Choose the Right WordPress for Your Website

Which Wordpress?

Many small to medi­um-sized non­prof­its need an easy, inex­pen­sive option for their web­sites. A com­mon bit of advice is often dis­pensed in those sit­u­a­tions: try Word­Press.

Depend­ing on the organization’s needs, that advice might be spot-on. Unfor­tu­nate­ly those giv­ing the advice some­times don’t delve into an impor­tant ques­tion: which Word­Press?

Because there’s not just one kind of Word­Press.

In fact, there are four.

Who this arti­cle is for.
  • Peo­ple look­ing for a rel­a­tive­ly easy, low-cost web­site.
  • Peo­ple already specif­i­cal­ly con­sid­er­ing Word­Press.
What to expect.
  • An expla­na­tion of four Word­Press fla­vors.
  • Dis­cus­sion of why you might choose each.
Top­ics.

What kinds of WordPress are there?

I think of Word­Press in terms of donuts. (I think of many things in terms of donuts.)

Just because a donut is twice as fan­cy doesn’t mean it’s twice as right for you. Sure, that choco­late frost­ing and whipped cream is deli­cious, but it costs more, has a lot more calo­ries, and it might be way more stuff than you care to eat.

So going with a donut anal­o­gy, here’s how I see the space of Word­Press options. I’ll describe each in more detail in a moment.

The World of Word­Press in a Donut Box

Plain donut (WordPress.com). Plain doesn’t mean boring—WordPress.com offers an excel­lent way for you to eas­i­ly cre­ate an attrac­tive, basic blog or web­site.

Pow­dered plain donut (WordPress.com Pro). If the free offer­ings at WordPress.com don’t meet your needs, you can pay rel­a­tive­ly small fees to upgrade indi­vid­ual fea­tures.

Frost­ed donut (self-host­ed Word­Press). By installing your very own copy of Word­Press rather than using the shared WordPress.com site, you get even more flex­i­bil­i­ty in exchange for fur­ther added costs.

Frost­ed donut with sprin­kles (cus­tom self-host­ed Word­Press). You, a vol­un­teer, or paid web devel­op­er can cre­ate a cus­tom theme for your self-host­ed site—at sig­nif­i­cant­ly greater cost, but with essen­tial­ly unlim­it­ed flex­i­bil­i­ty.

Plain: WordPress.com

Plain Donut

Clas­sic.

Image cred­it: robop­py

WordPress’s shared, free offer­ing at WordPress.com is very impres­sive.

The upside

Just pick a name for your blog, sign up, and in min­utes you can have a basic web­site up and run­ning. For exam­ple, it lets you:

  • Pick from a large selec­tion of design themes (web­site for­mats), near­ly 180 as of this writ­ing.
  • Cus­tomize the head­er and the back­ground image.
  • Cre­ate a blog with a run­ning list of posts, or cre­ate a web­site with menus and pages, or do some of both.
  • Cre­ate polls and post their results.
  • And much, much more.
Don’t like com­pro­mis­ing? Don’t wor­ry. It’s noth­ing a lit­tle cash won’t fix.

The downside

So what’s the cost? In a word, lim­its. For exam­ple:

  • You can’t pick any themes beyond the stan­dard list.
  • Besides head­ers and back­grounds, you can’t change your site’s design.
  • Occa­sion­al­ly ads may appear on your site, albeit unob­tru­sive ones.
  • Your site’s address will be [your-name-here].wordpress.com.
  • There’s a uni­verse of very cool plu­g­ins (add-ons) for Word­Press. Some of them do amaz­ing things. You can’t use any of them.
  • Gen­er­ous but lim­it­ed stor­age space.

And you know what? For a whole lot of orga­ni­za­tions those are per­fect­ly accept­able com­pro­mis­es.

Don’t like com­pro­mis­ing? Don’t wor­ry. It’s noth­ing a lit­tle cash won’t fix. Which brings us to…

Powdered plain: WordPress.com Pro

Man with sugar on his beard, eating a donut

Got Donut?

Image cred­it: waferba­by

The upside

WordPress.com offers an a la carte menu of lim­its that you can remove. For exam­ple:

  • Want more space? 20 bucks a year will add a gen­er­ous 10 giga­bytes.
  • Want your own domain instead of [your-name-here].wordpress.com? Pay $12/year. Done.
  • Want to elim­i­nate any pos­si­bil­i­ty of ads appear­ing? You can de-ad your­self for just $30/year.

And while you’re still lim­it­ed to a list of Word­Press approved themes, for $30/year you can have a lit­tle more con­trol over your fonts and the site’s design, or for $45-$100 you can buy a high­er-end pre­mi­um theme.

The downside

But:

  • You still can’t use Word­Press themes beyond the stan­dard list, and there are thou­sands avail­able around the web.
  • You still can’t touch the enor­mous library of cool and use­ful Word­Press plu­g­ins.
  • You can’t have a com­plete­ly cus­tom theme that’s spe­cif­ic to your orga­ni­za­tion.

If you want any those things, then WordPress.com has stopped being cozy and start­ed feel­ing a lit­tle snug.

It’s time for a more adven­tur­ous donut.

