Businesses often call us, here at Northwoods, for advice on budgeting for WordPress website redesigns. The callers usually have a number in mind. As likely as not, those numbers are based on misinformation and/or a lack of understanding.
Owners and managers at these businesses often believe that WordPress is free. It’s not, no matter what you read on the internet, except for very small websites with little or no business ambition. A proper WordPress website requires money for development, licenses, and hosting.
Businesses that fail to properly plan and budget for a new website usually find themselves scrambling to cut costs in the middle of the redesign, which means settling for lesser solutions. Or they end up scrapping the whole project.
Northwoods is here to help you avoid such disasters. Here is a list of items to factor into your budget. Plan your launch or redesign with full knowledge of what it takes to build and maintain an effective WordPress site.
WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com
An ongoing source of confusion is the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com. Many assume that the only distinction is the top-level domain, .com versus .org. In fact they differ radically.
WordPress.org is the “free” version of WordPress. It puts all the effort to host and maintain the platform on the site owner. This requires the owner to find a host and a domain name to even begin the build the website. This approach can veer in many different directions; absolute freedom means facing a great many tasks and endless decisions. This isn’t a job for amateurs; an experienced website developer is a must.
WordPress.com is the “managed hosting” version of WordPress. The original developer, Automattic, maintains it. The site owner enters an agreement with Automattic to host the website and maintain the platform. Automattic gives the site owner a linear patch that guides the owner through a step-by-step process to get the website up and running. Someone with little to no experience can build a WordPress.com site. Then Automattic takes care of the monthly maintenance.
What to Budget for WordPress
- WordPress.org is “free.” (Note the quotation marks, which indicate a certain level of irony.) It’s true that downloading a copy of WordPress requires zero upfront costs and no limitations on plugins.
- WordPress.com currently has three levels: Free, Starter, and Pro. They range in price from $0 to $180 per year for the first year. Additional fees cover the cost of the domain and other items. The price point determines the number of plugins and amount of server space a website can use.
WordPress.com best suits entrepreneurs and very small businesses that lack the time and/or budget to build and maintain a website. Budgeting for a WordPress.com website is easy because it charges just one annual fee.
WordPress.org is best for businesses that need the freedom to build and maintain an ever-changing website. While the software is “free,” fees attach to many other site elements. (We’ll get back to that topic later.)
Established businesses usually have domains before they build WordPress sites. Keep on top of the cost of domain renewal. Missed details can hurt; for example, make sure that the credit card on file to cover the renewal payment has not expired. We have seen businesses lose their websites for a day or longer due to expired credit cards.
New businesses must factor the cost of purchasing a new domain into their website design budget. The price varies, based on the name of the URL and competition for particular words within it. For example, bestlawyers.com, were it available, would fetch a high price compared to brucewaynelaw.com.
What to Budget for Your Domain
The price of domain renewals parallels the length of the contract. A domain renewal might be $20 if renewed annually, but only $5 dollars annually if prepaid for 10 years.
An entirely new domain can be as low as $1 or high as several thousand dollars. Most businesses can find domains in the range of $10 to $30 for the first year.
Domain Budget Recommendations
The more clever you can be with your domain, the better. Find something simple and memorable that fits your business. The domain need not be the name of your business. Think of what you do and look for domains that describe what you do.
You can choose from numerous domain name registrars, such as Name Cheap, Go Daddy, Google Domains, and Domain.com. Visit at least three to see what services and support they include with your purchase.
Unless you go with the WordPress.com host, you’ll have to find one. Tons of hosts are available for WordPress.org; their costs and services range to wild extremes.
You get what you pay for with hosting. Research prospective hosts and find answers to the following questions.
- Do they offer daily backups of your website?
- Do they allow for manual backups on top of the daily backups?
- Do they provide an easy-to-use dashboard that helps maintain your website?
- Do you receive a production, staging, and development environment?
- Are they based in the U.S. or elsewhere?
- What security guarantees do they offer?
- What type of servers do they use?
- What is the acceptable amount of downtime?
Numerous hosts offer plans with extremely low monthly fees. Predictably, they cover maybe one or two of these bullet points. You can add functions a la carte—and after lots of decisions land at a price roughly equal to that of apparently more expensive, high-service hosts.
