In any description of WordPress features, there’s one word you’re sure to see:
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.
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 the 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?
Let’s examine …
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 used 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 can be reasonably expected to 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
- Premium theme
- Premium plugins
- Developer fees
- Security services
- Storage and backups
- Your time (and the opportunity cost associated with it)
- Your peace of mind
The key is to understand and assess each of these real costs and how different WordPress management strategies impact them. This will allow you to make choices that will maximize the potential of WordPress for your business, while minimizing your costs along the way.
So, what are the different ways you can manage your WordPress-backed website?
- Managed WordPress Hosting
- Premium Managed WordPress Hosting
Let’s analyze the real costs of each of the options above.
Hosting your site on WordPress.com
If you run your site on WordPress.com, you receive a basic level of shared hosting for free. However, to have your own domain (as opposed to yoursite.wordpress.com) it’ll cost you $13 (if you already own the domain) or $18 (if you purchase it through WordPress.com).
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 can also go with one of WordPress.com’s step-up plans: Premium or Business, which both include a domain. Premium gives you extra space and some design customization options, while the Business plan offers 150+ premium themes plus unlimited storage.
With any of those three options, you won’t have to worry about any security costs because Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, will manage that for you.
In total, consider a simple TCO of roughly $90 for the first year if you go with the “Free” WordPress.com plan and a premium theme (plus a recurring annual charge for the domain), or $99 per year for Premium, $299 per year for Business.
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
- Build subscribers
- Grow your social media following
- Improve your SEO
- Offer basic features like membership, communities, or online courses
- Generate revenue from your site
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 $4.86 per month (that’s the current price of basic hosting at HostGator).
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 WordPress themes a great choice.
How about security?
There are plenty of free options out there for security plugins — but you install (and trust) these plugins at your own risk. (One that our Synthesis team recommends is the free Sucuri plugin.) And unless you pay to host your site on a virtual private server (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. 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 essential 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. If you add in the Basic package from Sucuri to keep your site safe, you’re adding $199.99 per year to the cost. Adding a basic backups package like VaultPress tacks on another $99 per year to the price.
So, the total cost of self-hosting a WordPress blog on the most basic of hosting plans (which means it will not be anywhere near high-performance) is easily $425 per year … with the potential for it to be a lot more.
And, this does not figure in intangible costs like time and peace of mind, or any extras that might actually help you create better content.
Regular Managed WordPress Hosting
The next step up from self-hosting is a managed hosting provider. This allows you to self-host, but with assistance and guidance from people who should be able to help you manage the stuff you know nothing about so that you can manage your business.
Rates can vary, but most small businesses can get a WordPress-optimized managed plan for somewhere around $29 per month. You will still be on a shared server, but at least it will be 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 server, basic plans will usually not cover you, so you’ll have to choose a next-level plan that can run between $99 and $249 per month. (But be wary: even some more expensive plans can still be running on shared environments, so be sure to check.)
As for themes to design your site, you will still need to purchase one separately, so consider at least $99.95 for this expenditure.
Depending on which plan you need, consider the total cost to be somewhere between $447.95 and $3,087.95 per year. (And, again, that will probably be on a shared server.)
Premium Managed WordPress Hosting
With best-of-breed premium managed WordPress hosting, you get much more bang for your WordPress buck.
With a premium WordPress host, you get the flexibility of being able to install the functionality you need for your site (forums, membership, courses, etc.), along with security, storage, and support that are included and delivered at top-of-the-line levels — even in the most basic plans.
The security and storage alone can cost several hundreds of dollars per year purchased à la carte (as explained above), but it’s included in what you pay to a top-line premium WordPress host.
And don’t underestimate or take for granted the value of good support.
There is immense value in having the backing of experts who have specifically tailored their servers for the idiosyncrasies of hosting and securing a WordPress website, and who can demonstrate high-performance.
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 301 redirects 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.
This is the level of support and service you should expect.
Back to the numbers …
Let’s use Synthesis as an example (since it’s the one we know best).
If you only have one site, and a Standard plan works for you, the total cost of your hosting in that first year is just $564 ($47 per month). If you need an Advanced plan, it could be $1,764 per year ($147 per month).
You’ll still want to get a premium theme, so add $99.95 to the cost and you get a range of $663.95–$1,863.95 per year, depending on which plan you need.
You’ll notice that range is narrower and more reasonable than the range in the last section ($447.95–$3,087.95), and remember that it includes all of the extra premium security, storage, and support that I mentioned.
It’s also important to note that you get a dedicated hosting environment, rather than a shared one. This is huge, and something you should make a prerequisite.
And what about other extras?
Synthesis, for example, comes with Scribe, which is a premium plugin for improving your website’s SEO. Scribe’s basic Professional plan cost $47 per month when it was sold on its own. Now, it’s built into Synthesis as a value-add to help you create more powerful content.
So, the opportunity cost of going with another provider should take into account the roughly $564 of value you get with Scribe.
The value of Premium Managed WordPress Hosting
What you see above is far from a complete analysis. This was intentional.
What I 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 should do next is figure out the costs as they relate to your situation, while factoring in the costs associated with your time.
Because a premium managed WordPress host, like Synthesis, will save you a lot of time and worry, especially when you need it most (like during a security breach or when something goes awry with your site).
For a service provider, associating this time with a cost 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?