WordPress.com has come a long way since its early days of offering a simple way to get into blogging without having to worry about how to set up a self-hosted WordPress site.
I know some people use WordPress.com as a stepping stone to a self-hosted site. I did. I wanted to host my own site because I wanted to be free of restrictions. What that meant in those days (this is back in 2007) is that I could put Google Adsense adverts on my blog.
And I was attracted to the idea of getting to grips with how to do it at all – how to set up a database, how to set up the config file, and all the other bits that go to making a web site. It was nerve-wracking at first. I was afraid that everything I did would break the site and leave me lost in a maze.
It didn’t happen, but what I did get into were the twin notions of ‘optimisation’ and ‘security’.
Optimisation includes using keywords that accurately reflect what the site is about. That way, when someone searches in a search engine such as Google or Bing, your site is likely to be tagged because your keywords fit well with what the page on your site is about.
But optimisation also meant making the site fast to load. As search engine optimisation experts said – it didn’t matter how attractive your site looked, or how perfectly apt the keywords were, no one was going to hang around long enough to see your site if it took a long time to load.
Security meant long and complex login passwords, and it meant keeping themes and plugins up to date. I had to destroy one site when it got infected with a virus that I introduced when I tried out a theme from a dubious source.
I tried to clean up the infection but in the end I nuked the site. That meant first extracting the xml file with the text of the blog posts, then deleting the database, the themes, and the plugins, and starting from scratch.
Not something I would recommend, but I learned from it. One thing I learned was to put a security system in place to prevent it happening again.
Oh yes, and to take regular backups. And store at least one copy off-site.
Later, much later, I built a WooCommerce store. I didn’t have a product in mind, just the desire to build a store with WooCommerce. That’s another thing that has got easier over the years. The setup wizard is good and the explainer videos are excellent.
But it also means that security has got to be nailed down because customers will be signing up, creating accounts, giving their credit card details, and expecting to receive stuff.
And backups becomes a much bigger issue. It’s one thing if your blog posts go missing – sad, but only sad for you. If your customers’ data goes missing, you are going to be responsible for cleaning up the mess.
Some of the front runners for taking payments on WooCommerce stores don’t take any sensitive details on your site. For example, Stripe puts a little popup on your site at the payment stage, and the information your customer puts in is encrypted and sent straight to Stripe.
So you would think that takes care of credit card security. Not so. If your site is hacked, the hacker can, for example, execute a ‘man in the middle’ attack. Your customer thinks they are going to Paypal or Stripe, but secretly they are being led off to something that looks like them but really it is giving your customers details to the hacker who has put a lookalike page over the real page.
That’s just one issue. They are not impossible to overcome – after all, WooCommerce powers an awful lot of stores both big and small – but you have to take steps to keep your site secure.
A Good Web Host
A good web host will complement the hard work you put into making your site load fast. A bad web host will overstretch resources, fail to guard your site from having its resources hogged by another site on the same server. It can even let in a hacker via the level above your site on the server.
A good web host will take regular backups. And they will make extra backups available to you so you can store them somewhere else – a copy on your hard drive and a copy with something like Amazon AWS, for example.
Managed shared hosting is an option, where they take care of optimisation, backups, and security – with a bigger monthly cost.
A virtual private server (VPS) is the next step up, but that requires a lot more technical skill. There are services that will act as a kind of intermediary or control panel to help set up your site on a VPS, but if it is already starting to give you a headache, it’s something to think about further down the line.
It takes a lot of reading to find accurate data on good versus bad web hosts. I generally look at Review Signal’s benchmarks as a starting point.
A fast web host on shared hosting with cPanel should be around $20/month. Access to top-notch WordPress themes that show off your store to its best advantage will be, let’s say, $100/year. WooCommerce itself is free, but you might need some extensions to get your store to do exactly what you want. Or maybe not. So that’s $300/year or more.
WordPress.com has a business plan that enables you to use your own domain name, use any of their premium themes, add plugins, change the CSS, set up WooCommerce, and set up Google Analytics. It also offers unlimited storage, but I can’t see that being an issue because it would take a huge store with many thousands of products to make storage an issue.
I have the Premium plan here on WordPress.com. It’s one step down from the business plan, which I haven’t tried. I haven’t tried the business plan because my partner and I already have our e-commerce store set up on a self-hosted site and I can’t see any reason to change.
But if I was starting again I would look at the WordPress.com business plan option (affiliate link) because the two big things that are taken care of – optimisation and security.
Here’s the list of what the business plan offers for £20/month in the UK (not sure what the cost is in other parts of the world – click the link and find out – it should geolocate to wherever you are).
- Google Analytics support
- Unlimited storage
- Remove WordPress.com branding
- Custom Domain Name
- Jetpack Essentials
- Email & Live Chat Support
- Unlimited Premium Themes
- Advanced Design Customization
- monetisation (WordAds, Adsense and affiliate ads)
- add plugins
Squarespace (£21/month in the UK) and Shopify ($29/month) are the front runners.
