WordPress Management: Ongoing Costs to Help You Budget
While the WordPress software itself is free (thanks to the GNU General Public License), running and maintaining a WordPress website comes at a price.
Technically, you can start a blog for free on WordPress.com and never pay a penny to keep it going. But in order to be truly effective, you need to treat your WordPress website as a business investment.
Starting a WordPress website and maintaining a WordPress website are two related but distinct concepts. That said, the choices you make when first starting a WordPress website can either scale beautifully as you grow, or come back to bite you—creating additional work and cost as you find success online.
The following represents a comprehensive guide to the ongoing costs of WordPress management, with different options for various budget levels and needs.
WordPress Management: Hire a Professional or Do-It-Yourself?
For many reading the WPMU DEV blog, the process of web development is taken care of by you—with a client or employer covering associated costs.
For those who desire to create a WordPress website and lack the skills themselves or on-staff, the costs of website design and other ongoing WordPress maintenance costs can be a major consideration for getting started.
If the website requires simple needs, the option to DIY (do it yourself) seems like the lowest cost option.
But even if you manage to cobble something together after endless hours of trying to figure out how to customize a WordPress theme for the first time (and the costs associated with accessing that information), the resulting design will likely suffer from a lack of professionalism and following best practices. That’s why you hire an expert to handle this type of task.
So let’s assume that you’re going to pay for someone else’s expertise.
Hiring a Web Developer or Outsourcing
Hiring freelance front-end web developers can cost as low as $10/hour and go as high as $150/hour.
Since that range isn’t super helpful from a budgeting perspective, let’s dig into these numbers a bit more.
According to ziprecruiter.com, the average Junior Web Developer’s salary in the United States is $49,500 per year. According to Indeed.com, the average salary for a Senior Web Developer is $95,075 per year in the United States.
Agency or Freelancer
If you’re working with an outside agency, Comentum claims that web development can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $300,000. Again, there’s another huge gap between these figures. This is because web development costs depend on the different underlying factors that need to be considered for a given project.
A few factors that influence web development costs:
- Scope of the project: Is the project for a single-page website or an enterprise-level website project? Are you using a templated theme or are you commissioning a 100% custom website (which will require additional ongoing maintenance)?
- Freelancer or agency? Besides expertise and experience, your project cost may also vary depending on whether you’re hiring a freelancer or an agency. Usually, agencies work as a team (you’re paying for access to a developer, designer, project manager, etc.), while freelancers work individually on one specific task (web development, in this case).
- Platform: Windows and Linux are the platforms generally used for web projects. Windows is more expensive than Linux because of licensing costs (Linux is open source, like WordPress). Windows’ database, SQL Server is also more expensive than MySQL.
Although these factors relate to the idea of starting a new website, they can also be useful in budgeting for ongoing WordPress maintenance.
Front-end vs Back-end Web Developer
Front-end and back-end web developer costs also vary in terms of different project factors that need to be considered. As a refresher, front-end development involves elements of design and structure that can be seen/interacted with. Back-end development involves anything done server-side.
The cost of hiring a front-end developer may vary depending on the scope of the project, the experience/expertise of the developer, and their location. The cost of hiring a back-end developer must also consider the project scope and person’s location, as well as the platform you want your website built on.
Location correlates to pricing in that many web developers work remotely and it’s not hard to connect with web developers in developing countries with lower costs of living (who charge lower prices). Another note: front-end development generally makes up a lower amount of hours than the back-end development of a complete web development project.
To give a very basic idea of the cost differential between these two types of developers, consider that on Upwork, hiring front-end developers with basic skills ranges from $15 to $50, while hiring back-end developers with basic skills ranges from $30 to $50+.
Using a WordPress Maintenance Service
Once your new website is launched, you also have to consider the cost of ongoing WordPress maintenance.
WordPress’s core version, the theme you’re using, and the plugins you’ve installed will require frequent updates—and sometimes this can break various elements of your website’s design or back-end processes. Additionally, while WordPress offers many tools that allow those who aren’t especially technologically-savvy to make minor content updates, you might also want to consider hiring ongoing help to assist with these changes.
If your chosen web developer is too high-budget for your ongoing maintenance needs, or they’re just not interested in the maintenance aspect of web development, you might instead consider working with a WordPress maintenance service.
Here are a few of the more popular options, associated costs, and what plans cover:
WP Buffs starts at $40/month (billed yearly) for a WordPress maintenance plan that includes weekly reports, weekly theme and plugin updates, cloud backups, and a fast website restore in case of downtime.
