When I first built a WordPress website, I was nervous about how much it would cost until I realized that WordPress is actually the cheapest way to build a website.
Basic WordPress sites can be made for about $36 per year–including hosting, domain name, and the free independently-hosted version of WordPress. For more customization, premium themes (designs) and plugins (functionality) can be added. Alternatively, the WordPress.com version has free and paid plans with limited functionality.
If you don’t know what you are buying, it’s easy to pay for the wrong version of WordPress or unnecessary software. I’ll walk you through exactly what you need, and nothing else.
Exactly What to Buy (and what it costs) to Create a Basic WordPress Site
In this portion of the article, I will assume that you want to independently-host your WordPress site. Most site owners will be happiest with the amount of control this offers you, but later in the article we will discuss WordPress.com and how it is different.
Average Costs to Build an Independently-Hosted WordPress Website
- WordPress software (completely free if you pay for hosting)
- Hosting (approximately $3/month for a basic plan)
- WordPress theme (many are free, but you can pay for premium designs)
- WordPress plugins (many are free, but you can pay for premium functionality)
- Stock photography (approximately $1/image to illustrate your blog posts)
Independently-Hosted WordPress vs WordPress.com
WordPress software is free for anyone to use for their business, blog, or anything else. You don’t have to pay anything to use it as long as you take the software and use your own paid hosting to make the site available on the internet.
WordPress also offers a service where they do the hosting for you to make it simple to get started. This service, on WordPress.com, is built on a freemium model which makes it free to get started but many paid services are pushed. I would never recommend that someone use WordPress.com for any site for a business, or which you are taking seriously.
|WordPress.com Personal||$48/year + domain||No Google Analytics, no custom designs|
|WordPress.com Premium||$96/year + domain||More customization but still limited functionality|
|Independently-hosted WordPress Site||$36/year hosting + domain and customizations||Completely unlimited|
WordPress.com does not allow nearly the flexibility and power that WordPress on your own hosting allows. It is designed to be extremely simple to use, but it blocks you from using themes and plugins which can allow you to greatly customize your site.
WordPress.com could be a good option for a student needing to try blogging for the first time, or for someone who simply wants to experiment, but for every other use, I strongly recommend using the full version of WordPress. It is not difficult to use and will allow you as the site owner to create anything you imagine.
Hosting is the Largest Cost of a WordPress Site
Web hosting is the network of specialized computers called servers that send your website files to anyone around the world who wishes to view your website. While it is possible to buy a computer server yourself to host your website, nearly all webmasters today simply pay a company to provide hosting for them.
Not all hosting companies work with WordPress sites, but given how popular WordPress is, most of them do. Hosting companies differ in the speeds they offer, pricing, level of customer support, and ease of use. For a brand new website owner, I recommend that you focus on ease of use and price.
I have tried at least a dozen different hosting companies over the years and each of them have benefits for different types of sites that I have built.
If you are a new WordPress site owner, this is the hosting provider I recommend. The reason is that you can get your site up for under $3/month and they have, hands down, the most easy system for setting up a WordPress site and great support for when you need help.
Nearly all hosting companies offer affiliate programs with similar commissions so I’m not recommending that one to get a bigger cut. I’ve just taught blogging to thousands of new website owners and when they start their site on Bluehost, they have FAR fewer problems in getting started.
While all hosting companies essentially make your site available on the internet, they each have different backend systems for helping you to work on your site. Some of them are very complex and scattered, but Bluehost is dead simple. I have built multiple sites to over 100,000 pageviews per month on Bluehost, but I do eventually move my really big sites over to a different hosting provider that can handle extreme bandwidth needs.
The one negative to choosing Bluehost is that it’s very slightly slower than some other hosts. If speed is very important to you, you might choose WPX instead. WPX is a little more complicated of an interface and their customer support isn’t quite as good, but they do offer very fast speeds.
But seriously, if this is your first WordPress site, choose Bluehost. I’ve tried over a dozen and that’s the one I always recommend people start with. If your site blows up in a few years, it takes less than an hour to transfer your site to a new hosting provider.
Purchasing a Domain Name Costs About $10/Year
The domain name is the website address of your website. This site’s domain name, for example, is IncomeSchool.com. All domain names are registered through a centralized system so that any computer anywhere in the world that types in a domain name will end up on the same site.
Domain names are the address of your site, but not the site itself. It merely points a user’s browser (like Chrome) to where the files can be found on your hosting provider’s server.
Most site owners purchase their domain name through their hosting provider. When you purchase hosting, many hosts will even include on year of domain registration for free. After the first year, a domain name usually costs about $12 per year.
It is possible to purchase a domain name through one site, and hosting from another provider. Then, you simply point the domain name to your hosting provider and no one even knows they were purchased from different companies. However, as a new website owner, this is unnecessarily complicated though you could save a very tiny amount of money if you purchased the domain name from a less expensive domain registrar and then hosting separately if the hosting company doesn’t already include a domain name.
