Self-Hosted Website vs. Free Hosting: Which is better?


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Why We Love Self Hosted Websites vs. (Free) Hosting
Do you have a web host?

What sort of website host plan could your small business benefit from?

Hosted or self-hosting website?

Do you know the difference between the two??

If not, here are a few questions to ask yourself first:

  • Do you have a hosted website (that’s free) but feel limited on what you can do?
  • Have you considered a self-hosted website vs. a hosted site? Not sure of the difference?
  • Confused as to why you should consider having a self-hosted vs. hosted plan in the first place?

If you said yes to any of the above questions, keep on reading!

When you realize self hosted websites are easy to use
It’s true! They’re also way more customizable!

We’ve talked a bit about web hosting for beginners in 2017 but didn’t delve into the difference(s) between hosted and self-hosted plans. So, to build on that, I wrote this post to help you better determine the best route for your business. Plus, I’ll cover some of the fundamental misconceptions between the two options, why the different plans get easily overlooked at first, and which ones can help you based on your website goals.

Let’s get to it!

Why are self-hosted websites overlooked?

(or sometimes even flat-out underutilized?!)

Unless you’re taught from the get-go (and most of us aren’t) on how self-hosted and hosted websites differ and what determines your best course of action, it isn’t obvious (at first)!

First thing first

When purchasing a website URL, many domain name registrars (companies who manage domain name registrations) typically offer web hosting packages when buying a domain. Some of those plans are free, with add-ons, and some are in tiered levels.

  • Are you strictly creating a blog with no plans to advertise or turn it into an e-commerce site, etc.?
  • Will you use it as a personal portfolio site for job leads?
  • Do you want to start a business, grow the site, have a blog, e-commerce, ads — the whole bit?
  • Not sure, but know that you want to create a site and then see where it leads?

In a nutshell, if you’re planning to grow a site over time by adding more pages, a blog, etc., then you should consider a self-hosted website. If you aren’t expecting (at the moment or in the future) to grow the site, then a hosted website plan might be your best bet. You can always switch to a self-hosted option later. BUT, before you make a final decision, do you know why web hosts are even required and what the differences are between the two.

WHY are web hosts super crucial for small business websites?

Without the technical know-how, do you know what’ll happen if you try to forgo signing up for web hosting services?

NOTHING. As in, you won’t have a website at all. It won’t exist! It won’t show up, people won’t be able to find it, and neither will search engines!

Web host definition:

“Is a service that provides Web users with online systems for storing information, images, video, or any content accessible via the web. Web hosts are companies that provide space on a server they own for use by their clients.”

Wikipedia

So what happens when you don’t have a web host but can access the site?

Answer: you can’t! Web hosts are how websites can access the web.

The other answer is that you do have a web host but didn’t realize its purpose. (Some people confuse their Content Management System with web hosts.)

Seems too easy, right? Here’s another explanation:

You create a hosted blog for free using a CMS (Content Management System) like WordPress.com (note that I didn’t say WordPress.org). A CMS (remember it’s not a web host) like WordPress.com already has the infrastructure you need to create a website. You only need to purchase a domain name, attach it to your CMS, and violà! That is where your site now “lives” on the interwebs. Solely on the CMS’s server.

The Downside(s) of free hosted plans

One downside of (free) hosted plans is that they aren’t necessarily “free.” In general, domain names cost around $11-15 annually, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. However, if you don’t self-host, your page’s (“website”) name will include the host’s URL (before your page’s name).

Another downside is if you don’t plan to have a lot of traffic, but then it happens. Why would that matter? A lot of traffic is good, right? YEP. However, it would help if you had faster servers to handle considerable fluctuations in traffic — free websites usually have one option. Typically, there are bandwidth limits for differing “levels” of traffic, which can come at a cost. Self-hosted plans usually have higher limits, even with their most basic packages — and they monitor and send you notifications as needed!

However, if you have a WordPress.com site, those can deal with bandwidth fluctuations, but there are other limitations. What are they? You can’t change your site’s code, you don’t have as many plugin options, your theme choices are limited, and they could sometimes show ads on your site.

