Free WordPress website hosting…is it really free? Today we will look at the difference between a self-hosted WordPress.org website (where you purchase hosting with a service provider like Siteground or Hostgator) and free hosting at WordPress.com.
This post was originally published on May 20, 2017 and was updated December 2019 for clarity and updated pricing.
Note: For the purpose of this blog post, I will only compare the free WordPress.com to WordPress.org and not other free websites that are available.
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There are benefits to each depending on the purpose of your website.
If you are wanting a place to journal online or have a family website where everyone in your family can add to it, then you may want to create a free WordPress website. (WordPress.com)
If you want to make money online, then you will want self hosted. (WordPress.org)
*This post contains affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure here.*
Useful Jargon for this post
CMS – Content Management System, like WordPress; it integrates your text with plugins and other functionality to be able to show your website on the internet. Other CMS’s are: Joomla, Sharepoint and Squarespace, among others.
Server is a specific type of computer program that runs websites. Server intercommunication uses HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) for delivering web pages and their content; there is also SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) and FTP (File Transfer Protocol), which serve different functions for a website.
Hosting – The company that hosts your website on their servers. This connection between your website and your hosting allows people to find your website when they type it into a search engine.
There are others, but do your research based on your needs. Caveat Emptor – Let the buyer beware.
Domain – Your website address on the internet, usually in the form of www.mysite.com. Some website hosting will give you a free domain when you sign up. Others will charge for this service.
A domain is approximately $10 to $15 yearly. As long as you keep paying for your domain yearly, it will be yours alone.
Disk Space – This is how much storage you are allowed with your plan, be it free or paid.
Bandwidth – Refers to the volume of information per unit of time that your internet can handle.
You see this alot when comparing internet plans. and it is usually expressed as ‘bits per second’ (bps) i.e 100 Mpbs. The more bandwidth you have, the more data will flow.
Is Free WordPress Website Hosting Really Free?
Yes and no. You will see why further down.
You may have noticed that I associated WordPress.com as the free website and WordPress.org as the self-hosted option. Yes, they are both WordPress, but they are very different in what they offer.
WordPress.org is the original.
It is free, open-source software that is used to create beautiful custom websites. 25 to 30% of all websites world wide are WordPress.org sites.
You should never pay for WordPress.org. It is totally free software, which is why so many hosting companies offer it, usually with a one-click install. If someone is offering WordPress for a price, run the other way.
You must provide your own hosting to use WordPress.org.
There are plenty of hosting options for every budget, but most new bloggers can get by with shared hosting, which is usually the least expensive.
The benefits of using self-hosted WordPress.org:
The main attraction is that you are 100% in control of your website.
- If you want to put ads on your site to create side income, you can. (this is a paid feature at the .com).
- WordPress.org allows you to create a storefront to sell your own items (much like a shopify store).
- You can also create membership sites. This allows you to sell a monthly membership to your readers if you want to offer a more in-depth education to them.
- You have thousands of themes available for free or to purchase. Themes are like skins and they give your website a custom look. Head over to Blogging Wizard to see what some WordPress themes look like (FYI: the first theme they show is Ashe, which is gorgeous for a free theme)
- There are tons of plugins available that help you to customize your site. Plugins add specific functionality to your site, such as social sharing plugins that allow you to customize to your website brand colors, or to do backups of your website at specific times.
- Google Analytics is available right away. This allows you to get data about the people who visit your site so that you can create the right content for them.
- You can customize your site by adding custom css code. There are free plugins available that allow you to add css if you do not already know how.
The cons of WordPress.org
- You must provide your own website hosting. There are many hosting companies around, so look for deals and read reviews. I recommend Siteground for hosting, which is the hosting that I use. They have very reliable support, free SSL and other benefits. It is $3.95 per month for one site (paid yearly).
- You are also responsible for backing up your own data. This is a good idea anyway, especially if you want full control. You can easily back up your website using a plugin and you can have backups sent to your email or a dropbox.
The Benefits of WordPress.com
WordPress.com is a free WordPress hosting service created by the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg. Features of a .com free website are:
- WordPress.com allows you to create a free WordPress website, with limitations.
- All plans come with dozens of free themes. Premium themes are also available.
- All plans come with Jetpack essential features (a free WordPress plugin for SEO and site info), and pre-installed SSL Certificate (ensures privacy and safety of all traffic to and from your website).
- All plans except free come with a free domain for one year, email and live chat support. You can also remove the WordPress.com ads except on the free plan (see more on this below).
Related Post: How To Buy A Domain
There are 5 service plans available at WordPress.com
- Free hosting is perfect for hobby bloggers, or anyone who wants to share the website with other contributors (like a family album). It comes with minimal benefits. You get 3 GB of storage space. Use this if you want to create a free wordpress website that is “forever free”.
- Personal is $5 a month (billed yearly) and gives access to 24/7 support. 6 GB storage.
- Premium is $10 a month (billed yearly) and gives advance design tools, custom css, and Gooogle Analytics support. 13 GB of storage.
- Business is $33 a month (billed yearly) and comes with custom plugins and themes, 200 GB storage and live support.
- eCommerce is $59 a month (billed yearly) and allows you to open an online store with a platform that is “designed to grow with you”. Also 200 GB of storage.
