There are a few hosting and domain options for your WordPress blog. It can be confusing figuring out what’s best for you. In every option your website is built using WordPress software. Here are your basic choices when it comes to choosing hosting and a domain name for your WordPress blog
- Free wordpress.com hosting running WordPress with a wordpress.com subdomain
- Free wordpress.com hosting running WordPress with a custom domain name
- Premium wordpress.com hosting running WordPress with a custom domain
- Self-hosted blog running WordPress with a custom domain name
Usually non-technical people will start out with the first option. As your website or blog grows though, you may decide that it’s time for you to get a custom domain name and more features. Or ultimately move from free hosting to self-hosted. There are many reasons why you might want to do either of these. But first, let’s discuss what each of those things are…
Custom domain name
Computers use website addresses which are made up of numbers. These are difficult for humans to use and remember, so we use domain names instead. The domain name is translated into numbers by DNS (Domain Name Servers) behind the scenes, usually by whoever hosts your blog. The yourwebsite.wordpress.com blog name that you get when you sign up for wordpress.com is tied to wordpress.com hosting. You can’t change to a new hosting provider and keep the name. A custom domain name would be one such as yourwebsite.com or yourwebsite.ie that you have to buy from a provider. The custom domain name is independent of where your website is hosted, and whether it is self-hosted or free hosting. This means you can change your hosting at any time without affecting your blog name. A custom domain name is often seen as being more professional, depending on what your blog is about or for. Most blogs that have been around for a while will have a custom domain name. The earlier you make the change, the easier it is to do without losing existing followers or your search engine rankings.
WordPress is the software you use to create your blog. It’s a Content Management System (CMS) which means it’s designed to be easier for users to publish blog posts without having coding skills. WordPress is also used to create many websites aswell as blogs. There are many themes (change the look of the blog) and plugins (pieces of code that do things – eg. website statistics, widgets to display your tweets or facebook updates etc) available for WordPress. Some are free, others are premium (paid).
You may decide that you want to switch away from the free hosting at wordpress.com. To do this you buy hosting elsewhere and install WordPress yourself. Most commonly this is done to get greater freedom such as customising themes and being able to install whatever plugins you want to use. The negative (for some) side of this is that you are responsible for setting up and configuring your WordPress blog, and applying any updates that are needed. It’s generally easy to set up WordPress with a new hosting provider though. Each company will have help sections dedicated to getting your WordPress blog set up.
Let’s take a closer look at the three options you have and what some of the advantages and disadvantages are…
Option 1: Free wordpress.com hosting with subdomain
Most people starting out writing a blog will take the simplest and non-technical route of using free hosting. When you sign up with wordpress.com, wordpress.com is your hosting provider and they give you a free subdomain like yourwebsite.wordpress.com. This is a good way to get started. You are automatically set up with a working WordPress blog. It’s a great community to be part of, and there is plenty of help available on the forums. You don’t need to worry about installing or updating software. WordPress.com will handle most things for you automatically. You can easily change the look of your blog using different themes, and it comes with some plugins installed by default that will let you link up with social media like twitter/facebook and do many other things. The negative is that you are quite restricted in what you can do with your blog. You can only use themes and plugins that are provided by wordpress.com. You will pay fees for a lot of features that may be available for free to self-hosted WordPress users. You also have no control over whether advertisements are displayed on your blog.
Option 2: WordPress.com free hosting with custom domain name
You can decide to get a custom domain name and go self-hosted. But, if you’re not willing to take on a self-hosted blog (yet!) then you can take the intermediary step of buying a domain name and using this with your free wordpress.com hosted blog. You get all the advantages of having your own domain name, and if you later decide you want the extra control that a self-hosted blog provides then you won’t lose readers because you can keep the same domain name. The steps for doing this are outlined on the wordpress.com support page for domain mapping. There is (of course) a cost involved for doing this. You pay for the custom domain name, and also for the domain mapping.
Option 3: Premium wordpress.com hosting with custom domain
You can pay for additional features at wordpress.com by going premium. This is an annual fee for a limited set of features. If you are thinking of upgrading to premium wordpress.com you should ask yourself what the advantage is for you over going self-hosted? In general the money you would spend on a premium upgrade would be better spent on getting your own hosting even if you need someone else to handle the technical side for you. Especially if you will have more than one website in future where you would have to pay a premium upgrade for each website. Most hosting providers allow you to run more than one website from the same hosting account.
Option 4: Self-hosted with custom domain name
This is the option with the most freedom, but it also requires the most technical knowledge. You’re responsible for everything from setting up the blog, to applying security updates and making sure that you do regular backups just in case something goes wrong. You install WordPress on your hosting yourself. It’s very similar to the version of WordPress that is used by wordpress.com for their blogs with a few changes. There’s plenty of help to be found online or in the support sections of your hosting provider, so it’s very doable if you’re happy to tinker about until you get everything right. If you’re going self-hosted then I recommend using the Irish company Blacknight. You can follow these steps to register an account with Blacknight. One thing to note is that if you start out with a free wordpress.com blog, then if and when you decide to move to self-hosted, you will also need to move your blog content over to the new self-hosted blog. Figuring out how to set up and manage a self-hosted WordPress blog by yourself can be time-consuming though, and stressful if you’re very allergic to the technical side of things! Alternatively, you can just outsource the technical bits to a company, or to someone like myself, who will handle it for you and leave you to just do your blogging.