Think Carefully about Self-hosted WordPress Blogs and Sites

This post has been gestating for months fuelled by the litany of frustrated tweets and posts from members of my social circles who administer self-hosted WordPress blogs. For a couple of years from the birth of my first and continuing professional blog in January 2006 I, too, supported the WordPress blogging engine on a hosting service.

As an IT academic teaching web technology I count myself a programmer and web page publisher, and have middling system admin skills. None the less I quickly became frustrated every 2 or 3 months at having to spend valuable time to update the installations of WordPress, MySQL and PHP, manage plugins, and generally to check on the health of the WordPress blogging engine. I had no real problems doing this and knew the support people of the hosting service could help out if necessary with more time spent.

Nevertheless I praise the day I switched my blog to the free WordPress.com service. Despite the WordPress blog export/import service which does successfully allow transfer of post and comment content and all metadata, the media files (images, documents) have to be transferred manually (a couple of hundred in my case). I can now concentrate fully on the content of my blog leaving the upgrades, backups, plugin checks and all other system troubleshooting to Automattic, the WordPress creators.

That today sees the emergence of this post is down to an Infograph from wpbeginner comparing self-hosted with WordPress.com blogs. The key points of comparison are well chosen but are no well targeted at the typical WordPress beginner but rather at the very very small subset who want to make money out of their blogs. Many of the comparison points assume a level of computing expertise and/or a considerable expenditure of time not available to most bloggers.

I add more important detail to some of the comparison points:

  • Themes: there are 100 themes with significant customisation available from WordPress.com; detailed theme editing at the code level needs knowledge of HTML, Cascading Style Sheets, WordPress page architecture and sometimes the PHP programming language, not to mention significant development and testing time
  • Plugins: uncontrolled use of plugins can easily lead to conflicts requiring some programming skills to discover and correct; the 30 different types of plugin on WordPress.com are guaranteed to work together and meet most common needs
  • Ads: it is true that ads on WordPress.com are banned, so you can’t use this method to generate income from your blog; ads are allowed on the paid premium service but WordPress takes half the revenue; in my view this is the only downside of WordPress.com blogs
  • Site maintenance: as mentioned this needs system administration skills especially for upgrades, a backup schedule, a good knowledge of the online file management at your hosting service, and even database management skills in some cases; this is often a major imposition of time expenditure coupled with the forced learning of technical skills
  • Control: the WordPress terms of service are anything but onerous if you operate a sensible blog and respect the copyright of others; a small loss of control in return for peace of mind seems a good deal to me
  • Brand: promotion and information about your own brand is allowed on WordPress.com; as wpbeginner hinted, for modest fees you can use your own domain name, manage all media, customise CSS, add more space, support unlimited users and more – all supported on a free, fully supported blogging engine

Just consider examples of the types of WordPress.com blogs with business blogs highlighted:

  • Personal
  • Business: Professionals ranging from realtors to lawyers and stock brokers share their expertise, and to personally engage with their customers
  • Schools, Non-profits, Politics, Military, Private, Sports, How-to, tips and reviews

Now I was interested to see that WordPress blogs split pretty evenly between self-hosted and free. I can’t help wondering though how many of those 9 million self-hosted bloggers wish they had the courage and time to upgrade the WordPress version or could be free of the constant upgrading, backing up and site maintenance chores. Of course hosting services provide WordPress install tools and are continually improving them to ease WordPress management but in my experience upgrading is not nearly so well supported.

I therefore urge anyone considering going down the self-hosted blog route to think long and hard before taking on the system admin tasks required for self-hosted WordPress. This applies particularly to small business and the army of volunteers who create and support WordPress sites for personal use, education, sports clubs and non-profits. Check out the WordPress.com terms of service and advanced services carefully before rejecting this option.

Advertisements

About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: