WordPress Confusion

One of the things I’ve noticed during a period of helping users with WordPress support is that there is a lot of confusion regarding different flavours of WordPress. Many of the help pages and tutorials out there are all about the kind of WordPress that you install on your own website. When users come to set up a blog at WordPress.com they are sometimes surprised and confused because things are a little different.

When contemplating setting up a WordPress site, you’ll need to consider carefully which route is for you.

Is it going to be:

  • your own installation of WordPress on your own website (a self-hosted WordPress.org site)?
  • or a WordPress site on WordPress.com?

Each route has its own advantages and disadvantages that you’ll need to weigh up in order to make your choice.

Some of the differences between the two types of site are summarised on the WordPress.com support pages.

Making your Decision

Here are some areas to think about when choosing your WordPress direction.

Hosting

A self-hosted site requires you to set up the hosting yourself. So you would first need to purchase hosting from one of the many hosting companies (e.g. BlueHost, SiteGround, or mine is UK2.net) and then set up WordPress on your brand new web space there. This is great if you know what you are doing, but can get quite complicated if you’re new to creating websites. Some hosting companies have a simple setup to get WordPress going, but others would require you to do the setup yourself.

The advantage of self-hosting here is that you have full control, but that control comes with the requirement to understand what you are doing. It’s easy to get yourself in a muddle if you don’t!

Choosing to use WordPress.com may be the best option if the idea of setting everything up yourself seems too complex. On WordPress.com you’d just pick a name for your site and all the work behind the scenes is done for you automatically.

Domains

The web address of your site can be very important to you. You’ll probably want to purchase a domain which allows you choose the web address of your site. For example I bought suzyblue.org.uk as my domain. You can use your own domain for either type of WordPress site.

On a self-hosted site you have to buy a domain otherwise your site won’t be reachable. On a WordPress.com site you will already have a WordPress.com address free so you don’t have to buy a domain unless you want to get rid of the WordPress.com part of the address. This site is actually at the address bluegirlwriting.wordpress.com, but I have bought a domain and I’ve mapped the sub-domain web.suzyblue.org.uk to my WordPress.com site. (More about domains, sub-domains and mapping in another post to come).

If you’re just starting out the WordPress.com option might be best for you as you can use the free WordPress.com address to get started and test the waters for your site. If things go well you can buy a domain later.

If you have purchased your domain already then you can choose either type of WordPress site based on other factors as domains can be used on either.

Plugins

You’ll probably read about all kinds of amazing plugins that you can add to WordPress to give additional features. The WordPress.org plugin directory states that there are currently 40,093 plugins available there. So there is a world of choice of things you can add to your site.

On WordPress.com you can’t install plugins, although some of the features you’d need plugins for are already part of the setup there.

Being able to add plugins is great if you know what you are doing and use reputable plugins but it is possible to mess up your site if you use a dodgy plugin, so be careful.

So if there is a particular plugin that sounds perfect for you and it’s not something that’s available within WordPress.com, then your best bet would be to go with a self-hosted site.

If plugins are less important to you, or you feel you aren’t technical enough to deal with them, then WordPress.com will be the better option for you.

Themes

There are a crazy number of themes out there which are intended for use with WordPress sites. You’ll find a bunch on WordPress.org as well as ThemeForest and other sites. These are all intended for self-hosted sites, where you’d be able to install the them on your site and use it there.

You can’t install themes like this on WordPress.com. They have a big selection of themes built in but you can’t add your own yourself. It is possible to tweak themes a little if you pay for the Premium Plan as you can then use custom CSS to change how things appear. You can’t edit the underlying HTML though.

So again, you need to look at the themes available on WordPress.com, look at the themes available elsewhere and decide which way is best for you.

If there is a theme out there which is just perfect for your site, and it’s not available on WordPress.com then a self-hosted site where you can install that theme would be best for you.

If you aren’t too fussed about the precise theme you use and can find something that suits you on WordPress.com, then that’s probably the best way forward for you. If you find something that’s almost perfect on WordPress.com, the chances are you can make it perfect through the custom CSS tools.

Community

From my own personal experience, something you’ll miss out on if you have a self-hosted WordPress site is the amazing community on WordPress.com. You can get some of that back on a self-hosted install by using the JetPack plugin but it isn’t quite the same. When you tag posts on WordPress.com they appear in the Reader under those topics which makes it easy for people to find sites covering topics they’re interested in. Outside of WordPress.com your posts won’t get into the Reader so you miss out on many readers. Users can still comment and like (with JetPack) but you do lose that community feel.

As usual, it depends on what is important to you.

Hope this helps you in your decision-making 🙂 Any questions, feel free to ask.

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