Is your agency up front about licensing costs?

For clients on a small budget, licensing costs can sometimes make up a significant chunk of the overall cost. What are these licensing costs, and should you be paying them?

In the world of web development, for better or worse, Wordpress is king. And unlike with other CMS platforms such as Drupal, the ecosystem of addon modules for Wordpress is highly commercialised - in short, if you want the good addons for your site, you’re going to have to pay. 

This is not an entirely bad thing; by commercialising, the businesses behind these products can afford to take them to the next level of maturity, something that doesn’t always happen when the products are backed by open source advocates funding their development through support services alone. 

What this does mean, however, is that if you’re a client on a particularly small budget, and with the current exchange rate as it is, sometimes these licenses can be a particularly large percentage of your overall costs. 

Do you need to pay these licensing costs though? One of the key ways in which these licensing costs are justified is through ongoing support and updates. Without a valid license, you won’t be able to download the newest security and feature patches, which will inevitably leave your website insecure and likely to be hacked. 

Not all modules attract a fee, however, and for every addon that carries a price tag, there’s plenty that don’t. Generally, the difference between the paid addons and the free ones isn’t so much that they’re not as good, it’s that they’re not as well polished, or they require more from you as the developer/site owner. Take for an example the modules for improving your website performance through page caching. The most popular one on the market is both the most powerful module in its class and it is entirely free, but it’s also devilishly complicated, and requires you to deeply understand the technology in order to get the most out of it. The paid modules are all quite powerful under the hood, but they hide a lot of that complexity away from you and present a much simpler user interface that even non-technical people can use. 

How are you as the site owner meant to understand where to use the free modules and where to use commercial ones? Well, this is where your agency comes in, and this is where it’s important that they’re up front with the licensing costs, so that you understand right from the get go what you’re up for. 

For a lot of my sites, I use Astra and Elementor, and with today’s exchange rates, it runs at somewhere between $170 and $180 per year for those two alone. Add in Gravity Forms, Advanced Custom Fields, and whatever else you might need to build a site, and you can pretty quickly get to $500 a year in licensing costs alone, before hosting and maintenance costs - for a client on a $1,000 budget, they could be looking at more like $1,000 a year! 

It does cost money to keep your website licensed, securely updated and maintained, but it’s also worth it. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve taken over hacked Wordpress websites that haven’t seen an update in years and all the licensing is expired… If you don’t care about your website, then you can just ignore it and eventually it’ll get hacked and that’ll be that. But if you DO care about your website, and you want it to reflect the professionalism and qualities that you represent as a business, then keeping your website licensed and updated is a must. 

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