. What happens when a new version of WordPress is released? Or a new version of one of those plugins your site uses? Or your hosting company needs to upgrade its hardware and has new software versions to test? What happens if your website gets hacked and your site is sending spam, or doesn’t load? Who maintains all the content on your website? What about social media?
The point is, you can’t just fire and forget your website. It needs regular care and feeding. People can sniff out websites that are abandoned. If content is not regularly updated at least once every six weeks or so, it will be obvious. Also, your search rank will be negatively affected.
Hiring or partnering with a company for regular maintenance, upgrades, security and SEO audits, is a good move and should be budgeted for before you even begin with design. Think long-term, as most maintenance companies offer discounts for multi-month contracts. Ongoing maintenance can run anywhere from $150 to $1000 per month.
I hope this has been educational about how much a free website really costs for services, software, and most importantly time — your time and the designer’s time.