WordPress.com or WordPress self-hosted?

While working with a small business client recently on migrating a legacy website to WordPress.com, we were asked if using WordPress with a third-party host would be a better option. As discussed in a previous blog entry, "WordPress" can mean either the open source software that powers your website, or, the website hosting service offered by the company that develops the WordPress software itself (available at WordPress.com).

Engaging a web hosting company to run the WordPress software for you is known as self-hosting. The primary advantage to using WordPress in this way is in the fine-grained customisation available. You'd want to go this route if you have exacting design requirements, or need full access to the underlying code for developing specific custom features, or want the widest possible selection of WordPress plug-ins—for example, to enable an online store.

However, self-hosting comes with a considerable associated increase in costs—both upfront and hidden. Monthly fees from the web hosting company will be incurred, with potential additional fees for website traffic. Automated, regular security patching and data backups are typically not offered on basic self-hosted plans, and are another additional cost. Without patching and backups, your website is exposed to hacking and irretrievable data loss, respectively. This extends to the underlying server operating system as well, not just the WordPress software—so, there are two layers of security patching, backup, and general maintenance to manage. Performing these tasks requires an advanced technical skill level—expertise which may be absent in your current staffing.

For reference, a certain reputable local web host offers basic self-hosting plans for NZ$36.50 per month. The annual cost of NZ$438 doesn't include any of the backup or management tasks listed above. These incur additional costs of NZ$150 per month—plus NZ$25 for every 15 minutes of restoring your data from backup in the event of a disaster. Even for just one month's use, a small business would easily exceed the total annual running cost of using WordPress.com.

All of these aspects—including access to new versions of the WordPress software—are handled for you automagically with WordPress.com. The uptime (that is, the time between website outages) is often superior to many self-hosted plans. Billing is a simple low annual cost, with no monthly fees for traffic spikes. Even the customisation benefits of a self-hosted WordPress site will likely be covered in most cases with the WordPress.com Premium upgrade package (which includes the Custom Design upgrade). Depending on your website requirements, WordPress.com can be a lot less expensive compared to self-hosting. The money you'd spend on self-hosting—for potentially no real advantage—could instead be allocated to other more critical aspects of your running your business.

The freedom to self-host (if needed) is a huge advantage of choosing WordPress. If changing circumstances ever required moving your WordPress.com website to a self-hosted plan, this is perfectly feasible—and WordPress.com even offers a guided transfer service to perform the work for you.

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