Some people are confused by the difference between having a free account on WordPress.com and the actual WordPress program available and supported at WordPress.org. The tip is that .com stands for a commercial company while .org stands for an organization. In other words, while WordPress is a free, open source program developed by a volunteer organization, there is a company that makes money hosting and managing WordPress sites for businesses called WordPress.com.
So what’s the difference and why should you pay for a self-hosted WordPress site for your business instead of using the free WordPress hosting?
The simplest answer is control. Only by paying to host your own installation WordPress do you have actual control of your site and your content.
A Self-Hosted, Fully-Supported WordPress Site
With a self-hosted site, the WordPress program is installed on the web server that hosts your site. Usually, this is a web server run by a web hosting company. By “fully-supported,” I mean a hosting service that lets you use all the latest features of WordPress. There are some smaller hosting services that don’t permit their clients to have complete WordPress administrative access. They do this to reduce their costs or push more expensive services on to you. You shouldn’t use these folks. I have some recommendations in my post here and there are many more. If in doubt, ask if you can run a fully-supported WordPress program at the same price quoted before signing up.
Features of a Self-hosted WordPress Site include:
- Full Theme Support — You can use any WordPress theme you wish from a custom-designed WordPress theme to a commercial WordPress theme to a free WordPress theme. And you can edit and modify the theme and CSS stylesheet code at will, even directly from inside the WordPress administration editor. This allows you create business and product branding as well as unique professional website.
- Full and Total Plugin Support — WordPress plugins allow you to add special capabilities and features to your website and site administration such as integrating your Twitter posts, providing random videos or ads in the sidebar, email list sign-ups forms, and much more. If there is something useful that someone needs to do, someone has probably created a plugin to integrate it into your WordPress site. There are thousands of third-party WordPress plugin developers and 18,000+ plugins with over 270 million downloads. You’re going to want to use plugins at some point.
- Ability to Create Revenue Directly — Since you are in control, you can decide whether you want to sell ad space on your site or generate revenue through things like membership services, product sales (including affiliate sales links) and so on. You can easily incorporate several income streams on your site and learn which works best with your target audience and market. There are many plugins designed to help you do this, both free and commercial.
- Brand Control — To get the most of your marketing budget of time and money, you want to create a “brand identity” for your products or services. For example, in one test over 80% of the world’s population recognized Coca-Cola’s distinctive red and font style and Nike’s swoosh logo. While you probably won’t get that level of brand recognition, a consistent, professional look-and-feel across your marketing helps establish your expertise with your target audience. But you can only do that if you control all aspects of your marketing presentations. With a self-hosted site, you can, even hiring a professional graphic designer to create a custom theme that matches the rest of your marketing materials.
- Monthly Hosting Costs — A self-hosted WordPress-based site does require some expenses. The primary expense is the monthly cost of hosting. I do recommend outsourcing your web hosting to a company that not only specializes in web hosting, but in WordPress-based site hosting. The estimated monthly hosting costs for a self-hosted WordPress site should be between US$5 per month to US$150 per month. The lower price will get you all of your hosting services, including email hosting, and a management interface so you can maintain your services and install WordPress with a few click, but not much beyond support files for hand-holding. In most of the lower priced services, you can add on one-on-one customer support for around US$10 per month. At the higher end, you can expect not only your hosting but often WordPress installation, a customized theme, regular site maintenance, and someone you can call when you have a question or problem. For hosting recommendations for various levels of support, check out my post here.
- Responsible for Your Own Website Maintenance — You must, of course, upgrade and update your WordPress program, themes, and plugins from time to time. You should also be doing periodic backups of your site, particularly if it’s active. A fully-supported WordPress program installation allows you to do most of this from your WordPress administration by simply clicking on the available updates. You can also do partial backups, by using the WordPress Export feature to download your content onto your own computer. And most web hosting services (certainly any I recommend), offer a simple way to backup all of your site files with a couple of click from your site control panel. So none of this is very hard. If you don’t want to deal with any of this, you can either pay for web hosting that includes more personal services or hire someone on a freelance basis to take care of this for you. (You might even be able to barter some service from another member of your business association, if your budget is really tight.)
- You Have Total Control of Your Site — Your website is your primary communication tool in the 21st Century. Potential customers and clients research your business long before you are even aware of their existence. You need to be able to get detailed information on what is sending visitors to your site, how they are responding to your site, and what they are doing when they arrive at your site. You need to be able to respond to changes in your business environment instantly which is why you not only need a WordPress-based site, but one where you can control everything you need to make it work effectively for your business. For the cost of a latte a month, you can have that kind of control with a self-hosted WordPress-based site.
Features of a WordPress.com Blog Site include:
- Limited Theme Options —While there are over 150+ themes available to choose from with a free WordPress.com blog site, you can NOT make any changes or modifications to the CSS code. And you are not allowed to upload any other themes such as commercial or customized themes.
- No Plugin Uploads Allowed — There are some additional capabilities and features offered in the widget area of your WordPress.com blog, however, you may NOT upload any other plugins, so you are limited to the features offered.
- No Ads or Direct Revenue Generation — While WordPress.com retains the right to place ads on your site at their choosing, you are Not allowed to sell ad space yourself or place code for other income creating options like membership sign-ups, digital downloads, affiliate sales and so forth.
- Not for Brands — The free WordPress.com blogs were never intended for businesses and brands. Since you can customize the look-and-feel of your free WordPress.com blog site, you cannot effective develop a unique brand identity.
- No Monthly Costs — The primary appeal of a WordPress.com blog site is that it is free. There is no cost to you.
- No Program Maintenance — The staff of WordPress.com handles all of the upgrades and updates to the WordPress program, plugins and themes they allow, and periodic backups of the contents. You do not have a choice about the upgrades, however. Your site and themes will be upgraded whether you want to do so or not.
- No Control — You are not in control of your free website. You may add and edit the content, choose a new theme from the ones provided, but ultimately the control of your site is in the hands of the WordPress.com staff and management. If there is a policy change, you can Not say no. If you are found in violation of the Terms of Service, your site can be deleted. You are entirely controlled by the WordPress.com Terms of Service. This is fine if you are wanting a personal blog. You may choose to upgrade to a paid hosting service with WordPress.com, if you wish to add more control to your blog.