Free vs. Self-Hosted WordPress

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org (Self-Hosted Sites): What You Need to Know

Free vs. Self-Hosted WordPress

WordPress is becoming widely popular these days as the choice for building websites, and chances are you are somewhat familiar with it.

Many businesses – including big names like Time Magazine, Sony Music and The New York Times Company – have built their entire sites using the WordPress platform.

There are thousands of features that are available through easy-to-install plugins, which makes it a great choice for those who want to take control of their website content without learning how to code.

WordPress LogoAt SwordsNet Designs, WordPress is our preferred website platform, and we have many satisfied clients who can attest to its advantages.

Just recently, however, I have had a few clients bring up what I have found to be a common concern – and sometimes misconception – about WordPress.

The concern was that, if a site was built using WordPress, not only might it be impossible to move their site at some point, but also that doing so would cause them to lose all of their site’s content.

So, is there any truth to this concern?

Maybe.

But before you fellow WordPress enthusiasts get too excited, allow me to clarify: it depends on which type of WordPress you are referring to – free WordPress.com sites or self-hosted WordPress sites (such as this one).

 

Free WordPress (WordPress.com-hosted sites)

If you are new to WordPress and do a Google search, you may find yourself on the WordPress.com website where you can “Create your new website for free”.

While this may sound like a solid deal, these sites come with several serious limitations that you need to be made aware of.

The limitations of a free wordpress.com site are as follows:

yoursite.wordpress.com1. You can’t use your own domain name.

The free site you create will be hosted on the wordpress.com domain, which means you cannot use your own web address.

Instead, your website/blog address will be something like http://yoursite.wordpress.com.

In other words, a subdomain of WordPress.com.

Now, if you are planning on blogging about your favorite recipes or your fabulous Caribbean vacations, this may not be of concern.

But if you are running a business, this is a big issue, since it can change the way you are viewed by potential clients.

It looks much more professional to have a domain name that represents your business, and it doesn’t cost a lot to obtain one (typically about $15/year).

WordPress.com does state that a paid upgrade is available for custom domain usage, to the tune of $13 per domain, per year.

If you register the domain through them, the fee goes up to $18 per domain, per year.

Your free site is no longer free.

2. Choice of layouts (themes) is very limited.

If you do a search on WordPress themes, you will find that there are literally thousands to choose from.

However, WordPress.com offers only a few very basic themes (9, last time I checked). This means that you are stuck with a pretty generic, pared-down website layout.

Again, if you are just looking to blog as a hobby, this may not be a big issue for you.

3. Third-party plugins are not allowed.

Plugins are little modules that you install on your site, allowing you to add more features and functionality. They are easy to download, install, and some of them, you simply shouldn’t do without.

There are plugins for e-commerce, contact forms, SEO, security, backups, social media icons, image sliders, subscription forms, and basically anything else you can think of.

Without plugins, your site will not be able to do much besides look pretty (that is, in a generic, pared-down sort of way). Therefore, this limitation can be a huge hindrance for a business site.

 

4. Text ads will appear…and you won’t get paid for them!

Let’s face it, the folks at WordPress.com need to make their money somehow – and forcing your free site to display text ads which you have no control over is one of the ways they do it.

Also important to note is that you are not allowed to place your own ads on your site, such as Google AdSense or Amazon in order to monetize.

This means that you cannot make any money off of your own content, but they can.

Of course, a paid upgrade is available to eliminate these ads through the purchase of WordPress.com Premium ($99/year) or WordPress.com Business ($299/year).

5. They can shut you down at any time.

Getting back to my clients’ concern of the possibility of losing content, the WordPress.com Terms of Service states that they “may terminate your access to all or any part of our services at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately.”

So, if you didn’t have the foresight to make a backup of your site (if you are even allowed to do so), all your content could one day just go poof!

 

WordPress.org (Self-Hosted WordPress): Put Yourself in Control

Self-hosted WordPress sites are also built using the WordPress platform, which is available for free at wordpress.org.

The difference here is that you pay for a hosting plan and set up your WordPress installation on your very own domain.

This is the route that most businesses who use WordPress choose to take, and it actually ends up costing less than a “free” site when you add up all the paid upgrades.

It isn’t as difficult to set up as it may sound and several hosting companies actually provide you with the appropriate links to install the software directly into your hosting account.

There are many affordable hosting plans out there (click here for our recommendations), most of them costing only a few bucks a month.

Some even throw in a free web domain.

So, the advantages of self-hosting your WordPress site are as follows:

use your own domain on self-hosted WP sites1. You can use any domain name that you are able to purchase.

There are tons of affordable domains out there and one that is perfect for your business.

Using a personalized domain makes your business stand out and look more professional than using a free subdomain of wordpress.com.

Search to see if the domain you are interested in is available, and then lock it down!

2. You can use any theme you want.

Some really great themes are available these days so you have lots to choose from.

The free ones can prove to be a bit tricky to customize if you are not a WordPress pro, so you may want to look into purchasing a theme. There are some super robust themes available in the $50-$70 range, surely nothing that will break the bank.

Be sure to check out some of our theme recommendations here.

3. You can add any plugins you want.

With a self-hosted WordPress site, you can you make your site look and function exactly the way you want it to, without limitations. After all, it’s your site and you need it to work for your business.

For a list of must-have plugins, check out our list here.

4. No ads…unless you put them there.

Most of the blogs you read these days have some sort of advertising on them. That’s how some of these guys make all their money. So, if you choose to monetize your site through ads, go right ahead.

5. Your site will never be shut down (unless you want it to be).

Self-hosting your site means that you are in complete control and, unless you forget to pay your hosting provider, your site will never be in danger of being shut down.

Your content is yours to keep.

 

Making Your Choice

Choosing WordPress wiselyWith so many web design options available and endless ways to spend money on them, it’s no surprise that many small businesses are tempted by a seemingly free website package. After all, you have a budget to consider.

But before you make your choice, consider how much control you want over your site and how you wish to be perceived by potential customers.

More often than not, the self-hosted route turns out to be the right choice for your business.

If you are looking for some great WordPress themes that look professional, are customizable and affordable, please check out our recommendations of the 5 Best Small Business WordPress Themes.

And if you need help getting your site set up, contact us today!

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Laura Swords | SwordsNet DesignsLaura Swords is the founder of SwordsNet Designs, a small web design agency providing website solutions for small to mid-sized businesses. She has over 20 years of corporate experience in both the IT and marketing arenas and loves to keep up with the latest web trends by reading just about anything she can get her hands on. 

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