Efficient WP offers a comprehensive WordPress maintenance plan for $25/month, which includes web hosting in addition to basic maintenance (backups, security, upgrades, fixes).
WP Site Care
WPSiteCare offers WordPress maintenance plans that start at $79/month (if you’re paying annually), $99/month (if paying by monthly basis). Maintenance tasks include security monitoring, upgrades, support, and backups.
WP Maintainer offers WordPress maintenance services for $99/month, including security monitoring, upgrades, support, and backups. For more complex web development needs, you can also use this plan to gain access to their team of web developers for the reduced rate of $99/hour.
The Various Components of a WordPress Website
Once you get into the backend of WordPress management, you’ll realize how costs can add up when considering various WordPress tools and components, such as:
- Web hosting
- Domain name
- Plugins and other extensions/Integrations
- A Premium theme
- Security, storage, and backups
In order to get your website up and running, one of your first WordPress management costs will be your web host. Every website needs hosting to store all of their content.
You can either opt for hosting on WordPress.com, or by self-hosting WordPress.
Hosting on WordPress.com
You can host your website on WordPress.com for free but the features you have access to will be very limited.
Although you can extend this functionality with paid plans (all paid plans come with a domain name, JetPack, email and live chat support, and storage space), self-hosting WordPress offers a more open-source environment for customizing your WordPress website to any and all unique needs.
If you want total control when it comes to WordPress web development and ongoing management, self-hosted WordPress is your best bet.
As a result, you’ll have to pay your hosting service provider to keep your website running. You’ll pay extra for things like moving from shared hosting to a private server, additional bandwidth as your monthly pageviews grow, and for web hosts that offer included extras like SSL certificates, regular backups, and speed optimization.
Most hosting providers offer great packages for startups that scale up as you grow. Purchasing hosting during a sale, or by buying yearly access in bulk, can help you save over the long-term. If you’re just starting out, go for a basic package and upgrade when necessary—that’s the beauty of working with a web host that scales with you.
Based on a recent survey, here are CodeinWP’s top picks for WordPress web hosts, and associated starting costs:
While SiteGround has typically been regarded as the quality budget option for WordPress web hosting, they recently announced new, higher pricing (starting at $11.95/month for the most basic plan) as of June 6, 2018.
Before deciding on a web host, take stock of the features most critical to your business, as well as some “nice-to-haves”. If you’re still not sure what web host and package to settle on, note that most web hosts offer free site migrations and 30-day money-back guarantees—just make sure to get all your questions answered before you’re locked in and your money’s spent!
Storage, Bandwidth, & Resources
Security and storage, if purchased individually, can add a lot to your WordPress management costs. Fortunately, both of these are included (on a scaling basis) with good WordPress hosting packages.
Storage is an important consideration because it determines the upper limit of content and media files that make up your WordPress website. Your storage capacity will vary depending on your hosting plan.
When deciding on a specific plan with your chosen WordPress host, you’ll likely have access to scaling options such as:
- Shared hosting: Oftentimes includes unlimited storage and bandwidth but a limit on resource usage (like memory). You get a price break for sharing one server and other resources with other WordPress websites, which means that you can also suffer from association if these websites don’t follow best practices. Regardless, shared hosting is where most websites start, as it’s the most cost-effective option.
- Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting: When you start to hit limits for resource usage and are looking for improved performance, VPS hosting is the next logical step. Typically, users will start with shared hosting and will upgrade to VPS when it becomes a necessity. Because of these improvements, VPS hosting is significantly more expensive than shared hosting.
- Dedicated Server: Paying for a dedicated server (which is exclusive to your website) will provide you with the best performance and control but will also have the greatest costs when compared with other web hosting options. This is ideal for businesses getting a large volume of daily traffic.
WebpageFX states that you should expect to pay $75-200 a year for web hosting and you’ve got to assume that they’re referring to basic shared hosting plans. After all, performance WordPress hosting such as that you’d find on Pagely or Kinsta starts at $360+/year.
If you’re hosting your website for free on WordPress.com, you’ll automatically have access to a WordPress.com subdomain (yourname.WordPress.com). Some bloggers opt to start out this way, hoping to keep costs low, but it’s hardly a plan for long-term success.
Instead, you’re better off securing your own domain name from the get-go.
