September 9, 2016

Starting a Wordpress Blog - Choosing a web host & the costs


Today I am sharing part 3 of the Wordpress series in which I share my experiences and tips on starting a self-hosted Wordpress blog. If you have missed the previous parts, you can find part 1 here, and part 2 here. And if you want to check out the Wordpress blog I created, which is a personal blog, you can find it at www.lifeasdaphne.com.

In the last part I explained that Wordpress has two versions, a free version and a self-hosted, paid for version. This series is about the paid for, self-hosted version, and after you have made up your mind that you want to go with this version, the next step is to choose a web hosting company that will host your website/blog. So let's look into that today!

WHAT DOES A WEB HOST DO?

It's probably a good idea to explain what a web host does before I am going to look into the web host options for Wordpress. On Wikipedia I found the following description of a web host:

A web hosting service is a type of Internet hosting service that allows individuals and organizations to make their website accessible via the World Wide Web. Web hosts are companies that provide space on a server owned or leased for use by clients, as well as providing Internet connectivity, typically in a data center.

So this hosting service makes your Wordpress blog accessible via the World Wide Web, and since you pay for this service it offers you more facilities and possibilities for your website/blog than the free version of Wordpress does.

HOW TO FIND A WEB HOST FOR YOUR WORDPRESS BLOG

Once you have decided you want the self-hosted version of Wordpress and you don't mind paying some money on hosting fees, it is time to find a web hosting company. My advice would be to go with one of the companies that Wordpress advises. To get started you go to www.wordpress.org and on the front page of this site you will find the three steps to take to get your blog up and running. To find web host services that are advised by Wordpress you just click on the link that says 'Find a web host' in step 1.


You will notice that Wordpress advises four web hosting companies: Bluehost, DreamHost, Flywheel and Siteground. Now it is up to you to pick the one you feel most comfortable with and that offers the service you are looking for.


SELECTING THE RIGHT HOSTING PACKAGE

All of those companies offer several hosting packages, meaning that you have a choice between several services and on how much you are willing to spend on these services.

It is of course tempting to go for the cheapest option, but you have to find out if the services this cheap option offers is what you need for your website.

To give an example: I have chosen Bluehost as my web hosting company. I already used this company before when I had a self-hosted Wordpress recipe blog back in 2013 and decided to go with the same company for this personal blog. As you can see in the image below, Bluehost offers four different packages. I opted for the second plan (the PLUS PLAN), the one that is advertised at $3.95. As you can see it includes a domain name and unlimited website space. But what it doesn't offer is:

- domain privacy (included in the PRIME PLAN)
- automatic site backup (included in the PRIME PLAN)
- and a high performance server (included in the go PRO PLAN)


But what exactly am I missing out on for not choosing these services? Well, the fact that my plan doesn't have domain privacy, meant that I got bombarded with spam email from companies that offered me a website design. Once my domain name was set up, Bluehost released this domain and my connected email on the web. So almost every shady website building company from India sent me an email with their business offer. Fortunately these emails mostly went straight into the spam box of my gmail address, but let's be honest here: this is not cool. 

I also do not get an automatic site backup, so if anything goes wrong with the server or whatever, there is always a risk of losing all content. Wordpress offers so called 'plugins' though, which are basically gadgets that were designed by designers and companies outside Wordpress. You can easily install these plugins when you have your site up an running, and there are special plugins for backups, so if it is not in your plan you can always install one of these. Most of them are free, but of course I did not test any of them so I don't know if they are as good as the automated backup in the web hosting plan.

And then there is server performance. The cheaper plans mostly use shared server space. This means that you share a server with many more websites/blogs. This definitely effects the loading speed of your website/blog. The dashboard of my Wordpress blog loads a lot slower than the Blogger dashboard, and when someone visits www.lifeasdaphne.com, the loading time of the page is definitely longer than that of my Blogger site www.thedutchladydesigns.com. And this can be a real deal breaker. If you like to read more about shared server space, the pro's and cons, then check out this article.

Since my Wordpress blog is a personal one and I am not planning on making any money with it I don't mind that it loads a lot slower than my Blogger website. BUT, if you have a blog or website that you want to make money with, especially a webshop type of website/blog, this can be a big issue. People are not patient folks, they will click away from your site when it is not loading quickly. Which can be very harmful if you are trying to sell anything through your website. So it is necessary to think through carefully which services you really need for the kind of website you are planning to run on Wordpress.

MY PERSONAL WEB HOSTING COSTS

So I selected the PLUS PLAN from Bluehost. According to the website that is $3.95 a month, or $47.40 per year, right? Well, that isn't too bad you might think. But wait, did you see that little '*' behind the price? Yep, when you scroll down the page it becomes obvious that this little star behind the price means:

Promotional pricing is for the first term only and regular rates apply upon renewal. 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee does not extend to domain names.

So the $3.95 is not a regular monthly rate for this plan and is just a promotion. When you click through on this plan you will see that you can only get that promotional rate when you commit yourself to the plan for three years. In that case you need to pay the full hosting fees for three years at once. Which brings it to a total of $142.20 that you have to pay right now. 

That was not what I had in mind. I just want to test this blog out for a year to see if I am really that in love with it. There is of course the option to choose for a 2-year plan or a 1-year plan, but those prices are higher than the $3.95 per month. I eventually opted for the 1-year plan, which meant that I pay $5.95 per month and $71.40 for the year. No matter which plan you select, you need to pay up in front for a full year at minimum.

My total costs for one year of web hosting and a domain name are: $71.40 on a very simply hosting plan with shared server space.

OPTIONAL ADDITIONAL COSTS

Okay, so I spent $71.40 to get started with my domain name and hosting services. After committing myself to the plan and paying for it I could easily install the Wordpress program on my domain site. I have to say that this is not very difficult, so all you tech fearing bloggers: this definitely can be done. And if you do struggle with it you can contact Bluehost by phone to get assistance, you have a free one-on-one call that comes with your package.

You can really make it as expensive as you want since after installing everything, Wordpress itself offers some paid services for your site as well. It ain't cheap, I'll tell you that, but if you are running a large, professional site, it might be wise to think about it. Just like the web hosting companies, Wordpress itself also offers packages to protect you from spam, to back up your site automatically and much more. But with prices ranging from and extra $99 to $299 a year, that was a bit too much for me with my personal hobby blog. So I kept it at the $71.40 I spent on Bluehost services.


THE CONCLUSION

My conclusion would be that there is no one-size-fits-all plan for wannabe Wordpress bloggers. Make sure to check out the four web hosting companies that Wordpress advises, read through the plans they offer and what services those plans actually offer. When it comes to package pricing, read the small letters and know that you will probably have to pay a full year of hosting services up front. Ask yourself: what do I need for my particular website? Am I just blogging for fun or do I want to run a webshop type of website on Wordpress? Just be informed before you get started!


After selecting your web host and the package that fits your website/blog the best, and installing the Wordpress program on your domain site, it is time to really set up your blog with one of the free or premium templates that Wordpress offers or with a template that you purchase from a designer. In the next post I will get into purchasing the right template for your website/blog and the costs of that. Till soon!

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