Should I self-host my blog?

March 31, 2010 Off By Chris Hinton

Yesterday we looked at some of the benefits and downsides of using a managed service to host your blog. If you want the full picture of my thoughts on this you might want to read that post too – feel free to do it now, I’ll wait!
OK, today I want to talk about self-hosting. What is it? What are the benefits of it? And what are the downsides?

Self-hosting

Self-hosting is when you buy a package from one of the myriad hosting companies out there. You usually get some disk space (well, you always get that), a bandwidth allowance that determines how much data your site is allowed to serve up in a given period, and a domain name.
The difference between self-hosting and managed hosting is that self-hosting is usually empty when you get it – you have to set your entire site up yourself. It’s a bit like renting an empty warehouse. You get to decide what you put in it, but you have the hassle of doing the outfitting in the first place.

Flexibility

The warehouse analogy might be useful, though, because in both situations you have the most flexibility to decide what to do. Want to have a WordPress blog? Then install WordPress. Want to use Drupal? Just install it. Decided you want a traditional site rather than a blog? Go ahead and build it – it’s your webspace after all!
In both cases there’s still an element of “management” – your landlord may be managing the integrity of the building, and your hosting company will be managing the availability of your webspace – but what you do with the space you’ve rented is entirely up to you.
Take Geek-Speak, for instance. I currently run three installations of WordPress in my webspace – the main one you’re reading just now, a second one on a subdomain about digital cameras [edit: that site is no longer in operation, but I do still run multiple WordPress installs on my hosting package]¬†and a test install for when I want to play with things that might break the site! I also have ¬†subdomain that’s just a normal static website, and an advertiser management system. I can keep all that stuff in one place, which I couldn’t do with WordPress.com or Blogger.
Add to that the fact that I can install any WordPress plugin that I like, or any theme, and I’m left with the conclusion that, for me, there’s no better option than self-hosting.

Professionalism

Because you can customise your blog much more, and because you’re more likely to have a proper domain name if you go self-hosted, your readers are far more likely to see a self-hosted site as being professional. We thought in the last post about the difference between looking for advice from “technicaltips.com” and “technicaltips.blogspot.com”. Remember, you can buy a domain name and point it at a managed blog, but the level of customisation offered by self-hosting will vastly add to your professional image.

Complexity

There is more complexity to self-hosting than a managed blog though. You need to know if the package you’re on from your hosting company will support the blogging system you want to use. For many this will mean having a MySQL database and PHP (a programming language that runs on your server).
There’s also the power to edit any file in your webspace which can bring brilliant opportunities for customisation and innovative features, but at the same time could lead to your site being broken should you make a bad change. My advice there would be to keep backups of your files just in case something goes wrong!

Cost

Self-hosting is the more costly choice when looking at blogging. There’s the cost of the hosting package, which may or may not include the cost of registering a domain name. You may decide to use a design or theme that you have to pay for, and perhaps paid plugins too. All that adds up, which is one reason you may choose to go for a hosted service.
Let me categorically say, though, that I believe the benefits of going self-hosted far outweigh the financial costs.

Conclusion

That’s been a bit of a whistlestop tour of my thoughts on self- hosting. Let me summarise: self-hosting is like renting a warehouse. Other than the structure of the webspace, everything else is up to you. This allows for brilliant customisation and a professional image, but does add complexity and cost. If you want to take your blog seriously, though, I think this is definitely the way to go.
Do you self-host your blog? Have you switched from managed to self-hosted and want to tell us what you’ve found different? If you have any comments or questions please feel free to leave a message below.