Confused about the expenses associated with having a website? You’re not alone.
One question I received twice now is something along these lines:
If WordPress (or Zen Cart, OS Commerce, Joomla, Squarespace, Drupal…) is a free program, why am I paying you?
Let’s talk about it.
What’s Included in the FREE Part?
The part that is free is simply the platform…in this case, WordPress (or any one of a dozen or so open source, free platforms for creating websites.
WordPress and other platforms like it are considered Content Management Systems, or CMS’s. The main benefit is that once set up, it’s fairly easy to update without any knowledge of HTML or other programming languages. To understand more about Content Management Systems (CMS) read my post here.
You are certainly welcome to create your own website for free using the free resources available for WordPress or any other platform of your choosing. However, when you are using the free platform, what you are getting is just that…the platform itself.
In the case of WordPress, you are getting the inner workings that allow you to create posts and pages, menus, and to moderate comments. When it comes to one of the shopping cart platforms, you’re getting a program that allows you to configure your own shopping cart.
If you feel knowledgeable enough and up for the challenge, go for it. However…
Skills and Know-How Are Not Included
Not included in the free part of those free platforms is the skills and know-how to configure (that is, set up) the website to your specifications and to design a unique looking theme (template) for your business or organization that suits your needs. Additionally, you’ll need a domain name (which I talk about more here), web hosting (which I talk about in this post here). Both of these are an added expense of about $15 a year (for a domain name) and $10-40 a month for web hosting.
Configuration and Set-Up
Let's start with configuration and set up.
Some web hosts make this process a little bit easier by offering a program like Fantastico in their control panel that allows you to install a platform like WordPress with a few clicks of the mouse. Where possible, even I use this method rather than manually setting up SQL databases and running through WordPress' native installer. Much easier.
Installing is just a small part of the setup process, though.
Menus need to be planned out and configured.
We need to decide what plug-ins your website will need to enhance its function, and from past experience install and configure the most reliable ones for the job at hand. For example, on this website, I have a promotional slideshow on the front page, provided by a plug in. In other places, I have a plug in that allows me to highlight text for readers to share on twitter, as well as a plug in that, allows who posts to be shared on other social media sites.
Do you know how to do that? I'm sure most people with some comfort with a computer could figure it out, but do you have the time to wrestle with it?
Well, that's what you're paying me for.
Next up comes design.
If you're not wanting to pay money for a template that is designed to specifically work for your website, business, or organization, there are quite a large number of free themes at WordPress.org. This is helpful if you're just starting out and not sure what to do, and short on cash. I understand. Been there, done that.
However, if you are hoping for a customized user experience for your readers and website visitors, you're probably not going to pick up a "for dummy's" book and put something decent together in a weekend.
Implementing Timeless Design Principles
Although I'm fond of saying that I went to school for design back when Reagan was still in office (before the World Wide Web), I did learn important and timeless design principles that enable me to create for you a user-friendly experience. Visitors to websites, according to studies, have short attention spans and tend to leave a site if it doesn't load fast, is confusing, or otherwise doesn't seem to work as they expect it.
Keeping Up with Changes in Web Design
In short, these are things I know, have studied, and keep up with. I spend a few hours each week maintaining my education to keep up with the latest technological changes and updates to HTML and CSS, as well as learning what the current best practices for websites are so I can implement them for my clients.
Making sites work on Phones and Super-sized Screens
Right now, designing for the web is no longer just about designing for a user-friendly, functional experience in a variety of browsers, but also for a variety of device sizes. Have you ever visited a website with your phone and had difficulty navigating it, reading anything, or otherwise using the site? These are things that can be fixed with the right amount of know-how and a few lines of code.
The last time I checked the analytics for most of the websites I've created in the last year, over 50% of the visits came from mobile devices. So, if they visit your site, will they leave in frustration or be thankful you paid someone to set it up to work no matter the screen size?
Optimizing Designs for Better SEO
As I mentioned in another post, SEO (or Search Engine Optimization) is the complex art and science of getting a higher ranking on search engines. Most of this is in your lap, as the owner of the website.
As the website designer, I keep up with what it is Google and other search engines want from your website to rank it higher. Right now, for example, they have started penalizing websites that are not mobile-friendly. So, not only are you frustrating your visitors if your site doesn't work on a phone, you're also not showing up as much in search engines.
When You Hire a Web Designer
So, when you hire a web designer and they use a "free" program like WordPress to set up your site, you're not paying for WordPress, obviously. You're paying for their time and expertise.
It's really up to you to decide if it's worth more to pay them or to try to figure it out for yourself.