Free, Cheap & Expensive WordPress Options

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Digital Marketing Wingman Podcast – Episode 3

In this episode Nicholas Katsambiris and Nathan George discuss why WordPress is free, what options you have for building a website with WordPress and when it might be suitable to use paid products or developers.


Nathan: Hi everybody, welcome to the Digital Marketing Wingman podcast episode number three. I’m pretty impressed that we got to episode three already. We had the lovely Kate from D & Co Studio last week talking about branding, that was great. We got some great feedback on that podcast online on Facebook in Facebook groups, so thank you to Kate for coming in. This week we’ve got Nick back.

Nicholas: Howdy, y’all.

Nathan: And we’re going to be talking all things about WordPress and the fact that it’s free, and what your options are when you’re using WordPress, whether those options be free, cheap, or expensive. So my name’s Nathan, I am the director here at Pixeld, a digital marketing agency in Geelong, and Nicholas Katsambiris by my side is a leading web developer slash WordPress developer.

Nathan: You can listen to this podcast now on, we record the podcast on Friday afternoons at 3:00, and we go live on Facebook on Instagram so you can catch us there.

Nicholas: Around 3:00. Give or take.

Nathan: Around 3:00, depending on technical circumstances. And we haven’t quite got it 100% right just yet, and we haven’t quite got a way to view questions that easily whilst recording the podcast. We don’t have a studio or a crew to feed the questions to us, but maybe-

Nicholas: Maybe we’ll hire some people next time.

Nathan: One day, one day, maybe not next time, but one day.

Nicholas: [crosstalk 00:02:08] boxes.

Nathan: We’ll work that out. But you can listen to the podcast on Spotify. You’ll see it posted on the Pixeld website, and you can now get us son iTunes. So if you just use Siri and say, “Hey Siri, play the Digital Marketing Wingman podcast, it’ll come up automatically, which is pretty cool, feel pretty famous doing that. And we’re also on YouTube, so you’ll get the recorded version of this podcast with video so you can see our faces on YouTube, and again the link will be on the Pixeld website.

Nathan: So to start off with, Nick, this podcast, WordPress.

Nicholas: Yes.

Nathan: Why is WordPress free?

Nicholas: WordPress is free because it’s a open source project.

Nathan: And what is open source?

Nicholas: They’re an open source software.

Nathan: What does that mean?

Nicholas: It means that anyone can contribute to it, anyone can view the code. It’s not locked down, it’s not proprietary. Anyone can extend upon it, download it, instal it, and modify it, do absolutely anything they want to it, essentially.

Nathan: So they can turn it into another product if they wanted to?

Nicholas: Yeah. You could change the name of it and resell it.

Nathan: So WordPress itself, it was created off the back of that. It was based off of another piece of software.

Nicholas: Yeah. I can’t remember what it’s called though.

Nathan: I know it’s got “Café” in the name. That’s the only thing I remember.

Nicholas: Let’s call it CafeScript.

Nathan: CafeScript. I think it was … Not CafePress, but …

Nicholas: That was a while ago.

Nathan: Bcafe?

Nicholas: BBCafe or something?

Nathan: No, I don’t know, anyway, so yeah, it itself is what they call a fork of the software, and they’ve made it into something else and gone on with it. And it’s under that licence, the GPL licence, which covers all of those things. So WordPress has an amazing community of people that contribute to WordPress. Not just to the code. What sort of other things do people do for the WordPress community?

Nicholas: They can contribute to translations, for international translations supported in every single …

Nathan: Language?

Nicholas: Language. I was going to say currency for some reason.

Nathan: Too much crypto on your mind.

Nicholas: But if you instal WooCommerce you can use it in any currency. And I guess you could just build a business off of that. There’s companies that are built off WordPress that just provide training and support for their WordPress site and nothing else.

Nathan: I’ve heard of, actually, companies that, because they get so much out of WordPress for free, they actually commit a certain amount of resources back to WordPress. They actually use their developers …

Nicholas: It does say in the WordPress community that you should donate 5% of your time, I think, back to the open-source platform.

Nathan: Okay. Truth bomb, we don’t donate 5% of our time back.

Nicholas: This is 5%.

Nathan: Well this is it I suppose, we’re giving it exposure.

Nicholas: Baby steps.

Nathan: So it’s free to use, free to distribute, free to modify.

Nicholas: Yep.

Nathan: What about plugins and themes?

