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.