In this article, I talk about the difference between fully-hosted website solutions and self-hosted sites, which platform you should choose to build your blog, and what that choice will mean for you as a website owner.
This article is for those who are…
- New to blogging
- Unhappy with the options on their current website
- Confused about the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org
- Interested in setting up a customized blog
- Looking for the best platform for a website that is continuously updated (such as a food blog or lifestyle blog)
When you’re just starting out creating your blog, deciding which platform to choose can be really difficult. There are all sorts of options out there, all of which claim to be the best. Some of these options are:
Each one is a bit different, and without any prior web experience it can be really tough to determine what is going to matter for you as a website owner. In this article, I’m going to start out by talking about the difference between a fully-hosted website and a self-hosted website, then I’ll move on to what the advantages and disadvantages of each are, and then I’ll talk about what I chose to use with my website here.
Fully hosted vs. Self-hosted websites
There’s a word that comes up a lot when you look into starting a website, and that word is “hosting.” Hosting a website is just like hosting guests at your house – when you host a guest, you’re giving them a place to live for a while. Similarly, websites need a place to live, but unlike your houseguests, it’s not in your spare bedroom.
Hosting companies such as Bluehost and MediaTemple give your website a place to live on their servers. In exchange for a monthly fee, they host your website and all its associated files and take care of any issues that come up with the servers.
Now that we know what hosting is, we can talk about the difference between fully hosted websites and self-hosted websites.
Fully hosted websites
Fully hosted websites are solutions such as SquareSpace, Wix, and WordPress.com that both host your website and give you the platform to build it off of.
So if we’re using our houseguest analogy, fully hosted solutions give your guests a place to sleep, as well as all the sheets, towels, shampoo, and food they’ll need during their stay.
Advantages of fully hosted websites
- Generally very easy to use
- Very mild learning curve
- Fewer options to choose from (eliminates option paralysis)
- Good support
- All updates and issues are taken care of by the provider
Disadvantages of fully hosted websites
- You’re stuck with the available built-in options
- You can’t take all your website files and go elsewhere
- Limited options for extra features
- No control of what’s going on in the back-end
- Not extremely customizable in terms of design
With a self-hosted website, you purchase hosting for your website and then choose which platform you want to use to build your website. The most common one and the one I’ll be talking about here is WordPress.org.
This is analogous to having a guest stay at your house, but telling them they need to bring everything they’ll need to enjoy their stay, including blankets and towels and even a bed.
Note: WordPress.org supplies a lot of the “amenities” you’d need for a website – we’re just talking about the hosting with this analogy.
Advantages of self hosted websites
- Fully customizable
- Infinite options for add-on features (if you can dream it, it can happen)
- You can take your whole website (design and everything) and move to a different host
Disadvantages of self hosted websites
- Steep learning curve
- Oftentimes there are too many options
- No central support team
- Requires knowledge of HTML and CSS
WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org
One thing that confuses many people is that there are two types of WordPress.. one is the .com version and one is the .org version. The .com version is a fully hosted website solution – they give your website a place to live and they give you the platform to build it off of. You can even go there and make a website for free with a wordpress.com domain name, like my original blog ovenmittsblog.wordpress.com.
WordPress.org, on the other hand, is used on a self-hosted website and is simply the platform to build your website. If you use WordPress.org, you have to purchase hosting at a company such as BlueHost or MediaTemple, then load the WordPress.org files onto your host.
Note: You can learn how to do this in the Getting Started video course over at Food Blogger Pro (I recommend membership even if you’re not starting a food blog specifically).
Once you’re in, WordPress.com and WordPress.org look pretty darn similar – and that’s because they had a common ancestor and are spearheaded by the same group of people. WordPress.org is free to use and open source, meaning anyone who’s up to snuff is able to contribute to the code and develop plugins specifically for it.
WordPress.com has the same advantages and disadvantages of the other fully hosted websites above.
What platform should I use to build my website?
This question is going to vary depending on the person. Over at Food Blogger Pro, we suggest going with a self-hosted WordPress.org website because of the flexibility. However, I realize that this solution really isn’t for everyone.
Due to the steep learning curve, necessity for learning basic code, and limitless options, many new bloggers find themselves very exasperated when trying to use WordPress.org to build their websites. Sometimes, something that sounds so simple (such as “I would like to move this chunk of text a bit over to the right”) can actually end up being pretty complicated.
Fully hosted websites are for you if…
If you just want to get your website off the ground with as little friction as possible, you don’t have any interest in learning HTML and CSS, and you’re not the trial-and-error type, then I would recommend going with a fully hosted website solution. Squarespace is very popular and is used by some high-profile bloggers, such as Molly Yeh.
Self-hosted websites are for you if…
If you are willing to go through a bit (or fair amount) of headache, you think learning to code would be fun, and you’re okay with it taking much longer to get your website up and running than you ever imagined, then I would recommend going with WordPress.org.
Note: if you already have experience with websites and HTML/CSS, this learning curve won’t be quite as steep.
Now, people do say all the time that you don’t need to know how to code to use WordPress.org. At a very, very low level, that is true. You can get it set up with zero knowledge of code.
However, as soon as you decide you want to tweak something just the littlest bit, you’re going to need to get comfortable with HTML and CSS. It’s just the reality of things.
Why I decided to go with a self-hosted WordPress.org website
When I decided to start this blog, I got a membership at Food Blogger Pro and followed the tutorials there for setting up a WordPress.org website. And I loved it. I went nuts customizing everything, learning HTML and CSS, and figuring it all out.
I also dealt with a fair amount of frustration because sometimes the changes I made to the code didn’t turn out so well. I’ve dealt with the “white screen of death” a few times.
However, I really enjoyed this learning process. It became, in itself, one of the reasons I loved to blog. And I liked to know that I was only limited by my imagination in terms of what this website could do for me.
Getting bogged down in the technical stuff
Because I work at Food Blogger Pro, I see a lot of new bloggers come through who are just starting with their very first website. Even though our tutorials are very thorough for getting set up with WordPress.org, due to the limitless nature of the platform we can’t possibly cover everything.
And I’ve unfortunately seen far too many times where someone who just wants to blog gets so frustrated and fed up with the tech stuff that they just want to give up.
So, I have two solutions for this.
The first is that I want to say that it’s okay to use a platform other than WordPress.org. Almost everybody will recommend going with WordPress.org, and I do as well – with reservations. If dealing with technical issues is not something you are interested in, then it might be best for you to start on a fully hosted platform.
You may end up wanting more flexibility in the future, and that might mean undergoing the arduous task of switching over to a self-hosted website. But if the tech stuff is going to keep you from blogging in the long run, then it’s best to remove that obstacle and deal with it later (possibly by having someone else deal with it for you).
The second solution I have for this is to help committed WordPress.org users with the technical stuff. I already do this by creating courses for Food Blogger Pro, helping our members on the forum, and occasionally doing side jobs for other bloggers. In addition, I am hoping that I can cover some of the more advanced technical things here to help bloggers achieve the website they’ve been wanting to see that goes beyond the basics of just getting it running.
If you’ve decided that you’re going to deal with the headache in exchange for flexibility, then you might be interested in other WordPress.org tutorials I’ll be publishing soon. To get updates about more technical posts like these, click here!