Frosted: self-hosted WordPress

Snow-covered tire that looks like a donut

Mmm, deli­cious d… wait a minute…

Fun­da­men­tal­ly, WordPress.com gives you two things: soft­ware to build a web­site, and a place for you to store your web­site.

With self-host­ed Word­Press, aka WordPress.org, you’ll stop using Word­Press to store your web­site. Instead, you’ll pay a sep­a­rate web host­ing com­pa­ny to store your files, and you’ll install Word­Press soft­ware on that web host as a way to cre­ate your site.

The upside

Once you have your own copy of Word­Press installed on a sep­a­rate web host, the lim­i­ta­tions of WordPress.com go away.

  • No ads unless you want some.
  • You can use any Word­Press plu­g­in you’d like.
  • You can use any themes you find or buy on the web.

The downside

Some trade­offs:

  • Some cool fea­tures from WordPress.com, for exam­ple Polls, dis­ap­pear, though you can add them back with plu­g­ins.
  • You have to choose and pay a web host (more below).
  • You have to update your Word­Press soft­ware (also see below).
  • Some of the cool themes and plu­g­ins you choose might not work as you expect, or might con­flict with each oth­er.
  • Depend­ing on what you want to do, you might need to find a high­ly-skilled vol­un­teer or pay some­one to help you.

In oth­er words, with added oppor­tu­ni­ty comes added cost and com­plex­i­ty.

But it might be worth it. That added oppor­tu­ni­ty lets you do some tru­ly boda­cious things.

Picking a web host

There are thou­sands and thou­sands of web hosts. I’ve had good expe­ri­ence with InMo­tion and Host­Ga­tor, and WordPress.org has some rec­om­men­da­tions, but there are many oth­er good ones.

How you install Word­Press soft­ware will vary from host to host, but most mod­ern web hosts will make it easy for you. Often you just need to click a but­ton or two and answer a few ques­tions.

If you have an exist­ing WordPress.com site, for $119 Word­Press staff will trans­fer your site to a self-host­ed mod­el, so long as you’re up for using one of their select­ed web host­ing part­ners.

Software updates

When you use the shared WordPress.com plat­form for your site, the nice folks WordPress.com will mag­i­cal­ly patch and update their Word­Press soft­ware for you. When new bug fix­es are avail­able, *poof*, your web­site is patched. When new fea­tures are avail­able, *poof*, they just appear in your account.

Not so with self-host­ed Word­Press. Since you’re using your very own copy of Word­Press, you need to update your soft­ware your­self. And if you don’t ever update your soft­ware, not only will you not get cool new fea­tures, but your site will be vul­ner­a­ble to a grow­ing num­ber of evil hack­ing schemes.

Worth not­ing: it’s real­ly, real­ly easy to update Word­Press. You just need to click a cou­ple of but­tons. But the risk comes in that not every theme, and not every plu­g­in, will be com­pat­i­ble with every new Word­Press release. So even though a Word­Press update is easy to do, and even though the vast major­i­ty of the time every­thing will go just fine, it’s some­thing you want to do care­ful­ly.

Frosted with sprinkles: custom self-hosted WordPress

Little boy eating a donut with sprinkles

Cus­tom Word­Press themes are tasty.

Image cred­it: Phil Hawksworth

An amaz­ing num­ber of themes and plu­g­ins are avail­able for free or for a license fee, and you can do some won­der­ful things with them.

We move to our final kind of donut when those just aren’t enough. Maybe there’s some spe­cial fea­ture that exist­ing tools don’t pro­vide, or that they don’t pro­vide in the way you’d like. Maybe you want a design that real­ly looks like it was cre­at­ed just for your orga­ni­za­tion, some­thing that match­es your mis­sion and your brand­ing.

You can do all that in the self-host­ed Word­Press mod­el, but at this point we move to the world of cus­tom Word­Press pro­gram­ming. The trade­offs are pret­ty sim­ple here.

The upside

  • Near­ly any­thing you can imag­ine for your web­site is pos­si­ble.

The downside

  • To make the mag­ic hap­pen you either need to find a high­ly-skilled staff mem­ber or vol­un­teer, or you need to pay some­one to do the work for you. And you might need to find mul­ti­ple some­ones: a mar­ket­ing team, a graph­ic design­er, a web pro­gram­mer, a search engine opti­miza­tion (SEO) expert…

How to choose a donut WordPress

Choose the sim­plest prac­ti­cal option.

How? Well, start with the most basic one and ask some ques­tions.

  • Will it obvi­ous­ly not work? Then go to the next fanci­er option and ask the same ques­tion.
  • Are you unsure whether it’ll work? Try it out. See what you think. If it won’t do what you need, move to the next fanci­er option and ask the same ques­tion.

In the absence of evi­dence that a sim­ple solu­tion won’t work, use a sim­ple solu­tion.

Though each upgrade gets you valu­able new oppor­tu­ni­ties, it also brings costs. Some are dol­lar costs, and some time costs; some are ini­tial costs, and some are ongo­ing.

You get to decide how much those oppor­tu­ni­ties are worth to you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I real­ly need to go get a donut.

Post image cred­it: dee_goo

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