The cons of FREE WordPress.com
- You cannot sell ads on the free site. Many bloggers sell ad space to companies like Google Ads or Media.net so they can earn extra income. This option is not available on the free site. In fact, WordPress.com will put their ads on your site (see below), which is the price you pay for the “free” site.
- Your site is considered a sub-domain, meaning your website name (domain) will be email@example.com instead of yoursite.com.
- WordPress.com can delete your website if it violates terms and conditions.
- Having Google Analytics or other data tracking software is only available on the paid plans. WordPress.com gives some data, but not like Google Analytics.
- Adding custom CSS is not available in the free plan (paid plans only).
- You cannot upload a custom theme, or plugins (for better functionality). WordPress.com does give you the Jetpack plugin, which lets you upload a sitemap so that you can be found by Google. It also helps with search engine optimization and site stats. Additional options may be paid features.
There are other things to consider when choosing a free WordPress hosting over a self-hosted website.
Many come down to what you want to do with your site. If you want to try your hand at blogging, but do not want any pressure in case it is not for you, then go with free.
If you think that you may want to earn money online, consider self-hosted.
You can move your free site to self-hosted later, but please check this before you sign up. Most hosting websites offer to move one website for free, so check into this when you are researching hosting.
Other considerations for WordPress Website Hosting
When comparing the free WordPress.com to self-hosted WordPress.org, there are some pretty blatant cons to the free website (I’m looking at you WordPress ads!). Please consider these options when shopping for a website:
Website storage refers to the amount of space on the web server that your are hosted on. Your hosting package will tell you how much you are getting when you sign up. This storage is for text files, images, scripts, databases, emails and other files from your website.
In the case of free WordPress.com, that would be 3 Gb of storage.
For WordPress.org, it will be whatever you pay for in your hosting plan.
The basic Siteground package for one website is called “start up” and comes with 10 GB of web space. This is more than enough if you do not do a lot of streaming or host large media files on your website (you can always upgrade).
Does your host provide you with any? You will require at least one email address just so that your visitors can contact you.Is this service provided by your host? Or do you have to pay extra for it? Do they at least give you email forwarding? WordPress.com does have forwarding, but not a free email account.
If this is your only expense, and everything else is included, it can still be a reasonable cost for starting a business.
Siteground comes with multiple free email accounts.
Free WordPress hosting does not come with a free email address. #boo
How Much Traffic Can You Have:
Another consideration is whether they limit the number of visitors that you can have at your site daily. Beginning bloggers do not need to worry about this just yet, but it will be a concern in the future if you are looking to this website as secondary, or even primary, income generation.
The basic Siteground account comes with a cap on 10,000 monthly visitors (this is plenty for new bloggers. Plenty). This is the number of people who came to your website and stayed long enough to register as a visitor via Google Analytics.
This is an important consideration because the internet does have its moments and there is Murphy’s law. If you need support, can you get it? Does your plan come with tech support?
This can be a problem if your visitors cannot access your site for some technical reason. Visitors may then choose to look elsewhere for the information that you would be providing.
The free WordPress.com site does not come with support. #boo
You have to sign up with the next level, Personal, to qualify for live chat support.
I have contacted my support at Siteground several times after I moved my hosting, to ask questions and get help. They always answered (in chat) within a few minutes and I was able to see the whole conversation from start to finish.
It was helpful as I would have several support people working on things for me throughout the day. As well, I have messaged Siteground just to ask tech questions and they were happy to accommodate me.
Do you mind if your host places ads on your site to pay for the costs of the “free” hosting?
If you are just blogging for fun, this may not matter to you. However, if you are looking into the future of your website as a business, do you want to be placing ads from your host onto your site?
You want YOUR content to be the primary thing that visitors see on your pages.
Also, depending on the host, the ads can come across to Google as “spam” ads, which drives your pages to the bottom of the searches. This is not the same as the well placed ads that you will be placing from ad companies.
How hard is it to change hosts?
Once your site is up and generating visitors, you may outgrow your free hosting.
If you need to upgrade to a paid host for more storage and bandwith…will this be possible? It is a good idea to consider a free host that has the capability of upgrading to a paid service if the need arises.
Be sure that the paid service will meet your needs in the other key areas that have already been mentioned, such as email and disk space.
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer):
This is your sites security technology, which ensures that your website is safe, and that the data going back and forth is secure from hackers.
It works by instantly encrypting data from the visitor, like credit card numbers, and only decrypts on your site so that you can complete the sale.
This is very important if you are going to be selling your own products on your site
Your customers need to know that their banking information is safe. And if you are an affiliate marketer, your visitor’s passwords are safe.
So, the question was “Is free WordPress website hosting really free?”. The answer is yes. And if you want a basic website for journaling, then this is the way to go.
If you want to make money online, then free WordPress website hosting is a no. If you have to upgrade to get the features that you need to do business, then why bother? Going self hosted will be less expensive than the two top-tier options at WordPress.com. and you get all of the benefits.
WordPress.com Premium is $10 a month and Business is $33 a month (either of these allows for Google Analytics to be installed). Siteground offers the same benefits of the Business account for less than one third of the price. That is a lot of money if your website is new and not earning much yet.
If you are thinking of starting a blog, then please read the following post for a bit more information on why you go with WordPress.org.
Related Post: Start Blogging with WordPress
I hope that I have given you some useful information about what to look for with free hosting. It is up to you which features you find important based on how you will be using your website.
If you have any questions or comments, please use the comments box below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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