If WordPress is free, shouldn’t a WordPress website be free?
I look at WordPress as a free plot of land. What you build on it will determine the value of the finished property. The size, calibre of materials and finishes, the reputation of the architect and builder, location (hosting), and marketing all factor into the value of the asset.
What’s the price range?
The range of prices for WordPress development can be baffling to the business owner. Many hosting companies provide free computer-generated WordPress websites, with a year of hosting. And there are many free alternatives like SquareSpace.
Other companies bundle a "free" WordPress website with another service. The website is included in the package and is essentially amortized over the term of the contract.
And then there's the SaaS (software as a service) business model, in which you rent your WordPress site for a small monthly fee.
Theme providers suggest that you can build your own “premium” WordPress site for under $30. Just: 1) Install WordPress, 2) install the theme, 3) write a few pages of content, 4) and then rake in the profits.
On the other end of the spectrum, the most expensive WordPress website I’ve read about1 is one created for The Free State provincial government, South Africa, by Cherry Online Design.2 The website was built on WordPress, with the London Live off-the-shelf theme for $15,366,680 USD. WordPress is free, and the theme cost only forty bucks… so how did it become a $15-million dollar project?
So there you have it: your WordPress site should cost somewhere between zero and fifteen million dollars. 🙂
Is it the price you're concerned with, or the cost?
There are many design approaches, but here are two possible scenarios:
1. Based on Price (website viewed as an expense)
One business owner hires a “web designer” to build a new site. The cost is $500. The “designer” pockets $300 and hires someone offshore to knock out the entire site for $200, based upon a one-size-fits-all template, a few free open-source plugins and an hourly rate of $4.00. The designer even manages to find a super cheap hosting package for $2.95/mo. Awesome! The content is the owner’s responsibility.
The price is “very reasonable,” and the customer has the website in a week. It’s a customer maintained CMS (content management system) site, so completion of the project often represents the end of the designer/customer relationship as well.
Two years later, the website owner has yet to receive the first lead or sale from that site. ROI: -100% (a complete loss) Beware of the cost of the lower price.
2. Based on Cost (website viewed as an asset)
Another company looks for a marketing advisor and design/development firm with experience. The discovery meetings are time-consuming, but they enable the agency to put together a very comprehensive proposal that addresses their unique pain points, objectives and goals.
Work begins on the project. More discovery meetings follow, with research, to determine exactly who the ideal customers are, where they’re hanging out on the web, and the content that will reach them. The planning phase begins.
A good site always begins with the prospective customer and then the content that will move that visitor into the sales funnel.
Site maps and interactive wireframes are created, mood boards prepared, and design mockups presented. And then those designs are refined until they are ready for sign-off.
It’s time for the project to “go to code.” A custom child theme is developed on a premium framework, for blazingly quick page loads, fully responsive display on all screens, and top-level security. Where extensions are used, they are premium paid solutions. Front-end UI (user interface) designers and coders work closely together. The responsive break points are carefully tweaked to make the site visually attractive in every screen format. Three weeks later, development is complete and the shell site is approved.
The next phase is content entry. During the design and development, the copywriters have been hard at work, creating informative high-conversion marketing copy that will lead visitors towards a decision that makes them customers. It’s now time to bring UX (user experience) design to the individual page layouts.
The site goes into the beta phase, with QA (quality assurance) and rigorous testing. To make sure every visitor has a great user experience, it’s proofed on Windows, Mac and Linux, iPhone, iPad, Android tablet and smartphone, horizontal screen, vertical screen, etc. It’s checked for page load speeds and link integrity. UI/UX (user interface/experience) rocks! The beta testers were able to breeze through the site to find every content entry requested.
The SEO (search engine optimization expert) has completed the on-page optimization site-wide. The marketing team has the launch posts ready for the blog and social media channels. All that remains is final client approval and the site goes live.
Following the launch, a set of tutorial videos is prepared, covering all aspects of client maintenance and content updates. Six months of premium support are also included, covering everything from security, backups, software updates, ongoing requests for changes and updates, 24/7 emergency repairs, and technology upgrade protection. And there's one marketing consultation included each month.
