The real cost of WordPress

We know what you’re thinking: WordPress is free! But as the saying goes: there’s no such thing as a free [website platform].

John Moore Williams
January 22, 2019
Web design

In general, we don’t love directly calling out what you might call a “competitor.” But all too often, Webflow users are forced to answer the question: why this newfangled platform “Webflow” over the so-called “industry standard”?

Of course, price isn’t the only dimension you want to consider when you’re evaluating your website platform options. But we’ve discussed the differences in terms of design freedom, content management, and hosting elsewhere.

But at the end of the day, pricing can be an incredibly compelling dimension to consider, especially for those clients who consider Webflow’s hosting costs a little steep, at least as compared to the bargain basement hosting options out there.

So, in this post, we’ll take a closer look at just how quickly “free” WordPress can become “spendy” WordPress in terms of both tangible costs like:

  1. Hosting
  2. Plugins
  3. Themes

And more intangible costs, such as:

  1. Security
  2. Platform and plugin updates
  3. Performance  

As you read, keep in mind that WordPress comes in two flavors: hosted, and self-hosted. Throughout this post, we’ll focus on comparing the hosted version to Webflow, since Webflow is also a hosted product.

We’ll also steer clear of discussing costs for ecommerce sites for most of the post, though we’ll touch on it at the end, for those interested.

The tl;dr (too long, didn’t read)


I really encourage you to at least scan this entire post to see where I’m getting these numbers, but leaving the intangibles out of the equation, here’s the sum cost of ownership for one year on Webflow and WordPress:

Webflow (Hosting + Designer) = $144–499 USD annually

Webflow (Hosting + Designer + CMS) = $192–499 USD annually

WordPress (hosting + Advanced Custom Fields + visual builder) = $177–3,262 USD annually

Here’s how we got there:

The cost of hosting

WordPress hosting

If you’re launching your site on a custom domain via WordPress.com (the hosted version), costs range from $5–25 USD a month, billed annually.

That’s $60–300 USD a year.

Webflow Hosting

If you’re launching your site on a custom domain via Webflow, costs range from $12–35 USD a month, billed annually.

That’s $144–420 USD a year.

You win this round, WordPress!

But you’re not just paying for hosting

Or do you? Because, let’s face it: when you’re hosting with WordPress and Webflow, you’re not just paying for hosting.

You’re also paying for the design tools each offers. And the content management systems that come along with them.

And unless you’re paying for a premium visual design plugin, or know CSS like the back of your hand, WordPress doesn’t even come close in terms of design freedom. Ditto for the content management system (unless you’re using the pro version of Advanced Custom Fields — which the plugin author himself notes is “built for developers”).

A straight comparison on hosting cost alone misses quite a bit of the story. A more accurate depiction might be:

Webflow Hosting + Designer + CMS = $192–420 USD

WordPress hosting + Advanced Custom Fields = $60–300 USD

But there’s tons more to consider, so let’s move on.

The cost of plugins

WordPress fans tend to point to WP’s plethora of plugins when defending the platform, but those precious little add-ons can bring a host of costs both tangible and intangible.

While many WordPress plugins are free, you’ll need several paid plugins to reproduce core Webflow functionality. And while Webflow doesn’t (yet) offer plugins, the reality is that you can integrate just about anything into Webflow, as long as you don’t mind spending a little time looking at code (and if you do, believe me, I get it).

That said:

Plugin costs for Webflow

$0*

And for that $0 dollars, you get the bulk of the functionality offered by the WordPress plugins mentioned below, including:

  1. Flexible, code-free design tools
  2. Fast, secure hosting
  3. Built-in SEO tools
  4. Easily customizable forms
  5. 100% custom content structures
  6. Simple Google Analytics integration

All without a single plugin.

And that’s without even getting into other free Webflow features, like:

  1. Free, cloneable sites to use as your site’s template, or to just pull bits and pieces from
  2. Copy-paste between projects, which lets you use others’ layouts and components on your own site with a simple copy and paste
  3. A free staging domain for every site you build, so you can experiment without touching your public site
  4. Automatic site backups, so you can roll back changes to your site with a click

Plugin costs for WordPress

There’s a plugin (or twelve) to solve most any challenge you might face with WordPress, typically ranging from simple but limited free options all the way to advanced, developer-focused premium solutions in the hundreds.

So for this section, I’ve focused on the most popular plugin options for a few must-have areas of functionality, based on both personal experience (yes, I’ve built WordPress sites!) and a trawl of popular WordPress-focused blogs.