Our advice: Spend more for a complete package. Stop worrying about hosting and focus on your business. In addition to the distractions, cheap hosts have sometimes led to expensive security problems.
What to Budget for Your WordPress Hosting
Budget a minimum of $300 per year for hosting a WordPress website.
We’ve worked with tons of hosts and have our favorites. They have in common an annual fee of about $300 per year per site. This is the sweet spot; it covers all the bullets listed above, along with local support.
Hosting Budget Recommendations
Run as fast as you can from hosts with plans that start at less than $10 per month. They only create headaches. It's important to choose a good host. We recommend WP Engine to our WordPress clients. (Full disclosure: Northwoods is a preferred vendor of WP Engine.)
WordPress comes with out-of-the box themes. You can use them to create the look and feel of a website. Their titles include the year of their release. They provide the basic features a general website needs to display content.
Most businesses need more than the provided themes. They seek a more custom theme that better fits their brand and content. Thousands of free themes are available in several marketplaces, including WordPress.org, Themeforest.net, and many more. Most themes come in free and premium versions. Some businesses can get by with a free version.
There are two inherit problems with themes:
- Themes have a design shelf life. Web designs change constantly, and developers withdraw support and move on to newer designs.
- Themes generally look “cookie cutter.” Themes limit what you can do with look and feel, which makes it hard to set yourself apart and express your brand.
Page builder tools, such as BeaverBuilder, Elementor, and Divi, offer more creative and longer term solutions. They come with a basic blank canvas theme. With a little creativity and time, businesses can craft a custom look with standardized tools. Developers of these page builders focus on optimizing and updating tools rather than complete designs.
WordPress itself is moving toward tools, with its Gutenberg content editor. Automattic has been developing block-based tools, like the page builders detailed above, to give more power to non-developers when it comes to building and maintaining a WordPress website.
What to Budget for Your WordPress Theme
A theme found in a marketplace can run from $0 to several thousand dollars depending on usage. Most single-site themes average $30 to $60.
Purchase page builders through the developer’s website. Most single-site page builder licenses ranges from $100 to $250 per year. Some offer lifetime licenses.
Theme Budget Recommendations
Page builders have higher entry cost than standard themes, but the benefits of the tools give businesses a much broader range in what they can do with their websites. Page builders are also better for businesses that want a unique digital presence.
Plugins are applications built specifically for WordPress. They add functionality beyond WordPress core programming. They are usually easy to install and cheap or very low cost. Thousands of plugins are available.
Sounds great, right? Be warned: Plugins are the most problematic part of WordPress websites.
Adding plugins creates code bloat, opens avenues for hacking, and leads to confusion for owners who need to manage their websites.
A strategy for plugins is extremely important. Sound plugin strategy simplifies future WordPress maintenance, and it can save a lot of money and headaches. Do not recklessly add plugins. Keep the number down.
Your plugin strategy:
- Only add functionality that helps the user convert. Avoid shiny-object syndrome.
- Look to plugins that do multiple things rather than install multiple plugins that do one thing each.
- Review the plugin developer and its history regarding updates. Avoid plugins that don’t have support.
- Create a quarterly review plan that analyzes the installed plugins and determines whether they are still needed.
What to Budget for Your WordPress Plugins
Plugins that have license fees are more likely to receive consistent support than free plugins. Many plugins offer a lifetime license as well as an annual license. If the plugin has a core function to your website’s functionality, it might be wise to purchase a lifetime license.
This rule of thumb works for most WordPress websites:
- Small brochure/content-only websites should have no more than 10 plugins.
- License fees can range in the $100 to $600 range.
- Medium sized sites with products or small catalogs can have up to 15 plugins.
- License fees can range from $500 to $1,000.
- Large websites with big catalogs or ecommerce can have around 20 plugins.
- License fees can range from $700 to $1,500+.
Plugin Budget Recommendations
Spend time creating a plugin strategy for your WordPress website redesign. Limit the total number of plugins required to run your website. The return on that strategy will pay off in the future when you don’t have massive headaches and developer support fees trying to keep your website secure and reliable.
