WordPress vs Headless WordPress

How much does it cost to make and run a website nowadays? With plenty of options on the market, that question is not an easy one to answer. First and foremost it depends on what type of business you are running and would you need a showcase website, a personal page, a blog, an eCommerce store, a magazine-style website, one-pager, etc.

Second, is it an in-house project ie do you have devs on hand to work on it or are you looking for an agency or a freelancer to help you out with it?

Finally, a plethora of options I mentioned at the beginning, well, you can have your website set at one of the pre-made website builders like Wix, Webflow, Shopify and now even Mailchimp (WTF) has one!?!? Or use one of the popular CMS options like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla. Or work with pure static HTML files with or without the help of JAMstack web dev architecture and serverless infrastructure.

Building a successful online presence starts with choosing the best website platform for your business. And with so many things that you have to take into consideration, it is a tough decision to make.

I’ve set myself to cover the costs and benefits of building a WordPress website and talk about the future in the form of headless Wordpress. Two reasons for this. One, WordPress is used by 34.9% of all the websites, that is a content management system market share of 61.7%. Fact is most new or existing businesses hear of Wordpress and it very well might be the best solution for most of them. Two, with that being the case a new emerging trend ie running a headless Wordpress is slowly taking over traditional builds. And there are a couple of clear benefits to it which many are simply not aware of.

Surely I am rooting for the headless option but the final decision is yours. I’m just providing a frame of though for you so keep reading to find the pros and cons of each one.

How much does it cost to build a WordPress site?

This question gets asked a lot but the answer is rarely the same. Although as an open-source software the core WordPress is free, the cost of a website will depend entirely on your business goals and your budget. However, the specific costs associated with WordPress can be broken down into the following categories:

  • WordPress hosting (shared or dedicated)

  • Design (free, purchased or customized theme design)

  • Plugins and extensions (free or paid)

  • Dev time (do-it-yourself or have someone to do it for you)

WP Hosting

A self-hosted WordPress site needs hosting (just as any other website for that matter) to store website files on the internet. And just as for any other website there are a couple of variables that influence the price which I’ll briefly mention.

Shared or dedicated hosting. Shared hosting means your website is hosted on shared servers with other businesses. It may cost less but you are depended on everything other businesses do. For example, if they crash, you crash. If they get hacked there is a huge possibility that you'll be attacked as well. Dedicated hosting, on the other hand, means you run the show on a dedicated server for your website only. And the price is much higher.

Storage and bandwidth limits. Think of storage as of hard disk space (which it is) for your website on the internet. Bandwidth determines how much web traffic your website can handle. Both cost $.

Customer support, contract, and SSL. Low-cost hosting option. Low type of support. The longer the contract you sign the cheaper it is (ie monthly vs yearly payments). SSL certificates which you need to keep the communication between your server and your audience browser safe and secure can be free or paid.

All of these influence the price, service, and quality of a web host plan which can range from $4 over $50 to a couple of hundreds of dollars per month. Understanding your needs upfront will help you save a lot of potential trouble and $.

WP Design

If you have the technical know-how it is probably best to design a theme by yourself. If not, WordPress offers access to thousands of free themes. However, if you want something more advanced, and better looking, you'll need to purchase a premium theme from websites like Them Forest for example. Or hire a professional for a custom-made WP theme.

Costs? Free is free but they come with a price of questionable aesthetics and limited functionalities if nothing else. Premium themes come with a price range between $40 - $100 and over. Be sure to imagine your creatives (logo and images) on the desired theme before you make the purchase. Sometimes the images used to present a theme give falls impression how it will look with yours on it. On top of that, they come with added functionalities which may include premium, paid for, plugins. Finally, custom-made services can cost anywhere from $300 to more than $5,000, depending on what you want to build.

WP Plugins

In WordPress, plugins are used to provide your website with added functionality. For example, you need a plugin for a fancy looking gallery, you need a plugin for a product showcase page, you need a plugin to handle comments more efficiently, etc.

Just as with themes there are thousands of free plugins for WordPress usually offering limited functionalities. On the other hand premium plugins can cost anything between $5 and $100 but with a full range of their functionalities.

