WordPress is a great content management system to get your website started and support you as your business grows. As you probably already know, WordPress is free software. This means it’s free for you to use the software, but many goods and services associated with managing a website carry their own costs. In this article, you’ll see how website costs can be budgeted, so you can make informed financial decisions.
- What Are the True WordPress Costs?
- System Costs – Hosting, Services, Security, and Support
- Personnel Costs
- Legal Costs
- Content Costs
- Maintenance Costs
- Waking Up to Website Costs
What Are the True WordPress Costs?
For more information about the WordPress organization check out WordPress.org.
What are you really going to be spending money on when it comes to growing and maintaining your website over the long term? This is the million dollar question that so often gets away from you in the initial planning phases.
Systems refers to the various technical services and concepts that you will have to consider from the start and also further out on the journey. Initially, planning out how and where your site will be hosted, how you will manage email, and other IT services are of critical importance. Later, you will need to consider scalability and long term data storage for critical assets and intellectual property. You’ll need to think whether or not you will require subject matter experts or actual employees to design, implement, and update these systems as your company grows.
Before embarking on your WordPress journey you’ll need to consider your hosting options first and foremost. Hosting will affect virtually every aspect of your site, from speed and performance to email delivery and long term viability of your site. With hosting comes a whole array of related concerns as well. We’ll touch upon all of these below.
When choosing a host for WordPress you’ll often hear the term “self-hosted” as opposed to “WordPress.com-hosted.” It’s a subtle but important difference. A self-hosted server option allows for more customization while a site hosted with WordPress.com limits some option. Nevertheless, for some users WordPress.com’s limitations are a protection against making critical system errors that can take down the site. For example, a site hosted with WordPress.com will handle all the system and software updates, while in self-hosted these are your responsibility.
The other benefit to self-hosting is that you can install other websites with alternate software. For example, if you wanted to set up a forum with phpBB, you could easily do that on your server alongside your WordPress site.
Price tag: $200/year.
WordPress.com hosting can easily cost you a few hundred a year for a base package without additional email and other features you get with self-hosting.
I would recommend not going with the base package though. If you start with a basic package, your costs are on the low end, but soon you will likely find that you want to augment the site with additional features and options like:
- Email hosting for your domain
- A custom theme, designed by a professional
- Contact forms for email marketing or user submission
Price tag: $500/year.
As always, storage concerns are considerable. But this depends on what kind of site you have. While most sites that are primarily text-based can get away with minimal storage, more image-dense sites are popular these days. For example, if your site is primarily used for blogging, it is still recommended that you provide a featured image with a post to help your readers click on that post — or at least to encourage them to click. This is easy to do with WordPress, but the more images you have the more storage (both short and long term) becomes an issue worth considering.
While it’s always best to keep your day to day resources close together in your own server, for something like backups you will want to have secure locations in a third-party space. This means you will have local backups and a secure third-party location. So in the event of a critical data loss episode, you will have the best chance of quickly obtaining a reliable backup and getting up and running as soon as possible.
Third-party services with Google or Dropbox are easy to find and won’t cost you an arm or a leg. Taking an average from a few popular data storage sites, you are looking at a reasonable monthly fee:
Price tag: $25/month.
Mail delivery is one of those essential services without which your business would not be able to move forward. Most goods and services these days are attached to your email address in some form. And so it is with your current or potential customers.
Email services come with many standard hosting accounts. However, when it comes to managing mass email, you have to make some tough decisions:
- Do you want to manage your email list yourself?
- Can your server a mass email campaign without getting blacklisted?
- How many email subscriptions do you plan on getting in one year?
- What is your budget for email services if you decided to go with a third-party service?
Transactional email, as opposed to marketing, is a separate consideration you would need to make. Marketing emails are all about the list. You have a large list of email subscribers, and you need reliable delivery options to serve all of these people. This is often worth paying extra for, because managing a mass email server is difficult even for experts.
So, for many users, hosting mass email service with a third party poses an attractive option. But, if you plan on having over a thousand email subscribers (which would be very good for your business), you might be looking at an extra big-ticket budget item:
Price tag: ~$50/month
Transactional email is different. Again, these emails are important, but they are one-off emails and not mass emails. For example, a password reset email from your WordPress site is merely transactional. An email notification triggered by a certain user action is transactional. And there are specific email services geared toward providing reliable transactional email delivery. A service like Postmark, for example, can manage transaction email, and it offers a WordPress plugin that will handle the coding side of things.
Price tag: ~$10/month
The world of website security changes every day, sometimes in big ways and small. The best thing you can do is try to stay ahead of the game and check in on your security arrangement every day. There are plenty of plugins that can help, but again, expert advice would always be helpful.
WordPress is especially focused on security because everyone is using the same code base. This can be good and bad.
When a vulnerability is discovered, the community can quickly jump on it and get it patched. Then, all you need to do is run an update in your system. But this means every WordPress website is vulnerable to this exploit until they run the update. If you didn’t get the memo, your site is a sitting duck.
While WordPress is pretty secure right out of the box, there are a few considerations you should make to improve the available arrangement.
Security hardening means, how hard is it to get into the privileged areas of your site. This is no joke. Most WordPress sites leave themselves vulnerable to brute force login attempts. This happens when a bot tries multiple password combinations to break into the admin area of a WordPress site.
Many hosts will offer basic brute force protection, but as hackers get more sophisticated every day, so too should your hardening efforts.
A basic WordPress security plugin can cost you as little as zero dollars to install and start using. But many offer premium services which you might consider down the road.
Plan to spend at least a little bit on a premium security plugin.
Price tag: ~$25-50/year.
It might seem like a stretch at this early part of the game, but what kind of staff will you require to operate the website? It’s possible that the whole website operations team will be you acting alone. But as the website grows and becomes a bigger part of your enterprise, you might need to think about expanding it.
