I am often asked by Harrelson Agency clients and potential clients if they should use a WordPress.com site or have us build and host a WordPress site for them. Money is often a main concern, as you can pay $100 – 120 a year for a pretty solid WordPress.com site without much fuss. A hosted WordPress site can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars in building costs, and more for hosting and programming. As with anything, discuss the costs upfront with the agency or company building your site if you go the self-hosted route.
There are advantages to the “set it and forget it” style of a WordPress.com website financially, but there are also a few other variables to consider if you’re looking to have a serous presence on the web and translate that into bigger goals for your company. Remember, WordPress started off as a blogging platform. While you can manipulate a WordPress.com site into a more “professional” looking business or church or group site, it’s not always easy depending on your needs and skill level.
If you do self host, you can use custom / commercial themes, plus all other free themes that exist. You can modify, customize, or do anything that you’d like with your site. With WordPress hosting, you’re limited to a set of free themes that exist in the theme repository. Also, you can’t modify the CSS or other codes within the theme. If you’re looking to customize the site with scripts and customizations (as an author / speaker / consultant / business etc) it’s definitely advantageous to be on your own server. This includes everything from being able to do custom embeds of media to accepting payments to contact forms etc.
Simply put, there are (often mission-critical) things you can’t do with WordPress hosted sites that you can do with a self-hosted site.
Plugins are also a big deal, especially as the web matures. You can upload any free, paid, or custom plugin that you want with a hosted site. This allows you to really maximize WordPress’ potential as a content management system and expand that functionality. With a WordPress.com site, you’re not allowed to upload any free, paid, or custom plugins. Everything from search engine optimization (especially needed in 2015) to handling social media sharing to newsletter delivery to some really cool media handling plugins to how your site displays posts etc are covered. Here are a few popular plugins, but I have a standard 10-15 that I typically install on a new site and highly recommend for flexibility and security and making WordPress more than just a blogging platform.
Of course, spending $99 once a year is a nice idea and provides a sense of regular expense if you’re looking into a WordPress.com site with ads turned off and a custom domain (and a little extra storage). There is a higher initial cost for a WordPress hosted site (typically anywhere from $2,000 to $35,000 for most group, church or business sites depending on many variables). However, the cost of a self-hosted WordPress site over the span of a few years evens out and you get a much “nicer” custom experience that is built around your own brand. This also frees you up from being shackled to whatever changes WordPress.com might or might not make as it evolves as a commercial arm of the larger WordPress ecosystem, as we’ve seen just this week … although the changes are all very positive this time. I’ve never had a client want to go back to something like a hosted service after they realize the options available and how the site “pays for itself” over time.
Maintenance is a very big concern for security and speed reasons these days, or at least it should be an absolute top priority. That does require that you keep your site updated, have backups, keep SPAM controlled and keeping your site optimized. That’s something we do for clients, of course. WordPress.com frees you up from that worry or need for maintenance, so that’s a plus for that side of things. However, like everything else, it’s a tradeoff between convenience and the ability to make something truly “your own” in terms of appearance and functionality.
The biggest point I always make when comparing what we can do with what WordPress.com hosting offers is that I believe you really cannot maximize the potential of your site / blog / online presence / long term branding unless you have access to the additional functionality of plugins and the ability to maintain custom modifications (and get down to the nitty gritty code based level allowing for you to make the site look and act like you’d like for it to). Being able to take payments, offer audio / video / text media downloads etc are all big benefits of what we offer with a self-hosted site, but the biggest benefit is that it’s “your” site and belongs to you, whatever may come down the road.