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 in use on many websites and blogs. People use WordPress to manage web content on sites large and small because it’s an excellent solution for web users and web developers.
You have 2 options if you want your website / blog to run on WordPress software: host it on WordPress.com (a for-profit website/blog hosting service) or self-host the site by downloading the software from WordPress.org (a not-for-profit software repository). If you choose to host on WordPress.com, your site will live on the WordPress.com servers (computers). WordPress.com offers free and paid hosting, but options are limited. 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 to consider when deciding whether to host a site on WordPress.com or to self-host.
Themes provide an out-of-the-box design for your site.
WordPress.com provides a limited directory of free and paid themes for you to choose from. If you pay a $30/year a-la-carte fee, you can customize the colors and fonts on your site.
On a self-hosted WordPress site, your theme choices won’t be limited to the WordPress.com directory. 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 completely 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.
You can add any plugin you might need to a self-hosted WordPress site, and that gives you much more control over your site’s content and functionality.
Ads can appear on your WordPress.com site unless you pay the yearly $30 a-la-carte fee.
On a self-hosted site, you get to decide whether or not to have ads and if you like, choose the ad provider.
On WordPress.com, your site will be updated automatically. You don’t have to worry about technical maintenance.
On a self-hosted site, you’ll have to plan for regular software and plugin updates to keep things running smoothly. When your website is critical for business, it’s always better to have a skilled web professional maintain your site.
WordPress.com hosted sites can be free, cost $60/year for the limited options mentioned above, or $100/year for a Premium bundle that gets you:
- your own domain name,
- the ability to customize theme colors and fonts,
- an ad-free site, and
- more storage space (5GB).
With WordPress VIP Services you can fully customize your site on WordPress.com–prices start around $37,500/year (no, that’s not a typo).
WordPress software is free and you can download it from WordPress.org, but you will still pay hosting costs for a self-hosted site—to your web host. WP Engine is my favorite webhost. It costs about $290/year and is worth every dollar. BlueHost is a low cost option that runs about $100/year.
We recommend self-hosted websites for most small businesses and we point out the value of having web professionals create the content, customize the theme, and provide maintenance services (no surprise there—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 Premium Bundle ($99/year) offers a solid 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.
Full disclosure: We participate in Scribe’s, WP Engine’s, and BlueHost’s affiliate programs because we’ve put them through their paces and both use and recommend their services.