50 Shades Of WordPress: How Much Does A WordPress Site Cost?

50 Shades Of WordPress: How Much Does A WordPress Site Cost?

This post has been reprinted with permission in Spanish. You can read it here.

Bloggers know WordPress as the premier blogging tool. All businesses, however, should know that WordPress has evolved beyond just blogging. It has become a feature rich, intuitive and easy to use tool that is both blogging platform and website content management system rolled up into one.

Despite being free to download, the power under the hood of WordPress allows it to publish content delivered by companies such as TechCrunch, Coca Cola, Sony, and the New York Times. The magic of WordPress is that all of that power can be utilized even by the Little Guy without a fleet of human resources or a multi million dollar budget.

The biggest misconception of WordPress among small businesses is that because the software itself is free, the cost of planning, building and launching a site must also be free, or close to it.

The second misconception is that since WordPress has a simple interface no skill or experience is necessary to build a fully functional site that is viable from a marketing standpoint.

The natural question then is, “How much will a WordPress site cost me?”

That’s what we are going to explore.

My Pricing Approach

Before we get started on a discussion about pricing, I want to create some context. There are a lot of factors that impact price so proposals you receive may deviate from what I describe here depending on a variety of variables such as the experience of the developer, size of the agency, location, etc.

Your business should only accept a proposal if you feel comfortable that the developer you are dealing with understands your business. That means that you should never ask for a price blindly without first having a conversation with a developer about your business needs.

To make things clean, I have eliminated the day trippers – the people that aren’t experienced developers, but claim to be. My thoughts focus solely on people, agencies and organizations that I feel are competent in WordPress development.

I have organized WordPress sites into three types. Each type is progressively more complex and has a higher price tag.

At the end of this article, I’ll annotate some “extras” that will affect price regardless of the type of site.

Let’s begin.

Type A: The Out Of The Box Site

According to the WordPress documentation, WordPress can be installed in 5 minutes. This is an exaggeration. WordPress can easily be installed in less than 5 minutes. This is the essential component of all of the types and should never be a factor for price. No developer should ever attempt to charge you for lengthy or complex installations.

Aside from the WordPress installation, Type A sites consist of a bare bones site with very little modification beyond intallation of a standard theme.

A theme is a pre-packaged framework that gives the site its layout, design and structure. Whenever a developer is talking about the site’s layout or design, they are generally talking about the theme. There are countless themes available for free and many more available for a small fee ranging from around $20 to $50. Premium high end themes can be more expensive, but rarely exceed $100.

Almost all themes come with rudimentary features that allow for the basics such as uploading a logo, adjusting colors, creating pages and structuring navigation menus. The Type A site is all about production speed. Developers who focus on publishing sites in heavy volume typically focus on this type because they can be started and completed in the least amount of time.

Type A is the very definition of no frills which is what makes it the least expensive type of site.

If you are looking at this type for budgetary reasons, make sure that you review themes available to you and work with your developer to pick a theme that works for your business needs. Never let the developer pick a theme in the absence of any input from you because they may opt to pick a theme based on what is cheapest, most familiar or most aesthetically pleasing, not necessarily based on your needs.

One of the consequences of the Type A site is a limited set of revisions. Once you agree on a set of parameters with your developer, they may make a few tweaks, but won’t go through multiple revision cycles or offer customization beyond the built-in features of the theme. If the theme offers a choice between a red background and a blue background, you won’t get a green background.

Fair warning. Many businesses opt for the Type A site with the intention of making revision after revision until the developer gets it “perfect.” That’s not what the developer has agreed to. The developer has agreed to a basic site at the low end of the cost spectrum and that’s what they’ll deliver. If you want the developer to spend lots of time fine tuning and finessing your site for the Type A price, you will be disappointed. Also, there is a nuance about licensing themes that you should be aware of. If your developer owns a license to the theme that is used on your site, you may not be entitled to future updates. Future updates may consist of fixes, new features or security patches. It is important that if your site is built on a premium theme that you own the theme so that you are perpetually entitled to any upgrades or enhancements.

Type B: The Customized Site

Type B sites expand on Type A sites in that you receive far more customizations and revisions.

The developer will spend more time with you crafting a site that is hyper tuned to meet your business needs. Type B may have a designer attached to design and implement custom designs and programming may be done to go beyond the limitations of the theme.

All themes can be extended beyond their intended purpose. This is part of the power of WordPress. If you determine that a particular theme is 95% perfect, a good developer can write code to fill in the remaining 5%.

