WordPress is free, right?
You can sign up for a free account at WordPress.com or you get your own copy of it from WordPress.org.
So why do web developers charge thousands of dollars to build a single website?
This infographic from Codeable does a good job showing the amount of time and cost involved in building a custom website with WordPress.
According to these and a few other resources, about $5000 to start.
What about free themes?
If you can find a theme in the WordPress repository that works for you out-of-the-box, awesome. Load it up and start writing.
Maybe you need to change the coloring, resize your company logo to fit the allotted space or add a spot to your homepage for a newsletter signup. These are all easy tasks for some but for the general public not so much. You will need to invest time and for some things, lots of it.
If I got a new car and then decided I wanted it to be black instead of blue, then decided I was going to do it myself… that would be a train-wreck. Where would I do it? What type of paint do I use? How do I get the paint onto the car? How much paint fumes can I breath in without getting too much brain damage? How much brain damage is too much?
A car might not be the best analogy but the point is it would take me hours to research all that and if I value my time there is a cost associated with that research.
What about the tools necessary for the task such as HTML editors and FTP. Granted if you are happy with the theme as is there’s no need for any of the more techie stuff. Also, WordPress does in fact provide a way to edit theme and plugin files but what about the languages used to make changes on a website such as HTML and CSS?
Thing is, if you have the tools and/or know the languages for editing WordPress themes, you probably aren’t looking for a free one, you are more than likely building one… which makes this article irrelevant! ( sorry, here’s a link to learn React, let me know how it goes because I’ve been meaning to get there for a while now ).
Otherwise, you will need to either hire a developer or learn how to make the changes yourself.
Free theme that works out-of-the-box = free = awesome.
Free theme that needs customization = tools + languages + experience/know-how = cost = not free.
What about premium themes?
$59 for a really nice looking theme that seems to do everything. The best advice I have here is to make sure you are not responding to the gorgeous images being used on the demo.
There are a lot of premium themes out there. Many of these are excellent, some are not. Trouble is the only people who are in a position to judge whether or not a particular theme is right for you are future-you, after you’ve already bought it, and WordPress developers. And most WordPress developers are not buying themes, they’re building them.
Some themes tend to out-shine the others – big beautiful images, sliders, page builders, color options, and fancy animated stuff. WOW, they do everything and they look really good doing it. These are the big sellers.
I’ve seen it many times.
A premium theme is purchased based on how good the demo looks. The theme gets loaded and WTF, it’s blank. Or perhaps the theme has demo content that you can install and it looks great, just like the demo except the demo is for a dental practice and your site is for selling your new book. Nice images but they don’t work.
So you begin to look for images, and you need a ton of them for this theme. 4 for the slider and one for every post. That is, if you want the site to look like the demo. Finding a suitable image can be difficult, you have something in mind that relates to the content you just created so you begin your search by typing in some keywords in a search engine or at a photo site like Getty.
Many of the suitable images you find don’t work because they’re not the right size. They’e square or tall and you needed short and wide for the slider and featured images. Others don’t work or look ugly because they clash with the site coloring.
Then you realize the ones you really liked, the images that could actually work for the site cost $400 each. Youch.
So now you’re only looking for free images. After significant effort you come up with two or three, certainly not enough to get the theme looking like the demo but, you have to start somewhere I suppose …
Why do I need all these images? I can’t go through this every time I make a post.
So you decide to go with no images, or maybe use the best one for the homepage instead of a slider, sliders are passé now anyways right?
The site doesn’t look like the demo anymore but hey, you made it, you paid for the theme, it is what it is.
That’s the images, same thing goes for the content!
The theme demo has content blocks, they look great, some are in columns, or in a “Call Out” box, maybe some quotes with a parallax background image, “our team” photos, a map and a contact form, etc… It was exciting to imagine your content filling up these areas. Now comes the time to actually come up with that content. You write, or you pull out that which you have written for your future website. You are happy with this content, you spent a lot of time fussing over it and feel satisfied that you have captured what you think needs to be said.
Now it’s time to fit that content into the blocks available on your premium theme. You soon realize that the amount of text in each of these areas is pretty important. Too much text in the some areas pushes everything too far down or it makes the section too tall or lop-sided. The original balance is lost. So now you have to choose between re-writing your content to accommodate the layout or living with the unbalance.
Despite the beautiful demos, even a premium theme can end up looking like crap.
So, What Does a WordPress Website Cost?
When do you want it?
What do you want to end up with?
How much of your own time are you willing to put in and what is your time worth?
How much value should the website bring to the table?
An e-commerce site, a brochure site that represents your business and/or your brand, a portfolio site that demonstrates your craft and enables prospective clients to contact you, are all examples of how a website can be valuable.
If your website’s purpose is inconsequential, a wedding announcement for your friends, a family photo album, meaningless rantings, then value isn’t really an issue. Load up TwentySixteen and go.
If your website serves a business purpose your needs will be different. The site now represents something of value; you, your business or service or a product so having a professional looking website can be pretty important. The compromises necessary for the free and premium themes mentioned above may not fly here.
Granted, some studies have shown that ugly sites can perform very well but I don’t think you would have read this far if that was your plan 🙂
Consider a website that is customized to display your original content in a balanced layout, has a customized backend tailored to be easy for you to edit, has a color scheme that matches your logo and looks great on desktops and handheld devices.
The value a website brings to you or your business should be represented by the amount you are willing to pay for it.
If the site is simple and you don’t need anything fancy or custom, then yeah, a website could be free. There are a LOT of great looking free themes and you can get hosting for free at wordpress.com. You’ll still need to put in a few hours to figure out contact forms or any other plugin type functionality, so, not totally free I guess but close.
If you are a D.I.Y. type you can get hosting for under $100 a yr., install WordPress using the host’s installer and get a nice free theme from the repository. With a little bit of research into plugins and how they work, you can even add some serious functionality to your site. A bit more of an investment if you consider your time.
On the other hand if your website needs go beyond what an out-of-the-box theme is capable of, if you do not want to spend the time necessary learning HTML and CSS and WordPress functions and hooks, if you need your site customized to your content needs, if you want your website to accommodate the amount of time your willing to spend searching for and resizing images, if you want your website to be easy to edit regardless of how customized the layouts are… That is a valuable business tool and will probably be priced as such.