Why WordPress Isn’t Really Free

We have never seen an outstanding website that was truly built for free. There are costs involved in running a successful website, no matter what platform you choose. Some costs of a WordPress website are avoidable, depending on your type of site and your skill set. Others are inevitable and unavoidable.

WordPress boasts “Beautiful designs, powerful features, and the freedom to build anything you want. WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time.”

But is WordPress really free?

In short, no. Here we break down some of the costs you will face building and maintaining a website on the WordPress platform.

The focus of our business is on developing and troubleshooting websites based on the open source version of WordPress found at wordpress.org. Many of these tips still apply if you are running a website on wordpress.com. For more between the two platforms, check out WP Beginner’s Primer.

Hosting

If you want your website to be accessible to everyone via the internet, you need website hosting. There is no way around it. The question is who covers the cost.

On wordpress.com, your fee covers hosting. If you use their free plan, then you are essentially bartering your hosting with allowing WordPress to put ads on your website. However, if you are using self-hosted WordPress downloaded from wordpress.org then you need to find a host yourself!

The cost of website hosting will varies wildly based on the type of plan you have and your provider.

Read More: Choosing a Hosting Company

Domain

A domain name, or URL, is the address your website can be found at. Technically, it is the recognizable name of your website, which in reality is a numerical IP address. Without a domain, your site is located at something like 123.456.789.123/~mysite. Instead, you probably have something like http://www.yoursite.com, which is much easier to remember and better for branding.

WordPress.com users can use their customdomain.wordpress.com for free, but this is bad for SEO and doesn’t look very professional.

the domain is one of several costs of a wordpress website

Any self-hosted WordPress user needs to register their own domain. The cost of registering a domain depends on the type and how long you reserve it for at once (1-10 years). Typically ccTLD’s like .co.il cost a little bit more than standard ones like.com. But then there are newer Top Level Domains (TLDs) like .co, which typically are cheaper than .com. Additionally, there is an extra fee for hiding your personal details from the public domain name lookup. All in all, the fees run between 10 to 100 NIS a year.

In some cases, a business may choose to purchase multiple domains, either for different language versions of their website, or for branding. For example, The New York Times lives at newyorktimes.com and nytimes.com.

Premium Themes

Every WordPress website runs off of a theme, which among other things dictates its layout, style and function. There is a tremendous variety of free WordPress themes out in the wild. But unless you are a programmer or have very simple needs, the free templates don’t usually provide sufficient customization or built-in features.

Most premium themes cost between $30 – $60, and that fee may or may not include support from the theme author, or that support may be time limited.

Premium themes come with their drawbacks too. Many of them contain more fancy features than the average user will ever use. All of that extra unnecessary code makes the theme more confusing to work with. Not to mention, all the features can get distracting, if not dizzying, when trying to perform simple style changes.

Consequently, many website owners choose a custom theme designed with the help of a designer or programmer. A qualified programmer develops only the features that are needed and follow a style that fits the company’s brand. The two largest downsides to a custom theme are the cost, which can easily reach thousands of shekels, and being tied to the developer. If the custom theme is not well documented, it may be difficult for any other programmer to perform further updates in the future.

Premium Plugins

As of the publication of this post there are more than 55,000 plugins listed in the WordPress.org repository alone. This doesn’t take into account countless others provided by third-party websites. Plugins can add features such as contact forms, security, the ability to turn your site into an e-commerce store, and much much more.

Rather than being divided into “free” and “paid” like themes, plugins tend to follow the “freemium” model of offering a limited number of features for free and a fuller version for a fee.

As an example, many WordPress users are familiar with the Yoast SEO plugin, which adds functions that make it easier for search engine bots to crawl and index a website. The features in the free version of the plugin are powerful, but limited. The premium version of the plugin allows for additional features, such as an internal linking tool and targeting multiple keywords per page or post, instead of one.

Even WordPress’s own spam filter Akismet charges a fee for commercial users. WordPress is spam central. Without a filter you are certain to get flooded with spam.

Troubleshooting and Support

A huge community of people back wordpress.org and provide an incredible amount of free support. But at the end of the day if you are stuck trying to get your theme to work or baffled by an error message, support forums and Google searches do have their limitations. As a result, many WordPress users need to hire a professional to help with their site from time to time or on an ongoing basis. A person familiar with WordPress can help diagnose the cause of error messages, fix bugs and make recommendations to help improve the security of a WordPress website.

SSL Certificate

A SSL Certificate ensures that information sent over the internet is both encrypted, meaning turned into code decipherable only by a certified party, and verified that it goes to the intended recipient. This is particularly important for e-commerce sites handling sensitive data like credit card information and addresses. But any website collecting data should consider a SSL certificate in order to protect it.

Therefore, a SSL certificate is quickly becoming an expected standard. In fact, you already may have seen your browser mark some website’s as “not secure” if they don’t have one installed.  Furthermore, recent research by HubSpot shows that “up to 85% of people will not continue browsing if a site is not secure.”

You can purchase a SSL certificate from third-party providers such as Symantec, Comodo and GlobalSign. Some hosting providers such as Go Daddy also offer their own (and may not let you install certificates from third parties). The cost can range anything from $9 to $700 per year, depending on the level of security offered.

Domain Validated (DV) SSLs are the most basic kind and therefore the cheapest. They are issued and installed in a matter of minutes, as they only verify domain ownership.

Organization Validated (OV) SSLs validate an organization’s name in addition to their ownership of a given domain. This ensures users that they are in fact visiting the official business or organization website they think they are. These usually take a couple of days to issue.

An Extended Validation (EV) SSL is the strongest type of SSL certificate and verifies that domain ownership and business details more thoroughly. It displays green in the address bar and takes a few days to vet. These are the types of certificates that financial institutions use for example. These more extensive certificates ensure that the website owner passes a thorough and globally standardized identity verification.

Website owners looking for just a minimal level of security can start for free with a certificate from the non-profit Internet Security Research Group at Let’s Encrypt.

Maintenance

Open source systems like WordPress require regular maintenance or they are likely to get buggy or hacked. Maintenance includes things like running backups, upgrading the version of the WordPress core files, themes and plugins. Many users take care of this themselves, while others prefer for a professional to handle updates and any subsequent troubleshooting if problems arise.

In fact, maintenance is probably one of the most overlooked items when evaluating the cost of a WordPress website, because it has a reputation of being easy to manage on one’s own. The fact is, more complicated websites like e-commerce stores or those running large numbers of plugins probably do need some technical support, either on an ongoing basis or at least from time to time.

IRG Websites offers several WordPress website maintenance plans designed to fit everyone from the personal blogger to large corporate websites.

Conclusion: The True Cost of a WordPress Website

A “free” WordPress website isn’t really free. But few things of value really are. There are several one-time and ongoing costs to having a high quality, secure website that reflects your brand.

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