Estimating the Cost of Building a WordPress Site

Let’s give an estimate for the sake of the argument. An average WordPress site can be built for less than $100. You'll only need a domain name and web hosting. A domain will typically cost about $10-$15 per year and a decent beginner’s entry web hosting normally costs around $10 per month.

Once you pick a hosting provider and when WordPress is installed, you can choose a free theme or spend $50 on a premium theme. And you’ll need a couple of plugins like Yoast SEO to improve your site's SEO (free is ok but $79 one time fee offers so much more), or a caching plugin like WP-Cache to improve your website speed.

The truth of the matter is freelancers and creatives could probably manage to create a site for less than $100 but the outcome can be considerably different for small businesses, especially if they need additional tools to run their business. Depending on the number of plugins and premium tools you’ll need, the cost can go up to $1000 for a premium themed WordPress site.

Costs go higher if you decide on a full custom-made WordPress website option.

Cutting Down Spending With a WordPress Site

A good thing with WordPress is that businesses can start small and then scale the site as it grows. In many cases, most of them won't need all premium features, especially not in the beginning. Once the traffic and revenue start increasing, they can look for other ways to expand their site.

Headless WordPress

Modern web development is moving from the backend towards the more powerful and more effective frontend development. It is a reaction to the slow PHP frameworks just as much as it is influenced by the rise of API-economy and the appearance of fast modern web browsers.

Undoubtedly, Wordpress has been the king in web development for years now thanks to many built-in and added possibilities. However, all of these possibilities come with a huge price on functionality, performance, and price.

All this gave birth to what is usually referred to as serverless/headless WordPress. A simple idea really. With traditional WordPress, pages for your visitors are generated on the fly with each visit. With the headless option, you convert your whole WordPress site to static HTML, and serve it on a CDN, for example, to everyone multiple times.

Benefits of Headless WordPress

Let’s start with the most obvious one, performance. There is no back and forth communication with the database because you are serving HTML files making it so much faster. For the same reason, security is the next benefit. You can’t hack static files. Finally, static files are cheaper to host.

Yes, There Are Drawbacks

Not all is perfect. With headless WordPress, you pretty much sacrificed dynamic parts you are used to with WordPress like comments and forms for example. Although there are workarounds, if you are not in the know-how, they do require paid dev time.

Estimating the Cost of Building a Headless WordPress Site

The only real difference is dev time and hosting prices. There is a learning curve that depends on your dev knowledge. For example, one of the most popular solutions for headless WordPress is to use Gatsby, a React-based, GraphQL powered, static site generator. To make it work you have to have at least a basic understanding of developing with React. If not be prepared to invest a couple of $. Or use a free headless Wordpress with Gatsby theme Static Fuse.

As for hosting prices, you can get away with a $5 hosting package even if you have huge traffic. How come? Well, your WordPress has to live somewhere and you basically pay only for that since your static version, the one that visitors will see lives on modern-day CDN hosting and deployment solutions like Netlify for example.

Is Headless WordPress for you?

Publishing new content every now and then? Having a hard time to let go of WordPress for modern-day dev architectures but want the benefits of both worlds? Then headless WordPress is definitely for you.

On the other hand, if you are running a blog with frequent updates, news or an eCommerce website headless WordPress might not be the best option.

Further Reading

If you’d like to explore this and connected topics the following list is a good place to start:

State of the Serverless WordPress - https://francescocarlucci.com/performance/wordpress-serverless/

Why Gatsby Should Be Next on Your List of Things to Learn? - https://deliciousbrains.com/gatsby-headless-wordpress/

How to Build Headless WordPress Sites with Gatsby - https://staticfuse.com/blog/how-to-build-headless-wordpress-sites-with-gatsby/

JAMstack’s Growing Popularity Brings Increase in WordPress Plugins for Deploying to Netlify - https://wptavern.com/jamstacks-growing-popularity-brings-increase-in-wordpress-plugins-for-deploying-to-netlify


Soumyajit Pathak picture

Welcome to Able!

Great post, it touched on most of the major stuff in the space.

Minenash picture

Awesome post! And Welcome to able!