If you are interested in a free site on wordpress.com but want to learn more about some of their limitations, WP’s Terms of Service is a good place to begin. (In section 8, their Specific Service Terms provide a good summary of the differences, along with a link to their paid plans.)

URL “looks” that don’t impress

When you have a hosted site, your URL usually looks like this:

[insert your actual domain name here].[insert name of CMS].com

How easy would it be to remember thefancyblog.blogspot.com or superfancynews.wordpress.com? (Answer: not very!)

When you have a self-hosted account, the domain looks like this www.[insert your domain].com. Now, how easy would it be to remember yourfancyblog.com or superfancynews.com? Much easier to remember, right?

Queue the next section! ↓

CAUTION: Keep your work protected

What do we mean by that? When it comes to hosted websites, they usually have more restrictions/other conditions while using their service (vs. self-hosted). Violating one of the terms puts your work at risk of being lost, a site name getting disabled, etc. The other types of restrictions consist of not using a preferred advertising platform, posting paid ads/posts, or not removing ads placed by the host.

With Self-Hosted websites, you are free to choose your advertising platform (make sure to read their restrictions!) and paid posts. You won’t have to worry about ads getting placed by the host on your site, either.

The more cost-effective option = Self-hosted websites.

It’s true! Sites that run through WordPress.org, are self-hosted. (Reminder, a web host is not the same as a CMS like WordPress.)

Not having a self-hosted site doesn’t mean you have to learn how to code, program everything, or hire a developer to do your bidding. The CMS still allows you to create a website, but you have more customizable options for your site with one. Plus, you can choose which web host you want instead of using the “free” default.

I love self-hosting so much, I created the below list for you!


→ FYI: when it comes to ‘free hosting’ vs. ‘paid hosting,’ blogs/websites that run on “free” hosting plans are entirely acceptable when just starting! Plus, many CMS’s (Like Joomla and Drupal) have hosted and self-hosted options like WordPress.com or WordPress.org. If you have a different CMS preference, here are a few other popular choices:

Another popular CMS is wix.com. They are set up differently than the above CMS examples because they don’t have the top-level domain of .org. (All of their options exist on one page.) Here’s a link to Wix pricing plans.


My favorite benefits of (many) self-hosted plans

SEO:

You read that right! Many small business website hosts offer additional specialized services to help sites move forward faster. If your host provides an SEO service, they usually assign a dedicated marketing/project/account manager to your account who walks you through the planning, strategy, and other useful stuff.

PPC:

Some people get things messed up when it comes to improving your site’s visibility with organic SEO vs. PPC. Don’t be fooled; PPC doesn’t improve your SEO. However, it can help boost your bottom line and site visibility temporarily (or for however long you run the pay-per-click campaign.)

The route provides a lasting result, though, but organic SEO takes a bit more time.

Security:

Did you know that SSL doesn’t only help with security? It also helps with SEO! In 2014, Google announced that having a secure website (SSL) would become a part of Google’s ranking signal!

Application Integration:

Many web hosts often integrate with other software and offer additional website hosting services. Tools like MailChimp, SurveyMonkey, Google Analytics, Shopify, and the list goes on! With free blog hosting, you get limited integration/plugin choices and are “stuck” with the CMS’s default features. So…if you end up paying a fee to get more options, consider a switch to a self-hosted plan instead!

On-Demand Web Developers:

If you’re familiar with WordPress, then you know about themes and plugins.

Have you ever needed to customize something on your site, but the theme didn’t allow you to change ANYTHING? Then, did you reach out to the theme’s developer to see if they can help but never get a response? If you have the extra money in your budget and don’t know much about web development, give your host’s web design/development a try. You will be amazed!

Final Words

So there you have it, the difference between self-hosted and “free” hosted plans, why they’re each useful, and some of the benefits of each. If you want more info on web hosting services, take our Service & Tool Finder Quiz! If you want more website optimization tips, check out the below posts.

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Although we specialize in digital solutions, as of Jan. 1, 2019, we no longer accept individual service requests. However, we do take inquiries/questions (see Contact Us page for more info).

Please note, this post does not establish a UGH! Media-client relationship. It is for informational purposes only. For additional info, please refer to our disclaimer.

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