A deep dive on WordPress & WordPress hosting

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WordPress expert David Vogelpohl from WP Engine answers questions from the Wealthy Affiliate community around WordPress and strategies for hosting WP sites.

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As someone familiar with Awin or ShareASale, you may be aware of the popular Wealthy Affiliate online community for affiliate marketers of all levels. The Wealthy Affiliate community boasts all kinds of ways to engage with other affiliate marketers and learn skills to help you grow. Within Wealthy Affiliate, members often ask questions about how to use WordPress to grow their affiliate business. 

We spoke to 20+ year digital marketing veteran and WordPress expert David Vogelpohl from WP Engine to get his answers to questions from the Wealthy Affiliate community around the different flavors of WordPress as well as options and strategies for hosting WordPress sites.

What is the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

DV: The short answer here is WordPress.org represents the WordPress open source software most people are familiar with, and WordPress.com is a private company that essentially offers hosting for WordPress sites.

The backstory is that in 2003 Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little created the open source software we all know as “WordPress.” This is the version of WordPress that WP Engine (company I work for) hosts for our customers and pretty much every other host also supports.

As WordPress was being prepared for launch, however, it became clear that WordPress needed a home for distributing its software and for managing various aspects of the open source project.

In order to provide WordPress a home, WordPress.org was launched as a place where people could download WordPress,  access plugins and themes, and organize community contributions to WordPress itself. The WordPress open source project and WordPress.org are maintained by a non-profit called the WordPress Foundation.

At around the same time, Matt Mullenweg helped create the open source software “WordPress,” which is distributed on WordPress.org. He also founded a private company called “Automattic,” which launched the website focused on WordPress hosting at WordPress.com.

WordPress.com’s free plans provide people the ability to create simple websites where the backend of the website is powered by the open source software “WordPress,” but key features of WordPress are removed or watered down for WordPress.com’s users.

One example of how WordPress' features are limited on WordPress.com’s free accounts is that you can’t install plugins on your website or have a developer make other advanced customizations.

WordPress.com does offer a “business plan” - essentially works like a regular web hosting account in which customers have full access to WordPress’ features - but the core offering at WordPress.com is the free plan with a watered-down version of WordPress for people with very simple needs for their website.

For people starting a hobby blog or just getting started building websites at all, WordPress.com can be a wonderful place to start. For digital marketers or businesses looking to stand out and take advantage of advanced digital strategies, the open-source software version of WordPress (available on WordPress.org) is far and away the best choice.

Why should I pay for hosting when I can get it for free?

DV: Where you host your website can play a big part in your growth. A fast and reliable host can help provide a great experience for your website visitors, lead to a lower bounce rate, and create more online sales for you. If you invest nothing into your website or your website’s home, you should expect about the same in return.

As you consider where to host your website, it’s helpful to know that there are three main categories of WordPress hosts to consider...

Free hosts can be a wonderful choice if you’re just getting started with building websites, but come with a ton of trade offs.

The most common trade off with free hosts is the version of WordPress you get will likely be a simplified version and won’t include the ability to install plugins or other typical functionality WordPress site owners often want to take advantage of. Not being able to add functionality to a website is usually the first blocker people experience with free hosting.

Support, uptime, speed, etc., can also be  problems with free hosts since you’re basically paying $0 for any of those benefits. If you have a hobby site, a free host might be just fine. Ultimately, most digital businesses end up paying for professional hosting.

Generic hosts host any kind of website (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, custom sites, etc.) and often for a very cheap price.

Generic hosts often include the big name hosts you’ve  heard of or have seen in a Super Bowl commercial. Generic hosts are usually the first place people end up after playing around on free hosts, and then outgrowing the limitations those hosts might impose.

While generic hosts take off the chains imposed by free WordPress hosting offerings, there are some drawbacks to consider.

The first drawback is that to hit those $3, $5, and $10 a month hosting price points, providers will often have what’s called a high “server density.” This means that cheaper hosts will sometimes shove lots of websites onto one server to increase their margins. The more websites a host puts on their servers, the more profit for the hosts.

Unfortunately, the higher the server density is on your host, the slower your website will likely be. A slow website can crater your website’s load time and your conversion rate. Faster websites have lower bounce rates, higher conversion rates, and make more money.

Generic hosts are a great choice if you want the power of WordPress, but don’t have a lot of money to invest in your digital business. Just remember that a cheap price may come at the cost of your visitors’ experience.

Managed WordPress hosts are hosts that 100% specialize in WordPress. This specialization allows managed WordPress hosts to provide great benefits to WordPress site owners like faster site speed, better security, and a better support experience. Managed WordPress hosts are often more expensive than generic hosts; however, since their platforms are 100% optimized for WordPress performance and support, you can often more than make up the cost difference with increased sales on your website from faster site speeds.

Generally speaking, managed WordPress hosting is the category that WP Engine falls into, although we take managed WordPress hosting quite a few steps further through a holistic offering we call our WordPress Digital Experience Platform.

Managed WordPress hosting is typically a good fit for the graduating class of websites who  want to increase their sales with a faster site, experience less downtime / security issues, or provide a better experience for their visitors. If you’re serious about your digital business, then managed WordPress hosting might be for you.

The main thing to remember when choosing a WordPress host is to choose the type of host that is best for you and your type of business. If that’s a free host, that’s okay. Make the decision that’s right for you. The choice is yours.

This is the first in a series of interviews with David to answer some of the most  popular questions from the Wealthy Affiliate community including:

  • What should I look for when choosing a plugin? What are warning signs to not use a specific plugin?
  • Should I ever pay for a plugin or theme?
  • How many plugins are too many plugins?

If you’re looking for other insights into how to optimize your affiliate business, we encourage you to register for the Wealthy Affiliate community, as well as read more of our Market Insights.

These insights were brought to you by David Vogelpohl. David serves on the senior leadership team at WP Engine, where he leads WordPress ecosystem strategy and its Genesis business unit. David is a digital veteran with over 20 years of experience leading teams building, growing, and scaling digital businesses. David also owned and operated an advanced WordPress agency serving clients globally including marquee clients like WP Engine, Pioneer Electronics, and Esurance.

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