WordPress.com vs. Self-hosted Site—What’s the Difference?
WordPress software is an open source Content Management System (CMS). Released in May 2003 as a blogging platform, it is now a robust CMS platform used by millions websites and blogs. People use WordPress to manage web content on sites large and small because it offers a web user and web developer friendly solution.
You have 2 options if you want your website / blog to run on WordPress software: host it on WordPress.com or self-host the site. If you choose to host on WordPress.com, your site will live on the WordPress.com servers (computers). WordPress.com offers free hosting, but only with limited options. If you choose to self-host, you will pay a web hosting company to host your site on their servers instead.
There are 5 major differences between WordPress.com or and a self-hosted website / blog.
A theme provides a built in look and design for your site.
WordPress.com provides a limited directory of themes for you to choose from, including some premium themes. If you pay $30/year (a la carte fee) the colors and fonts on your site can be customized beyond the theme options.
On a self-hosted WordPress site your theme won’t be limited to the WordPress.com directory. That means you can use any free or paid WordPress theme. A web designer/developer can customize these themes far beyond fonts and colors, or they can create a custom design for your self-hosted site.
Plugins are tools that can be incorporated into your site to extend the functionality of WordPress, for example some plugins create widgets that appear in the website’s Sidebar.
WordPress.com provides a few plugins for your site, but you don’t get to choose which ones. You also won’t be able to use many useful plugins your business might need, like the Scribe SEO tool or an ecommerce plugin like WooCommerce.
Any plugin that you need can be added to a self-hosted WordPress site, giving you much more control over your site content and functionality.
Ads can appear on your WordPress.com site unless you pay a yearly a la carte fee of $30.
On a self-hosted site, you can decide whether or not to have ads and select an ad provider if you choose.
On WordPress.com, your site will be updated automatically so you don’t have to worry about maintaining the site yourself or having a web professional involved.
On a self-hosted site you’ll have to plan for regular software, plugin, and theme updates to keep things running smoothly and it’s highly advisable to leave these tasks to web professionals.
Sites hosted on WordPress.com can be free, cost $60/year for the limited options mentioned above, or $99/year for a WordPress Value Bundle that gets you:
- your domain name (your website / blog address on the Web),
- the ability to customize theme colors and fonts,
- an ad-free site, and
- 5GB of storage space.
Since WordPress software is free (although high-quality themes tend to cost around $75), the required cost for a self-hosted site comes from the web host (our fav WPEngine is about $290/year). Of course, if you don’t have web development skills, you’ll need a web professional to customize and maintain your site to keep WordPress and plugins up-to-date. We always recommend starting with strategy so in the best case scenario (not the cheapest case) you would work with a web strategist before moving forward. Similarly, if you’re not prepared to create your own high-quality content from the start and want your site to be optimized for search engines, you’ll also need the skills and services of a web content creator. But hey, we understand that the best case scenario can be cost prohibitive—especially when you’re starting out.
It’s Okay to Bootstrap
We recommend that small businesses self-host their site and have web professionals create the content, customize the theme, and provide maintenance services (no surprise—it’s a proven approach to high-quality results and it’s what we do).
But when money is tight and you need to get your business on the Web, a WordPress.com site with a WordPress Value Bundle ($99/year) can offer a great starting point. You’ll be able to use your own domain name, have extra storage space, and the ability to customize the colors and fonts on your site.
We understand the pressures on small business in a challenging economy so here at Chaos to Clarity, we’ve been working hard on a new service to help businesses get on the Web with a WordPress.com site for a low flat rate—and of course providing additional content strategy and social networking support services for those who need them. If you have a dated site, or you feel confident about creating content but not so much about the technical side—stay tuned!
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Full disclosure: We participate in Scribe’s and WPEngine’s affiliate programs because we use, know, love, and recommend their products.