Starting a Website: Free or Self-Hosted WordPress?
This is the first part in a series on setting up a WordPress website. I am going to lay out everything that you need to know to determine if you should use free or self-hosted WordPress for your new website.
For additional information, wp beginner also has a great post about this topic here. They are a great resource for anyone starting out using WordPress. Although they recommend self-hosted WordPress for all applications, I don’t think that is the best solution for every website. My goal is to provide the data you need to determine which solution is best for you.
What Is WordPress?
WordPress is a content management system. For anyone looking at starting their own website, whether it is a blog, a marketing site, or a storefront, a CMS makes managing the site much easier.
Today, CMSs take care of the bulk of the technical heavy lifting. They provide a framework for delivering content so that content creators can focus on what really matters: content creation. WordPress currently accounts for the majority of CMS-based websites on the Internet.
Where to Get Started, Free or Self-hosted WordPress?
The first thing to decide when setting up a WordPress site is if you want to use WordPress.com (free WordPress) or WordPress.org (self-hosted WordPress). Even though they share the same name, they are two very different platforms. It is up to you to decide which platform you prefer to use, as they both have benefits and drawbacks. The rest of this post is dedicated to helping you decide which platform you should be using, free or self-hosted WordPress.
Free WordPress only allows the use of themes that are available in their repository. You cannot customize these themes other than options that are available in the appearance editor. Though you get a limited theme selection, this does help prevent issues caused by themes that are not properly coded.
Self-hosted WordPress allows you to use any theme you want. Also, you can customize your theme to your heart’s content. Be warned though, that this flexibility also opens the opportunity of themes and customizations breaking WordPress functionality.
Free WordPress does not allow you to use any plugins. However, they do offer built-in features that contain the functionality of some common plugins. Again, you are trading customizability for site stability.
Self-hosted WordPress allows you to use any plugins that are available, including free, paid, and even custom plugins. These can add a lot of additional functionality to your site, with the cost of code complexity.
Free WordPress is totally free for up to three gigabytes of server space. This is more than enough to suit the needs of most personal blogs or other sites that don’t use a lot of space with multimedia files.
Self-hosted WordPress requires choosing a hosting service with a web hosting provider. Costs vary from provider to provider, with a lot of providers offering deep discounts for a long term, pay upfront contract.
While we are on the topic of hosting fees, let’s talk about domain registration. If you go with free WordPress, your website will have an address like mysuperawesomesite.wordpress.com. Your site is a sub-domain of WordPress.com. There are no fees for this, but, you also could have a really long address for your website.
Self-hosted WordPress sites are required to register a domain. This requires an annual fee, but there is the upside that you can get a much shorter address.
Free WordPress does not allow you to sell advertising on sites that they host. So, if you were planning on setting up a site to bring in ad revenue, this is not the place to go.
Self-hosted WordPress sites can sell all of the ad space that they want.
Free WordPress forces you to not only keep a “Powered by WordPress” logo on your site, but they also insert their own ads into your site, effectively making them money from content that you create.
Self-hosted WordPress does not insert any unwanted ads into your site. There is a “Powered by WordPress” logo, however, it is easily removed.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Features
For those new to internet marketing, SEO is basically the current buzz word for catering the content of your website to search engines to try to achieve higher search engine rankings.
Free WordPress does not have any built-in features for SEO.
Self-hosted WordPress has many options for SEO, as there are several plugins available. The most popular of these is Yoast SEO.
Free WordPress contains a simple analytics engine. There are no options to upgrade to anything more advanced.
Self-hosted WordPress can connect with many analytics engines due to access to plugins that add functionality for sites such as Google Analytics.
E-commerce and Membership Sites
Free WordPress does not give you the tools you need to set up a storefront. They actually recommend that you use a self-hosted WordPress site if you plan on setting up any type of e-commerce website
Free WordPress is maintenance free. Everything is handled by their staff.
The level of maintenance required for self-hosted WordPress solutions will vary between host companies and even between different plans that each company offers. The point is, either you will have to be hands on with maintenance, or you will have to pay up for it.
This is a topic that I’ve not seen on any other blog posts about this topic, so I wanted to bring it up, as it is something that impacts some people. When you register a domain, a WHOIS record has to be created with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). A WHOIS record lists personal information about the owner of a domain. This includes items such as name, email address, physical address, and telephone number. This information must be filled out accurately and completely. This information is easily searchable by anyone with an internet connection.
There is an option to make your personal WHOIS data private. However, most registrars do charge extra for this service. Also, any time you move your domain registration to another provider, you will need to temporarily remove the privacy protection from your WHOIS record during the transfer.
If you want to create a website and maintain anonymity, then free WordPress is a viable option since it only grants you a sub-domain on WordPress.com.
Weigh Your Own Pros and Cons
Depending upon your own needs, the cons of one platform may far outweigh its pros. If you want to start an e-commerce site or use your site to directly generate revenue in any way, self-hosted is the only way to go. However, if you just want a low cost creative outlet, then free WordPress may be your best option. There are many factors to consider when deciding if you want to go with a free site on WordPress.com or a self-hosted WordPress solution.
In the next part of this series on setting up a WordPress site, I’ll discuss what to do after you’ve decided between WordPress.com or a hosted WordPress solution.