The True Cost of Building a WordPress Website that Nobody Ever Mentions - Maintenance and Support

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    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.

    Basic Types of WordPress Maintenance and Support Tasks

    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.

    • WordPress Plugin Maintenance 

    1. Review WP Admin Panel and Check for Plugin Updates (highlighted plugins need updates)
    2. Back up the Site and Plugins - This is done to protect against any problems that may occur, so you can revert to the old version if needed. Backing up the site can also be done in many different ways, depending on your hosting provider and/or if you use a specific plugin for creating a backup.
    3. Choose “Update” for automated plugin updates
    4. Quality Assurance (QA) Review -  This is where you review the site to ensure none of the plugin updates have “broken” the site. Be aware that full plugin automation without manual QA can be risky.
    5. Fix Any Problems - Hopefully, this step doesn’t happen too often, but when it does it can be very time-consuming. Depending on the specific error message you receive after a plugin update, it may require researching the issue, as well as reviewing database files, and server files. Once the problem is understood, then a fix will need to be implemented.

    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 Core Maintenance

    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.

    • PHP Maintenance (Version Changes that Require Updates)

    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.

    How Much Time Is Required For WordPress Maintenance and Support?

    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:  

    • Regular Maintenance including Plugin Updates, site Backups, and Plugins Quality Assurance (QA)

      • How Often? - Depending on the site’s importance and complexity, some sites are updated twice a week, while others are updated monthly. On average, most sites have maintenance updates performed 1-2 times per month.
      • Time Required (per occurrence) - This regular maintenance can take on average 15-30 minutes, as long as nothing breaks (see “Fixing Problems” below).
    • WordPress Update Maintenance Checks

      • How Often? - 2-3 times per year

      • Time Required (per occurrence) - similar to regular updates/maintenance, on average 15-30 minutes.

    • Fixing Problems

    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? - My survey and research estimates that an average site might have issues that require troubleshooting and fixing 2-4 times per year or 8-16% of the time site/plugin updates are made.
    • Time Required (per occurrence) - This is another item that is difficult to estimate, but the typical answer was that these tasks vary greatly, but usually range from 30 minutes to 3.0 hours to complete. So we’ll estimate 1-2 hours on average (assuming no security-related issues - hacked site fixes would significantly increase this time estimate).
    • PHP Version Changes that Require Updates

      • How Often? - Every 2-3 years.

      • Time Required (per occurrence) - 4-6 hours

    The Bottom Line

    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.

    Are These Expenses Adding Value to Your Business?

    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. 

    Understand Your Total Cost of Ownership

    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.


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    About the Author

    Kevin Kennedy

    Kevin Kennedy, Marketpath’s VP Marketing and Professional Services, has been working on business strategy, digital marketing, and website technology for over 20 years. Prior to joining Marketpath in 2009, Kevin worked for Delta Faucet Company, including roles as Director of E-Business, where he led the company's technology strategy, and Director of Interactive Marketing. 

    Kevin graduated with a B.B.A. in Finance from the University of Notre Dame and received his M.B.A. from Eastern Michigan University. In his free time, Kevin enjoys spending time with his wife, Bridget, and their five children, travel, and various sports activities, while also participating on the non-profit boards for The Children's TherAplay Foundation and Juega Como Campeon.

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