Over the next six months, the content marketing strategy included in the proposal is rolled out. A/B tests are conducted on the various landing pages and the copy is fine-tuned for optimal results.
Three months later, traffic and sales are noticeably improved. Within the first year, sales are up by $600,000. The margins are roughly 30%, so profits are $180,000. The price for the site was $12,000 (including premium hosting), plus $1,000/mo. for content marketing over the first 6 months. ROI: 1,000%
A good website should return the initial investment many times over, making the price almost irrelevant.
A checkbox on a to-do list, or very profitable marketing asset?
For many business owners, a website is a necessary evil in 2015… ya gotta have one. It’s a checkbox on a to-list. Business license: check. Business cards: check. Website: check. They’re not trying to build a marketing asset (yet). There's no strategy or blueprint. They're just trying to save money. And if that’s the mindset going in, those business owners should pursue the cheapest route, so the “expense” on the balance sheet is minimal.
If you’re trying to grow your business and increase profits, that’s not the approach I’d recommend. You want to build an “asset” that fills your sales funnel with warm leads for years to come.
Over the 18 years I’ve been involved in internet marketing, we’ve built just under 400 websites. The range has been $1,000 through $34,000 for WordPress sites. The bare bones budget sites have never been big producers, simply because we skipped right past discovery, research and planning; moving right to construction. And after they went live, there was no marketing or promotion.
I’m going to suggest a minimum budget of $5,000 for a small business WordPress website (more for eCommmerce). And you’re going to need an SEO / content marketing budget if you’re hoping to earn top search engine rankings, a strong social presence, a flood of qualified traffic and sales leads that can be nurtured into paying customers.
1 KirbyWorks, March 20, 2013, Most Expensive WordPress Website Uses $40 Dollar Premium WordPress Theme
2 Memeburn, March 2013 Meet the Government WordPress site the cost R140M.
Project Type: eCommerce re-design
With this re-design for a florist shop, we moved their shopping cart from a third party provider to on-site, with WooCommerce. From an SEO standpoint alone, moving the project pages 'home' should provide a positioning advantage. Credit card processing is handled through Stripe. We added an elegant page builder solution that enables the staff to easily edit the site from the frontend. And the new site is responsive, to comply with Google's April 21 "Mobilegeddon" mobile-friendly algorithm release.
Project Type: Responsive web design
A quick custom website upgrade, built to the client's exact design layout. This will be a client-maintained website, so we built it on a super easy to use drag-and-drop interface, and included a set of comprehensive video tutorials.
Isn't Attractive Web Design Enough?
I'm often asked if regular blogging and social media are really necessary, if the web designer did a nice job. If you live in a small community like Squamish, where there may be no more than 1 or 2 competitors, you’re satisfied with the number of customers you have, and you're not trying to fish in larger, more competitive pond… the answer would be no. If your business is registered with Google+ Local (formerly Google Places), chances are you’ll receive a first page ranking on Google for your business topic in your immediate geographic area. You can just keep doing exactly what you’re doing. Yippee!
But if any of the following apply:
- you are targeting several communities,
- you are going after city businesses or customers,
- you have more than 5 direct competitors,
- you’ve already lost market share to the competition,
- you need to grab market share to offset a decline in the economy,
- you want to grow your business,
- directories, news sites and blogs are hogging the front page of search results,
you definitely should be creating and publishing incredibly valuable blog posts very regularly; then distributing and promoting them in social media and other online channels.
What is Valuable Content?
Great content begins with knowing who your audience is. After defining your audience persona(s), an editorial strategy and schedule are prepared, keywords are researched and topics chosen.
Your audience does not want to read your company propaganda or news. Prospective customers don’t care if your company added a new sales person with extensive knowledge in selling widgets.
Nothing could be more boring than reading brochure-style blog posts and social media updates. To create a helpful post, you want to provide answers to questions, share how-to information and improve the lives of your audience, without turning it into a sales pitch.
Here's an example:
A garden supply company wouldn’t do very well using social media to blast marketing promotions for their wheel barrows. Facebook “likes”, retweets and Google +1’s would be highly unlikely. Nobody would be subscribing to the blog feed or newsletter to get more garden tool ads each week.
