Deciding what platform to build your website on can be pretty overwhelming. There are so many options (WordPress, Squarespace, Wix and on and on), it’s not surprising that this is a topic that comes up again and again. But what it comes down to is deciding between a hosted and a self-hosted website.
What’s the difference between a hosted and a self-hosted website?
A hosted website is one that is built on a website builder such as Wix, Squarespace or WordPress.com. These are Software as a Service (SAAS) platforms offering an all-in-one website solution. They provide the hosting (the servers that house all your website files) and the software to build your website. But you’re limited to using their tools and templates, and you have limited, if any, access to the code for customization.
WordPress.org, on the other hand, is a self-hosted website option. It’s open source software, which means you can download it and then modify it as you like. The software is free, but you have to open an account with a website host in order to have your files housed on their servers and purchase a domain (the address or URL for your website) from a domain registrar.
What are the pros and cons of hosted versus self-hosted websites?
I’ve heard many people describe the difference between hosted and self-hosted websites as the difference between renting a home and owning one. A hosted website is like a rental. You have a home to house your belongings, but you don’t own the land or the building. You’re limited in the sorts of improvements and customizations you can make, but when something breaks downs, the landlord is responsible for repairs. Having a self-hosted site is like owning your own home. Every part of it belongs to you. You can tear down walls and change out the flooring, but if your furnace breaks, it’s up to you to replace it. Like renting and buying there are benefits and disadvantages to both.
Hosting has the advantage of giving you everything you need in one place: the hosting, the domain registration, the software and the maintenance and security. It’s often a great solution for those who are DIYing their first website. But because you’re limited by the tools the service provides, you’re limited in what you can create.
A self-hosted WordPress site, by contrast, gives you the freedom to create whatever you want. With WordPress, you have a lot more theme and plugin options to give you more functionality. If you plan to grow in your business, WordPress is a good option because it allows your website to grow with you. The downside of WordPress is that the maintenance and security is up to you. You have to be sure the back up your website correctly and keep your software updated in order to keep your website safe from hacking.
So which platform do you choose?
The answer to this question really depends on your goals, your business model and whether you want to invest the time to build the website yourself or have someone do it for you.
I prefer to create self-hosted WordPress websites for my clients because of the freedom we have to create the strategic online presence they need that can grow as their business changes. But that’s not to say that a hosted solution isn’t a good option, especially for a simple website that is mainly informational.
If you want to build your website yourself, a hosted website might be a bit easier to set up on your own. WordPress is a bit more involved when it comes to the set up, but it’s not impossible to do yourself if you’re willing to put in the time to learn how. And that can be incredibly rewarding if you like using technology.
If you think a hosted website might be more in line with what you need, you have a lot of choices — WordPress.com, Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Shopify. The interfaces can be quite different, so it’s a good idea to take advantage of the free trial period that most of them offer and test out the interface to see what you prefer.
So I guess my answer, in the end, is it depends. I know that’s not completely satisfying, but I hope I’ve given you a bit more information to help you make some choices. If you need help deciding which option is right for you, I’m happy to offer you a free consult to discuss. Just shoot me a message and we can arrange a time to chat.