Nicholas: Yes, that would be why it’s so popular, because you can extend it so easily, and there’s millions and millions of free plugins and themes available that anyone can use and instal.

Nathan: So there’s a whole bunch of themes on the WordPress repository, the repo they call it, and they’re all for free.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: Then there’s paid plugins, I guess, that you can buy from websites, plugins and themes, that you would pay with like a normal checkout process, but then download and instal them into your website.

Nicholas: Yeah. So there’d be individual companies that have created their own themes and plugins that they want to sell, or they could sell it through a marketplace like ThemeForest where there’s thousands and thousands of options available.

Nathan: Now even though these companies are selling their products, in theory, and it’s not proven, it’s not 100% proven in a court of law, but it’s suggested that anything that’s built to be used under WordPress, like a plugin or theme, is derivative works of WordPress, and therefore falls under the GPL licence. So what are we actually paying for when we buy a plugin? If it’s free to distribute, what am I paying for when I buy that plugin?

Nicholas: I think the main thing you pay for is the support, the ongoing support, the updates from the developer of the company. I think they’re probably the two main areas that people or companies focus on when selling their plugins and themes.

Nathan: It’s kind of hidden, like they don’t advertise the fact that this plugin is actually GPL and you actually could give it to anyone you like.

Nicholas: No. It’s just part of the WordPress system I guess.

Nathan: It’s the beauty and the flaw of WordPress, because commercially it’s kind of tricky to get involved in, because you don’t really own your product.

Nicholas: But it wouldn’t be what it was today unless it was open and under that GPL.

Nathan: That’s it. So it wouldn’t have the same uptake, the same usage, if it wasn’t free.

Nicholas: No.

Nathan: And therefore it wouldn’t have the same community following it and contributing to it, and it wouldn’t be where it was today, I think powering a third of the web.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: When it comes to building a website, everyone’s different, everyone’s business is at a different stage. You might not even be in business, you might just be a hobbyist, or just tinkering around and learning how to be a web developer. There are basically three options when it comes to building that website, and one of the options is the free route, where you use all … Obviously WordPress is free, but you use all free plugins and free themes. There’s the cheaper route, where you buy themes from places like There are plenty of other them stores online, and you might pay $50 for a them, you might pay $50 or $100 for certain plugins. Then you’ve got the more, I’ll say expensive, everyone’s definition of expensive is different, and it depends on what value you’re getting back from your website, but I’ll say most … When you’ve got a web development agency, that’s the more expensive route, where you’re paying substantially more than $50 to get a website built.

Nicholas: Definitely, yeah.

Nathan: So let’s start with cheap. What are our options when it comes to building a site? We’ve got the default themes that come with WordPress. They’re actually not a bad start. They’re pretty clean.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: They’re probably aimed more for blogging.

Nicholas: Bloggers.

Nathan: Not so much businesses.

Nicholas: Hobbyists.

Nathan: Yeah.

Nicholas: Maybe sporting clubs and things like that.

Nathan: But you can make it work. Like if you’re not too worried about winning design awards it’s a pretty clean start.

Nicholas: If you just need something up, and it’s probably going to be short term, that’s a great option.

Nathan: So if you were, let’s just say a bowls club, and you’ve got limited technical ability …

Nicholas: Yes, perfect example.

Nathan: The 2017 WordPress theme is probably not a bad option is it, the black and white one, the fairly simple one?

Nicholas: Yeah, I think so, yeah.

Nathan: Comes installed when you instal WordPress. That’s a pretty good option, and you can instal photos and it will look nice and clear. You don’t have to worry too much about styling it.

Nicholas: No.

Nathan: In terms of plugins though, it’s a little bit more risky, let’s say.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: You’re looking for functionality, because there are literally thousands and thousands of plugins available, and it’s fantastic that they’re free, but it’s also … There is some sort of quality control, but there’s no guarantees.

Nicholas: No.

Nathan: From a hobbyist’s perspective that doesn’t really matter, you don’t really care. But from-

Nicholas: It’s not really going to have much of an impact if something went wrong.

Nathan: No. Like if something was broken on the site you wouldn’t really care. If the site was even completely down, wouldn’t really matter, you’d just fix it when you could.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: But from a business perspective I guess you’ve got to be a little bit more selective in what plugins you instal, and what your acceptable risk is, and what would happen if the site went down for an hour, two hours, a day, a week.