You can technically do this with WordPress.com but it requires a paid plan. Paying for web hosting and a domain name on WordPress.com is similar to doing so on a budget WordPress host. The main difference? Using WordPress.com, you won’t have access to all the customization that self-hosting WordPress provides.
In most cases, it makes sense to buy your domain from a domain provider or in conjunction with your web hosting package. Sometimes, web hosts offer a domain for free as part of a web hosting package, but many (like Siteground) are moving away from this model.
In general, expect to pay $10-15/year on average for your domain name. GoDaddy is a favorite place to purchase domain names, thanks to frequent promotions bringing down the cost of your first year to mere dollars (I’ve purchased new domain names for $1.99/year) and their intriguing new domain valuation tool.
If you’ve got your eye on a domain name with some history, or competition, expect to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars to gain ownership of it. To give an extreme example, Noah Kagan bought Sumo.com for $1.5 million dollars!
Before choosing a domain name, it’s important to run through a number of different possibilities and to make sure it’s available (or for sale, if you’re willing).
As the most popular CMS on the market, WordPress security is an important consideration: especially if you manage an ecommerce website using payment gateways or are collecting personal user data.
Most WordPress web hosting packages include some security measures but not all offer SSL certificates in their packages—usually, only the most expensive packages offer an included SSL certificate.
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates protect users when shopping online. These are important when your website uses Paypal or any third party payment gateway (or just about anything that involves inputting sensitive data). Furthermore, SSL certificates enable HTTPS, which Google has confirmed as a search ranking signal.
If you’re purchasing access to an SSL certificate outside of what’s provided by your web host, expect to spend at least $69.99/year on average. Other known SSL certificate providers, such as Comodo or Symantec, are on the more expensive side, with plans that usually start at $256/year and can go as high as $1,499/year.
The costs associated with WordPress security will likely also include the installation of a high-performing WordPress security plugin—more on that below.
Another crucial aspect of starting a WordPress website is the theme—or the basic design/structure that makes it up (and defines functionality like menu navigation and mobile-responsiveness).
When you run a website using WordPress.com’s paid plan, there are a number of free themes you can select from. You’ll also have access to a number of free themes when you self-host WordPress.
Unfortunately, unless you pay WordPress.com for a Premium or Business plan ($8/mo and $25/mo, respectively), you have little ability to customize your theme. This is precisely why many would rather self-host WordPress, pay for hosting, and have complete control over their website.
But just because you can use a free WordPress theme, doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for your website. Premium themes represent a smarter long-term investment in your WordPress website—especially if you’re working with a consistently-updated, popular WordPress theme framework.
If you’ll be paying for a theme, CodeinWP found that the average cost of a premium WordPress theme is $57.54 (with the median/mode at $59).
As a web developer, you might also be interested in the average costs to access a variety of high-quality premium WordPress themes. CodeinWP found that the average cost of a year’s subscription to a theme club is $145 (with “lifetime” subscriptions averaging $225).
Essential WordPress Plugins
WordPress plugins add functionality on top of the core code and your theme.
Most web developers use a mix of free and paid plugins to effectively build in functionality to their projects. Many free plugins work on a freemium model where limited features are offered for free with additional features available as part of a paid upgrade.
If a premium plugin will easily solve issues, you’re better off paying up than wasting time cobbling together custom code that may need to be updated with every WordPress core code or theme update. Some free plugins, especially those not listed in the WordPress Plugin Directory, can cause harm to your website, which is another “cost” to be weighed when deciding between different options.
If you’re on a budget, consider Torque’s list of the best free plugins to get your website up and running. When you’re ready to upgrade, here are some considerations for budgeting, based on some of the most popular plugins for various functionalities:
All-in-One Plugin Membership: WPMU DEV
A subscription to WPMU DEV includes access to a number of useful plugins. For just $49/month, connect these plugins to unlimited websites. You can test-drive them all with a 7-day free trial.
One of our most popular WPMU DEV plugins is image optimizer WP Smush Pro (winner of Torque’s 2018 Plugin Madness competition). Some background: Yahoo! originally held the rights to this plugin but it became so popular that Yahoo! couldn’t handle the server strain. WPMU DEV picked up rights to the plugin and kept it going.
Learn more about WPMU DEV’s free plugins, including tools for website security and SEO.
All-in-One Plugin: Jetpack
Jetpack is a plugin from the same company behind WordPress: Automattic. Jetpack is an all-in-one solution for a number of WordPress functions, including SEO tools, website security, backups, real-time analytics, and so much more.
