The age old question. Do you go self hosted wordpress.org, or fully managed wordpress.com? Did you even know there was a difference?
Update for my sites
There’s been a change. Hopefully nothing too drastic, but you may notice that the site has changed slightly over the last few days. I changed to a new hosting solution.
I apologise if the site was broken for a day or 2, I had major issues changing over to the new site due to a plugin completely breaking everything, but eventually got it sorted out.
Hopefully you all like the new site layout, I think it’s pretty nice. Importantly though it’s much quicker and more responsive. These are the page speed scores for my 3 sites on this new structure.
As you can see Medspace is a little behind the others, but that’s because there’s more going on with the site. Hopefully you will agree the page scores are excellent for 2 of my sites and pretty damn good for Medspace too.
Why did I change?
First off, siteground is much cheaper. I am running 3 websites and with wordpress.com I was paying 3 times. The service was good and their help team is great, but paying for 3 websites was a bit silly. With Siteground I signed up to the grow big plan and I can have unlimited numbers of websites. So I’m saving around $90AU a month. that’s over $1000 a year! Savings. (Actually more, see below)
The website is fast and responsive. WordPress.com is also quick and responsive so not much difference there.
The difference of my site is incredible though. I managed to get my page insight scores from around 30 (mobile) / 70 (desktop) up to those you see above. Most likely this is due to a different theme but also removing a lot of the clunky built in stuff that comes with wordpress.com.
Siteground growbig comes with unlimited @domain email addresses! That’s huge. All for free! This is great because I don’t have to pay Google or Microsoft $10-15 a month for an email address. My sites I have 2-3 email addresses each, so that’s around $45 a month I’m saving per site just on email addresses. Zoho has a free alternative but only 1 domain is allowed so that is limited.
So those savings of $90 a month are now almost $200 a month with email addresses included! Yep I’m almost on $2500 a year cost savings!
Now the big question isn’t really is do you choose siteground for your hosting? I do recommend them, but if you want fully managed wordpress including support etc then wordpress.com is the way forward (on their business plan). The big question is:
WordPress.com vs WordPress.org
WordPress is a name that most know, and if you are reading this you almost certainly know what WordPress is. But do you know what the difference is between wordpress.com and wordpress.org? The .com is a commerical enterprise, the .org is the free open source platform.
There’s lots of articles on this on the net, but I’m going to post my own take on it here. For the avoidance of doubt I’ll refer to either wordpress.org (.org) which is any wordpress platform that is self-hosted, or wordpress.com (.com) which is an all in one platform on their site which includes hosting and the wordpress platform.
I had no idea before someone pointed me to Siteground what the difference even was! So why does this matter? Well if you’ve ever googled anything about ‘how do I do X on WordPress?’ the answer is almost always ‘there’s a plugin for that’.
That’s great if you can use a plugin, but wordpress.com limits that to Business Plan. So you have to spend $35 a month to get access to extra plugins. You do get other things with it which may make it worth it, but if all you want is plugins then .com is an expensive way to get it.
WordPress.org has no limitations, so as long as you have hosting then it’s free the software and also free to use whatever plugins you like and you just pay for the plugin if it’s a premium. Many have free versions available though which are perfectly powerful enough for 99% of users.
WordPress.org will also let you install pretty much any plugin whereas WordPress.com limits them to ones which won’t change too much which again can be limiting to what you want to do. An example of this is for caching which is an absolute must if you want a speedy site with good page speed scores like mine above.
WordPress.com won’t let you install some cache plugins like W3cache whereas wordpress.org will. I guess the rationale is that it can break your site so .com doesn’t want you to have a bad experience, but the babysitting can be a bit annoying if you are someone who wants to tinker a little.
Having said this wordpress.com comes with Jetpack plugins which provide a lot of functionality. Anything from superior search widgets, popular posts and extra stats functions. It’s installed as default and will be great for the majority of users. The downside is that they can be somewhat limited with no way to edit the functionality and the code itself does slow your site down a little (by around 150-200ms) according to page insights.
WordPress.org has thousands of free themes to choose from. WordPress.com has a lot too, but is quite limited on the free/personal plans and you have to stump up to the premium or business plan if you want their premium themes. Once you get the premium plans though they are really nice and will produce fantastic looking websites. They are really nice but you can’t really do anything with them. The customisation is very much limited to the out of the box options, and if you want to upload a different theme you will need the business plan.
That’s great if you want an out of the box ready to go plan that just works and you can put your content in and just go and look pretty. It won’t be the best site, but it’ll work and look great. If you want to tinker a little, to really optimise those SEO and other scores like page speed, or want to change social media buttons, then you will struggle on the .com and .org may be better for you.