Nicholas: A month.

Nathan: What does that mean to your bottom line, what is the cost of that. You might have to think more carefully about what plugins and themes you instal.

Nicholas: Yeah. Which is especially important for ecommerce sites.

Nathan: Yeah, I mean WooCommerce is a fantastic plugin, and that is free, but all of the extended functionality on WooCommerce, there are a lot of free plugins as well for that …

Nicholas: Oh yeah, there’s thousands.

Nathan: But there’s also the premium versions. We’ll touch on that in a second. I guess they’re going to be a lot more reliable, because you’d actually pay for that support, that service, and there’s an expectation of some sort of standard there.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: So really, going down the free route, who would we suggest that’s suitable for, really?

Nicholas: Only bloggers. Only bloggers, small businesses, people that don’t-

Nathan: I might even suggest that business probably should stay clear. Even small businesses might stay clear of completely free. I’d say if you’re maybe just tinkering at this stage, maybe getting into web development-

Nicholas: Or if you’re just trying to get a feel for what you could do. It might only be up for two weeks before you pull the pin.

Nathan: Yeah.

Nicholas: Just some basic contact information.

Nathan: I certainly wouldn’t recommend, if you’re going to start an ecommerce store there are potentially other options than just installing all of the free stuff on the WordPress repo.

Nicholas: Yeah. But I think we sometimes usually recommend using a alternative route. Something like Squarespace or Wix or something like that.

Nathan: So that probably falls into our next category, which is cheap.

Nicholas: Yes.

Nathan: So there are a bunch of options, which I think is probably more the small business side of things, maybe when you’re just starting out a business, you’re on your own, budgets are tight, or you might not have a budget at all. There are plenty of options out there for themes, and it can be a bit of a trap,, these beautiful themes that look absolutely amazing in the demos, but what happens when you instal them, they look like crap.

Nicholas: Every single time.

Nathan: They never look like what you bought. They never do.

Nicholas: They have so many options and settings and bloat that you just don’t know where to start.

Nathan: Yeah.

Nicholas: Even I struggle. [crosstalk 00:12:26], it’s overwhelming.

Nathan: The configuration screens with all the options are just phenomenal.

Nicholas: And you barely use 2% of it, it’s crazy.

Nathan: And it’s not like you can modify them, you can’t strip out that stuff easily.

Nicholas: No.

Nathan: And we probably wouldn’t even attempt trying to strip it out.

Nicholas: No.

Nathan: It’s just so complicated. And most sites would never need that level of option.

Nicholas: No.

Nathan: It’s a bit of a race at the moment. All of the big theme developers, they’re trying to include the kitchen sink in the thing.

Nicholas: Yeah, this is a one-size-fits-all.

Nathan: On one hand it’s great for someone who just wants a nice simple interface to build websites with, and they’ve got access to everything they could possibly want, but-

Nicholas: If you’re just starting out, on way.

Nathan: It’s really good for the tinkerers.

Nicholas: If you’ve got time to invest.

Nathan: If you’ve got time to invest in tinkering with it, and you’re not too concerned about the availability of the website, so if something went wrong. And end of the day, you’ve got to think, there’s a lot of big companies that are multi-million dollar companies, that base their online business on the back of a $50 theme. Which is pretty absurd.

Nicholas: That’s crazy. When you put it that way it’s insane.

Nathan: It is the absolute foundation of their business, their online business, and this developer, you have no idea who it is, you have no idea whether they’re going to stick around, you have no idea … You were telling me a story earlier about …

Nicholas: Yeah, there was a reputable company that has like 30,000 users, who were putting malicious content on their themes, trying to get people to sign up to their hosting account by slowing down their websites intentionally.

Nathan: So I would’ve bought the theme, used it unknowingly for a while-

Nicholas: You could’ve used it for two years, and then all of a sudden have slowly been adding a staff to get you to move to their other products and pay.

Nathan: So it’s a bit of a wild wild west of themes, I guess, out there.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: And even the bigger players, there’s no … it’s hard to know …

Nicholas: There’s never a guarantee.

Nathan: There are some good ones. I mean there are definitely, there is, there has to be.

Nicholas: Oh yeah.

Nathan: And there’s some big ones, some great stories, the guy that … I’ve lost the name now. The big one, starts with a A …

Nicholas: Avada.

Nathan: Avada. So the Avada theme, the story-

Nicholas: On ThemeForest.

