Do you know what it means to be self-hosted? Are you using a free blogging platform, but realize you’re very limited in what you can do?
In this beginners guide to hosting, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of free web hosting vs WordPress.org.
I see this question asked all the time, “I’m using a free platform called _______…” you fill in the blank (Blogger, Wix, Weebly, WordPress.com, etc),
“but I’m looking to monetize…” or “I’m looking to grow…” or “I’ve been reading a lot about WordPress.org…”
“…what’s the difference? Should I move to WordPress.org?”
Maybe this is you or maybe you’re just starting out and want to learn more about being self-hosted. Either way, this post is for you. Grab yourself a coffee or your favorite beverage, we’re going to be spending the next 15-20 minutes together. 🙂
A hosting provider is like the foundation for your blog. Without it, you have no blog. No one would be able to find your content online.
So, what is a hosting provider and why do you need it?
Your hosting provider will house the structure and content of your blog (i.e. pages, files, images, etc). They provide the technology and systems that allow your content to be shared with the rest of the world.
When someone types your domain into a search engine (i.e Google or Bing), your hosting provider knows to open your content.
All of this is done 24/7!
You can think of it in terms of renting an office space for a brick-and-mortar business. Your hosting provider is like your landlord.
You pay a monthly “rent” typically paid up front for a specified amount of time (12-36 months) and the majority of providers will take care of the maintenance (i.e. auto updates, site backups, etc).
Like a physical business, you now have a “web” address for people to visit your store, read your blog, sign up for your monthly newsletter, or even buy your product.
Hosting providers use a technology called a server, which is like a really advanced computer, to house your content and bring it to life when someone visits your site.
Domain name vs hosting provider
It’s important to note that your domain name and hosting provider are separate services. But, they work together to make your blog available to others.
Your domain name is your “web” address where people find you online. Once they land on your site using your domain name, your hosting provider will serve up your pages and content from their server.
Are all hosting providers the same?
Not all hosting providers are the same.
There are so many options for hosting that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and defeated. I’ll help you better understand hosting and provide a recommendation to help make your decision easy.
Already have a hosting provider, but ready to switch to a better one? Skip to Why I recommend Siteground.
Are there FREE hosting providers?
Are they right for you? Depends.
Do you plan to monetize your blog? Do you want full control over what content is on your blog? Do you want better features, security, and speed? If you answered yes to any of these, then you shouldn’t go with a free option.
For those who may have answered no…
A few free options include:
- WordPress.com (not to be confused with WordPress.org!)
Free options are tempting when you’re just starting out. But, you get what you pay for.
The features are extremely limited. For starters, your domain name will not be unique. It will always include the hosting providers’ name.
- Wix’s free domain name displays like “yourblog.wixsite.com/siteaddress”
- Weebly’s free domain name displays like “yourblog.weebly.com”
- WordPress.com’s free domain name displays like “yourblog.wordpress.com”
- Blogger’s free domain name displays like “yourblog.blogspot.com”
Ads, ads, and ads, oh my!
These types of hosting providers will typically always include ads for themselves all over your site. Not ads that make you money, by the way. Currently, blogger is the only one that doesn’t display ads.
Wix and Weebly only provide 500 MB of storage with the free account. Blogger has essentially unlimited storage for posts and 15 GB for images if you use your Google+ account (but Google+ is going away!).
500 MB is plenty if your just planning to have posts containing text only. But if you’re planning to have any, image heavy, posts with GIFs or infographics, you may run the risk of exceeding your storage limit.
Forget about any customizations.
You better hope you like the theme and native structure of the platform because you’re very limited in the customization department.
You’re more vulnerable to malicious attacks from hackers. Check out this post that talks about how a bug was discovered which could lead to compromised admin accounts. Is that really something you want to risk?
You don’t really own your content.
If you don’t abide by the terms and conditions outlined by each provider, you could be at risk of them shutting down your site.
You read that right…they own it and could shut it down at any time. Do you really want all of your hard work, blood, sweat, and tears turned off at a moment’s notice? It’s not worth it.
If you’re a regular reader, you likely have a goal to build a successful blog online, grow a community of readers, and earn an income by monetizing your blog.
If that’s you, then don’t even think about starting with a free hosting provider.
Although you can potential monetize with “free websites”, your hands are tied by their rules. Check out WordPress.com’s rules for monetizing here.
Free hosting providers provide low bandwidth.
What this means for you is that your site will be slow to load.
According to MachMetrics,
“the average time it takes to fully load the average mobile landing page is 22 seconds. However, research also indicates 53% of people will leave a mobile page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.”
