What is the difference between a hosted blog and a self-hosted blog? And which one should you choose? Find out in this article – Hosted vs self-hosted: which is best for your blog?
If you are thinking about starting a blog, one of the first decisions you will have to make is whether to opt for a hosted solution (such as Blogger, Wix, Squarespace or WordPress.com) or whether to go self-hosted (WordPress.org).
Both options have pros and cons, and either one could be right for you, depending on what kind of blog you want and what your ultimate dreams and ambitions are for your blog.
In this article I am going to look at the advantages and disadvantages of each option to help you make the decision between hosted and self-hosted.
But first – what exactly is the difference between a hosted blog and a self-hosted blog?
Hosted vs self-hosted: what’s the difference?
What is a hosted blog?
With a hosted blog, you are essentially getting a one stop shop solution. You deal with one company and get your domain name (e.g. productiveblogging.com), hosting (where your blog ‘lives’) and blogging software (all the stuff that makes the blog work) all from that one company.
This makes things simple (they sort everything out/only one company to deal with). But it’s also restrictive (for example, they can restrict what you can do with your blog and how much, if any, money you can make from your blog). It’s also slightly risky – technically they own your blog and could delete it if they feel it is in violation of their terms of service.
Hosted options include Squarespace, Wix, Blogger and WordPress.com
What is a self-hosted blog?
Self-hosted blogging is more of a DIY solution. You buy a domain name, pay for someone to host it, and install the software (WordPress.org) yourself. Though these days, a good host will do all this for you or at least help you to do it.
This makes things slightly more complicated (more companies to deal with, more moving parts), but gives you more flexibility (you can pretty much do anything you like with a self-hosted blog) and more security (you own your blog, no-one can take it away from you). There are a number of self-hosted options, but most bloggers opt for WordPress.org.
WordPress.org is basically the software (technically a content management system or CMS), you then have to pay a for a host (where your blog lives). Hosts include names like SiteGround, BlueHost, GoDaddy etc.
Hosted vs self-hosted: pros and cons
Now we are straight on what the difference between a hosted and a self-hosted blog is, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of both options.
Hosted Blog: Pros
The biggest advantage of a hosted blog is the price – you can start a basic Blogger, Wix or WordPress.com blog for free. You can start Squarespace Blog for £10 per month**. (However, if you want premium features, such as a custom domain name, there will be extra charges – see ‘cons’)
Easy to use
The other great advantage of hosted blogs is the simplicity. It’s quick and easy to create a blog and you don’t have to worry about the technical side of things such as hosting, maintenance and software updates – this is all taken care of by the platform you choose.
Hosted Blog: Cons
Although it is possible to get a hosted blog for free – there will almost certainly be charges for anything above and beyond a very basic setup. For example, you will have to pay if you want your own domain name (e.g. www.example.com rather than www.example.blogspot.com). You will also have to pay if you want to upgrade the design of your blog or if you want extra functionality. You may also have to pay extra if you want to monetise your blog and if you want to remove the ads (ads which make money for your host not you, that is!). What starts off as a ‘free’ blog can get expensive!
Lack of functionality
With a hosted blog, you are restricted as to what you can do with your blog. Sure, most hosted blogging platforms have a whole raft of built in options that you can use, but you are broadly stuck with what that hosted solution offers. If they don’t offer a particular function, you can’t have it, and that’s that.
With a hosted blog, you are restricted by the platform’s terms of service – this means you can’t do what you like with your blog. There may be restrictions on the type of content you can post, and how you are allowed to monetise your blog. And, if you violate those terms of service, the host would be within their rights to DELETE YOUR BLOG – a rather scary though!
Lack of control
With a hosted blog, you are at the mercy of the whims of your hosting platform. If they decide to make a change that affects your blog, they can do that, and you don’t really have a whole lot of say in it.
All your eggs in one basket
The advantage of having everything in one place is also a big disadvantage. With self-hosted blogging, if you have a problem with one aspect of your blog, you can easily change it. With hosted blogging it’s a very different story. If you have a problem with one aspect of your blog, you are limited to the solutions your blogging platform offers.
If everything’s going smoothly, then all is well. But what if you have a problem and your host starts being difficult or says they can’t help? With a self-hosted blog, you could just move to another host. With a hosted blog you are pretty much stuck (unless you decide you want to move to a whole different blogging platform).
And with some lower levels of hosted blogging, there is actually no support at all!
Lack of professionalism
Out of the box, most hosted blogging options – especially the free ones, don’t look very professional. If you want to make them look more professional, you need to either learn how to code or spend money on a web developer to customise them. Even then, hosted blogs are generally perceived as being less professional than hosted blogs.
Obviously if you are blogging as a hobby, this is not too much of a problem, but if you intend to make money blogging, you should seriously consider going self-hosted.
Self-Hosted Blog: Pros
This is a big advantage of having a self-hosted blog. You can do pretty much anything you like with it (so long as it’s legal and humanly possible). There are no real limits. This means you can make your blog look how you want, add any functionality you want and monetise your blog as you want.
This also means if you don’t like one aspect of your blog, you can easily change it – you are not restricted to what one particular blogging platform has to offer.
With a self-hosted blog, you also have total control over your blog. No one can make a change to your blog unless you let them.