Nathan: That’s the guy from India, yeah?

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: Who went from nothing to being this mega-multi-million-dollar guy with this huge palace.

Nicholas: Oh yeah, he’s made millions off that. That’s been number one on the list forever.

Nathan: Search that on YouTube actually, Avada theme developer.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: And it’s a really cool story about how he went from nothing to just being …

Nicholas: A powerhouse.

Nathan: A powerhouse in the WordPress world. So those themes, they’ve got the money, they have support in place, they probably have support [crosstalk 00:15:10] with multiple-

Nicholas: They have a support team, yeah.

Nathan: Yeah, so I guess they’re going to be better in that sense. But a lot of the other ones, there’s a lot of smaller ones, smaller development teams-

Nicholas: Yeah, that story I said was a team four people, with 30,000 members.

Nathan: And you don’t know which country they’re in a lot of the time. Very risky in the sense of, what if they did something like that to my business.

Nicholas: Or if they shut down tomorrow and you don’t have support any more.

Nathan: What if the theme has a vulnerability where your site can be hacked and they don’t do anything about it, they don’t care, they don’t take action? That’s something that you’ve got to weigh up.

Nathan: The tradeoff is, you paid $50. You didn’t have to spend an awful lot of money on your website, but the risk is, and it might never happen, so a lot of people say, “I’ve never had a problem,” great, fantastic, you’ve been lucky, but-

Nicholas: Until it impacts your business.

Nathan: Until it impacts your business and you realise, yeah, it’s not a consideration. So we don’t use themes.

Nicholas: No.

Nathan: We have come a long way, been through pre-WordPress development, and sort of seen a lot of things in the web industry, and we’ve just decided that we don’t want to have our business relying on another business.

Nicholas: No.

Nathan: We want to basically have control of our own destiny, so we use a very basic theme.

Nicholas: More of a framework than a theme.

Nathan: More of a framework, and we just add in what we need, and I guess it’s going to hopefully perform faster, less bloat, it’s tailor made.

Nicholas: Yep, tailored to every single project.

Nathan: And we found that’s a much better approach. But we’re web developers, so not everyone can do that.

Nicholas: No.

Nathan: That’s the tradeoff, and I guess that takes us into the next category, which is the more expensive options. Now when you’re a business and you’ve got revenue, and you don’t want to lose business, you don’t want to be down, you want the website to perform, not just be on, you want it to actually perform, that’s when you would invest in a web developer, and websites from web agencies or developers can range from, I don’t know, let’s say $500 right up to $50,000.

Nicholas: To 50, yeah, easily.

Nathan: And beyond, so it really depends. If we’re talking to someone who’s new, and they’ve just started their business, and they don’t really know, and you showed them your websites that you’ve been designing, and then you showed them … Or, they looked at demo sites on the theme for us, at $50 …

Nicholas: It would be fairly comparable.

Nathan: They’d look the same.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: Maybe yours looked a little bit better.

Nicholas: Oh, thanks.

Nathan: But on the surface you wouldn’t really know, like what am I paying for? What benefits do I get out of coming to see [crosstalk 00:18:00]?

Nicholas: I think it’s the whole package. So you could instal a $50 theme, but can you easily set up a Mailchimp marketing campaign? Can you easily optimise it for search engine rankings? All those things I don’t think a hobbyist would be able to achieve.

Nathan: Yeah.

Nicholas: That’s probably the main thing, it’s the complete package, not just a website.

Nathan: And our process, that really, I guess … We want to get to understand their business, and their target audience, and really craft, not just the way it looks, but the way it’s structured.

Nicholas: The way it functions, the user experience.

Nathan: The components, all the bits and pieces. It’s got someone who’s done that, that lives and breathes that stuff.

Nicholas: Yeah. And it’s personalised to their brand. I don’t think you’d see any of our designs that look like a template, because they all are built around their brand or their logo or their image.

Nathan: I know we could build websites faster and I could make more money if we just used a template and just re-badged everyone’s site, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same result.

Nicholas: No. Completely different outcome. Customers would see that, I would think.

Nathan: Yeah, and we just wouldn’t be proud to put our name to something like that.

Nicholas: No, not at all.

Nathan: I liken it to a builder. So I could buy a home kit and build a house if I wanted to. I could try to build a house, and I would probably get the walls up, and maybe get the roof on, and it would look like a house. You could call it a house, but would it last, would it perform, would it be comfortable, would it …

Nicholas: Probably not.

