WordPress 3.7 is out today and with each release this blogging platform becomes more capable and more sophisticated and that barrier to entry rises just a little bit.
All those little rises now represent a significant hurdle. So much so, that if a non-technical friend of mine asked me whether they should self-host their own WordPress site, I’d say no.
And here’s seven reasons why.
1. It’s difficult: there’s a lot to learn
It’s probably true that with a bit of luck a novice could stumble through the setting up of a self-hosted WordPress site but a little knowledge goes a long way in making sure that an installation is secure and stable.
The problem is that that little knowledge goes across a plethora of subjects including, but probably not limited to, domains, DNS, mail, databases, web servers, htaccess, security, CPanel, bandwidth, etc.
And once that’s learned, there’s WordPress itself. Again it’s possible to just jump in and start publishing but to really use WordPress properly, even for a simple blog, time needs to be spent gaining even a basic understanding of the content model, the publishing workflow, plugins and themes.
That’s not an insignificant learning curve and whilst it may be shallower than say Drupal, it’s a learning curve just the same.
2. There’s too much choice: analysis paralysis is always hovering
If ever there was an example of too much choice being a bad thing, then WordPress themes is it. Choosing a theme is nothing short of a bewildering nightmare.
There are 2,097 themes in the WordPress Theme library; TemplateMonster claims to have 1,800 plus themes; ThemeForest trumps them both with 3,477 themes and templates.
Putting aside the obvious question of why are there so many themes, how does a self-hoster choose a theme from such a massive selection?
Perhaps that’s why the theme-seller memberships work: it cuts down the choice to a manageable number.
3. It’s not the cheapest option: free can be so expensive
Free is such an alluring proposition. Free software, free themes, free plugins, even free hosting, what’s not to like? As most of us know the only truly free component of self-hosting is the WordPress app everything else is going to have a cost that we might not want to pay.
Self-hosting with any confidence requires the use of quality components and that quality, along with support and continued development, quite rightly does not come for free.
A back of the envelope calculation for a domain name, reliable hosting, a decent theme, and a couple of premium plugins comes out at anything between $250 and $450 for that first year. An equivalent site on WordPress.com would cost between $150 and $250 for a Pro site with a premium theme whilst SquareSpace costs $250 for unlimited storage, bandwidth and a custom domain.
4. It’s time-consuming: self-hosting properly takes up your most valuable asset
Proper, and that’s the key, self-hosting takes up plenty of time. There’s regular updates to the WordPress core that, ideally, should be tested before being applied to self-hosted site. Then there’s updates to themes and plugins, again that should be tested first.
That also means maintaining a test environment somewhere and regularly updating it with the live data and configuration. Not difficult once the live site is created but it all takes time.
For most people, time is their most valuable asset so why spend it on maintaining the environment when it could be spent on the far more productive activity of creating content?
5. It’s not worth the risk: there’s just too much that can go wrong
Many self-hosters get away with a lax approach simply because there is safety in numbers. There are so many WordPress sites out there that it takes time for the hack-bots to find them but it is only a matter of time.
Even conscientious owners who do put the time and effort into maintaining their environments can find they get into difficulties sometimes not of their own making. Hosting downtime, server disk failure, targeted attacks on a particular host and vulnerabilities introduced in an updated plugin all real possibilities and all can have a significant impact.
6. Starting from scratch is hard and unnecessary
Self-hosted sites start with an audience of one, no page ranking, no indexed content in any search engine and no mailing list. All of these essential facets of a successful site take time to build and grow.
Sure, it’s possible for the self-hoster to kick-start their site to a certain extent if they already have a significant social media presence but it’s still going to be a hard slog.
7. Flexibility is overrated
Many defences of self-hosting will mention flexibility: the ability to pick the theme and that unique collection of plugins that are needed to create the user experience that the site owner is looking for.
That might be true for commercial or niche sites but not for a blog. If there is anything that the likes of WordPress.com, Blogger, Medium and even Twitter have taught us, it is that simple is better.
There Are Better Options
Simply put there are services out there that will enable a novice to get a better looking, easier to operate site up and running in far less time and for less cost than is possible with self-hosting.
Services take all the worry out of hosting and often provide extra functionality. One the key advantages these services provide, not obvious at first glance, is that they dramatically reduce choice both in plugins (generally reduced to an absolute minimum) and themes. All of which, maximises the time that can be spent on content creation.
And if that wasn’t enough, some of them will also give you a leg-up when it comes to putting you in front of an audience.
So my advice to my non-technical friend would be to think hard about what they really and truly need and make a list. Then check that list against the likes of WordPress.com, SquareSpace, Medium (when it opens up) and any number of hosted WordPress solutions.
My hunch would be that at least one will provide all the functionality for less cost and far less hassle. And my friend can focus all their attention on creating killer content.