Access to plugins
The truly amazing thing about a self-hosted WordPress blog is that there are thousands of plugins you can get for free that will allow you to do almost anything you want with your blog – you don’t need to code it yourself or pay someone to do it. Obviously, there are some plugins you have to pay for, but in most instances you can find a free plugin which will do the job.
Access to custom themes
Themes are like a design template for your blog. You simply install it on your blog and you can quickly and easily change colours and other design elements to suit your requirements. All the hard work of making it look good has been done by a professional designer – all you have to do is tweak it to make it look just how you want. With a self-hosted blog, you are not limited to what any one blogging platform has to offer in terms of design – you are free to choose from thousands of options.
Alternatively, if you want to, you can pay a designer to design your website to your exact specifications.
Better for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
All this flexibility and access to plugins, means you can easily make the necessary adjustments to optimise your blog for search engines. If you get your SEO right, search engines can bring in really amazing levels of traffic – meaning greater potential revenue. Having a self-hosted WordPress blog also means you can get the Yoast SEO Plugin – an incredible FREE plugin that will help you optimise your blog and improve your search engine rankings.
While starting a self-hosted blog is not free, it is still a low-cost option. To get started you only have to pay for your domain name (usually about £15 per year**) and hosting (you can get a basic hosting package* for less than £5 per month**).
If you get a good host, they can offer incredible support when you get stuck. (And if they don’t, you can simply move your website to a host that does offer good support*). Additionally, there is usually support available for individual plugins and themes. If one plugin or theme developer is not being very helpful, you can simply delete that plugin and get a different plugin to do the same job. You are not stuck with only one option!
Self-hosted blogs are generally seen as more professional than hosted blogs. This means you appear more professional to your readers and potential clients, leading to greater opportunities for monetisation in the future.
Easier to make money
Whilst it is possible to make money on a hosted blog, the lack of restrictions, availability of plugins and better SEO mean it is much easier to make money with a self-hosted WordPress blog and your potential for making really good money is much greater.
Leaves your options open
Because of the flexibility of going self-hosted, you leave your options open for the future. Right now, you may just want to start a blog, but what if in the future you want to turn your blog into a business? Open a shop on your website? Build a membership site? Sell online courses? Have clients book appointments? All that is possible on a self-hosted WordPress site.
An enormous community
Over 30% of the world’s websites are built on WordPress – and not just blogs, many big corporations use WordPress.org for their websites too. This means there is a huge community of WordPress users out there who you can turn to if you have a problem or a question. It also means that there is a huge amount of help and resources online available to self-hosted WordPress bloggers. And it means WordPress.org tends to be ahead of the game with new developments in technology.
Self-Hosted Blog: Cons
It’s not free
Whilst starting a self-hosted WordPress blog is a low-cost option it’s not free. As I outlined above, as a bare minimum you have to pay for your domain name and hosting fees. As your site grows, you may also choose to buy a premium theme and premium plugins to make your site look more professional and to maximise your blogs chances of making money.
A bigger learning curve
There is definitely a greater learning curve with having a self-hosted blog. However, it’s not as technically complicated as it is sometimes made out to be. Once you understand the basics, the day to day running of a self-hosted WordPress blog is actually pretty straightforward.
With a self-hosted WordPress blog, you are responsible for everything – renewing your domain name registration, arranging hosting, installing the software, making backups, updating plugins and website security. Whilst most of this is pretty straightforward (updating a plugin = clicking a button, website security involves installing a plugin and a good host* will help with your domain name, installing the software and backups), you do have to do it yourself, whereas all this is usually taken care of by the blogging platform if you opt for a hosted blog.
More moving parts
If you have a self-hosted blog there are more companies to deal with – theme developers, plugin developers, your hosting company etc. This is in comparison to a hosted blog where you only have one company to deal with. This does add an extra layer of complexity… though it can also be an advantage, as it means if you have a problem, as there is often more than one person to turn to.
Hosted vs self-hosted: which is best for your blog?
If you are certain that blogging will only ever be a hobby and/or if you are not sure whether blogging is right for you, and if you are not bothered by the potential restrictions, then a hosted blog might be the right choice for you.
However, if you are starting a blog with the intention of making money and growing a business, or if you think you might want to make money with your blog in the future, I would definitely advise you to start a self-hosted WordPress blog.
A self-hosted WordPress blog is still a low-cost option and it is not as complicated as it is often made out to be (if I can do it, you definitely can! I knew nothing about websites when I got started, nor was I especially tech savvy). You also open up much greater possibilities for creating the blog you want and much greater opportunities to make money and grow your blog into the thriving business you want it to be.
Need help to set up a self-hosted WordPress Blog?
Want help to start a new self-hosted WordPress blog? Read my guide to starting a self-hosted WordPress from scratch, where I take you step by step through the process.
Want a full plan that takes you through everything you need to do in the the first 7 weeks of blogging – including what you need to do BEFORE you start a blog? Then check out my my ultimate guide to starting a PROFITABLE blog.
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*This blog post contains affiliate links, this means if you click on a link and go on to buy the product I recommend, I will get a small commission, but you will not be charged a penny more – thanks in advance!
**Prices correct at 28/03/19