Nathan: Probably not, so I liken that to a website. Anyone can build a website these days, there’s so many tools that are out there.

Nicholas: Oh yeah.

Nathan: When you’re starting out, if you have no revenue right now, there’s really no value to bring with a web developer just yet, because you don’t understand your target audience yet. You’re just starting out.

Nicholas: You don’t know what your sales are like online, there’s a whole range of things.

Nathan: You don’t even know if your business is viable at that stage.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: So coming to a developer and spending thousands of dollars can be super risky. Now if you’ve got thousands of dollars to go it might be a faster way to boost your business on, but you’ve got to be prepared to lose it, that maybe your business isn’t viable, and it’s not the website’s fault, it’s just the product just never was viable. So I quite often turn [crosstalk 00:20:23].

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: Squarespace, for example, is a great option. Now I think Squarespace … Unless you want to get into web development, for some reason you like web development, you want to tinker, you’re a hands-on kind of person, buying the $50 theme from ThemeForest is not a bad idea. It has its risks, but the tradeoff is that it’s cheap. But if you’re a business owner, that’s not a web development business, you probably want to spend your time on other things. And Squarespace is a completely encapsulated platform. You don’t have to understand how it works, the technicalities, what’s risky, what’s a good plugin, what’s a bad plugin.

Nicholas: No, it’s fairly straightforward.

Nathan: You just pay the fee and they manage the platform for you. So I think that’s a great option for if you’re starting out. But again, what you put into that website is based off of your own knowledge.

Nicholas: Of what a website should look like.

Nathan: Of what a website should look like, what text should be in there, what components. So it’s a great way to test the waters, but it’s not the same as someone who builds websites for a living.

Nicholas: Who lives and breathes marketing.

Nathan: Who lives and breathes marketing, who can put the right pieces in play. Or at least put in a good first guest to start with, and then can analyse and modify and improve things.

Nicholas: And [crosstalk 00:21:35] based on that feedback.

Nathan: Exactly. To be able to develop and spend thousands of dollars, you’ve really got to be in that next bracket. You’ve probably built a website before. For someone like us, our website’s starting point these days is around $5,000 for a fairly simple website. And for someone who’s just starting out, that can be a bit of a shock price-wise, they don’t see the value in that.

Nicholas: But if they’ve tried to do it themselves and they’re not getting any value out of it, then that’s usually when we’ll hear from them.

Nathan: But the flip of that is a business that’s perhaps been around for three years, they’ve had a simple website, they’ve started to see sales and customers, and they know their business is viable.

Nicholas: And they’ve hit their knowledge limit. And they’re like what now.

Nathan: They’ve hit their knowledge limit, yeah, they want to get to the next stage but they don’t know how.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: Coming to us and spending $5,000 or more suddenly has real value, because we can take that successful business and amplify that with a website that really fires for them. So that’s where I’d suggest, not just us, but any development agency.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: I think when you’re starting out, I would be the same, I would trial things myself.

Nicholas: Oh yeah, of course.

Nathan: On a cheaper platform, until I have some sort of idea if this is going to work.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: Then the experts can really bring you value. You’re basically flipping a coin on whether … Most businesses fail, so yeah, flipping a coin on whether that would work, and spending too much money to start could be a bit of a risk. So that’s our three, I guess, options, three stages of business for building a website, and so you get the free options, tinkerers, hobbyists-

Nicholas: Boilers.

Nathan: Where there’s not much risk, or there’s no concern of business downtime or website downtime. You’ve got your cheap option, which I think is more for startups or tinkerers, people who are willing to get their hands dirty, have the time to do that. But also accept the risk that their destiny is in the hands of someone else.

Nicholas: Yeah.

Nathan: Then, seeking a developer, a web development agency, is definitely for the next stage, when you know your business is viable and you want to get a more serious outcome.

Nicholas: Yep.

Nathan: Great, okay, awesome. Well that’s going to wrap up this podcast. If you would like to be on the podcast … I’d like to talk to marketers and other graphic designers and web developers and shoot the shit basically on web development topics, but I’d also be open to talking to business owners with their stories and what they think works for them. I think that would be a great thing to share on the podcast. So that’s it, thanks very much for listening, and I’ll see you next Friday.

Nicholas: See you guys.

Nathan: Bye.


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