With a free hosting provider, it could easily take more than 3 seconds because of how many sites they pack on a server. Think about it…you’re not paying for their service, so they’re going to try and squeeze as many sites on one server as possible.
Save yourself the pain and heartache and build a self-hosted blog with Siteground.
Need more reasons not to use a “free” web hosting provider?
Check out this article that lists 36 reasons why having a “free website” is a bad idea. A few that I haven’t covered yet include:
- Trial service is not really free
- Hidden charges for free website
- They can sell your information
- You may become part of a link farm
Self-hosting is the way to go. (If you couldn’t tell by my title) 🙂
When you’re self-hosted, you fully own and control your content. As mentioned earlier, you’re paying “rent” to the hosting provider for them to provide your content when a reader visits your site.
You have the freedom to customize your theme, plugins, or even your HTML/CSS. Having the ability to fully customize your site is key for your brand. You won’t have the hosting providers ads all over the place like the free options do!
You choose your colors, font, layouts, etc. It’s like choosing the furnishings and designs for your home. With plugins, you can add more cool features and tools. For example, you can add social share icons, opt-in forms, emails, and more.
You’re free to download as many plugins as you’d like, assuming you have the storage to do so. However, I would recommend that you try to stay around 20 or so. It’s not a hard and fast rule, just a nice even number. More plugins could potentially impact your site’s page load time.
You also have the ability to integrate Google Analytics which is crucial for every blogger. I know data can be intimidating, but you’re lost without the numbers.
It’s important that you know how many visitors come to your site, where they’re coming from, what time of day, etc. Once you look to monetize, Google Analytics will prove to be invaluable because you start to target segments better and hopefully convert readers into subscribers, and eventually customers.
All of these features, I just mentioned, are available by using WordPress.org. The good news is, you don’t need to be a web developer to use WordPress.org. The same goes for most themes and plugins.
Web developers do all the hard work for us by updating WordPress.org and creating themes and plugins so that we can create feature-rich websites!
Next time you see a web developer, give ’em a high-five!
Web Hosting (Shared Hosting)
Web hosting is the most common among bloggers and anyone creating a new website. It’s called shared hosting and is similar to working in a huge office building where all of the supplies, equipment, and amenities are shared.
It’s the most common because it’s the cheapest and the best route to go for someone just starting out. Everyone shares the same resources on a server (i.e. storage, CPU time, etc).
For most bloggers, a web hosting plan will provide more than enough storage and speed for a new blog. Most starter plans can easily handle up to 10,000 monthly visitors.
Check out this post to learn more about bandwidth.
Cloud hosting is similar to the “shared” hosting we just discussed. The key difference is that cloud hosting uses virtual servers instead of physical servers. This often makes hosting more efficient because you can easily scale up when you have a traffic spike.
Flexibility and convenience come at a cost though. You’ll typically pay quite a bit more for cloud hosting. Again, not something you need starting out but could be a great option as your blog grows.
You can think of dedicated hosting like owning your office building. You own the resources, supplies, equipment and don’t have to share them with others.
A great option for blogs that make it big. This option is even more expensive than cloud hosting but is worth every dime if your pulling in hundreds of thousands to millions of page views per month.
So, if my hosting provider is the one that saves my content and shares it with the rest of the world, will they need to be fast, reliable, secure, and provide top-notch support?
Yes! I’m glad you asked.
There are three major components, what I like to call the 3-S’s, that you should look for in a hosting provider:
I can’t stress enough how important your page load time is. Readers, subscribers, and potential customers won’t want to wait for more than a few seconds for your page to load.
You’ll lose credibility and see your income and page views decline at an alarming speed if viewers have to wait more than 4+ seconds.
Page load time also impacts your SEO:
“Google has indicated site speed (and as a result, page speed) is one of the signals used by its algorithm to rank pages.”
Security should be top of mind since you’re planning to build a brand and create a business. The last thing you want is for hackers to take over your site, compromise your data, or something worse.
Self-hosted “paid” plans usually offer security-rich features to help keep your information safe.
There’s nothing scarier for a new blogger than to get the white screen of death.
You’ll want to make sure that your hosting provider prioritizes support and quickly responds to its customer’s requests.
I witnessed this first-hand. I received the white screen of death because of a “301 Redirect Error: Too Many Redirects”. Luckily, I was still developing my site and it wasn’t live.
Nevertheless, Siteground stepped up big time. I was able to connect with a customer support rep via chat and they found the issue and had it resolved in under 10 minutes!
They treated me as if I’d been a customer for years and like my site was their top priority. I can sleep well at night knowing that my hosting provider is available 24/7 and will respond quickly to resolve any issues.
