Pros and cons of hosting on WordPress.com

wordpress-comWhen you choose a WordPress-based site, you need to decide whether you want to have a site that is hosted on WordPress.com, or whether you want to do a separate WordPress installation on an independent server.

The benefits of the first choice are fairly obvious. WordPress.com will host your site for you and do all the necessary updates as they occur. (WordPress sites need frequent updates – read more here.) You don’t have to get involved with the messy business of finding a domain name and a host on your own, then installing WordPress or hiring a developer before you can start add content to your site. Similarly, WordPress.com supplies you with a choice of “themes” or layout styles. You don’t have to find your own theme and install it yourself, or hire a developer to make one.

The drawbacks of using WordPress.com only start to emerge once you’re committed to them.

You will find that you cannot upload just any theme you find – you are limited to their selection. You can’t install any outside plugins, which can be quite an issue when you need to have something not offered among their own “built-in” plugins. You cannot use your site to sell any products or install any kind of shopping cart.

You can’t use Google Analytics on a WordPress.com site – they offer their own site stats. And you can only view the past month of stats, so you will be unable to compare the performance of your site and the number of visitors in previous months. http://en.support.wordpress.com/stats/

Site certification is done through an html tag rather than Google’s preferred method of Google Analytics. And in addition, WordPress.com doesn’t allow you to add additional users to their site stats. This means that other people – like members of your team or even your boss – cannot review the stats, as they can in Google Analytics.

From a visual persepctive, WordPress.com reserves the right to add their own content to your site, whether you want it or not. WordPress.com will display their own advertisements – or the ads of other companies – on your blog, unless you purchase an Ad-free Upgrade or a VIP Services account. Their footer credits and the WordPress.com toolbar may not be altered or removed regardless of upgrades purchased.

One of the most important drawbacks to using WordPress.com is the inability to perform even the most basic, organic search engine optimization (SEO) on WordPress.com sites. Instead, they offer three suggestions:

First, rather than allowing you to add keyword phrases in meta tags, and upload an xml sitemap through Google’s Webmaster Tools (both of which are absolutely fundamental to being cached by Google), WordPress.com claims that just the way they design their themes is enough to optimize your content for search engines!

Second, WordPress.com advises users who want to get better SEO results to continually publish new posts and pages. It is true that Google likes to see a site being updated – it tells the Google bots that the site is actively being used. But that is only one piece of doing SEO properly, and it certainly doesn’t take the place of meta tags.

Third, if you want better SEO results, WordPress.com encourages their users to promote their sites outside WordPress.com (for example, on other blogs and sites) as a way of improving results. Again, that is a far cry from doing even basic SEO work in the background of your code and letting Google know it’s there! This means that if you are not easily able to keep making posts and contacting other blogs – or simply don’t want to – effectively your WordPress.com site will do very poorly in Google’s results. Read more about suggestions for search results from WordPress.com at  http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/seo-on-wordpress-com/

Possibly most important of all, you need to realize that your website on WordPress.com is not your own. Although you will be generating all the content, including your own original writing and photos, by putting this material on WordPress.com you are automatically transferring ownership of all of it to Automattic, the company who provides the hosting service for WordPress.com. Wasn’t that nice of you?

By submitting Content to Automattic for inclusion on your Website, you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting your blog.

Meanwhile, WordPress.com can also remove content from your site, re-use your content for their own purposes, or even take down your site if they feel for any reason at any time that they don’t want it on their server. This information is freely available in their Terms of Service. http://en.wordpress.com/tos/ Imagine spending endless hours perfecting your site and adding content, only to have it disappear, with no compensation or regress!

Automattic has the right (though not the obligation) to, in Automattic’s sole discretion (i) refuse or remove any content that, in Automattic’s reasonable opinion, violates any Automattic policy or is in any way harmful or objectionable, or (ii) terminate or deny access to and use of the Website to any individual or entity for any reason, in Automattic’s sole discretion. Automattic will have no obligation to provide a refund of any amounts previously paid.

By having a website on WordPress.com, not only are you handing ownership of your site’s content over to Automattic, but if you’re developing the site on behalf of someone else, you will have to get permission from your employer or client to hand over their content and the copyright of the content to WordPress.com

If your employer has rights to intellectual property you create, you have either (i) received permission from your employer to post or make available the Content, including but not limited to any software, or (ii) secured from your employer a waiver as to all rights in or to the Content;

Don’t think by hosting with WordPress.com you have saved yourself any development headaches. One of the arguments most often made in favour of having WordPress.com host your site is that you will be able to avoid all the problems and issues that come up with having your own site on an independent server. However, if you have problems with your site, such as malware attachments or other issues with Google caching your pages, you will not be offered any help at all by WordPress.com. http://en.support.wordpress.com/webmaster-tools/ These are serious and frequent issues, and this is the time when you NEED outside help!

Having your own WordPress site on an independent server can be an expensive and difficult business, especially if you or your developer uses free or purchased themes and built-in plugins which can lead to serious issues with modifications and updates. Why we don’t use free or purchased themes

But at least with an independent host and an independent installation of the WordPress software, you will know it’s your own website. You will know you own it in its entirety; that you can design any kind of theme you want and use any plugins you want; and that you can have an ecommerce site or simply just sell a few things from your site. You can track your visitors when and how you want. You’ll know that you can use proper SEO tools and do a proper submission to Google. You will not have unwanted ads or footer material placed on your site without your permission. And most of all, you will know that no one can remove your website from the Internet without even informing you.