Type B sites may also have integrations with third party tools to expand the functionality of the site or add features that do not exist in WordPress or in the theme by default. These tools are known as plugins.

While the Type A site may include some basic plugins as part of the project, Type B will integrate plugins that require additional configuration and expertise.

During the process of building a Type B site, you’ll be able to make additional revisions and perhaps even some last minute changes to the original scope. You’ll have more flexibility and hand holding, but those benefits come with additional cost.

While the developer of the Type B site wants to complete the site within a reasonable amount of time, speed is not essential, quality is.

Fair Warning. The developer of the Type B site will probably give you leeway on revisions, but you will not get infinite access to their production team. At some point, if your demands become unreasonable, you may find the developer holding you to the letter of the contracted terms.

Type C: The Custom Site

If there are no themes that fit your business needs, if there are no plugins that fit your business needs and if you have very specific design and content needs, you may need a custom WordPress site. We’ve discussed using available themes, but themes can also be built from scratch.

The Type C site is rare and is difficult to estimate because the needs of every business that requires a Type C site are different. The Type C site may have a very specific design and layout specifications that incorporate animation, video or other interactivity. It may connect to sophisticated back end systems for customer relations or e-commerce.

Essentially, the Type C site is specifically customized for your business needs and is essentially useless for any other business. This type will typically come with the most flexibility, the highest level of custom design and attention to detail and the highest price tag. You can quite literally have your developer build a site that matches your imagination.

Fair warning. There is no warning here. If you are willing to pay, your developer will do everything and anything you need.

The Extras

Aside from the options I’ve discussed, there are some variables that can affect the cost of each type of site.

Planning & Consulting. If your business just doesn’t know what it wants or if you have infighting that is pulling the business in different directions, you may need to precede your website project with a planning project. Your developer can help you make sense out of how to use the web to meet your needs and then give you an execution plan.

Photography. I just don’t get stock photography. You can buy a beautiful stock photo for less than $20. Or buy a mediocre photo for $2,000. The pricing is all over the place. But that not withstanding, quality stock photos will cost you something. Alternatively, if you have a specialized need, you may need to hire a photographer. That cost can sometimes double your website expense depending on the photographer and photo shoot.

Art & graphic design. Art of any kind is subjective. If you want to add custom artwork or design that goes beyond the project type or if you want to bring your own designer into the mix, that will typically push the cost up. If your developer has an in-house designer and you request to use yours, the developer may adjust his fee to accommodate for dealing with an outside entity that they have no established process with.

Third party integration. If you need your site to connect and interact with your in-house super duper custom mainframe server thingy, that’s gonna cost ya. Integrations are delicate matters and not for the weak willed. The first thing you’ll need to make sure of is that an integration is even possible.

Developing content. Developing content is hard and someone has to do it. If you are going to do it in-house, it might save you money, but it’s going to chew into someone’s time. Good content may require an external copywriter.

Post Launch Costs

Of course, once your site is off the ground, there are costs associated with keeping it running and healthy.

Software maintenance. WordPress is software that needs to be updated and maintained periodically. Themes and plugins also need to be updated and maintained. Sometimes updating one will create a problem with another. You should have someone who knows what they are doing monitoring and updating your software.

Analysis & metrics. Measuring your traffic and site health is essential for future planning. If you spend time and money building a section on your site that no one visits, you need to determine whether your content is bad or just unnecessary.

Amplification. Publishing a site doesn’t mean people will come to it. You need to develop a strategy to promote your site using search and social to get your site in front of the people who can become your customers.

Price Ranges

Type A – Expect to pay roughly $1,000 dollars (American).

Type B – Expect to pay somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000.

Type C – It depends on the project, but I would suggest budgeting at least $10,000.

A Final Note

Pricing is a very difficult conversation. You can give two different developers the same parameters and receive two wildly different costs. It’s important for your business to understand why the costs are different and what approach each developer is envisioning. While it may not be clear why the costs are different what should be clear is that each developer relies on the spectrum of their experience to build a site. Measure that when making a decision.

Let me know in the comments if you have additional questions or if I can help in any way.