  1. Jetpack (performance, security, and support): $39–299 USD annually
  2. Yoast (SEO): $0–89 annually
  3. WPForms or Gravity Forms (forms, natch): $39–600 annually
  4. Advanced Custom Fields (CMS/structured content): $0–100 annually
  5. MonsterInsights (analytics): $0–800 annually
  6. Sucuri (security): $0-500 annually
  7. A visual builder (Divi, Elegant, Elementor): $49–399 annually

And you know what? There are literally hundreds of other options out there, but I’m going to stop right there. We’re already at $68–2,388 annually, bringing our running totals to:

Webflow Hosting + Designer + CMS = $192–420 USD annually

WordPress hosting + Advanced Custom Fields + visual builder = $177–3,087 USD annually

And keep in mind: Webflow provides the majority of the feature sets for 6 out of the 7 plugins above, right out of the box! (MonsterInsights being the only exception, and that’s an optional purchase, to my mind.)

Finally, you have to consider some of the more intangible, logistical issues each plugin can add to your life:

  1. Potential conflicts between plugins
  2. New security vulnerabilities
  3. Reduced load times and overall performance

And each of these issues can only be addressed by the plugin developer. And if you’re relying on free plugins, that update due date could be: never.

Plus, unless you’re a skilled coder, plugins are the only way to add animations to a WordPress site.

*To be fair, you could consider the cost of any integrations you need (such as, say, MailChimp) as the Webflow equivalent of a plugin cost. But as noted above, Webflow includes the vast majority of the functionality provided by the above plugin list out of the box.

The cost of themes/templates

Now we get to a big differentiator between WordPress and Webflow. While WordPress is template-based, Webflow was built to let you start from scratch, so you can build exactly what you’re looking for, from the ground up.

Note: Webflow does have templates, which work differently from WordPress themes in that you can’t just swap one theme for another without reworking your content, and they’re completely optional.

And as anyone who’s experienced WordPress theme uncertainty knows, the ability to just swap between themes is more of an ideal than a reality. (And at Webflow, we believe that design and content should work together seamlessly — that is, content isn’t ever one-size-fits-all.)

With that out of the way, here’s the pricing breakdown:

Webflow template: $0–79

WordPress theme: $0–175*

*Note that many WordPress themes require particular paid plugins to work as advertised, leading to additional costs.

Which brings our running total to:

Webflow Hosting + Designer + CMS = $192–499 USD annually

WordPress hosting + Advanced Custom Fields + visual builder = $177–3,262 USD annually

And now, let’s talk …

Intangible costs of WordPress

WordPress is routinely cited for its issues in three key areas that I refer to as intangibles — though their effects on your business could be anything but intangible when you take into account very real issues like brand damage, slow loading times, and suboptimal user experience for those building and maintaining the affected sites.

Those areas are:

  1. Security
  2. Platform and plugin updates
  3. Performance  

Security costs of WordPress

If only I could explain to you all the times I have defended WordPress sites against XSS and BF attacks… Have never had this issue on any of my Webflow sites.

Nathan Pratt, experienced WordPress and Webflow developer

Security is probably the foremost problem area for WordPress. Historically, this has often been due to poor installation, maintenance, and updating practices on the part of the maintainers — because with WordPress, all of that work’s on you.

And the truth is, according to a report by website security firm Sucuri — makers of one of the more popular WordPress security plugins — outdated installation is becoming less of an issue for WordPress sites.

But WordPress sites still account for the vast majority of “remediation” requests they receive, with a whopping 83% of all requests.

Now: let’s be clear. There are definitely very tangible costs to getting your site hacked. It costs time (and hence, wages) to recover from. It may cost even more if you need to reach out to a professional firm like Sucuri.

And in the longer term, it may cost a lot in terms of brand reputation. That can be nearly impossible to calculate, but I know that I’ve seen sites I once loved get hacked … and never visited them again.

It’s a big web out there, and there’s almost always an alternative to your site. So one “little” hack can mean customers lost for life.

Which is exactly why we manage all updates for you, constantly look out for vulnerable sites on our platform, and act to manage the situation fast. We also run regular security audits, and maintain a bug bounty program to extend our visibility on, and coverage for, potential security issues.

The costs of platform, theme, and plugin updates

As a one-time WordPress fanboy, I can assure you that platform and plugin updates rank high amongst WP’s biggest headaches. Sometimes it felt like I had something to update every single time I logged into the dashboard, be it the core WordPress install or one to a dozen different plugins — oh yeah, and themes!

