July 6, 2015
Cole Wiebe

How Much Should a WordPress Website Cost?

If WordPress is free, shouldn’t my WordPress website be free?

I get that question all the time. I look at WordPress as a free plot of land... one of those government 50 year leases. What you build on your lot 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 other free alternatives like Wix and SquareSpace.

Other companies bundle a "free" WordPress website with another service, like a year of content creation. 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.

And perhaps lastly, there are the many theme and template marketers. 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.

Haha... and good luck with that. 🙂 (Themes tend to be a big downloadable folder of "stuff"; and then you have to read the large PDF instruction manual, to figure out how to turn all those "files" into your new website. Some assembly may be required...)

Free State Online website

The most expensive WordPress website built to date... over 15M!

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 London Themes' 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? Like holy shit!!!

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?

Say what? There are many design approaches, but here are two possible scenarios:

1. Based on Price (the website is viewed as an expense)

One business owner hires a “web designer” to build a new site. The cost is $500. The so-called “designer” pockets $300 and hires someone in India or the Philippines to knock out the entire site for under two hundred bucks, based upon a one-size-fits-all template, a few free open-source plugins and an hourly rate of $4.00. The so-called designer even manages to find a super cheap hosting package for $1.99/mo. Awesome! The content becomes the owner’s responsibility, and there's usually no tutorial... just a link to a YouTube video.

The price is “very reasonable,” and the customer has the website in days. It’s a customer maintained CMS (content management system) site, so completion of the project usually represents the end of the designer/customer relationship as well. In fact... good luck ever getting an email reply again. These sites are often referred to in the trade as "walk-aways" (they build it and walk away forever).

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 extremely high cost of the lower price.

2. Based on Cost (the website is 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. The trusted advisor knows what their expected outcomes are.

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.

Finally, 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 is visually attractive in every screen format. Three to four 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 at all. 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. No plan! And after they went live, there was no marketing or promotion either.

I’m going to suggest a minimum budget of $5,000 for a small business WordPress website (and $7,000 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 with conversion copywriting.

Here's an online app to get a feel for how much websites cost: How Much Does a Website Cost?

Cole Wiebe, WordPress web developer, SquamishCole has been designing and developing websites since 1997. He’s a content strategist and writer, conversion copywriter and online marketing coach.

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