For historical reference, recall how the COVID-19 pandemic shifted emphasis away from brick and mortar businesses and toward online services. Many businesses with physical locations quickly shifted their focus to stay afloat in this difficult time, and because of the massive IT infrastructure in the marketplace many businesses were able to stay nimble and find their way through.
IT and Support
Not sure if you want to handle it all on your own? Depending on your needs, you might need a full time IT person to handle a lot of the day-to-day system maintenance. If that’s not in your budget, I would recommend signing up for Managed Hosting, which gives you access to a systems specialist who can focus on your needs and help you run critical maintenance as needed. In this case, we are referring to personnel who would not necessarily be under your direct management or employment. This is different from the users and staff you may contract or hire directly.
User management comes at no extra cost to you, but it can cost you if you ignore the pitfalls. Only the privileged users should have access to the back end of your site. WordPress makes user management easy with default roles.
Website Development/Management Staff
For the proper development and management of a website, there are many different types of roles. But at a minimum, you would think about hiring for these positions:
- SEO specialist
- IT coordinator
The designer is responsible for the look and feel of the site, and making sure the style fits your brand. For example, let’s say you sell cupcakes. If your customers go to your site and it looks like you are in the HVAC industry, then confusion will result. A good designer will help you select the right aesthetic for your site.
Price tag: ~$1000
An SEO specialist will help make sure that the landing pages of your site conform to an organic search strategy. Is organic search the right avenue for you? Or is there a better marketing strategy for your niche? Do not sign with an SEO specialist unless they can tell you honestly that you need their services, and how they can specifically help you achieve your goals.
Price tag: ~$1500-2000.
For the IT coordinator, it’s unlikely that you will find someone willing to do a short term contract. So you might consider thinking about hiring someone on a full time yearly salary. Think about all they will be doing for you, including:
- Managing email delivery and security
- Backing up key resources
- Enforcing security standards
- Managing server updates and upgrades
- Working with managed hosting team
Price tag: a competitive yearly salary with benefits, based on location, industry, and other factors.
Proper legal accountability is another key resource that your company needs to figure out before an incident occurs. You can act as your own legal representative, but you are best advised to have a properly licensed legal team on standby for any questions you might have.
Prices depend on your location, industry, and other factors.
Believe it or not, there are people out there who read the terms. It’s best to be transparent and open about your website, how it works, how it collects data, and what it does with the data. More than that, be sure to let people know how the data is stored and what security practices and procedures are in place to safeguard that data. People are more cautious about their data these days.
Terms of Service
By engaging with your business services, your customers agree on a set of fundamental terms. What are these terms? Are both parties aware? A properly outlined document, including all of your terms of service, must be available to customers on your website, in an easy place to find, so they can review them. They may choose, as most people do, to quickly glance over them, and then sign up to do business with you. However, you must do the due diligence of making sure these terms are readily available and easy to understand.
While it may not be hyper-relevant to all businesses, the generation of high quality content comes at a high premium, because you are engaging with creative individuals. And more than that, you are contracting with individuals who must have a knowledge of your industry as well. This is a difficult combination to find.
Many content writers will work based on an hourly rate. So if you give an assignment to a writer, it’s best to make sure that you avoid any time waste possible. Have your deliverables and expectations clearly outlined, so that when you hand off the assignment you know what you’re getting. Also, you have a reference point in case you do not get what you expected.
Price tag: ~$50/hour.
Alternatively, let’s say you want to do the content writing yourself. Bear in mind, that with all of your other responsibilities, adding this one to your plate will take significant energy. Because there are already so many millions of words filling up the bulk of the Internet, and with so many companies producing content about their products, longer and more authoritative content is required to compete. You have to honestly ask yourself if you have the energy to produce that massive amount of digestible content.
All of the costs that we have discussed thus far can be considered “up front costs” or the costs that are involved in getting your website up and running. However, after your website is running you will then encounter the costs of maintenance to keep your site working at an optimum level. Maintenance can be considered the costs accrued for keeping your website operational and relevant over a period of time.
Maintenance for the hardware and the software generally falls to the hosting service that you have selected. In rarer circumstances, you or your company may be running the hardware for the site. In either case, software updates and personnel involved with observing and maintaining your website would be part of the costs of running your site. Or they may be rolled into the web hosting service that you are using.
Hardware will not last forever and will need to be routinely monitored and occasionally updated. Good software is regularly updated to improve performance, capability, and security. Some updates can often involve both hardware and software, so it is always necessary to be aware of your website, its operating condition, and its needs.
To summarize, your maintenance costs may involve:
- Hardware – the computers and networks involved in keeping your site up and running on the internet
- Software – the software for all the functionality and capability of your website. Updates are critical because they will help provide functionality, security, and performance updates.
- Personnel – website systems are operated by people who provide the monitoring, hardware/software updates, and security for your site. You may also have to employ people to keep your content up-to-date or fresh on your website.
Note that some costs can span all of those categories. For example, security can involve hardware, software, and personnel.
These maintenance considerations will depend on how you are hosting your website, how often you want/need to update your website hardware/software/content, and the people who may be involved in managing, monitoring, or updating your website content so that it remains operational and relevant to your viewers.
Maintenance is a very important part of the costs of running a website. Other possible costs may involve upgrading/changing web hosting services, renewing domain registration, renewing/replacing SSL certificates, or changing internet service providers depending on your website needs. Keep a track of all your website costs and it will help you project your maintenance costs as you operate your website over a period of time.
Waking Up to Website Costs
None of these costs and figures are meant to deter you from creating the website of your dreams, but to offer some guidelines about what to expect as your business grows. Escalating costs and requirements are part of the business process, and that’s a good problem to have, because it means your business is developing and finding success.
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