D-I-WhY? : The hidden cost of building your own WordPress site

Ah, the pre-Internet days. It was a simpler time. Back then, we didn’t need to think about (or spend a dime on) websites. Neither did the businesses we serve.

But it didn’t take long for websites to go from newfangled status symbols to bare necessities for doing business. Launching one is neither free nor easy. For startups whose funds are thinly stretched, wanting to save money is a natural instinct, which leads many entrepreneurs to wonder, “Why should I pay some smarty-pants agency good money to build a custom website from scratch when I can make a professional-looking WordPress site for next to nothing?”

Good question.

Released in 2003, WordPress is a free, open-source blogging tool and content management system. It features “themes,” which are templates that provide the appearance, and “plugins,” which are bits of code that extend functionality beyond the basic package. There are thousands upon thousands of themes and plugins available from WordPress and third parties, many of which are free. WordPress has enabled everyday people to forego the high cost of web development software and the time required to master it.

But before you decide WordPress is the perfect solution for you and your business, there are some important considerations that often go overlooked until they are learned the hard way.

“This doesn’t look how I imagined it.” WordPress was developed with blogging, not business, in mind. Once you start populating your template, you may find that the shiny new showcase you’ve chosen is a surprisingly awkward fit for all your words, pictures and widgets. When you find yourself unable to create the site you’ve visualized, “good enough” becomes an oppressive ally.

“We’ve been hacked!” On the Internet, a product’s ubiquity has the troublesome downside of rendering it an enticing target for hackers, and WordPress is extremely popular. As of 2012, about 700 million websites were using it, and it has had numerous security vulnerabilities exposed over the years. If you think your site would be immune to hacking because you won’t be using it for commerce, think again. Most hacking attempts are automated, initiated by those who want to sneak spam links into your content to boost others’ SEO or insert malware that will in turn infect your site’s visitors and possibly steal their personal or financial information. To be fair, WordPress has been quick to fix security issues when discovered. The problem is that the fixes come in the form of software updates, so webmasters must be diligent about keeping WordPress and all the associated plugins current. Third parties are free to drop support for their code and stop issuing security updates altogether, at which point you can either try to find a substitute that will work with your existing setup or cross your fingers and hope for the best.

“Hey, that website looks just like ours.” You’re buying an off-the-shelf design that anyone else can also get. They are customizable, but only to a point. You can elect to spend more (often considerably more) to get “exclusive rights” to a particular design, but it might be a design that’s already in use by an earlier client. Having a distinct web presence that reflects your company’s personality is a powerful brand asset. The job of a designer is to help you achieve that custom fit.

“Argh, I thought this was supposed to be easy.” WordPress has no doubt made web building easier, but by no means easy. There are so many skills that go into developing quality content, publishing it, maintaining it and ensuring people find it. You need the ability to procure photos, touch them up, crop them, resize them and make sure they are of a suitable resolution. You need the communication chops to organize all the information into a logical set of intuitively navigable pages, articulate it in a compelling manner and ensure it is without typos and other mistakes. You need knowledge of web infrastructure, search engine optimization and often a bit of coding to ensure your site works properly and has the reach it deserves. If you don’t already have these skills at your disposal, the cost and frustration of learning them on your project will fry your nerves, waste your time and delay completion.

The great thing about an agency (if we do say so ourselves) is that it is populated by specialized experts who do this kind of work every day and can produce excellent results in a fraction of the time it might take the poor person on your staff tasked with putting it all together in her spare time. If, in the future, you decide you want to expand, adapt or migrate your site, your agency can swoop in on a moment’s notice to provide the support you need. You may even consider a hybrid solution in which you save money using a pre-designed template but invest in hired professionals to help make an appropriate selection, produce content, assemble the parts and make sure it all fits together just right. Agencies do come at a price, but then again, so does your sanity.

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