Hosted vs. Self-Hosted Blog Solutions – Pros and Cons




There’s never been a better time to start or upgrade your blog. The tools available are fully-featured, polished solutions that make getting a professional and robust blog up and running ridiculously easy. Like, seriously – some of this stuff would’ve blown the minds of web developers in the ’90s.

But with so many options, which should you choose? This article will focus on the pros and cons of some of the most popular blog solutions: Self-hosted WordPress vs. Squarespace vs. WordPress.com.

  • WordPress will represent the self-hosted CMS (content management solution), since it’s arguably the most popular – there are of course other solutions like Joomla, Drupal, and Ruby on Rails-created ones.
  • Squarespace will represent the all-in-one solutions since it’s one very popular solution. Weebly is another notable one.
  • WordPress.com will represent the hosted blog solutions. Yes, Blogger is (was?) another popular option, but I believe WordPress.com surpasses what Blogger can offer, amiright?

WordPress

WordPress Org

WordPress is a web software you can use to easily and quickly create a good-looking and fully-featured website or blog. You install it on your host, and many hosting providers offer a 1-click WordPress installation to make the process simpler.

WordPress is arguably the most popular blog tool and publishing platform, also known as a CMS (content management system). SpyreStudios is powered by WordPress, as are many of the blogs you read regularly.

Pros:

Complete control and flexibility.
You can do whatever you want with your website. Hack the WordPress code, upload files to your web space, rearrange folders however you want, and basically just make your website installation as flexible as you want. And since WordPress is open source, there are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of themes and counting that are created for it. Ones that drastically alter the appearance of your website, from a magazine style to a membership forum-type place to a e-commerce online store to a portfolio to anything else you can imagine.

Maximum extensions via plugins.
WordPress, being open source, has a massive developer community, perhaps the largest of any CMS. As a result, you have thousands upon thousands of plugins—most free—that you can use to extend your website. Add a shopping cart, membership option, and whatever else. Cheesy but true: if you can dream it, chances are you can realize it with WordPress + some plugins.

Pure autonomy.
Since the WordPress installation is self-hosted, it’s your own. You don’t rely on any company’s service or policies. With the exception of your hosting provider’s rules (nothing illegal, no porn, etc.) you can pretty much do whatever you want with your website and know that it’ll stay up indefinitely. When you use some company’s solution, while it’s unlikely that anything bad will happen (lest a user revolt happens), there’s always the chance that there could be a service or policy change that you’re not happy with.

Cons:

Requires more time and work to maintain.
Since your WordPress installation is self-hosted, you have to manually update and maintain it (if something goes wrong or it’s not performing as fast as it can ex. installation of a caching solution to minimize bandwidth usage and speed up performance). No company or service is going to do it for you for free. So you need to take time out of your day to update to the latest version – which, admittedly, is getting simpler and faster. The same goes for all the plugins you use. And due to human error and/or laziness to update, this leads into…

Greater security risk.
Malware (malicious software) targets self-hosted websites because it has potentially the lowest security. If you neglect updating to the latest version of WordPress, you can potentially expose yourself to malware. Then you have to spend even more time and energy fixing the problem or backing up and re-installing WordPress.

Most expensive.
Services that are hosted by a company are often offered at a flat-rate. Usually, you pay X dollars a month whether you get 1 visitor or 1 million. That’s not the case with most hosting providers – you have a bandwidth or traffic limit. Translation: as your website traffic grows, so does your bill. You’ll need to upgrade to a larger hosting plan, or move to a dedicated server, or whatever else to accommodate your larger traffic (admittedly, a good problem to have of course). And that makes it the most expensive option at hundreds of dollars a month for bigger sites.

Squarespace

Squarespace

Squarespace is a fully hosted, completely managed environment for creating and maintaining a website, blog or portfolio. Think WordPress, but with more website-building flexibility but far less extensions, and hosted and maintained by someone else so you don’t have to worry about installing and updating yourself.

Pros:

Convenient and customizable all-in-one solution.
You don’t have to get separate hosting, install or update the software, and generally mess with any of the backend stuff – it’s all done for you in a all-in-one-package. Just get a Squarespace account and you’re good to go. And since Squarespace has a robust visual website editor, you can easily customize your layout, appearance, pages, sidebar elements, and so forth. All-in-one convenience plus design customizability = Squarespace.

More stable and secure than self-hosted.
Squarespace will probably have better servers than you. Any company will. Add to that the fact they maintain and update the software you use, and your Squarespace-powered website will inevitably be more stable and secure than many self-hosted WordPress installations. No traffic spike will take your website down, and no malware will infect and corrupt your installation.

