Is WordPress Free? Kind Of

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One of the reasons behind WordPress’ popularity is the fact that it’s open-source software. If you ask “Is WordPress free?”, the answer is yes. However, setting up and running a website still involves some hidden costs.

The good news is that you can set up a basic, functional website for almost nothing, and enhance your site with both free and low-cost plugins and themes. Knowing what to expect ahead of time will enable you to budget accordingly.

In this article, we’ll answer the question “Is WordPress free?” definitively. We’ll walk you through WordPress’ hidden costs, and go over how you can set up a website while spending as little as possible. Let’s break out the calculator!

Is WordPress free?

The WordPress software itself is 100% free and open source. If you wanted to right now, you could go to WordPress.org and download the full, unrestricted WordPress software without spending a penny.

Open-source software is, by definition, publicly accessible. WordPress itself is available through what’s called a General Public License (GPL). That type of license guarantees the following:

  1. You can use WordPress for any purpose you want.
  2. You can modify the software in any way you see fit.
  3. Redistribution of the source code is permitted.
  4. You’re free to improve the program and release those modifications.

You need a way to power the WordPress software, though

While the WordPress software is free and open-source, you still need a way to power the free software and make it accessible to people around the world.

To accomplish that, you need to, at a minimum, pay for web hosting and a domain name. Fortunately, there are great hosting companies, like Bluehost, which offers a domain name for free, even when you buy the cheapest hosting plan.

When you’re ready to sign up for a web hosting account, make sure to use one of the Bluehost links on this page. Going through them will result in two things: (1) they are affiliate links, which means that we receive a small commission if you buy through them, (2) it will unlock a $2.75 vs $3.95 discounted price for you. You won’t get this discount if you visit the Bluehost site in any other way.

With web hosting, you’re basically paying to rent a space on a server (computer) to run the WordPress software for you.

Then, your domain name helps connect visitors with your web hosting.

However, while web hosting and a domain name are the only costs you absolutely must pay for, there are still some other potential costs of running a WordPress site.

Three free aspects of WordPress with potential hidden costs

Beyond hosting and a domain name, three areas that could potentially alter the cost of your WordPress website are:

  1. Plugins
  2. Themes
  3. Professional development and support services

Plugins enhance your site’s functionality, adding new features and options. Themes, on the other hand, help you select a look and layout that matches your goals.

Then, you might want to pay someone for help managing or extending your website.

1. Plugins

If you go to WordPress.org right now, you’ll see that there are thousands of plugins available for free. In our experience, unless you’re looking for incredibly specific functionality, you can usually find a free plugin that will do the job:

Free WordPress plugins

However, it’s worth noting that a lot of those plugins are free versions of premium tools, and they don’t offer all the functionality their siblings provide. In some cases, those premium versions are worth it, if you need access to features you can’t get otherwise.

If you start looking around for premium plugins, you’ll notice that a lot of them are priced around the $20-30 mark for a yearly license:

Some examples of premium plugin prices.

It’s not uncommon for some websites to use dozens of plugins. Paying for that many premium versions can translate to hundreds of dollars. Fortunately, it’s rare that you won’t find a free plugin to get the job done. In general, we’d recommend saving your budget for other aspects of running your website.

2. Themes

Just as with plugins, you have thousands of free options when it comes to WordPress themes. Regardless of what type of website you’re running, chances are you can find an excellent free theme:

Some examples of free WordPress themes.

The more functionality you want from your theme, however, the more difficult this becomes. Some of the most popular themes include robust page builders, lots of pre-built pages, and other assets you can use for free.

If you’re new to website development, your best bet is often to buy a premium theme. Preferably, you’ll want to opt for one that gives you access to features that make building a website easier. 

The downside is that premium licenses for themes tend to be a bit more expensive than with plugins. For a popular theme, you might expect to spend around $60:

Some examples of premium WordPress themes.

As we discussed before, that money usually gets you access to automatic updates and support from the developers. With that in mind, you’ll want to make sure you choose a theme that gets regular updates and has an active community.

3. Professional development and support services

If you have experience using WordPress, there’s no reason you should need to pay for professional development or support services. However, if you find yourself with technical issues that you can’t solve on your own, you might need to crack your wallet open.

Data from Upwork shows that, on average, developers charge anywhere between $30-75 per hour for custom WordPress work. Keep in mind, however, that platforms such as Upwork tend to skew rates towards the lower end of the scale.

That means, if you ever find yourself in a position where you need to hire a professional developer for custom work or troubleshooting, you might be looking at hundreds of dollars in additional costs. Fortunately, support services tend to be priced much cheaper, and there are plenty of free support options online as well.

For a much deeper look at what it costs to launch a WordPress website, check out our full breakdown of how much a website costs 👈

How to start using WordPress without breaking the bank

WordPress is free, as are many of its add-ons. Still, at the very least you’ll need to spend money on both hosting and a domain. Fortunately, entry-level hosting services are common and priced very affordably.

Some of the top WordPress hosting services offer shared plans starting at less than $5 per month. The downside is that the best providers usually ask for at least a year upfront, if you want to get access to the best prices.

For example, Bluehost (our review) requires a three-year agreement to get the $2.75 per month price, but you can still pay just $4.95 per month with a one-year agreement:

Bluehost Pricing

With that in mind, if you budget $10 per month for hosting, you’ll be more than fine. Registering a .com domain is even cheaper, often costing between $10-15 for an entire year. This means that you can set up a WordPress website and keep it running for a year, and only pay around $70-130 in total.

Once your site is up, you need to decide if you want to expand your budget to include premium plugins and themes. For the best possible experience, we recommend that you invest in a flexible, feature-rich theme. Then, you can rely on free plugins unless you need access to niche or specialized features that they can’t offer.

Beyond those costs, if you’re a DIY kind of person, you should be able to take care of most WordPress maintenance on your own. The great thing about being part of such a massive community is that you’ll have access to thousands of tutorials for almost anything you want to do.

Unsure how to get started with WordPress?

Check out our full tutorial on how to make a website with WordPress 👈

So is WordPress free? Kind of…

The answer to the question “Is WordPress free?” is yes, but with a few caveats. Even with an open-source CMS like WordPress, you will need to spend some money to get your website up and running, at least to secure a domain name and hosting.

Beyond those two elements, the question gets more complex. WordPress offers you thousands of free themes and plugins to choose from. When it comes to themes, the best options are almost always premium. However, there’s a much better variety on offer when it comes to plugins, so you can save a lot of money by relying on free tools to build your website.

If you’re ready to get started with your WordPress website, check out our two tutorials on:

Do you have any questions about getting your WordPress site off the ground cheaply? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!

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* This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and then purchase the product, we’ll receive a commission. No worries though, you’ll still pay the standard amount so there’s no cost on your part.

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