WordPress – What is Free, What is Not Free?

As a website designer, I have learned that Content Management System (CMS) websites as WordPress are a fact of business where clients require access to change, add or modify content. WordPress allows flexibility to the average website owner with the opportunity to self-promote (Bio’s), promote content (blogs), or promote a business. Since WordPress is the most popular CMS website, its the one that is most used by web designers to provide a prospective client a website.

I have also found that there is a fair number of people who do not know anything about CMS websites, let alone WordPress. They have little experience and knowledge about CMS and with that little or no knowledge of what is actually free and what is not.

With this article, my intent is to explain to you the basic facts about WordPress, what is actually free and what is not and what a person is to expect if they choose to build a WordPress site themselves. I hope to provide you a perspective and basic understanding of WordPress so you can make an informed choice if you want to do it yourself or hire a web designer as myself. So let’s begin.

What is Free?

Core Build

WordPress itself, the base core build is completely free. You can download a copy of this install at www.wordpress.org/download. You can also Google the keywords “WordPress download” and get a link that pertains to your geographical area as Canada, USA, Europe , etc (includes your native language).

Themes

WordPress themes exist as free at no cost to install and use. There also exists premium themes, which are ones you buy and use.

Here is the difference:

Free themes – these are not supported by the author, generally. You may find a theme whose author does provide limited support, but generally there is no active support from the author. Any support comes from the WordPress.org support forum for that theme, where users exchange ideas and fixes for the same theme you are using. This community support is a good idea, because it offers a huge resource of people who have addressed most issues found with a theme and some of the members of the community are skilled in CMS coding.

Most free themes are updated by the theme author to stay compliant with the current WordPress build version, but at times these updates can be slow coming or not come at all. If you locate a theme author that is diligent and good and keeps his free themes up to date, then good, stick with him/her, but otherwise there is no guarantee or promise that free theme will ever be updated.

Some free themes are really good, despite their generic appearance, some are OK, others poor and all for a variety of reasons.

Premium themes – These are themes that are normally sold by vendors as Mojo Themes, or Theme Forest, etc. A paid theme includes active support by the vendor, where they provide tech agents to help or they get the theme author to be active in the support process which includes regular and important updates to the theme.

There is a downside to this. Some vendors sell a “license” to the theme that carries an expiry date, usually 1 year. Once the license expires, the active support also ends. To continue active support past the expiry date, requires a renewal of the license and some vendors want the full price while others want a price that is less, usually 50% reduced. Its almost like a subscription that Microsoft does with Office 365.

If you do not renew with a vendor, you can use the theme as long as you like, but there is no support and no updates to that theme. This places you into a bad place, security wise, as a theme that is outdated will not work well when WordPress updates itself and this also opens security holes in your WordPress site allowing hackers to take over your site.

The only way around this, if you choose not to carry through with renewing a theme license to continue the support, is:

  • to know PHP, CSS, Javascript, jQuery and HTML5 coding so you can fix your own theme and make it secure and compliant with the current WordPress build version.
  • change the theme to a free one.

Plugins

What are these? Plugins are programs that are installed into your WordPress site to provide certain functions, as security, image sliders, google docs, and thousands of other functions. This is how WordPress functions.

Are these free or premium? – Both.

Like themes, you can get a lot of plugins for your site (be careful, don’t over do it, else your site bogs and slows down), where each provides certain functions your site needs. The free and premium plugins have support in the exact same way as themes above.

Modifying a Theme

This is something that requires more technical expertise. If you are knowledgeable about CSS, HTML5 and enough of PHP, you can modify your own theme.

Is there anything free to do this? – Yes some plugins exist to offer some theme layout editing, and most themes do offer, to some degree, some layout styling included in the theme design and call this “theme options”. This exists in both free and premium themes.

What about styling further than what the theme options allows?

Yes this can be done, but the best way is through core coding as seen in custom CSS, HTML5 and PHP since WordPress themes use all three. If you know how, good, but if you do not, I advise not to do the “try as you go method”, else you can really break the entire website and cannot recover it without a complete erase and reinstall.

To do a WordPress site yourself, requires you make the choice, accept the site as is, with its options, or hire a web designer.

What If Something On the WordPress Site Does Not Work?

There could be hundreds of reasons for why something is broken on the site, even something as simple as updating WordPress and a plugin fails because its no longer compatible with the newer WordPress build version. This is where a person needs to have a working knowledge of CMS sites as WordPress so he or she can repair and site. To be a complete novice at this will most likely end in frustration and never getting it repaired by yourself. In a luck case, you find the cause and fix, but likely cannot implement the fix because it requires coding skills.

This is where you left with a choice, redo the entire site, which takes time and if you paid for the theme or plugins, that may becomes a loss because now the theme is tossed because of the error or paid plugin is not compatible with the theme replacement.

Do it Free or with a Web Designer?

Your choice.

Free – If you want to do it yourself and your willing to learn how, all the kudo’s to you. It will take time, but if your willing, certainly go that route. Then first go into free themes and plugins. Learn CSS, HTML5 and PHP as the base coding to learn.  Just ensure you go beyond the basics in these coding methods as that will be a great asset to you in your future with WordPress.

