All websites need a way to be stored and accessible on the Internet. There are many, many options for hosting your site, including free platforms (Blogger, WordPress.com), DIY platforms (SquareSpace, Wix) that are similar to free platforms but are not free, and, of course, self-hosting.
If you’re a super techy type person, you could go out and purchase your own server to store your website files and do everything in-house. This is the ultimate in self-hosting. For most purposes, however, self-hosting refers to what is actually known as “shared hosting.” Shared hosting through companies like BlueHost, GoDaddy, or SiteGround (among others) allows you to purchase space on the company’s servers to store your website. You register your domain name and sign up for a hosting package, and are ready to install and design your new website.
Hosting your website in this manner is preferable for many reasons. You are severely limited in the styling and functionality you can add to your site when hosted on a free platform. Although platforms like SquareSpace do significantly increase your ability to be creative in styling and powering your site, you are still limited by the host’s capabilities. With self-hosting, the only limitations are your (or your designer/developer’s) abilities and your imagination.
You maintain much more control over a self-hosted website. If you’re using WordPress, you are in control of security, site backups, features, and functionalities. While other platforms might have some sort of recovery feature in place in the event your site is lost, it is not nearly as reliable as being able to back up your entire site and move that backed up file to a secure location. And, if these other platforms ever shut down, your site is gone, because your site’s existence depends upon the platform’s existence.
Should your shared host go down, provided you have backed up your website and saved it securely, you can relaunch in as little time as it takes you to secure a new host. There is no need to rebuild your site from scratch.
Free and DIY platforms can be easier for hackers to access than your typical self-hosted site. These platforms aren’t concerned with security for just your site, they are concerned with security of the over-arching network, which may or may not be best suited to your needs. With a plugin like WordFence on your self-hosted WordPress site, you can get real-time data on who is accessing your site from where, and know if your site, specifically, is vulnerable to hacking. All this, in addition to the security features provided by your host.
It is more financially sound to choose a self-hosted site, particularly for e-commerce sites. There isn’t much difference in cost when hosting a standard website on SquareSpace versus a company like Bluehost. However, if you want to upgrade to an e-commerce website, SquareSpace charges $26 per month (billed annually, or $30 month-to-month)*. But, a self-hosted WordPress site with additional e-commerce functionality costs the same to host as a website without e-commerce functionality. Why? Because WordPress is free, as is WooCommerce, the most popular e-commerce plugin by far. There is no additional cost associated with implementing e-commerce functionality.
Even if you hire a designer or developer to help with your site, you are better off financially in the long run. In most cases, hiring a designer is a one-time deal. While their fee is larger initially, you only have to pay it once. Over the lifetime of your website, this could end up equaling a few dollars per month (assuming, of course, your designer does an awesome job and you don’t need a re-do a year later).
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* As of this writing.