I think the biggest reason I would choose WordPress.com over either of these is that if at some point I wanted to self-host my store, I could export all my settings/database information/themes/etc . I don’t think you can do this with Squarespace or Shopify.
Excellent article, David: Thorough, well-considered overview with lots of important detail.
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of commercial ads for WordPress on TV … and online too. They must be running some campaign, I see them most often on CNN but that could be cause that’s what I watch the most (c:
We don’t have any WordPress advertisements on TV here in the UK. And I am not sure I have seen any online either. What are the TV ads like?
Yes, they are much more promotional than they used to be. I wonder what it signifies for their finances? Could be anything – running out of money to keep it going or bigger plans that need more cash, or – you name it. But definitely a change of tone.
The ads are aiming at small businesses … and I see oodles of them on FB too.
Do you see the same channels that they get in the U.S.?
The last, few weeks I’ve seen more of the Squarespace ad with Idris Elba, though …
Yes, I’ve seen him on TV advertising Squarespace. He’s in a series on TV at the moment – Luther – I have seen a couple of episodes. It’s unusual – not quite a cop thriller – slightly dream-like.
I see lots of ads on YouTube for Wix, advertised by celebrities. I know WordPress and Wix have been at loggerheads, with WordPress accusing Wix of breaching the GPL licence.
And I see Squarespace ads usually talked about by the people whose videos I am watching – mostly photographers.
I watched the Luther series some time ago. I liked it. It must have been on Netflix because I binge watched it.
I have been wanting, for YEARS, to get into web design. I mean I’ve been wanting to learn how to do it, and then maybe offer it as a service to small businesses. I’ve been procrastinating because it’s scary to get into something new – where to begin? GoDaddy? Wix? Squarespace? And now, in just a week, someone is coming to me for help with this very thing … They helped me out, and now they want me to help them out with getting their business set up, which of course includes creating a web platform. Thank you so much for writing this post, but I’m still confused … When I look at comparative reviews of website hosts, WP isn’t mentioned, but when I google WP hosting reviews, it appears that if you use WP you also use some other host. David … I don’t expect me to take a complete newbie by the hand and lead me to a place of knowledge and wisdom, but where do I start to teach myself about this stuff? It is SO OVERWHELMING but I can’t help feeling that if I could just figure out where to sink my teeth in, I might really like it!
OK – forgive me if this is too basic – but here goes.
WordPress is a bunch of code and it comes in two ‘flavours’.
Flavour 1. This is the code that you can download from WordPress.org. It has a licence and a copyright baked right into it that declares that for all time it is owned by its contributors. That means it is free to use, free to download, free to alter or change to your heart’s content – and free to upload to any web host.
So you can download it, buy a domain name, find a commercial web host, install WordPress on the host – and bingo, you own a website. And you are on your own. It is up to you to keep your site safe and up to date. On the plus side, you can do whatever you like.
Flavour 2 is the WordPress that is hosted on WordPress.com and it is owned by a company named Automattic. I think part of the problem of getting to grips with what that means is because of the very name. If WordPress.com had been called billybing.com and it ran WordPress, it might be less confusing. Mixing up the name with the product muddies the waters.
But that’s not how it is. It is not called billybing.com. It is called WordPress.com, and it is a web host and it runs WordPress. And it is not owned by its contributors – it is owned by Automattic, a company run by Matt Mullenweg, who is one of the main contributors to the WordPress code.
It is not exactly the same code as the community version of WordPress you can download, but it is very close.
WordPress.com hosts thousands of free websites. As you undoubtedly know, you can have a site that has WordPress in the name – such as americansoustannie.wordpress.com or photographworks.wordpress.com, or you can pay WordPress.com to be allowed to map a domain name you own to WordPress.com, which is what I have done with photographworks.me.
There are some things you cannot do on WordPress.com – whether on a free site or a paid plan. You cannot get to and you cannot alter the WordPress code. And you probably can’t run a site promoting undesirable things – whereas you can do that if you run flavour 1 WordPress on a web host that doesn’t care what you do on your own site.
What does WordPress have that Wix and Squarespace do not have? Which WordPress are we talking about? If we are talking about Flavour 2, then not a lot, because someone else controls what is and what is not allowed. But if we are talking about flavour 1 WordPress, then it wins hands down because you can do absolutely anything you like to the code (or you can hire a developer to do it for you).
Thank you. Not too basic! So in your post, were you recommending Flavor 1 or Flavor 2? And if 1., Then what commercial web host do you recommend?
I was talking about a paid plan on WordPress.com as being a viable alternative to hosting one’s own site.
I have used a number of different web hosts. I have a site hosted on Lightningbase.com and several hosted on Kualo.com. I am happy with both of them.