Cheaper than self-hosted.
Hundreds of dollars for dedicated server hosting versus Squarespace’s tens-of-dollars-a-month for the same speed and stability? Yeah, Squarespace is cheaper than having a self-hosted WordPress website.

Cons:

Not many extensions.
Unlike WordPress, you can only extend Squarespace to the point that they let you. It’s hosted by them, and it’s not open source, so there isn’t a huge developer community like there is with WordPress. If you need a specific functionality for your website and Squarespace doesn’t already provide it, you’re out of luck – there’s no mechanism for extending Squarespace with outside plugins. You’ll need to go self-hosted WordPress for your website.

Less autonomy.
This is going to be a non-issue 99% of the time, but it’s being listed here because it is a fact. Squarespace will have it’s own policies that you wouldn’t have if you were self-hosted. Again, it’s unlikely Squarespace will slam down on you for voicing an unfavorable opinion or something (lest a user revolt happens), but just be aware that they do have the final say on what you can or can’t do, since you are using their service and they can terminate your account when they feel the need to.

WordPress.com

WordPress Com
WordPress.com is a hosted version of the open source self-hosted WordPress. It’s basically WordPress minus the plugins and thus extensions and massive customization, as well as a limit number of themes and theme customization, but you get the Squarespace benefit of your website being hosted and maintained by someone else.

Pros:

Convenient all-in-one solution.
You don’t have to get separate hosting, install or update the software, and generally mess with any of the backend stuff – it’s all done for you in a all-in-one-package. Just get a WordPress.com account and you’re good to go. And while the customization is severely limited compared to a self-hosted WordPress installation or Squarespace’s visual website editor, you do have a small selection of themes you can choose from, as well as a paid feature to customize your CSS (the stylesheet where you can write code to change the appearance of your blog, such as colors, fonts, element locations, size, etc.).

More stable and secure than self-hosted.
WordPress.com will have better servers than you. Any company will (in this case, WordPress.com creator Automattic). Add to that the fact they maintain and update the WordPress that you’d use, and your WordPress.com-powered website will inevitably be more stable and secure than a self-hosted WordPress installation. No traffic spike will take your website down, and no malware will infect and corrupt your installation.

Cheapest solution.
WordPress.com is the cheapest of these three solutions. The minimum you’d have to pay is their low annual fee to map your own domain to your WordPress.com blog and you’re good to go with a professional appearance. Pay some more for the CSS customization and no ads/WordPress.com footer, and you got a robust and personalized professional blog for the lowest cost.

Cons:

Severely limited customizability.
Unlike Squarespace, there’s no visual editor to easily change how your blog looks like with WordPress.com. Add to that the limited number of themes, and your only customization comes from working with the stylesheet for the theme you choose. Granted, there is a Sandbox theme that’s basically a bare-bones blog layout with un-styled HTML, so you can style and arrange it however you want using CSS.

No extensions.
Unlike self-hosted WordPress, you can’t extend your WordPress.com blog since there is no mechanism for installing plugins. If you need a specific functionality for your website, you’re out of luck. You’ll need to go self-hosted WordPress for your website.

Less autonomy.
Like with Squarespace, this is going to be a non-issue 99% of the time, but it’s being listed here because it is a fact. Automattic (WordPress.com creator) will have it’s own policies that you wouldn’t have if you were self-hosted. Again, it’s unlikely Automattic will slam down on you for voicing an unfavorable opinion or something (lest a user revolt happens), but just be aware that they do have the final say on what you can or can’t do, since you are using their service and they can terminate your account when they feel the need to.

WordPress vs. Squarespace vs. WordPress.com: Which Is Right for You?

  • Go with a self-hosted WordPress if you need maximum customization and autonomy and very specific functionality.
  • Go with Squarespace if you want all-in-one convenience without worrying about separate hosting and security, you don’t have specific functionality needs, and you want complete and easy website design customization.
  • Go with WordPress.com if you want all-in-one convenience without worrying about separate hosting and security, your needs don’t go beyond just having a blog and some pages, and you want the lowest-cost solution.

Which of the three do you use? How has it best served your needs so far? If you’ve used one of the other three, how do they compare and why did you switch to your current option? Share your comments below.





About the author:

Oleg Mokhov is an electronic music artist and design enthusiast. He makes electronic music that's a cross between Four Tet and Boards of Canada.

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