You should be paying $100 per hour for WordPress maintenance.

With a range of services from $5 a month up to $300, where is the sensible guide to how much you should pay for WordPress maintenance?

Get more developer for your money. Original Image Creative Commons Attribution
Get more developer for your money. Original Image Creative Commons Attribution
It depends on what level of service you want. Here’s the simple method to calculate (roughly) how much value you’re getting.

A good WordPress developer* charges at least $100 per hour for their services. Anyone charging less than that either doesn’t take themselves seriously or is just a hobbyist coder, doing this for fun.

For a good developer, routine maintenance will take 15 or 20 minutes per week on most WordPress installs. To estimate on the higher end, that puts us at just over an hour per month, on average, for weekly maintenance.

Those of you who are good at math have already beat me to my punchline (three paragraphs from now): $133 per month. Stick with me, though. There are some ways to bring that cost down without hiring a lesser developer. In fact, your functional cost goes UP as you higher lower end developers.

Most simple sites don’t need plugins to be updated weekly, for starters. Barring major security patches (which good developers will know about because they are plugged into the WordPress community and hear about them hours after they are released. Put a checkmark in the “worth hiring a better developer” column) the average site will be fine with monthly software updates or even quarterly updates. A good developer will be able to tell you in 5 minutes how often your site needs maintenance, based on your size, frequency of posting, and subject matter.

A good developer needs to prepare for the worst case, with regard to those security patches mentioned above. If she is managing 15 sites with maintenance, updating an emergency security bug can take hours, if all of the sites are running the offending plugin or theme. So that cost is going to be baked into her monthly fees.

There are some great systems out there to help developers to manage multiple sites, but even with the best systems, they’ve still got to manually check to make sure updates don’t break things. That’s a non-scalable moment of developer attention, per site. In the world of open source software, security issues and bugs are inevitable.

So, here’s a relatively basic monthly price breakdown:

  • Weekly maintenance: $100-$150 per site
  • Monthly maintenance: $25-$30 per site
  • Quarterly maintenance: $7-$15 per site

So, if you want top-tier maintenance for your WordPress website, expect to pay about $150 per month. That gets you a little over an hour of focused attention from a top-notch developer.

Lesser developers take longer to do tasks, and make more mistakes. That’s not a slam, that’s how we learn. But know that if you are not paying in the $100 per hour range (based on how long I’ve said it takes to update most installs–if your situation is more complex, use the appropriate multiplier), no matter if you are paying a big company or a solo developer, you are probably not dealing with a top-shelf developer.

Some things scale so that costs are covered (like invoicing, administrative work, etc.) As the developers scale the business, the costs (not the taxes, to be sure) can spead over multiple clients, and bring down overall expenses.

The one thing that doesn’t scale in the whole operation is the focused attention of a top-notch developer. And it still takes time to maintain your site.

Focused attention of a top notch developer *never* scales. Pay what it's worth. Click To Tweet

If you don’t need an hour per month of that focused attention (and you probably don’t), scale your price accordingly.

Also, note that the best developers are not going to tell you how many hours a task takes them. They charge per project, or per task, which is fair, because penalizing for efficiency is twisted.

Paying for maintenance is well worth your time. Paying for subpar maintenance is OK, just be aware of what you are paying for.

I’d welcome feedback here: is there something I’m missing? That’s why comments are enabled!

*My working definition of “good” goes beyond someone who can install plugins and themes, and tweak some CSS/HTML. If your developer can’t at least understand PHP and JavaScript, they are still a hobbyist. Pros can (and should) charge at least $100/hr.

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