When businesses are planning for a new website, they often make a significant mistake in the budgeting process. They typically account for design, and development, and hopefully strategy, and search engine optimization (SEO) as well. But they often fail to account for and truly understand the real cost of website maintenance and support and their impact on total cost of ownership. This is especially true when comparing a “free” WordPress site and content management system vs. a fully managed CMS like Marketpath.
In the case of WordPress, these ongoing costs may be paid as outsourced expenses (out-of-pocket dollars to an agency or WordPress maintenance company) or they may be realized in hours spent by your internal development (IT) or technical marketing team. Regardless, they are real and significant costs that should be understood.
I won’t go into the details of why support is so critical for a WordPress site, but if you don’t want a broken site or a hacked WordPress website, take my word for it. Let's begin by summarizing the types of tasks required to maintain a WordPress site.
Note - This step can often take a significant amount of time because every plugin is different, and many do not provide fast or sufficient support.
WordPress has many small, but frequent updates. Most are not time-consuming, but 2-3 times per year they will have a major update that will require maintenance to ensure there aren’t problems with themes or plugins. These major WordPress core updates are often the biggest reason plugins and custom themes break. When the core is updated and plugins/themes depend on something in the old version of the core, they can simply break - and hopefully they don't break the entire site.
These changes only happen every few years, like the one from PHP 7.4 to PHP 8.0 happening this year, but when they do, significant upgrades and maintenance are required.
So, how much time is required to properly and effectively maintain a WordPress website,? First off, let's all agree that there is not an easy answer to this question, as the type of site (e.g. blog, simple business site, eCommerce site, complex business site) and the size, and complexity of the site will certainly impact the required support time. We can estimate the time ranges required for support and maintenance to better understand the general requirements. To make that estimate I’ve interviewed WordPress developers, in addition to researching the topic online. Below are times ranges for each task, based on my research:
How Often? - 2-3 times per year
Time Required (per occurrence) - similar to regular updates/maintenance, on average 15-30 minutes.
These are the times when you run an update and something breaks, so that someone is required to troubleshoot and fix a problem.
How Often? - Every 2-3 years.
Time Required (per occurrence) - 4-6 hours
Based on our research, the average maintenance hours required for a WordPress website will range between 6.82 to 24.5 hours per year. Based on an hourly development cost range of $61/hour to $140/hour, WordPress site maintenance could cost from $416-$1,495 for a developer at the low end of the range and $887-$3,185 for a developer at the high-end pay scale.
Regardless of where your website might fall in this range of hours and cost, it can be a lot of work put in for basic maintenance that isn’t adding value to your business. These updates aren’t being spent on content marketing, branding changes, campaigns, or SEO. They are simply being done so your site doesn’t break or have a security breach.
In conclusion, when you are planning for a new website, make sure you are factoring in support and maintenance time requirements and cost. WordPress sites includes ongoing costs most businesses and agencies don't account for during the budget phase. If you're deciding to build with a "free" CMS or on a fully managed CMS, make sure it’s an apples-to-apples comparison.