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How Much Does Free Really Cost? Realistic New WordPress Website Expense Planning

All too often, much to their inevitable detriment, those new to websites often make choices based on price. I get that. Most are not aware of what things should cost to determine if something costs too much.

You have a budget, so if you can cut corners, why not? I get that too. However, to automatically gravitate to the least expensive is not always wise.

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

When it comes to online success, with free you get what you pay for.

Most free services offer little to no support. Well, at least not the fast, reliable support you can depend on if need be. There are a few exceptions, but I can count those on the one hand. Believe me, and I’ve learned the hard way too! Before I can recommend anything to my clients, I use it for my websites first. Talk about taking risks and baptism by fire!

Some of my product choices were epic fails. I used them on my sites only to regret doing so in the end. The good news is that by going through that process, I can confidently tell clients what services are worth what they charge. And, more importantly, why.

So what should a new WordPress website cost?

WordPress Website Budget Expense Planning

It depends on what you want to do and how much you want to do yourself. It is that simple. Do you want customized features, layouts, functionality? How many professionals will you need to rely on? Are you doing eCommerce or not?

Most new business owners have no problem planning for the staples of phones, business cards, internet, utilities, supplies, and inventory. However, many are unaware of all the new online-related expenses that often take them by surprise. In some cases, it is those costs that they jump to get for free. Others throw money at services they don’t need, which can add up over time.

To help you out, I’ll cover the info you need to consider and be aware of before you spend a single penny of your hard-earned dollars. In addition, we’ll get a handle on the fees and expenses that will go along with your new website project.

A Great Domain Name

You want a dot com if possible. That is what is seared in onliners’ brains. I know there are all those other very cool extensions now available. Still, suppose you buy a less popular top-level domain, and someone else owns the .com. In that case, you risk potential visitors inadvertently remembering/reverting to the .com version and going to a potential competitor’s site! For this reason, you want to avoid using a .net, .org, .biz, .info, or other top-level domain unless you can also own the dot com.

Using any other domain extension means you’ll have to work all that much harder to make sure you’re dot whatever is where people will know to go. So here are some domain registration tips for your consideration.

Get creative, use your personality, be memorable! If you can’t get the domain you want, and it is not currently live on a website, maybe you can make an offer to purchase it from the current owner. But be prepared — good domains do not come cheap!

BUDGET: Starting at $9.00/annually to purchase an unregistered domain.

Website Hosting

You want to be sure to host with a company that will accommodate you as your site grows. Regardless of price, support is crucial! What happens if your site or server is throwing errors? Do you have to be on hold for an hour? When you do get a support tech, are they courteous and knowledgeable? Believe it or not, that isn’t a given!

Is there live chat available? What about support tickets? Do you get templated responses or responses to your specific concerns? That is when/if you ever do get a response!

When investigating website hosts, you should not decide on price alone. Instead, take the time to review the product offerings and online reviews to ensure that you will have access to the features you need. Don’t know what you need? Partner with a professional to guide you.

Be cautious of review websites. Many of these so-called review sites are affiliate sites that make money when you click through. They have no motive to give you the truth and have often never even used the products they are “reviewing.”

If you use WordPress, you’ll want to host on some level of Managed WordPress hosting. Managed WordPress hosting offers the configuration, resources, and security having a WordPress website requires. It’s a little more costly but well worth it, especially if you are not a techie. [Here’s who I use and recommend.] Did I mention support is crucial?

BUDGET: Starting $35.00 and up/month. With many hosting companies, you can get a special intro price or a couple of months free by paying annually.

Security: SSL Certificates

SSL Encryption (HTTPS) is now standard and customary. The fear of identity theft and hacking in the news every other day behooves you to have SSL. SSL will protect the data between your visitors’ browsers and your website. In addition, SSL will provide that all-important green lock icon many visitors are now looking for.

As a bonus, your HTTPS site may even get a boost in search engine results if everything is equal. In addition, many payment providers also require HTTPS connections to use their services. Whether you are doing eCom or not, you’ll need to get an SSL Certificate in place and include that in your budget.

The website hosting market now includes SSL as an included website hosting feature at no extra cost. Many hosts already have basic domain-level SSLs, which most sites need, while others still charge a fee.

There are several levels of SSL depending on how many domains you want to secure and what level of enhanced trust in your security, identity, and warranty you want to provide.

BUDGET: Included in Hosting to $650/annually

Premium WordPress Themes

Choosing the platform for your site is a personal choice based on your experience and technical ability. Are you a DIYer or more comfortable with a developer creating and maintaining your site? The former is much less expensive than the latter. The beauty of software like WordPress is that you no longer need a custom design and the cost of having a professional and polished presentation.

Based on your platform of choice, mine being WordPress, you can choose from many premium themes. Themes are established designs that you pretty much have to fill in with your logo and content. You can layout your information based on designated spaces — or widgets. You can see the premium theme companies I choose to work with here.

Yes, there are free visually appealing themes available. But back to that support question.

  • What happens when WordPress updates?
  • Does the theme owner jump on that if need be to make their theme compatible?
  • What about a year from now?
  • You’ve got your site exactly the way you want it, and technology evolves, and your theme doesn’t?

Getting a new look every year so is not a bad idea to keep up with current trends. However, you’d rather do so on your terms instead of having to replace a broken theme in a panic.

WordPress is popular because it can manage your site content and layout without being tied to or relying on a programmer/developer. In addition, if you decide on WordPress, you can purchase a quality premium theme for much less than what a custom website design would cost.

