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Self-Hosted vs Third-Party Sites

Have you heard the terms "self-hosted" and "third-party" or "fully hosted" in reference to blogs or websites and wondered what the differences are?  This post will hopefully clear up some of that confusion, as well as explain the pros and cons of each.  A self-hosted site does not mean that you have to set up a server in your home or business.  It just means that you obtain your own hosting for the blog or site yourself.  To put it simply, you sign up with a web hosting company and create any type of website that you need, whether it is a simple blog, or a more advanced full service website.  You choose the design of your site, and add any features that you need.  You have full control over the setup and design of your site.  On the other hand, a fully hosted blog or website is created on a third-party site, where you can customize your site based on the options that they offer you, with hosting included as part of the service.  There are some limits to what you can customize on your site.  Let's review some of the pros and cons of each option.

Fully Hosted Third-Party Sites:

There are many choices available when selecting an all-inclusive service for your website.  Some of the most popular for basic blogs are WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and TypePad.  For more feature rich websites, some of the popular choices are Web.com, Squarespace, 1&1, and Weebly.

Pros

  • Most are free, or low-cost.  There are many services available, particularly for blogging, that are completely free.  Some sites also have paid plans that offer additional features.  This is one of the primary reasons that many individuals use these services, particularly if they are creating a site just for personal use.
  • Requires little to no previous website building experience.  Creating your first website can seem daunting, but these third-party sites provide site builders that require no knowledge of HTML or CSS code.
  • Site builders make it very simple to design your site and get it up and running quickly.  Many site builders use "drag and drop" technology.  Just choose the options you want (images, text, videos, etc), drag them to where you would like them to appear in your layout, and drop them to place into your site.  
  • Many have built-in SEO (Search Engine Optimization), social networking integration, and templates customized for specific business types.  Easily add links to your Facebook page, Google +, Twitter profile, and other social networking sites.  Choose from customized templates, such as medical, pets, food, and many more.  Many also include some form of SEO integration to help increase your site's ranking in search engines.
  • There are sites dedicated to creating e-commerce sites.  You will be able to create an online shop to sell your products, which usually includes a simple process to add new items.  You should note, however, that some may only include limited fields for your items, or may limit the number of items that you can offer.

Cons

  • Although there are a variety of templates to choose from, other users will be utilizing the same templates for their sites.  Some will provide the ability to customize your template colors and elements, but,you will not have full control over the design.
  • Since many of these sites offer their own custom site builders, chances are, you will not be able to transfer to a different site.  You should be able to download your files to use on a different site, however, you will need to manually rebuild your site if you switch to a different provider.  If the third-party site that you are using shuts down unexpectedly, you could lose all the info that was hosted on their site.
  • Elements for your site are limited to the options that the provider chooses to offer.  Each site offers a variety of elements that you can add to your site, however, you will only be able to select from the ones that they choose to offer.
  • Some of these third-party sites will include advertising on your site, which you do not have control over.  Ads are generated, based on related content on your site, but, they may not necessarily align with your purpose or beliefs.

Self-Hosted Sites:

Pros

  • Complete control over the design and features included on your website.  You can choose to make your site as simple or advanced as you like, and include any information on your site that you wish.
  • Less experienced users can utilize pre-configured packages, such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla.  You do not have to be a website designer or developer to create your own website.  There are many packages available that only require a basic understanding of website terminology.  You just install one of these packages, change a few settings, and your basic site is up and running.  You can also install a new theme for your site, as well as a variety of add-ons to enhance the functionality of your site.
  • Advanced designers can include custom, advanced features and design.  If you have experience with web design and development, you can create a completely custom website and develop custom applications. 
  • Design and setup your own site, or hire someone else to create it for you.  Even if you have never created a website before, you can learn to set up your own site, using some of the packages available.  If you prefer, or need advanced custom applications, you can hire a web developer to build your site for you.  You can also set up the site yourself and simply hire a designer to create a custom theme for you.
  • Create an e-commerce site as simple or advanced as you like.  By utilizing an e-commerce add-on to a pre-configured package, a PayPal shopping cart, or developing your own e-commerce application, you have much greater control over the number of items you offer, as well as the item fields.  Please note that, you can use PayPal as a payment option (including credit card payments) for any e-commerce site, if you choose to accept credit cards directly on your site, you will need to subscribe to a dedicated server through your hosting company.  You will also need an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate, which provides secure incryption of sensitive financial data.  
  • Transfer your site to a different hosting company at any time.  Your self-hosted site will be built using standard protocols, such as html or php, so you can backup and transfer your site to a different company if you need to.  Some hosting companies will even offer to transfer your site for you when you sign up with them. 
  • Advertise what you want, if you choose.  You decide whether you want to include advertising on your site, as well as what you advertise.  You can either set up your own advertising program, where you sell space on your site, or you can join a service, such as Google AdSense, where you decide the types of ads that you want to see from Google's advertisers, and where they appear on your site.

Cons

  • Requires some basic knowledge of web design terminology - more extensive design and development knowledge needed for advanced features.  You do not have to have web design experience, but, you should have some basic understanding of the terminology, at least well enough to be able to search for help if you need it.  If you are looking for advanced functionality, you will need to hire a developer if you are not experienced in web design and development.
  • There is a cost for hosting and domain registration.  Web hosting costs range from a few dollars a month to over $100, depending on how much storage and bandwith you need, or any special features that you add.  Domain registration for the most common TLD's (Top Level Domain), such as .com, .net, and .org, generally range from $10-$20 per year.  The cost of specialty TLD's vary greatly.
  • You will be responsible for backing up and updating your site, if you use a pre-configured package, however, most of the available packages offer quick and easy update options.

I hope this post helps to explain the differences between self-hosted and third-party hosted sites, as well as provide information to help you make a decision for your website.  Choosing between self-hosted and third-party hosted sites is a personal decision - there is no "right" choice.  You should weigh your options, based on your budget and requirements for your site, and decide what is right for your specific circumstances.  Please feel free to post your comments or questions.