Do you own your website?
Here’s how you know if you actually own your website: You are able to move your site from wherever it is now to the hosting company of your choice, and it will look and function exactly the same without needing to be rebuilt or redesigned.
Think of the furniture and appliances in your house. If you move, you expect them to look and work the same in the new house as in the old one. It would be weird if they didn’t, right?
If you choose a website builder like Wix, Weebly, GoDaddy Website Builder or even Squarespace, you don’t truly own your website because you will not be able to move it without rebuilding elements of it. (The tools used to build and maintain each of these types of sites are proprietary and only available on their respective platforms.) I have redesigned quite a few websites for clients who started out on one of these builders. Each of them hit one or more of these walls:
- It was harder to DIY than they thought it would be.
- They had limited SEO tools.
- Page load speed was slow.
- Their sites were not very mobile responsive.
- Elements of the site changed without warning.
This is not to say that you can’t have an attractive and functional site with an online builder, but as your business and brand evolve, you may want to scale up your site in ways these builders can fall short. If you know me, you already know that I work exclusively with WordPress, so, given that you follow my advice and agree to pursue a WordPress site, what do you do next?
WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org
In your WordPress research, you will likely find WordPress.com and WordPress.org and wonder what in the heck is the difference between the two? WordPress.org is the place where a developer can download the files to install WordPress on a self-hosted site.
Your site is self-hosted if you have access to all of your website files and the servers where those files are stored.
WordPress.com, the commercial entity that provides WordPress software as a service (SaaS) and is owned by the corporate development company Automattic Inc., is where many WordPress beginners go because it offers them a variety of plans to get started with their WordPress sites.
It’s great that WordPress makes a framework like this available, but in truth, out of the six different plans ranging from free to e-commerce, you have to go all the way up to the 5th plan (Business) to have access to the basic functionality of WordPress that comes built into the free software on WordPress.org (for example, the ability to upload any theme or plugin you want).
Also, as long as your site is hosted by WordPress.com, you are bound to their Terms of Service, which state that they have royalty-free access to your data to promote your blog:
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 website. This license also allows Automattic to make any publicly-posted Content available to third parties selected by Automattic (through Firehose, for example) so that these third parties can analyze and distribute (but not publicly display) the Content through their services. You also give other WordPress.com users permission to share your Content on other WordPress.com websites and add their own Content to it (aka to “reblog” your Content), so long as they use only a portion of your post and they give you credit as the original author by linking back to your website (the reblogging function on WordPress.com does this automatically!).
They can also terminate your services at any time and reclaim your username and url:
We may terminate your access to all or any part of our Services at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately. We have the right (though not the obligation) to, in our sole discretion, (i) reclaim your username or website’s URL due to prolonged inactivity, (ii) refuse or remove any content that, in our reasonable opinion, violates any Automattic policy or is in any way harmful or objectionable, or (iii) terminate or deny access to and use of any of our Services to any individual or entity for any reason. We will have no obligation to provide a refund of any amounts previously paid.
When using WordPress.com, you will have a built-in structure of support, but you will also have less digital sovereignty. Fortunately, you can migrate a WordPress.com hosted site over to a self-hosted environment, and WordPress.com will walk you through those steps. (You do not have it this easy if you choose to start out on any other online website builders.)
Freedom vs. Ease
If you don’t have experience creating websites, it can be overwhelming when you do your initial research. Online website builders can make things easier for someone who isn’t “web savvy,” but be careful not to trade in your freedom for more ease.
I believe you can have both, and I strive to create more freedom and ease in my life and in the lives of those who come into my circle.
(If you’re reading this, you are in my circle!)
So I have some pointers on the pivotal decisions you will make at the start of your website journey that will impact your level of website ownership (and freedom!) moving forward.
Think about where you want your business to be, not where it is now. You want to be able to scale up easily. Your website should never hinder you from doing that. WordPress is scalable from a one page starter site all the way up to a massive e-commerce portal.
Be master of your domain. Literally. Use Epik to register your domain* and enjoy free privacy as well as the opportunity to get “forever registration,” where you actually OWN your domain. How cool is that? I don’t see #NoDaddy offering that OR free privacy.
Don’t use cheap hosting. In my experience, a $5.99 hosting plan is really only meant to frustrate you enough that you upgrade to the $15 or $20/month plan, which will still leave you without the speed and memory you really need for your website. (This is why I manage a quick and agile dedicated server just for my clients.)
Don’t use overpriced hosting. On the other end of the spectrum, I have had clients come to me with hosting plans that were far more robust than they needed for their sites. Unless you are running an e-commerce site, membership site, or site that gets loads of traffic and/or requires a huge database or even a server all its own, you will not need a plan that is more than $15 to $25 a month.
Don’t “rent” your website. If you are using any of the standard website builders mentioned above (Wix, etc.), you may own your content and images (we hope!), but the website as a whole is something that you will need to pay for indefinitely for it to exist at all. If you stop paying, they take it down. You don’t get a file to migrate to another server. You will have to pay up or rebuild.
Hire a web designer who doesn’t create dependency. Even if you never log in to your own website and you designate someone else to manage it and take care of it, you should still be able to get into it yourself AND make simple changes without waiting on someone else to do it.
As you start your website journey, set yourself up for more freedom and ease by not sacrificing freedom for the appearance of ease.
You own your business, so it only makes sense that you own your website!
And as a business owner, you value freedom–that’s why you prefer to BE the boss, not HAVE a boss. So your website should function as an extension of that freedom. It should not make you feel bound or blocked, ever.
*The link for Epik is an affiliate link, and if you should purchase a domain registration through this link, I will receive a small commission. I only use affiliate links for vendors I use and whom I truly believe will treat you well.