There are Free and Premium WordPress Themes
WordPress cannot display a website page without a theme. A WordPress theme is the design and layout of your site. The files of a WordPress theme are uploaded into WordPress which then puts the blog posts and pages you typed into the design and displays them on your site.
There are currently 3,933 free WordPress themes available in the WordPress catalog, and thousands more available from other websites.
Given the huge quantity of free WordPress themes, it may surprise you that I still recommend that most new site owners pay for a premium WordPress theme. The reason is that quality paid themes make the process of building a site much easier for a beginner.
Some examples of common issues with free themes that paid themes usually fix:
- Free themes often don’t have a simple upload button to put your logo on the site. Many require it to be coded in.
- Paid themes usually handle images better as the developers go through the extra work of grabbing proper sizes of images and allow the user to customize thumbnails and full size image displays for featured images.
- Paid themes usually provide more functionality than just a layout. They often provide social sharing and SEO features built-in.
- Premium themes almost always provide more page/post templates than just the default. For example, a template that is full-width and removes the sidebar for sales, about, and other important pages.
- Premium themes often provide demo content so the user can easily replicate precisely what they saw in the theme demo before buying.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that these bullet points are hasty generalizations. Some free themes are very full-featured, but generally I have found it to be the case that premium themes are much more user-friendly.
Not all premium themes are created equal, or even close to it. Here are my recommendations for themes:
- WooThemes for eCommerce – Good news for ecommerce sites. WooThemes makes the WooCommerce software that is the most common for eCommerce sites. Many of their themes that used to cost money are now free! If you are making a site that primarily is for shopping for products, go with WooCommerce and WooThemes.
- Acabado for blogging – If you are creating a blog or other content-focused website, I humbly suggest you use our theme Acabado. It is stupid-fast, dead-simple to use, it absolutely crushes SEO (search engine optimization), it’s reasonably priced, and the design is clean and easy to navigate. HOWEVER, it’s also not the right theme for a site that isn’t primarily a blog. It’s the wrong theme for a local coffee shop, a music group announcing their tour schedule, or an author just wanting to put up a page advertising their book. If you’ll be writing blog posts, though, I feel 100% confident that it’s what you need.
- Airi for small business websites – If you own a small local business and you wan to create a website, I might recommend Airi. It looks nice, is easy to use, and is reasonably priced at $59.
- Divi for advanced designers – Elegant Themes makes the incredibly powerful theme Divi, but I wouldn’t at all recommend it for a beginner. It is extremely customizable, but also very easy to mess up and requires you learning several new skills to be able to use it. It’s also quite slow. You might love it eventually, but start with something else.
One of the greatest benefits of a WordPress site is the availability of many thousands of plugins you can use to add functionality to your website without needing to learn how to code. Want to add a forum? Install a forum plugin. Want to change shopping carts? Install a different shopping cart plugin. Want to add social share buttons? Install a plugin. It’s awesome.
The coolest part is that most all plugins can be found for free, but you should be aware that there are also hundreds or thousands of premium plugins which can add incredible functionality to your site. A plugin usually costs between $50 and $100, but frankly I only use one or two paid plugins. You won’t need to buy any, but should budget for them if you think you might want one.
Bloggers use a lot of photos. In fact, my little company uses 1,000 stock photos every single month. Yikes. For most bloggers who write 5-10 blog posts per month, you’ll need 15-30 stock photos each month. A typical blog post includes anywhere between 3 and 7 images.
You can get free images by searching google for creative commons images that require attribution, but I don’t recommend it. Images are very important to your site’s look, professionalism, and ability to visually show what you’re talking about. I recommend spending just a little money on quality stock photography. It will make a huge impact on your site.
There is another reason to not use “free” images. Tens of thousands of images listed as “free” on the web actually are not. They are posted by people wanting traffic so they offer free images, but they don’t actually have the rights to those images. If the original artist finds you, you’re busted even if you relied on someone else saying it was “free.” To me, it’s not worth the risk.
There are many good stock photography sites. I would recommend before you buy that you do some searching on each service and make sure they have lots of images in your niche that you like. If you are writing about something like paramotors or pontoon boats, you could have a tough time finding the right picture. We personally use 123rf.com but I also like Dreamstime.
Your Shopping List
- Bluehost Hosting. Choose the cheapest option, don’t buy any of the add-ons except domain privacy.
- Domain Name. You’ll get one for free as you purchase your Bluehost account.
- WordPress Theme. Choose Acabado if you’re mostly blogging; Choose WooThemes if you’re doing eCommerce; Choose Airi for small local businesses.
- Dreamstime Stock Photography. There are lots of good options.
- Plugins. To see the plugins we recommend, check out this page. It’ll save you a ton of time.