A while back, Elizabeth Urello of Automattic (the people behind WordPress), wrote a post about whether a person should use WordPress.com or WordPress.org. That’s a common question among people with only basic familiarity with either flavor of WordPress.
The article offers the best analogy (the freedoms and responsibilities of owning versus renting property) I’ve seen yet for understanding the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
But if you have zero experience with WordPress and are wondering why you should use it at all, hearing the discussion framed in the context of WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org might leave you feeling confused. You would not be alone.
Dot com. Dot org. Dot what?
Yesterday I tried – in vain – to explain to a client why WordPress.com was the best choice for his particular website. I failed so miserably that all we could do was laugh over my inability to find the words that would let him get his mind around the concept.
If your website doesn’t use WordPress at all, or if you’ve never even heard of it, it might be difficult to understand the merits of putting a website on WordPress.com. Or,using WordPress period.
Let’s start from the very beginning with this whole issue.
What is WordPress?
WordPress is an open source content management system. That is, it is software that anyone can download and use for free to build a website without having to code that website by hand.
Why do I need WordPress if I don’t want to build my own website?
When I build your website using WordPress, it gives me a big head start on creating a well-designed, feature-rich site that’s easier for you to maintain than the static site you currently have. The one that requires digging into code if you want to make even the simplest of changes. Oh, and that’s after you’ve used FTP to download the file you need from your server. You do have FTP access – right?
Anyway, this allows me to charge you less than if I build your website from scratch without WordPress. It also makes future maintenance or upgrades less expensive.
Okay, so WordPress is good. What is the problem with using WordPress on Go Daddy?
Note: Using WordPress on Go Daddy or another web host away from the WordPress.com platform is called self hosting.
Elizabeth’s analogy makes it easy to see the pros and cons:
When you move to a self-hosted WordPress site, it’s like buying your own house: you can knock down the walls or build an extension, you can rent out your garage for practice space to a local band, you can keep a lion in the backyard. But if your heat goes out in the middle of winter, you have to fix it (or hire someone who can).
If you self-host, you can install all the plugins you want, but if one of them breaks your site, you have to figure out how to fix it… You’re also responsible for performing routine updates and backing up your content, but the only rules you’re bound by are your own.
Why would I have to worry about my website “breaking” if I’m never going to try to change it?
Mickey Mellen of Green Mellen Media answered this question a while back. While the numbers have changed a little bit, the answer itself is dead on:
WordPress is much like Microsoft Windows; very popular and really quite secure, but a hot target for hackers to go after. With nearly 20% of the web running on WordPress, hackers are always looking for a way to get into your site. Fortunately, with thousands of developers backing it, any security holes that are discovered in WordPress are fixed almost immediately.
The problem is that you need to update your software to be able to take advantage of each fix, and many sites don’t bother with them. In fact, when a WordPress site gets hacked it’s almost always due to outdated software. The breakdown of why a site gets hacked:
- 83% are WordPress blogs that have not been kept up to date.
- 14% are web hosts that are not upgraded properly (such as GoDaddy, often).
- 3% are for other reasons.
So while you might not want to change your website, unsavory characters with other intentions are all over the internet looking for outdated websites they can easily hack.
How will using WordPress.com keep my site from being hacked?
Back to Elizabeth’s real estate analogy:
Having a blog or website here on WordPress.com is a bit like renting an apartment in a complex. You don’t have to worry about the pipes freezing in winter, you don’t have to mow the backyard, and you don’t have to fix the dishwasher if it breaks — all of that is your landlord’s job.
…at WordPress.com, we support your site, and we take care of all the updates, the backups, and the security.
Is there a downside to using WordPress.com?
As with everything else in life, there are trade-offs. Pros and cons that are more or less applicable depending upon the situation.
For the client I spoke about earlier, there is literally no downside to WordPress.com provided we set his site up as I propose. He doesn’t need heavy-duty e-commerce or a lot of bells and whistles. We might run into trouble only if we were trying to build a professional-caliber site there without paying a dime. We’re not.
We’ll use WordPress.com because they’ll keep everything updated for us, and keep spammers and hackers away. The site will load faster than if we used Go Daddy. If my client needs anything, WordPress.com Happiness Engineers will help him quickly and more cost-effectively than I could with the one-woman show I run.
Most of the drawbacks of a WordPress.com site revolve around not being able to do exactly what you want. Elizabeth put it like this:
…you can’t install skylights, knock down a wall to combine two rooms, or rent out your spare bedroom without the landlord’s permission.
Enabling website owners to do heavy-duty construction or remodeling has the potential to similarly enable the miscreants of the Internet. Probably goes without saying, but their vision of your website’s potential is very different from yours. You’ll never be able to do these kinds of things on WordPress.com.
But if you know what you’re doing (or you’re working with someone else who does…hello), and you treat WordPress.com as a service provider instead of a free blogging platform, you can actually tailor your site quite a bit.
The kinds of light changes that an average website owner is usually more interested in – those that would be along the lines of painting or hanging curtains – introduce less of a security risk, so they are possible on WordPress.com. Providing this ability to customize doesn’t come without cost, however. So while you can add it to your WordPress.com website, it isn’t free.
What WordPress.com features are worth paying for?
WordPress.com lets you buy a la carte just what you need for your site. If all you want is a new design or the ability to use your domain name instead of something like thesimplerweb.wordpress.com, you give them a few bucks and you get those features.
If you are responsible for managing a professional website for a business or organization – especially if you are not tech-savvy and don’t have a dedicated webmaster – WordPress.com’s Business Plan has the feature set you need to run a website with minimal hassle. Its $299 annual cost is less expensive than the cheapest secure managed hosting – plus you get live chat support over a very generous span of business hours.
Can you show me an example of a professional WordPress.com website?
Yes. I built the High Cotton Wine & Cheese Co. website shown here on WordPress.com for a client using the Business Plan.
I wish the site were still live, but the owners closed shop after one was wooed back into the service of her former employer.
High Cotton Wine & Cheese Co. Website
High Cotton Wine & Cheese – Menu
High Cotton Wine & Cheese – Contact Page
Do you have a question or comment about WordPress.com that I haven’t addressed? Leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help.
Read “The $64,000 Question: WordPress.com or WordPress.org?” here.