“WordPress is Free” – What are the Real and Practical Costs of a WordPress Website?

One of the single most re-told myths on the internet is that WordPress is free. It’s a commonly used argument for building a website from the most hacked website platform in the business world. It’s a commonly used argument from supporters of the open source community that WordPress came from. And if you’re just putting together a few pages on a local server to learn how to make websites, it is free. But actually building a business website from WordPress? Saying that a WordPress business site is free is like saying a puppy adoption is free. Sure, you paid nothing for the puppy. But the food, the dog bed, the collar and leash, the months of training are not so free. Neither is your rental pet deposit, reinforcing the back fence, or repairing things the puppy chews. A free puppy isn’t really free neither is WordPress.

Let’s dive into the true cost of building, securing, and maintaining a WordPress site.


The Website Basics

Every single website no matter the codebase requires a few starting costs. You must buy a domain name, something that can cost between $10 per year and $500 a year depending on the domain you’ll be reserving and if it’s been labeled ‘premium.’ After the domain, you’ll also need to arrange for hosting. Cut-rate hosting is never a good idea and is often a window for hacking. Which means you’ll need to invest in a reasonably sized and service-supported server from a reputable hosting provider. This can cost between $20 and over $1,000 per month to support your website.

Your hosting baseline costs will depend entirely on the size and complexity of your website and the amount of visitor traffic you expect. Naturally, a bigger server with more resources will cost you more per month than a small server that does very little. Think of hosting like renting an apartment. The bedrooms and utilities are the size and performance. Amenities in an apartment like package delivery service or laundry facilities are like hosting services including security and monitoring that upper-end hosing brands often offer. Of course, hosting services increase your hosting costs.


SSL Certificate

The next step is your SSL certificate. This is a special code and web designation you get when your website is registered and verified as being legitimate. Buying an SSL certificate is also paid monthly or yearly, and it costs more if you want to complicate your domain with sub-domains. Like a server, SSL certificates also come with a very wide range of prices, relating to the size and complexity of your website and the security services you need. A basic SSL costs around $60 per year while the upper range starts at about $700 but can go as high as $1500 per year.

SSL certificates used to be optional for small businesses and single-purpose sites and only necessary for large businesses and industries that need high online security. However, recent changes in Google and other online services are now making SSL certificates necessary to appear on search engines and be reachable through secure browsers. Google no longer acknowledges websites without an SSL certificate and if you do not have one, Google will give visitors a warning before allowing them to visit your site. In fact, Chrome and other browser platforms often will not allow anyone to visit your site without a valid SSL certificate anymore.


A Functional and Secure Theme

Now to the WordPress features. You may have heard that there are hundreds to thousands of free WordPress themes. What you may not have heard is that free WordPress themes have two significant downsides. They are either extremely simple – not enough flexibility to make a truly functional business website – or they are built by hackers with malware built-in. Or both.

The free themes provided by WordPress or shared by the benign user-developers tend to be simple and very limited. A free theme from an unknown or unverified source is surprisingly likely to have hacker backdoors, have data-mining worked into the code, or even include crypto-jacking which mines crypto-currency using your server’s resources in the background.

A real theme that is complex, safe, and worthy of your business costs money. You can buy a costly theme or pay someone to develop you a custom theme. A custom theme can be anywhere between $5 and thousands, depending on the developer and work you need done. Custom themes are often the best option for a business looking to use WordPress as their website platform. A well-built custom theme provides a combination of security, flexibility, and brand personality that most premade themes can’t offer. Working with a skilled theme designer is the best way to get the best theme for your company’s site.


A Suite of Security Plugins

But security is the real cost. A paid website codebase has security built-in. Customers wouldn’t pay for an unsecured website that could be infiltrated by a 12-year-old with a YouTube hacking guide. But WordPress isn’t paid, and it can be hacked by preteens when there are no security plugins. And, you guessed it, security plugins are not free.

Some security plugins are simple features, you pay once, usually more than $20 and sometimes more than $100. But most WordPress security plugins are subscriptions, and you need a stack of them before your WordPress site is close to completely secured. This can equate to more than $2000 per month of security subscription fees for features and protection that would be free in a more securely designed website or more affordable from an IT security agency.

When looking to secure your WordPress site, be prepared for a little sticker shock on security. Remember, WordPress doesn’t invest in security for the platform, that cost is offloaded to the users who want their sites to be secure.


Necessary Functional Plugins and Extensions

From there, you need to build functionality onto your WordPress site. You may not have realized, but a default WordPress site does not have a search function. It does not have login protections. It does not have a communication platform.  There is no forum, no help center, not secure registration, no image compression. You have to add everything through a plugin, and only some of the plugins are free. Most are free to try, but costly if you need a business-grade version of the widgets and features. Some are also subscription-based like the security plugins so that your website features stop working if you don’t pay an ever-growing monthly expense.

Marketing and Analytics Extensions

If you want to improve your SEO or analyze how well your site is doing, that requires more plugins and extensions, and these services are almost always subscription paid. While many securely built websites have at least a few marketing and analytics features built-in, WordPress has none and each additional marketing function and analytics dashboard item may require a separate plugin to add and make use of.

eCommerce Store Plugins

Need to sell something on your website? Prepare for another suite of plugins and extensions. There are a few decent e-commerce package plugins available but again, they are not free to use. Or if they are free to try, they are not free to expand as your business grows. This adds yet another monthly fee to running your WordPress site that could have been built natively into your site instead.


Developer Time

Finally, there is the cost of developer time. The initial WordPress codebase may be free. You may even luck out on a few free useful plugins. But the effort of customizing a theme and building a stack of plugins that make your WordPress site functional and secure can take hundreds to thousands of developer hours. Want a custom theme? More developer hours. Properly configuring your security plugin settings? More developer hours. Choosing and arranging the features of your plugin-based functionality, again developer hours. Developer hours are the most costly of all WordPress expenses because these are human wages using time, expertise, and constant oversight.

WordPress offloads all of the work and hundreds to thousands in additional monthly costs, all while advertising itself as “Free”


WordPress is Not *Really* Free, But It’s Invaluable

When calculating the cost of a website, it’s important to consider every potential cost along the way. Not just the cost of the platform. The great thing about WordPress is that it provides all the tools you need to build a great website and a community/marketplace of expansions and security measures so that anyone can put together a great site. But ultimately, a WordPress site is not free. Development, security, customization, and hosting all come with their own costs.

As someone in business, you know that the old phrase “You get what you pay for” has two sides. When you purchase a custom WordPress site from an experienced developer, you know you can count on that site to perform for your brand far more reliably than a “free” site one of your interns threw together. Which is exactly why BWS is dedicated to building beautiful custom WordPress websites for each of our web development clients.

If you’d like to build a custom website from a secure codebase that already has all the features and security measures your business needs to thrive, contact us today.