WordPress Website Build Fees
Again: A WordPress redesign is definitely not free. Now that we’ve covered all the miscellaneous fees, we can discuss the actual build of the website.
Every WordPress website is unique, and every business has different needs and site functionalities. Because of that, it’s hard to be specific about fees. But we can pin down several items that can help you estimate redesign cost.
First, use common sense to select a vendor. A standard process will apply whether a website has just five pages or has a catalog with 5,000 products. That methodical process is essential. Vendors who don’t understand that, those who oversimplify costs and proposals, will be terrible to work with or, worse, uninformed. Either way, your business will suffer.
Be sure to fully vet your website developers before signing any contracts. (We published this blog to help you with that.)
Second, run a strategic review of your digital marketing. Understand how users search for your products or services. Run a competitive analysis of the digital marketplace. Jumping directly to the website redesign with no strategy and little understanding of your market will do nothing for your conversion rates. Investment in a digital marketing strategy pays off in the long run with higher quality traffic and more conversions.
Third, don’t rush the website redesign process. Your digital presence is more important than your physical office or storefront. It makes your first impression. Rushed websites with bad content or broken functionality do more harm than bad services or products, because you never have the opportunity to make things right with that customer you don’t know you lost.
What to Budget for Your WordPress Redesign Build
We’ve provided a few key things that influence the overall fees for a WordPress redesign, but ultimately, the build fee for your business website is tied to the amount of content on the site.
- Small businesses or websites with little content built on WordPress should range in fees from $5,000 to $15,000.
- Mid-sized businesses or websites that have multiple products and/or services tend to range in fees from $15,000 to $30,000.
- Large businesses or websites that have a lot of content or a large catalog of products should budget for a WordPress redesign project costing more than $30,000 just for the build.
- Enterprise sized websites that require custom development, have a massive catalog, and/or have thousands of pages of content can have a build budget over $100,000.
WordPress Redesign Build Budget Recommendations
Some vendors promote “All-in-One” packaged deals to build or redesign a WordPress website. Usually, the fees for these packages are extremely low. Be wary of these offers because every website, regardless of size, requires a standard process from build to launch. Shortcuts inevitably lead to problems.
If the price to redesign your WordPress website seems too good to be true, then it is.
Everything detailed thus far has focused on the build portion of a WordPress redesign, but you also must think beyond that. WordPress routinely updates each month, to improve functionality of the platform and to keep up with changes to browsers.
If you use WordPress.com, the ongoing maintenance is part of your fees. With WordPress.org, the ongoing maintenance is your responsibility.
As cars need oil changes, WordPress needs routine updates. You can postpone oil changes, but the delayed maintenance wears on your engine. Same goes for WordPress.
Businesses should include ongoing maintenance as part of the WordPress redesign budget. A vendor—Northwoods, for example--or internal staff can do it. But it must be done.
What to Budget for Your WordPress Ongoing Maintenance
Plan on an employee spending about two hours each month to run ongoing maintenance. Some months may require just 30 minutes; others might take three hours. It depends on the complexity of the updates.
Vendor fees can vary dramatically for ongoing maintenance. As with hosting, you get what you pay for; the amount directly correlates with the number and type of services. Run from vendors who promote “Unlimited Support” or charge less than $100 per month. They never fulfill their obligations.
The ballpark figure for effective plans ranges from $3,000 to $8,000 per year, depending on the size of the website. Vendors that charge more than $100 per hour for maintenance are more likely to provide good support than vendors who work for, say, $30 per hour. (But you knew that, right?)
Ongoing Maintenance Budget Recommendations
Be smart and take the time or pay someone to make the routine updates to your WordPress website. The return on the original build investment as well as the ongoing maintenance investment will be apparent in a website that lasts for many years.
WordPress is not free no matter what people say. The price you pay to redesign your WordPress website directly correlates to the satisfaction you will experience with the process as well as the long-term success of your website.
If you need advice or help with your WordPress website or are planning a WordPress website redesign, don't hesitate to reach out! We're happy to help and are dedicated to providing honest advice that helps our clients find the best solutions for their unique needs.