The True Cost of Building and Managing a WordPress Website

In any description of WordPress features, there’s one word you’re sure to see:

Free.

This is, of course, true. The files necessary to install WordPress on a server and run it are indeed free.

A casual content producer could even sign up at WordPress.com and run their entire website for free, never paying a dime if all they wanted were the most basic features.

But you are no casual content producer. Right?

You use WordPress like we use WordPress: as a serious business tool to drive serious revenue.

You understand — like we do — that the true cost of running WordPress is far from free.

So what is that true cost?

And how can you minimize the total cost of WordPress ownership while maximizing its potential to manage the online content that drives your business?

WordPress Total Cost of Ownership Analysis

To use WordPress as a tool for building a business online or off, it needs to be viewed not as “free blogging software”, but as a legitimate business acquisition.

A Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) analysis is a time-tested model of cost assessment for important business acquisitions that has been in use in the IT world since the early days of computers.

In IT, as with vehicles and other complex goods, total cost can vary greatly from purchase price.

There are obvious costs to consider (like purchase price and regular maintenance), but there are also other “real costs” that often get overlooked; and if a real cost will indeed follow the decision to acquire or use something, it needs to be taken into account.

Just how many real costs can there be to consider? Potentially, a lot.

What are some of the hidden costs associated with WordPress management?

  • Domain registration
  • Hosting
  • Premium theme
  • Developer fees
  • Security services
  • Storage and backups
  • Personal time

The key is to understand and assess each of these real costs and how it is impacted by different WordPress management strategies. This will allow you to make choices that will maximize the potential of WordPress for your business, while minimizing your costs along the way.

What are the different ways you can manage your WordPress-backed website?

  • WordPress.com
  • Self-Hosted
  • Managed WordPress Hosting
  • Premium Managed WordPress Hosting

Since WordPress itself is always free to acquire, let’s analyze the real costs of each of the options above.

Note: to keep this relatively simple, we’re sticking with the hidden costs as listed above. There are surely others based on individual circumstances, and the comment section of this article will be a great place to break these out.

Hosting Your Site on WordPress.com

If you run your site on WordPress.com, you receive a basic level of shared hosting free. However, to have your own domain (as opposed to yoursite.wordpress.com) it’ll cost you between $18-25 per year.

Additionally, if you choose to go with a premium theme, you’ll have to use one of the WordPress.com-only premium themes, which will run somewhere around $70 and cannot be transferred should you choose to self-host at a later date.

You won’t have to worry about any security costs because Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com will manage this for you.

In total, consider a simple TCO of roughly $95 for the first year, with a recurring charge for the domain.

Though WordPress.com is a great option for the casual content producer, you’ll be limited in configurations, themes, plugins, and other aspects of content management that could impact your ability to connect with your audience, achieve maximum SEO benefits, and commercialize your site.

The Self-Hosted Option

If you want to host your site yourself, rather than on WordPress.com, you can go to a generic hosting provider and get very “affordable” shared hosting for as little as $4.24 per month. Granted, your site will live on a massive shared server, so performance will suffer, but your site will be up and running.

Unlike WordPress.com, self-hosting your website gives you unlimited theme options. You can choose a free one from the WordPress themes repository, purchase a premium theme, or develop your own. Most serious small business owners do not find free themes to their liking for numerous reasons, and most also do not have the know how nor the capital to pay a developer for a custom theme. This makes premium themes a great choice.

Our AgentPress theme from StudioPress, for example, runs $99.95. Others can be had for $79.95. For the purposes of this analysis, a $79.95 figure seems like a reasonable splitting of the difference between a free theme and the developer costs of a custom theme.

How about security?

Fortunately there are free options like Sucuri’s WordPress monitoring plugin. However, unless you are paying for a VPS, your site will be on a shared server with scores of others. Each of these sites is a potential security risk to the server, and therefore, to you.

If you get hacked or the server goes down, there will be costs associated with downtime, the de-hacking process, and recovering lost files. And if you are not well versed in these processes, you’ll have to hire someone to help you.

You’ll also be responsible for storing your own backups. In the case of a catastrophic hacking or data loss event, these are handy to have. There is, of course, a cost associated with it though.

Just with fees for bare-minimum hosting and the price of a theme, the total cost is around $125 per year, bare minimum. Consider additional costs for security and storage, and the total cost of self-hosting a WordPress blog that will not be anywhere near high performance is easily $150 with the potential for it to be a lot more.

And, this does not figure in intangible costs like time and peace of mind.

“Regular” Managed WordPress Hosting

The next step up from self-hosting is a managed hosting provider. This allows you to “self host” but with help and guidance from people who should be able to help you manage areas you know nothing about so you can manage your business.

Rates can vary, but most small businesses can get a WP-optimized managed plan for somewhere around $50 per month. You will still be on a shared server, but in a shared environment where they tend to understand WordPress security and support much better than a generic hosting provider that does it all.