WordPress.org self-hosted is great if you want a basic, free plan, but be aware that many have premium versions that you will need to pay for. An example is the Perennial Theme from Design Orbital. It’s a fantastic theme but it costs around $79 to buy as a stand-alone, but free through wordpress.com. They will work out much cheaper if you buy them and self-host rather than get through a subscription, but if you want to change your mind you will end up paying for another one.
WordPress.org isn’t really locked down at all, so you are free to edit much more than on wordpress.com. The upside of this is that you can go in an edit a lot of the base files like the php and css files for extra tweaks that plugins can’t/won’t do. The downside is you can completely break your site (which I managed to do a few times) so make sure you keep backups!
One example of this is how I edited the CSS to preload my fonts, saving another ~300ms off the load time further improving those speed scores!
A word of caution though. There’s a reason why wordpress.com is locked down a lot tighter – you really can break your site irreversibly if you edit the wrong thing. I managed to completely ruin my posts pages and have an enormous gap below the content and half the plugins broke and I don’t even know how. I was tinkering in the theme files and I guess I did something wrong. Fixing it proved impossible. Eventually I had to re-download the theme and start from scratch. An annoying mistake to make. If you are going tinkering make backups!
Apps / phone
WordPress.com app is good. It’s slick, and it works well, including on my phone. The app is easy to use and responsive and you can do most things on there. Anything you can’t do then you can jump over the site on your in built browser and do the rest. The block editor doesn’t work very well but I think that’s a phone issue rather than a wordpress issue.
If you go self hosted wordpress.org then you will have no app to do anything with. Your hosting provider may have an app but what it lets you do will likely be very limited. You can still navigate to the site and do everything through a browser on your phone, but as we said functionality may be limited.
On WordPress.org self hosted platforms support is also more lacking, in as much as it’s non existent. The hosting support is good from siteground and the live chat availability is good, but on the wordpress side there’s basically nil.
On wordpress.com it’s really quite good. On the business hosting plan you get 24/7 support. They are very knowledgable and even have an intro meeting via Zoom that lasts 30 minutes and lets you get up to speed very quickly. Further conferences are available for free and their chat is available 24/7 I believe.
They are very knowledgeable about their product and about the wordpress platform, but it’s not foolproof. An example of this is when I asked about the image editor. I actually later found the answer myself, but I wanted to know where to find the image editor that keeps it to scale. So you can resize an image and not break the height/width ratios. The help team didn’t know (or wouldn’t tell me). Turns out it’s no on their software but rather the wordpress.org platform in the image editor there.
WordPress.com doesn’t include any email with the domains or hosting plans. It allows unlimited email forwarding which is great if all you want to do is receive emails, but if you want to send from your site’s email then you will need to look at other solutions. WordPress.com constantly wants you to upgrade to a Gsuite subscription which is around $10 a month, or it does allow you to connect your own email. If you want a free @domain address for just 1 site then I’d recommend Zoho – it’s free for life for 1 domain, but it does have limitations. The webmail interface works well.
WordPress.org is just a website platform, it has no email at all. You will need to sort out a solution with your hosting company. Siteground is great as it includes unlimited @domain emails for free with the growbig plan.
I have 3 sites (my business site, my personal blog, and my medical blog) so keeping up emails for those 3 would get costly. Siteground allows me to have those emails all for free. They are @domain emails, so they are email@example.com for example.
If you want any SEO on wordpress.com then you need the business plan. You can do the basics on any plan, like make sure all your images has alt-text, but that’s about where it ends. You will need some plugins to do the rest, and for that you need the business plan.
WordPress.org has unlimited options it just depends on whatever plugin you want to use and just go from there.
WordPress.com starts at free but is severely limited in what you can do. To have access to premium themes you need the premium plan which is $10 a month. To be able to install themes and plugins you need the business plan which is $35 a month. You get premium themes but no email.
WordPress.org is free. But wordpress is useless by itself, you need to host it somehow. You can do it on your own computer, or through a hosting plan like SiteGround.
If you use SiteGround then I’d suggest the GrowBig plan which is $7.50 a month for unlimited websites. If like me and you run more than 1 website the costs can really add up.
WordPress.com. 3 Sites. Business plan + Gsuite (email). Total cost is around $45 a month for each site. That’s $135 a month, or $1620 a year.
Self-hosted (via SiteGround). Same 3 sites and email. Total cost is $7.50 a month. Total. That’s $90 a year. Saving over $1500 a year.
So who wins? Well Self hosted wordpress through SiteGround is the winner for me. It gives you full versatility yet potentially saving you thousands per year. But then I like to tinker a little and have full control, even at the risk of breaking my site.
If you want an easy to handle fairly idiot proof version then go for wordpress.com.
There’s a good article over on Mint about starting out on wordpress that’s a good read so make sure you check it out.
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