Make sure you have that same piece of mind!
It’s simple! Siteground is faster, safer, and provides the best support.
They have shared hosting specifically for WordPress.org users. This includes free automated WordPress transfers which means you can transfer unlimited WordPress sites to Siteground for free. This is included with all plans!
Siteground includes so many FREE features. I won’t go through them all, but here are a few I found helpful:
- Free Drag and Drop Builder: Create remarkable and responsive websites with no technical skills required.
- 24/7 Support
- Free WordPress install
- Free Email Accounts – Unlimited included with all plans
- Unlimited Sub and Parked domains.
A subdomain allows you to create a separate website under your main domain name. For example, “learntoearnblogging.com” is my main domain. I could create an e-commerce store with a subdomain “estore.learntoearnblogging.com”.
A parked domain allows you to point another domain name to your main domain name. For example, I purchased lteblogging.com as well. I’m pointing it to learntoearnblogging.com. So, if someone were to type in lteblogging.com into Google, they would reach this site.
- 30 Day Money Back Guarantee
Remember the 3-S’s I mentioned earlier? They outperform with all three!
The performance of WordPress and its page load speed is greatly enhanced by Sitegrounds servers due to their proprietary caching solution developed in-house.
SuperCacher increases the number of visits a site can handle and boosts the website loading speed. Remember, this is developed in-house and is something you get ONLY if you choose Siteground.
The Static Cache Option is included with all plans! It’s a caching solution for all of your blog’s static resources.
How does that work? Siteground explains it like this:
All of their shared hosting plans, the one you would purchase, are stored on cutting-edge Solid State Drive (SSD) technology. SSD’s provide for a 1000x in operations compared to regular drives. Translated in English: They’re fast!
They provide CloudFlare CDN for free on all accounts! CDN stands for Content Delivery Network.
This makes your blog load faster all over the world. Your content is cached (a copy is saved) and distributed to multiple data centers throughout the world. This means your data can be fetched from the closest data center resulting in faster page load times.
Siteground doesn’t play around when it comes to security.
Their in-house WordPress auto-update feature automatically backs up and upgrades your WordPress platform each time there’s a new version.
Of course, this is controlled by you. You can control whether you want this or not. Doing so allows you to stay up to date on the latest security fixes and avoid old and outdated vulnerabilities with no extra effort on your part.
WordPress Advanced Security
Siteground closely monitors the security status of WordPress, on a server level, plus its popular plugins. What’s that mean for you?
If major issues appear, Siteground will apply a server level fix—usually before the official fix is released. This means your site will stay safe!
Unique Account Isolation
Although servers are shared, all sites are isolated from each other through their customer server setup. What does that mean for you?
If there are any vulnerable hosting accounts on the shared server, it won’t affect your site. This is like having a dedicated server, without the price tag!
Free Auto Daily Backups
In case of an emergency, you can easily restore your website. However, you do pay for the backup on the StartUp plan. Well worth the cost if something were to happen.
24/7 is really all you need to know. Not only are LIVE people available 24/7, but they also have an extensive knowledge base, including tutorials in your cPanel.
Their support team is one of the most, if not the most knowledgeable team with WordPress.org. They even help non-hosting related WordPress issues like themes, plugins, etc. How’s that for service?!
Their support team is available via phone, chat, and support tickets and have an average resolution time of 5 minutes.
That’s why they have a 97% satisfaction rating!
So, choose wisely because if your site goes down and it takes more than a few hours to fix, you could take a huge hit on traffic, lose credibility, and miss income opportunities.
I did A LOT of research while deciding which hosting provider to go with. Most of the “start a blog” guides I found online recommend Bluehost.
Bloggers do this for a few reasons:
- Low introductory price
- Free domain name during the introductory period
- Bigger payout
Did you know: Bluehost pays ~20% more commission than Siteground for each referral.
Commissions are great, but it’s not everything.
I want you to be informed and make the best decision for your blog and business.
Even if that means I make less on each referral. #transparency 🙂
Bluehost is a good beginner host, but as you begin to monetize and grow your blog you’ll quickly realize that the “budget” friendly hosts aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
I’ve read stories about how these budget-friendly web hosting plans pack too many people on a server which impacts your page load time or worst-case scenario, can cause your site to crash. Then, you’re at the mercy of their support to prioritize your ticket, which could take a couple of days.
Don’t let a few shining objects temp you from going with the best. Skip the part where something bad happens and you think to yourself, “if only I had listened to Clint”.
Don’t wait until your site crashes, you have the white screen of death, or you need help with something else.
Keep reading to find out how easy it is to sign up.
