WordPress is Not Free (Part 2)

A WordPress Logo Overlaid on Dollar BillsThis is Part 2 of a three-part series on The Cost of WordPress. You can read Part 1.

In the first article of this series, I wrote that WordPress gives you a lot for free. The code itself is free to download and install. Free plugins and themes exist all across the internet. When you get stuck, there’s free support in tens, if not hundreds, of forums. But that free-ness has limits and that’s what I want to talk about today.


Though there is some free hosting available for nonprofits, most hosting—that is, where you store your free copy of WordPress and the files and databases that go with it—is not free. There are many types of hosting, more than I can cover in this post in fact. Hosting can be as low at $3-$6 a month for “shared hosting” at companies like BlueHost (where I host). However, to get those rates, one must pay for usually no less than a full year of hosting, which can feel like a lot, even if your monthly rate is cheap.

From that low rate, hosting can quickly get to $50+ per month. The more expensive plans are faster, more reliable, and more secure, but for many small websites, the cheap hosting is good enough.

Plugins & Themes

WordPress is known for its free themes and plugins. You can find lots of fabulous ones in the WordPress.org Theme and Plugin repositories. However, many of the best themes and plugins out there cost money.

Costs vary. Most themes cost $25-$75, usually a one time fee. Plugins vary more, costing anywhere from $5-$200+ dollars. Many plugins use a subscription mode with an annual fee to continue receiving plugin upgrades and support. Some plugins also use the “freemium” model. A freemium plugin costs $0 for a limited set of features, but costs money to gain improved features and support.

Development & Consulting

This is where the cost really picks up. The WordPress consulting and services industry is gigantic. Hourly rates vary from $5-$2000 (you wonder about those two extremes…), and many people charge flat rates for large projects (including yours truly).  Small WordPress projects sometimes cost as little as a couple hundred bucks, but  it’s normal for a WordPress site to get into the thousands of dollars.

So what are you paying for? The answer varies, but I think the short answer is expertise. Speaking for myself, my WordPress services usually include the following:

  • Plugin recommendation & configuration
  • Theme vetting & customization
  • WordPress setup and configuration
  • Custom theme design
  • Custom theme development
  • Training

A lot of that work requires minimal technical expertise, but instead requires an intimate knowledge of how to use WordPress and best practices for building sites.

For example, let’s look at the plugin recommendation work I do. The alternative to not paying for this type of expertise is spending days searching for the right plugin, learning how it works, hoping that it’s the best one, and, if it’s not, starting all over. The expertise that I sell has come from hundreds of hours of testing, failing, trying again, and succeeding with many types of plugins. While it’s hard to quantify, that undoubtedly has significant value.

Conclusive Clichés

I’ll wrap up with two clichés.

Time is Money

If you have enough technical knowledge, you can go far with WordPress. However, avoiding the easy pitfalls, learning the best and worst plugins and themes, and doing the more tedious setup and maintenance work takes time. It may seem expensive, but when you pay for WordPress work, you’re usually saving yourself the time it takes to learn, build, and fix a website.

You Get What You Pay For

For hosting, plugins, themes, and consulting, you get what you pay for:

  • Cheaper themes tend to be worse.
  • Free plugins put you at the whim of the plugin author for support and upgrades.
  • A lot of cheaper consultants have a limited understanding of WordPress and don’t follow best practices.

It’s a challenge to find that sweet spot that balances high-quality service with affordable costs, but expecting WordPress to be 100% free forever and ever (HOORAY! UNICORNS AND PONIES!) is unreasonable.

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