The key is knowing how you want your website to look and how you want to prioritize your content. Here’s my article on what to consider when choosing a premium WordPress theme. Themes offer live demos that you can go through page by page to envision how your content will display before purchasing. Take the time to go through theme demos carefully before making your decision. It is time well spent!

The demo will show you what goes where. You’ll need to provide graphics/photos in the designated sizes and the content to fill your site once you start customizing an established theme that requires a programmer and can get expensive fast! So taking the time to make the right choice will save you time and money.

BUDGET: $20-$150 per theme. Some theme companies offer support for a limited period after purchase. However, when that time frame expires, you will have to subscribe to get additional help. Check out available support or membership packages before making your purchase so you know if you need to include extended support in your budget.

Custom Development / Coding / Coaching

Maybe you want someone to do all the initial setup for you, then take it from there. Or, there may be times where you need a professional developer or coder to tweak or add features to your site.

Some need a little help learning how to integrate a plugin, feature, or strategy. A WordPress coach can be a lifesaver. When hiring additional professionals, make sure you detail what you need and that the terms of your partnership are clear and provided to you in writing.

BUDGET: $50-$250/hour

Security, Optimization and Maintenance

Having a WordPress website mandates that you keep the site secure, backed up, and updated as required. Not doing so opens your site up to malware and hacking. Check out my White Glove Support Plans to get an idea of what is involved in after-launch requirements.

BUDGET: $99 and up/hour

Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Does your startup need a Content Delivery Network? Probably not right out of the gate but as your traffic grows and increases, you may want to plan on adding a CDN service for “next level” optimization. A CDN is especially beneficial if you are doing business globally.

CDNs cache your site and then serve it up through the node on the network closest to the visitor to your site. Cost depends on the amount of traffic your website receives and any additional features you may need (SSL, region reach, security, mobile). Some hosts even include CDN services in their packages. Just make sure that your host makes integrating a CDN easy to do and an available option.

BUDGET: Included in Hosting to $300/month

Email Expenses

You want, no you need, to use your domain name for email ([email protected]domain.com) so that you can brand your new enterprise with every single email that you send. Some hosting services include domain email hosting, while others do not. If your hosting provider does not offer email hosting (I prefer keeping things separate), there are several service providers to choose from.

I’m of the camp that I don’t want all my eggs in one basket. If your website server is down, so is your email. However, if you have a separate email service and there are hosting problems, you can still communicate with customers and important contacts. That is why it is best to keep the two services separate for this reason alone!

BUDGET: $4.95 and up/month

Email Marketing Services

Collecting email addresses, managing subscriptions, and unsubscribe requests while creating great-looking newsletters can be tedious and time-consuming. Not to mention making sure you comply with applicable laws and regulations. Third-party services will not only help you with your email marketing efforts; you’ll look professional in the process!

Some providers offer free accounts but are limited in features, support, and the number of subscribers and emails you can send. So read the fine print!

BUDGET: Free to $200/month

eCommerce Expenses

You can easily add an eCommerce shop to your WordPress website by purchasing separate plugins and extensions. I use WooCommerce, which currently has 3,000,000+ active installs. Some plugins or extensions operate in concert with Woo for anything you want to do.

Detailed planning regarding how you want your shop to operate is imperative. I work on many WooCommerce WordPress sites, and it is not uncommon to have anywhere from 5 to 15 plugins related to eCommerce.

Examples where you may want to add a plugin or extension:

  • payment gateway integration
  • add a points and rewards program
  • customer management
  • order status management
  • newsletter integration
  • shipment tracking
  • product add-ons/variable integration

You can check out the WordPress Plugin Repository for all the available plugins. Some are free, while others are what is called “freemium.” Freemium plugins offer more functionality and support for an upgraded license fee. Review each plugin carefully to determine if the free plugin is enough. Then you can budget accordingly for the “pro” version upgrade.

BUDGET: Free to $249/annually

Credit Card Processing

Payment processors charge monthly and per-transaction fees. Fees vary significantly across providers, and you have to do your due diligence to determine what company works best for you. Do the math.

BUDGET: Average 2.9% plus .30 cents per transaction. 3.9% International payments. $5-30/monthly. Note: PayPal just increased their rates. Let’s see if other providers follow suit—Double-check for current rates.

Marketing and Networking

The reality is your new website will not rank on search engines for some time. It will be pretty much invisible without your aggressive efforts to get it “out there.” Many sites will not ever make it to the coveted top page. Besides utilizing social media and word of mouth, the fastest way to get exposure is to purchase advertising on Google, Bing, and Facebook.

But that can get expensive fast!

The amount you will pay per click is based on how competitive the term(s) are. The more competitive, the higher the cost. For example, some as high as $55 per click for the word “insurance.” (Forget about ever ranking for one-word terms.)

Pay Per Click advertising allows you to set your monthly budget. Then, the ads stop until your next billing date, when your ad budget is used.

BUDGET: $100-200/month to start.

Social Media Management

After you get all your social media header and profile graphics in place to ensure a consistent brand image, there are many social media management tools to choose from. Each will offer a package based on the number of administrators and the tasks you want to track and automate. Cost is determined by the number of social accounts, users, and features.

BUDGET: Graphic Creation: $200-500, Software: $10 – $200/month

Realistic Planning Leads to Success

Now you have a solid idea of what you will need to budget to launch your online startup website. Of course, your mileage will vary based on your products, the competitiveness of your market, and the services and providers you choose. However, you can count on that getting your budget in place for your new business venture before you dive in helps increase your potential for success!

At your service,

WordPress Consultant Judith