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Siteground makes is really easy to sign up on a hosting plan. It’s as simple as 1, 2, 3! Click here to get started with Siteground and follow along below.
Step 1) Choose your hosting plan
Siteground offers three web hosting plans. I recommend new bloggers start with the StartUp plan. It’s simple to upgrade later as your traffic and subscribers grow.
This is the best plan for new bloggers. You get hosting for one site, plenty of storage, bandwidth for ~10,000 monthly visitors, and the speed (Level 1 of SuperCacher), security, and support that I mentioned earlier.
The introductory price is $3.95 a month. This is a steal and is the same price as Bluehost’s Basic plan! So, why go with a mediocre hosting provider for the same price?
This is a great plan for established bloggers with average monthly visits around 25,000. You get all the features and benefits of the StartUp plans plus more. You can host multiple websites, get the full SuperCacher suite (Levels 1-3) which greatly improves your site speed, and free backup restore for just a few dollars more at $5.95 per month.
This plan is for bloggers who regularly have ~100k monthly visitors. It includes the same features and benefits of GrowBig and includes more premium features like on-demand backups, staging, and have PCI compliant servers (PCI stands for Payment Card Industry which requires a dedicated IP to process payments).
Although PCI compliant servers come standard with the GoGeek plan, you can also add a dedicated IP to the StartUp or GrowBig plans for an additional fee if you plan to sell products at some point.
Most bloggers don’t start out selling products. So, this isn’t an issue. But’s it’s nice to know that Siteground is scalable along with your brand!
Bluehost also provides a dedicated IP addon for an additional $5.99 a month. Right now, Siteground offers this for $4.50 per month! Another reason to choose Siteground if you’re planning to sell products.
Step 2) Choose or register your domain name
If you already have a domain name through a domain name register (ie. GoDaddy, Namecheap, etc), then simply click “I already have a Domain”, enter your URL and click proceed.
If you haven’t purchased a domain name, click “Register a New Domain”. Use the drop down to select your top-level domain (i.e .com). Be sure to read my post: How to Create a Blog Name that WINS
Registering a domain name with Siteground is $15.95 per year ($1.33 per month paid yearly), which is a great deal. You’ll also have your domain name and hosting with one provider which can help simplify the process.
If the name you want is taken, you’ll see a screen like below and will be given some options with other top-level domains. I recommend a .com for credibility since it’s the most widely used and recognized domain extension.
Once you find a name that’s not taken, click proceed.
Need help finding a domain name that’s not taken? This post can help.
Step 3) Submit your account and payment information
Submit your email and create a STRONG password (use upper and lower-case letter, numbers, and special characters). You want to make it extremely hard for a hacker to crack this.
This is like the “brains” of your site. If someone gained control of this, they could take over your site, delete it, etc.
Submit your info and address
Enter your payment information
Then select and confirm your hosting plan details, add-ons, and verify the plan you selected is accurate.
Next, select your subscription period. Although Siteground is one of the only hosting providers I’ve found that offers a monthly service, I recommend that you sign up for at least a 12-month plan.
Honestly, the longer the period the better. If you can afford to purchase a longer period, do it.
I personally selected the 36 month period to lock in the introductory rate for 3 years. If money is an issue, 12 months will work just fine. That’s plenty of time to get your blog off the ground and running.
If you purchased a domain name from Siteground, you’ll see the domain registration fee here.
Although I didn’t purchase this, I do recommend it (I know, I know…practice what you preach). Since I purchased a 36-month plan, I wanted to save a little money where I could. Plus, I can always add it later (which I plan to do).
What is domain privacy?
Great question! When you register a domain, your records become part of the ICANN WHOIS database and are open to the public. Yep…you read that right!
This means your name, address, email, & phone number are open for anyone to see. If you want to keep this private and keep from getting solicitations then purchase domain privacy.
If you don’t care about a few emails and calls from 800 numbers, then you can save a little cash. It’s up to you.
SG Site Scanner
SG Site Scanner is a daily monitoring service that checks for malware and immediately notifies you of any suspicious behavior. I didn’t purchase this. I use a free plugin called Wordfence. Here’s a great post on how to install and use Wordfence.
Next, confirm the T&C’s and whether you’d like their newsletter, click Pay Now and BOOM, you’re done!
Did I mention they have a 30-day money back guarantee? No? Well, now you know.
Did you sign up?
If so, let me know. I want to personally congratulate you and send a special welcome. Then, be sure to read WordPress 101 – A Complete WordPress Tutorial for New Bloggers.
If you need to update your nameservers, read my tutorial here.
P.S. If you found this post helpful, please be a pal and share! The blogging gods will reward you. 🙂