If you want to be on a dedicated VPS or run WordPress Multisite, these plans will usually not cover you, so you’ll have to bump to a next level plan that can run between $125-150 per month.

As for themes to design your site, you will still need to purchase one separately, so consider roughly $79.95 for this expenditure.

If the regular small business plan works, consider the total cost to be around $679.95 for the first year.

Premium Managed WordPress Hosting

With premium managed hosting (like what we provide here at Synthesis), access to the Genesis framework comes as part of the package.

In addition — even in the Starter plan — all security, storage, and support are included and delivered at top of the line levels. This is where the value of premium managed hosting, like what we provide here at Synthesis, really shines through.

There is immense value in having the backing of experts who’ve specialized their servers for the idiosyncrasies of hosting and securing a WordPress website. More so, there is value in having a team of people in your corner who not only know hosting but know content, promotion, and design as well.

A generic host — and even some managed hosts — may not be able to answer an intricate question about how adding a thousand 301s will impact SEO.

They might not be able to help out in diagnosing a problematic RSS feed or give recommendations on the best way to integrate a form for capturing email subscribers.

At a place like Synthesis, the support staff can and will … because we’ve all been there.

We provide expert support and proactive advice with the empathy of experience. That’s tough to quantify into a neat and tidy value for TCO purposes, but it will certainly save you time, money, and frustration. And there is no more real a cost in business than time.

But let’s get back to the numbers, because even they paint a compelling picture with a premium WordPress hosting provider.

If you only have one site, and the regular small business plan works — as in the regular managed hosting example above — the total cost of WordPress ownership in that first year is just $324, which is essentially half.

The Value of Premium Managed WordPress Hosting

There really has not been a formalized TCO study performed for WordPress. And what you see above is far from complete. This was intentional.

What we have tried to do here is simply give you a rough idea of the real costs involved with owning and running a WordPress site. What you’ll have to do to take it the next step is figure out that number associated with your personal or professional time.

For a service provider, this is easy. For every hour they spend trying to fix, de-hack, or improve their site, the costs range from $75 (developer) to $400 (attorney) per hour.

If you are a business, the costs could be greater, even if less obviously quantitative, as your reputation could be damaged if your site were hacked with pornography links or your phones stop ringing due to the site not working.

Or you might be an independent media producer who’s looking to derive more revenue from your site, and the time you spend trying to fix your site takes you away from your family … which is, of course, priceless.

What’s it all worth to you? Let us know in the comments below …

Comments

  1. I would even throw in the cost of optimizing and scaling WordPress sites to the TCO number. Well thought out article here!

    • Jerod Morris :

      Great point Matt. There are a number of additional costs that could be included in any truly accurate true cost of ownership calculation. What is most important is that each person assess their own situation to see which of the options provides the best long-term TCO given whatever the relevant time frame is.

  2. Speed and security are to huge factors if you plan on running a site that gets a significant amount of traffic. As soon as I signed up for Synthesis, the speed of my site changed immediately.

  3. The link to the total cost analysis is broken

    • Jerod Morris :

      You are correct. It was working before, but it looks like they are having some kind of server issue. I changed it to another one. (Maybe they should be on Synthesis!)

  4. While there is a cost of going cheap, I feel that there is something to be said for being DIY. I like knowing how things are happening on my server and it has been an interesting experience starting to rebuild my sites from the ground level of an unmanaged VPS to writing themeing and plugins on the WordPress platform.
    Eventually I may want to go managed premium hosting, but for now I wouldn’t trade learning this stuff for anything. Although it would be cool to have someone besides Google to ask questions.

  5. Jerod – is WP best if I’m going to start a site that is just focused on e-commerce? (i.e. listing many products and prices and limited ‘content’ writing). Thanks!

    • Jerod Morris :

      Michael, my default answer for everything is going to be that WordPress is the best. :-) Truth be told, I don’t have much personal experience doing e-commerce outside of WordPress, but I have had great success (through clients) with ecommerce through WordPress. There are a number of themes and plugins that provide great ecommerce functionality.

  6. How easy is it to move a blog from wordpress.com onto synthesis? Forgetting about the cost of it.

    • Thanks for the visit and question! In 95% of cases, it is extremely easy. And we provide migration instructions that you can follow, or we are happy to assist in the migration as well. Every now and then there is a bit of hangup because of the person’s previous server, but it can always get figured out. If it wasn’t easy, so many people wouldn’t be coming over! We designed it that way.

  7. The value that comes with paying more for peace and reliabilty is really enticing. Actually every blog owner should strive to find a host who helps themsave time they spend tweaking their site and worrying about security issues and unexpected downtimes.

    It is always a nightmare, when you schedule a few posts thinking your site is just fine only to wake up early in the morning and find that something has gone terribbly wrong. That could mess your morning. That could mess with your plans.

    So paying more (sort of like outsourcing) to the right people (with the best solutions) should be a thing all blog owners should think of…a lot – and yes take necessary action.

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