Let me start off by saying I don’t entirely know what I’m talking about here, so I may get some things wrong. Oh well, such is life.
WordPress is WordPress is WordPress, right? Well, no.
There’s actually a very big difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. With WordPress.com, you sign up for a plan (either free or paid) and you’re good to go. WordPress.org is used for self-hosted blogs.
So what is self-hosted? I’ve never done self-hosted so I may start making things up a little bit, but bear with me. Any website needs a server to call home. For a self-hosted site, you find a hosting service (Bluehost is an example) and pay them to give your site a place to live. You can then find a domain name to attach to your site. The framework for the blog comes from WordPress.org. You get the code from them, and then it’s up to you to do what you will with it. You can track down your own themes, you can add plugins, you can do whatever you’d like. WordPress.org just gives you the pieces and you can knock yourself out.
The biggest plus about self-hosted is that you have control to customize and do whatever you want. The downside is that you’re responsible for everything. I’m not sure what level of support is available, but you’re still the one that’s ultimately responsible for your site.
Apparently there is a certain cachet to having a self-hosted blog. The other day I was reading an article over on Medium, and the author was saying that in order for your book author website to be taken seriously it has to be self-hosted. I tend to write that off as a pretty snobbish view; as long as your site does what you want it to, why should anyone care?
It also seems like there can be challenges integrating with the WordPress.com community. I’ve noticed that sometimes if I’m leaving a comment on a self-hosted blog, I don’t necessarily get a WordPress notification of a response to my comment. I’m not sure if that’s a theme issue, a plug-in, or what the story is. There’s often an option to sign up for email notification, but when I’ve tried that it notifies you of every single comment left on the blog post, which is annoying. For me having to sort out that kind of thing would be a deterrent to going self-hosted.
WordPress.com is a different kettle of fish. Blogs are hosted on their servers, and they’re responsible for dealing with maintenance, security issues, backups, etc. Unlike WordPress.org that gives you the code that you install on your own site, WordPress.com runs everyone’s blogs off of their system. There are efficiency and security benefits to that, but it means that your ability to customize is heavily restricted because you have no access to the code underpinning your blog. It’s only if you’re paying the big bucks for the business or e-commerce plan that they let you do advanced customization on your site including advanced payments, Google AdSense integration, and use of Google Analytics.
WordPress switched up its plan options a few months back, so there may be some different options since you last looked. The only difference between the blogger and the personal plan appears to be that the blogger plan restricts you to a .blog domain, while the personal plan lets you choose from whatever site names are unclaimed. The premium plan gets you some extra features, including monetization options. The business plan is a massive step up from premium, both in cost and features, and then there’s another leap to the e-commerce plan. It looks like you’d need to be selling and shipping quite a bit of product to have any need for the e-commerce plan.
If you’re trying to Google something WordPress-related, keep in mind that a lot of sites will generically talk about “WordPress” but only be referring to WordPress.org where you can make changes to the code and freely add plugins and such.
I use WordPress.com. I was on the free plan for the first year and a bit that I was blogging, and I’ve been on the personal plan for the last eight months. I’m not a DIY kinda gal in general, so I’m quite content sticking with WordPress.com, although I do plan on upgrading my plan soon. I can see how on one level there would be benefits to going self-hosted, but to be honest the biggest sticking point for me is that I just can’t be bothered.
How do you WordPress? Do you have strong preferences one way or the other?
The New Blogger’s Guide to WordPress page includes tips on topics like blogging etiquette, making the most of your WP experience, and using the block editor.
The Up Your Blogging Game page covers a variety of blogging topics, including using images and implementing SEO strategies.