This inevitably distracted me from the task I’d actually planned to tackle before logging in, be it making design updates, or drafting a new blog post.

And then, of course, there’s the hassle of backing up your whole site before updating — a process WordPress left in the user’s hands for years before the latest incarnation of Jetpack.

On top of that, you’d often discover in the process that some key plugin of yours had gone zombie (that is, wasn’t being maintained anymore), leaving you with the always-enjoyable task of having to find a (hopefully free!) replacement.

Good times.

And don’t even get me started on child themes.

The cost of (poor) WordPress performance

Google search query with words "why is wordpress so" typed in search bar. Autocomplete predictions include: slow, hard to use, expensive, confusing, complicated, vulnerable, insecure, easy to hack.
That’s a real list of search suggestions right there, folks.

Way back in 2009, Google performed a fascinating experiment by purposefully slowing down search results on google.com.

Here’s what they found:

Our experiments demonstrate that slowing down the search results page by 100 to 400 milliseconds has a measurable impact on the number of searches per user of -0.2% to -0.6% (averaged over four or six weeks depending on the experiment).

–from “Speed Matters,” on the Google AI Blog

Now, those numbers might sound miniscule. But that’s for delays of less than half a second — and that’s in 2009, when people’s expectations of speed weren’t anywhere near what they are today. Imagine how much less engagement your site might get at 1 or 2 seconds of delay in 2019!

And this doesn’t just damage people’s experience on your site. Because Google long ago confirmed that page speed is a ranking factor in their algorithm. So if your site’s slow, you’re not only providing a bad experience for those who do find you — you’re lessening the chance they’ll find you in the first place.

Now, to be fair, a lot of the performance issues that can plague a WordPress site come down to “user error,” and can thus impact any site, regardless of platform: use of uncompressed images, poorly written plugins, lack of caching, etc.

But unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t do a ton to help end users — or the developers and designers who serve them — know about and address these issues.

In fact, one of the things I found during my days of using WordPress was that the plethora of themes and plugins out there really encourages a kind of conspicuous software consumption: You’re constantly on the lookout for the theme that’ll finally be perfect for you. The plugin that’ll solve X new challenge that just cropped up.

It’s like you’re building a site in the midst of the New South China Mall (the world’s largest shopping center, with over 7 million square feet of “leasable area”). Everywhere you look, there are shiny new options to try and buy, leaving you with the lingering sense that what you have couldn’t possibly be good enough.

Speaking of consumerism…

How about the cost of ecommerce with Webflow and WordPress?

We’re glad you asked! If you’re looking to build an ecommerce site, you’re looking at the following:

WordPress + WooCommerce: $662–1,000 annually (per conclusion of WooCommerce Pricing: How Much Does it Cost to Run a Store? — and that estimate only includes MailChimp, Yoast, and Sucuri as plugins/extensions.)

Webflow Ecommerce: $432–2,544 annually (per our pricing page)

Note: If you’re planning to use Webflow Ecommerce and are doing the math yourself, the price above replaces the cost for Webflow Hosting (that is, $144–420 USD).

And as our friend Nathan Pratt notes:

The cost of ecommerce for WordPress is subjective. WooCommerce is free — but you have to purchase add-ons or know heavy PHP (which causes the plugin to be modified and unsafe), to do anything beyond the basics. I've spent upwards of $300 on a single WooCommerce plugin. It can get real, ya'll.

Want to learn more about how we’re unlocking ecommerce for non-coders? Check out Webflow Ecommerce.

Soooo … yeah, WordPress can cost

As we’ve shown here, the cost of WordPress may start at free — but it shoots up dramatically from there, especially for non-personal sites. And once you factor in less tangible costs like maintenance, security, and performance, the landscape gets not only pricey, but also incredibly complicated.

Webflow also starts at free — and if you’re building solely for clients, there’s a good chance you can use Webflow for free for the foreseeable future. And Webflow builds in a host of features you can only get via plugins, if you’re building with WordPress, from the code-free visual design tools to the equally visual CMS, all the way to hosting that’ll make you forget terms like PHP, cPanel, and FTP for good.

But you don’t have to just take our word for it. See what hundreds of professional designers have had to say about Webflow on Twitter.

John Moore Williams

Head of Content Strategy at Webflow. Nice to meet ya. Follow me @JohnAMWill.

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