Over on the WordPress LinkedIn group, there’s an active discussion about WordPress hosting. The question came up – why not just use WordPress.com?
The Short Answer
WordPress.com is not a general-purpose WordPress hosting solution. It is a blogging community, and thus it covers only a few of the use cases for WordPress. Most of the WordPress sites we build at Tech Liminal fall outside that purview, and therefore we use other kinds of hosting.
Here’s a technical comparison of WordPress.com vs. self-hosted WordPress (wordpress.org, as some call it).
A More Detailed Explanation
There are many reasons why you might want to host your blog or simple site on WordPress.com. As a blogging community, WP.com is designed to get you engagement from the millions of other WP.com users, through promoting topics on your blog’s dashboard, recommending other blogs, and making your homepage a list of blogs rather than just your blog.
Here are some of the benefits of WordPress.com:
- Built-in email subscription and social sharing features, including twitter feeds, facebook like boxes, etc
- Lots of nice-looking themes whose CSS you can customize if you dare
- Themes like P2 can be used to create an simple discussion group
- The right plugins for publishing a blog, with video embeds, statistics, anti-spam and lots more
- Pretty good documentation and tutorials for working with the site
- You don’t have to maintain or update the WordPress software
If your business site is basically a brochure, contact form, and blog, then wordpress.com can work for you. For only a little bit of money you can buy a theme like LifeStyle or OnDemand and have a very nice homepage that’s more than a list of your latest posts or a simple page.
Lots of people and small organizations will create a website using some other tool, and add a WordPress blog, which you can host on WordPress.com. It’s a great way to make connections. But…
WordPress.com is Not For Running Your Business
(Or, WordPress is more than WordPress.com)
There are a few things that make WP.con unsuitable for maintaining a general-purpose business site:
- You’re not supposed to sell anything directly from your site (according to the TOS) unless you’ve made it with your own two hands. Advertising is limited and certain affiliate links are also not allowed. Also, you can’t charge for membership.
- No ability to put event calendars, shopping carts, or iFrames into your site. So no newsletter signups (unless you want to link users to a form hosted elsewhere, or WP.com decides to integrate w/ that service), no Facebook Wall, no Paypal buttons (links to Paypal work, though), no embedded Google Calendars and Forms, etc….
- At the moment, WordPress.com also doesn’t have the ability to control SEO features like page titles and descriptions (though this may be available w/ one of the premium themes).
- Automattic can change the behavior of things, sometimes arbitrarily (they did this a year or so ago, when all of a sudden tags on my blog linked to everyone’s tagged posts, not just mine). This is usually beneficial, because they are adding features, but can be alarming or unpleasant if you’re not planning for it.
- No support for custom post types or the ability to customize the admin dashboard beyond turning things off.
Most of the sites we build are for small businesses or freelancers who want an event calendar (with an actual calendar, not a page that you have to update or posts that you can only order chronologically). Many people also want to include a Paypal button or sell downloadable content or create business listings.
Some of of our design-oriented customers also want to be able to have particular slideshows or portfolio viewers, which are not available on WordPress.com. And some want to configure different sidebars in different parts of their sites.
All of these things can be done with a self-hosted WordPress site, which means that you install the software and customize it as much as you want. Fortunately, there are zillions of options for you to pursue at almost every price point. This will be the subject of a later post, and hopefully a meetup of the East Bay WordPress Meetup Group.
WordPress is not just for blogs anymore. At the “State of the Word” this at WordCamp SF 2012, Matt Mullenweg said that the direction of WordPress is headed towards being an application engine, rather than just a content management tool. This means that we’ll start to see a greater and greater number of storefronts, social networks, and interactive applications that use WordPress. Most of these will not be hosted at WordPress.com.