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Ralph M. Rivera
Hi, I'm Ralph! I'm a web developer and founder of Rahvalor Interactive, a creative marketing services company based in Holmdel, New Jersey. I founded Rahvalor in 1999 with my wife and business partner Carol Lynn, and in January 2012 we created Web.Search.Social as a branded service offering that brings enterprise-level services to small businesses in an affordable way. My primary role is programming and development, and with 25 solid years of marketing experience behind me, I write, consult and develop strategy for our customers. I'm also the CTO of Triberr and I teach web development at Manhattan College in New York City. Carol Lynn and I live near the coast in central New Jersey, less than an hour from the place of my birth – the island of Manhattan. We are at the constant beck and call of Ash, our 17-year-old American Shorthair cat. I'm also trying to build a flux capacitor, but that's not going as well as the other stuff I do.
Ralph M. Rivera
Ralph M. Rivera
  • Great breakdown, Ralph. I’ll be using this next time clients ask me about WordPress sites.

  • The breakdown is really helpful. Good job on that and for covering most of the situations.

  • Nice Post. Though i’m a newbie to WordPress this post helped me on understanding more about charges and payment breakdowns :)

  • Thanks. If you want some thoughts on your site, connect with me on Facebook and I’ll share a critique.

  • mensmaximus

    Well written Ralph. Your article hits the mark.

    • Thanks very much for visiting and reading. I appreciate the kind words.

  • Good breakdown Ralph.

    “The biggest misconception of WordPress among small businesses is that because the software itself is free, the cost of planning, building and launching a site must also be free, or close to it.”

    How true is that – or because a WordPress theme is only $45 that’s all the site will cost.

    Throw in SEO and a good number of pages and the cost of that site really does start to rise.

  • I want to buy this article from you! This is my new favorite article. You get a gold star. It does an amazing job of closing the communication gap between business owner’s and developer’s. Every day, three times a day, as I’m bidding jobs, I think of what I am going to say, and the best way to say it in a sales call. You have written the script! . Great job Ralph.

    • You can have it for one biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiilion dollars! LOL

      Thanks for the kind words. This article started as a rant and then settled into something more rationale. I appreciate your support here and on Google Plus.

  • I agree with Jason. Crushed it. Google needs to stick this at #1 for “how much does a WordPress website cost” whether you’ve optimized for that phrase or not. One thing I’ll add when talking to developers for Type B & C is to get an understanding of their plugin support, and the licenses for the premium plugins being installed on your site. Plugin security and support is key, and usually one of the points of failure for most sites.

    Didn’t you also write an article here about hosting? This goes hand in hand with it.

  • Hi I am freelance and really creating a website, it is difficult to know how much to charge my clients, Greetings

  • This is a great article Ralph, I hope you’ll get floods of visitors, I know I shared it :). Thanks for educating people about pricing, unfortunately it’s tedious to explain this exact stuff to each and every client, I’ll just point them to this article next time haha :)

    • Thanks, Mark. I appreciate the shares. Pricing is where things usually fall apart with developers and prospects. Because prospects have less to spend in this economy and developers are competing with an artificially low market, the discussion becomes less about quality.

  • This should be required reading for people wanting a WordPress site. All the hype of the “free” angle and “5 minute install” and “free themes” and everything else just makes potential clients think these sites are cheap to develop.

    • The same logic applies to Facebook. Lots of business can’t wrap their heads around hiring a social media professional because the cost of the platform is free. Good observations. Thanks.

  • Eric Ayache

    Thank you Ralph!!! Great article! Can you update this to include responsive wordpress design? My pricing structure is almost exactly what you have here but I would love to send this article to people who should consider responsive.

    • Lucian

      For RWD typically costs 30% – 40% more depending on complexity.

    • Actually, we don’t do any non responsive site any more so I made the assumption that the above all applied to response construction. But I wasn’t very clear. I’ll need to update the article. Thanks for the good catch.

    • To clarify – was assuming that a selected theme would be responsive. Not that a site would be built from scratch responsive. That would certainly fall into the custom type.

  • Web and IT Studio

    Fascinating article, Ralph, I really enjoyed reading it. I needed to write something along these lines but I just need to refer customers to yours instead. Cheers. Just one question. How do you deal with the cost of themes and plugins? I mean, do you itemise these in the invoice or quietly add the costs into the whole price? Garry

    • I’m assuming you are talking about premium plugins and themes.

      Typically, if we own a developer license to a theme or plugin and the customer hosts their site with us, they inherit the benefit at no cost. If they choose to host their site elsewhere, they may do so, but if they want future updates, they would need to purchase a license.

      If the site requires a plugin or theme that we do not have a developer license for then we will either consider purchasing one or pass the cost to the client.