You can use the basic version of Jetpack free but a lot of this plugin’s value is associated with features offered with paid plans. Pricing starts at $3.50 per month for the Personal Plan, up to $29 per year for the Professional Plan.
Comment Spam Plugin: Akismet
Considered by many WordPress community members as a must, Akismet (also run by Automattic) offers free anti-spam services but you also have the option to donate money for the plugin’s upkeep.
SEO Plugin: All-in-One SEO Pack
All-in-One SEO Pack is one of the most popular SEO plugins. Like other similar SEO plugins, it’s offered with a freemium model. If you upgrade, the individual plan starts at $136.
Web Forms Plugin: Gravity Forms
Gravity Forms is a premium web forms solution with a lot of useful add-ons. Pricing starts at $59 per year for basic features. Note that in order to use anything but their basic add-ons, you’ll need a Pro or Elite license, which costs $159 or $259 per year (respectively).
Security Plugin: iThemes
The iThemes Security Plugin is considered as one of the best WordPress security plugins, with claims of 30 ways to secure and protect your WordPress website. Pricing starts at $80 per year for the Blogger plan.
This pricing is fairly consistent with another popular WordPress security plugin, Wordfence. Wordfence is considered as the most popular WordPress firewall and security scanner with over 2 million active users. Premium Wordfence access starts at $84.15 for 1 license key (valid for 3 years).
Ecommerce Plugin: WooCommerce
WooCommerce extends WordPress to include ecommerce functionality. Though the plugin itself is free, it makes money from a freemium model that involves selling extensions for a yearly subscription price.
As a result, if you’ll be using WordPress to create/manage an ecommerce website, you’ll want to be aware of the costs associated with unlocking additional WooCommerce features.
Some of the top selling WooCommerce extensions in 2017 were:
- WooCommerce Subscriptions: $199
- WooCommerce Memberships: $149
- Dynamic Pricing: $129
- Product Bundles: $49
- Square for WooCommerce: $79
Page Builder Plugins (Various)
Some of the best WordPress page builders include Elementor, Beaver Builder, and Divi. In general, page builders cost $49 to $99 for standard/basic subscription plans.
Caching Plugin: WP Rocket
Backup Plugin: UpDraftPlus
A top-rated backup solution, UpdraftPlus makes it easy to automate backups to cloud storage. Although web backups are usually included with a standard web hosting package, it’s recommended that you spread out additional backup copies elsewhere, in case your server goes down.
Though UpdraftPlus offers a robust free version, a premium license can be purchased starting at $86.10.
Social Sharing: Social Warfare
Social Warfare has over 60,000 active users on WordPress, making it a top choice for social share buttons and formatting social sharing information. Social Warfare Pro costs $29/yr for one website.
Other Popular Extensions/Integrations for WordPress Websites
WordPress plugins aren’t the only add-on cost that you have to be thinking about when it comes to WordPress management—there are many additional third-party integrations that WordPress professionals swear by.
Here are a few of the most popular:
Live Chat: LiveChat
We’ve shared a number of live chat solutions previously on the blog—many offered at comparable monthly pricing plans. LiveChat is a popular option, offered for $16/mo (billed annually) with the Starter plan.
Opt-in Forms: OptinMonster
OptinMonster is considered to be one of the best lead generation tools for marketers. The (very limited) basic plan costs $9/month when billed annually. Note that if you’re wanting to take advantage of OptinMonster’s advanced functionality, like exit intent technology, you’ll need to pay for a higher-priced plan.
Landing Pages: Leadpages
Leadpages is a top landing page builder and lead generation software tool. Pricing starts at $25/month billed annually for their Standard plan.
Final Thoughts: WordPress Management: Ongoing Costs to Help You Budget
It’s important to realize that WordPress management costs amount to much more than web development help from an employee or outside service to maintain WordPress updates. You also have to factor in costs related to updates, hosting, and plugin subscription fees—to name a few considerations.
If you want to build an effective and smoothly running website, the key is to carefully assess and understand all the factors that contribute to your website needs. Know your priorities, set goals and a budget, analyze the real costs, and make a careful decision. Website management comes with risk, but with enough understanding, you can certainly make smart decisions that will allow you to maximize output and minimize costs.
Another great way to minimize costs is to take advantage of WPMU DEV’s membership. If you want security, SEO, performance, and more under one roof, you also get access to our support team 24/7, as well as access to our Academy to up your WordPress game. On top of that our reports allow you to monitor and share information with clients.