But if the company created and published a helpful series of blog posts on gardening, and distributed and promoted them in social media, not only would they attract a readership, but the content would be highly shareable.
The wheel barrow could be included in the list of tools a gardener should have on hand for the project covered by the post. And the accompanying photo of a post on pruning could include the make and model filled with the branches clipped from the bushes.
What Blogging and Social Media Do For You
- These tactics build your audience and attract prospective customers.
- You can expect an increase in search engine rankings and resulting traffic.
- They establish you, the author, as the local expert, building awareness and credibility.
- People who love your content are likely to share it with other prospective buyers.
- When you provide truly useful information, people will want more. You’ll gain subscribers to your blog’s feed and email updates when posts are released.
- Your readers will grow to trust your content. So when you offer a very helpful ebook or whitepaper, some of your readers will willingly exchange their contact information in exchange for the downloadable document. You then have the ability to influence their buying decisions on a regular basis by providing more helpful information in your email newsletter.
- Over time subscribers become leads that can be nurtured until they mature into customers.
Blogging and social media build connections with prospective customers in a way that old school marketing never could. You're focusing on being helpful, and on the reader. Most business websites are all about the company, it's products and services. Traditional advertising is all about making a sale... in other words, all about you.
The Ideal Website Is Responsive
Ethan Marcotte coined the term late 2008, and in 2011 published the book titled "Responsive Web Design." It was a game changer. Nearly two years have passed since The Ideal Website series first went online, and responsive web design has become mainstream.
Google loves “responsive”! According to a study released by Google, “What Users Want Most From Mobile Sites Today,” conducted by Sterling Research and SmithGeiger in July 2012,
- 61% of users said that if they didn’t find what they were looking for right away on a mobile site, they’d quickly move on to another site,
- 79% of people who didn’t like what they found on one site would go back and search for another site, and
- 50% of people said that even if they like a business, they will use them less often if the website isn’t mobile-friendly.
Responsive web design is the approach web designers and developers now use to craft sites that provide the optimal viewing experience to users on Mac and PC desktop computers and a wide range of mobile devices. Responsive websites use fluid grids, proportion-based grids, flexible images and CSS3 media queries to deliver content more effectively to all visitors.
A quality user experience means the navigation system re-formats to the device, and takes into account whether the user is using a mouse or finger to point. Panning side to side, and zooming in and out, are incredibly annoying, so blocks of content are formatted on the fly to make the information available by scrolling up and down only. Often, sidebar, header and footer content will be removed for small screens, delivering only what is most needed.
It amazes me how many of the websites I attempt to visit on my iPhone or iPad are still not responsive. #$^@!! The only way I'll even consider slogging through their horrid site is if the information is available no other place on the planet. If your website delivers a crappy experience to mobile users you can expect them to bounce (leave your site immediately) and check out what the competition has to offer. The cost of acquisition — getting those visitors to ever arrive at one of your pages at all — is wasted if they leave.
If your site isn't responsive, and your bounce rate is above 5%, you may be driving your mobile customers away. Fixing the problem should be your first order of business in 2015.
If you're not sure if your site is fully responsive, send us a quick email and we'll check on it for you.
The Ideal Web Site (Part 5 of a Series)
The Ideal Web Site (Part 4 of a Series)
The Ideal Web Site (Part 3 of a Series)
The Ideal Web Site (Part 1 of a Series)
Responsive Web Design
Save $500 on a Fully Responsive Website!
CMS Platform: WordPress 4
Framework: Make / Make Plus
Project Type: Responsive web design
A quick website rebuild, replacing a very limiting one page website with 15 initial pages and a blog. This will be a client-maintained website, so we installed a ridiculously easy to use drag-and-drop interface and included a set of comprehensive video tutorials.
Project Type: Real estate web design
A brand new website, featuring a parallax scroller on the home page. Kim and Dimple wanted something very different from the thousands of real estate websites already in Vancouver. They specialize in condo sales, so the typical IDX search options didn't apply. Instead, they focused on Past Successes: the projects already sold out.