      Don’t forget that every license has it’s own nuances o check them first before you make any commitments.

  • Excellent article, I will be bookmarking this post and sending my friends to it.

    One other cost I’d like add is the time dedicated to a website development project or time spent learning about managing a website. That’s one thing you can’t completely outsource :)

  • Good article. Another factor is training. We only create web sites in the C category and we always provide a customized user guide and phone-based training.

  • Jake Knight

    Great article, with one point of contention… While the core WordPress site can be installed sub-5 minutes, a good developer will (and should) install a handful of plugins in conjunction with the core files. These could include additional security, backup capabilities, SEO, and a few other developer-prefered plugins. Some of these can have a bit of fine tuning for each site, so even with an Option A, don’t be surprised to find set up related fees on your invoice.

  • Thank you for writing this article so I don’t have to; I can send prospective clients the link to your post instead.

    Working in vacuum, as I and many other freelancers do, it’s a pleasant surprise to read that someone else’s thoughts and experience match mine. It makes me feel slightly less crazy. I especially liked your comment about “if your demands become unreasonable, you may find the developer holding you to the letter of the contracted terms.” YES!!

    My favorite projects are the ones during which I never have to refer back to the contract except to make sure I’ve covered the entire scope, but every once in a while, a client needs to be reminded that there actually IS a scope, and they agreed to it. This is a fantastic post from beginning to end.

  • So impressed with this article, I feel like I’ve written it a dozen times in my head over the last year with varying titles including ‘when good projects go bad’ and ‘plan your site, get it done right’. But here it is, nicely articulated and educational. Kudos.

  • Christine

    Amazing article. Love, love, love it.

  • Hi Ralph, another fantastic article, thanks! This goes really well with the “What should a Website cost” that Carol wrote a while back. But, honestly, you end up making spend loads of time thinking. I may have to bill you for this time. My usually hourly rate is $300/hr. Hope you don’t mind… 😉

    Anyway, here are my thoughts (probably going to end up a long one- sorry!)

    The majority of websites that I build tend to fall in the “C” category since I build the themes from scratch (using the fantastic Roots framework- have you come across that before?). We’re looking at offering a cheaper package and we’ve used WooTheme’s Canvas framework before, but that probably still falls in the “C” category because it requires a lot of customization.

    You mention that:

    No developer should ever attempt to charge you for lengthy or complex installations.

    is that purely for a “A” type website? The reason I ask is because I’m moving towards a slightly more complex but robust development process where the client gets a production site and a staging site. This allows us to test changes (new plugins, content etc) on the staging site before it gets pushed to the production site. I’ll also have a development site on my computer. That means 3 WordPress installations. There are also security considerations and possibly editing the wp-config.php file. It’s likely that none of this is going to be in the “A” type website cost bracket but just because the standard WP install takes less than 5 minutes doesn’t mean that that will always be the case. Interested in your thoughts here.

    Just to clarify, I assume a “B” type website is going to use an “off the shelf” theme (either free or premium) but that you’re tweaking it?

    Your price ranges look good, although I was unsurprised to see that we’re definitely undercharging for our type C websites. Pricing is always hard and it’s something I am constantly looking at.

    As for the post website charges, we tend to break that down into 3:
    Managed Hosting – We host all our clients’ websites and fully manage them. This includes managing email, databases, domain names and the website. Also backups on a daily/weekly/monthly basis

    WordPress Site Management – As you say, it’s important to keep the WordPress installation up to date. This means updating plugins, themes and other files. We also check regularly for security and manage Google Analytics, Webmaster tools and more.

    Website Maintenance – Optional, but we (like you) can update the website on behalf of the client. This could include adding/editing/deleting content, simple image manipulation, adding new pages, support/training.

    There are some additional items such as SSL certs (where needed), hosting extras (premium email like Exchange or Google Apps), premium plugins, domain name renewal, content delivery networks and more.

    Sorry to have rambled on!

  • Hey Ralph,
    Great post. I think you laid everything out there in a clear and helpful way. I thought your post would be of value to our blog readers, so I included it in our roundup of March’s best Magento, ExpressionEngine, and WordPress content. http://blog.nexcess.net/2014/04/08/marchs-roundup-of-the-best-expressionengine-wordpress-and-magento-content/ Thanks again for the informative and helpful post.

    Ben

  • beattitudes66

    Excellent Post ! sharing it on my networks and bookmarking the site….

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  • amy

    Ralph you rock!!

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