Web Designer – This will eliminate any need to do the learning curve route, if you choose the right designer. The designer can put together your WordPress site and styling it the way you like. Just remember, its not reasonable to expect a web designer to alter the theme layout so much that its no longer the theme you obtained.

This means there is only so much change a designer can do without having to rebuild the entire theme and coding it does take time, lots of testing and can cost a lot if there is too much change expected in the theme layout. Best to choose a theme that is the closest to your liking and does what you need it to do. The less theme customizing by the web designer the better for your pocket book and for him as to the time it takes to do it.

What is Free if I get a Web Designer to Do it?

Here is the focal point of this article.

I have found that some web designers are charging you for things that are already included in the WordPress theme that is FREE! This upsets me because people are being overcharged. So here is a short list of the most things WordPress sites include that are free.

  • WordPress Build (always free)
  • WordPress mobile version (with most themes, free and premium)
  • WordPress themes (free versions)
  • WordPress plugins (free versions)
  • SEO (with free plugins)
  • Images (generic images are many and many are offered for free on the web)

Let me explain some of the items above.

Mobile Versions

Most WordPress themes (including the free ones) already come as mobile ready. This means the site changes its layout automatically to adjust to the screen size of the mobile device as smart phones. Some free themes are good in this regard, others poor. A web designer should not be charging you for a WordPress theme that is already built to work in mobile devices.

A way to check this out is get the name of the theme and check it out yourself. This means, the web designer who is honest, will tell you if the theme is free or a paid version (its not a paid version if the theme was free and your paying the web designer to install it, its still a free theme). At the theme display website, they all provide demo versions. View the demo version and then make the width of your desktop browser narrow to see how the theme adjusts or view in your mobile smartphone. If the theme proves to already come designed with a mobile version, you should not be charged to “make it mobile”.

Themes & Plugins

Make sure you know what your getting and ask. Again the same method as above, check it out to see if its free or paid. Always ask for a copy of the invoice of the web designer purchased a paid version and make sure the invoice is properly dated to the time of building your site. For each theme or plugin vendor, they normally require the creation of an account to purchase their theme or plugin, this is because of the support element, a person must use the account to access support.

What I do with each client is create an account with the vendor in the client’s name, even if I use my business email address and each client gets a copy of the account information. This way the client can easily enter an account and see what I am doing. When I am finished and move on, the client has all the needed access to that account and support if they need it and licensing renewal options etc.

In that account is access to the purchase invoice for that theme or plugin, which you, as a client, have a right to get a copy. There you can see what is purchased and what is not.

Almost all theme vendors list theme prices in USD.

If the web designer refuses to give you that information, then I would seriously question his / her honesty and transparency, irrespective of their rationales about use or misuse of accounts.

SEO

Free or paid? – There are two ways to go and the free method, which is either by yourself or through a plugin, requires a learning curve to understand how it works and how certain elements are applied. This is the dicey part, free plugins can do a decent job, but no one can remove the manual hands on element needed to inspect and make adjustments.

This because Google can be a real pain when it comes to learning their methods of listing a website on the first page of the results. Information does exist out there to find out, but Google itself does not make it readily available in enough detail. This is where it can take a lot of time researching changes Google made to their search engine algorithms.

For the average WordPress user, this is where you have to be very careful. Web designers are questionable when they think they can promise fantastic results in Google search pages and charge you a huge price for it. A web designer knowledgeable and experienced in SEO will tell you that this process is not easy, it takes time and there is no 100% guarantee with Google, plus if there is success, its not long lasting.

Make WordPress SEO Friendly – CMS sites as WordPress are more work because WordPress itself is not designed to be SEO friendly, it has to be adjusted to make it SEO friendly and plugins do not provide an instant fix for that. There are many things a web designer has to do to WordPress to make it SEO friendly.

Search Engine Submissions – Is there a web design company or service that claims to submit your website to all search engines for a fee? Walk away from these people, because any requirement to make search engine submissions ended long ago. Major search engines now scan the Internet with automated bots to search all websites without the need for any submissions. Google does have an “add URL” via their search console, but it clearly says that any submission provides no promise Google will even crawl that website at all based on the submission. So since this is true, and this is the closest to any submission in Google, why would you pay good money for something that is not guaranteed and may not happen?

If you want to submit a URL for a possible Google crawl, go to this link: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/submit-url 

In short, any service that claims to submit your website for listing in search engines is a scam.

What is a fair price for SEO work? – That depends on how much work a web designer is doing for SEO. I include basic SEO configurations with my work with CMS websites, but full fledged SEO can be up to $500+ depending on the website, because a website does require coding modifications to make it SEO friendly. Sometimes plugins for WordPress can provide assistance, but not always and hands-on knowledge is always needed.

Generic Images

These are digital images that are of things that anyone can use on their site and the content of the image relates to your site content, but not created specifically for your site. These are images that anyone can get for free on the web.

A web designer should not charge you for free images. To insert the image, unedited, is not expensive and takes on a few minutes. WordPress does include a feature that it re-sizes the image automatically and provides copies that are usable in the website.

Any cost that involves images are is when a web designer creates an image, even if its taking several images and using parts of each to create a different one. That takes time and work and rightly so, is a cost.  I had to edit images manually in Photoshop to create an image unique for the client. It works much like a brand and unique to that client.