What is the best solution for your new website: provider-hosted or self-hosted? What the %#! is the difference anyway?

So you’re moving forward with getting/creating your website for your fledgling online business (whoo hoo!!), and now you’re faced with the question of how to get it done. You know there are tons of options out there, and all of it is confusing. If you’ve read this post, then you know that some kind of hosting is required on which to build your site, but what kind do you get? Where do you even start? What does all of it mean?!?!


Unless you’re a web developer, don’t feel bad that you don’t know this

Why should you anyway? If you’re not a techie, which I assume since you’re here that you are not, then no, you wouldn’t naturally know what the different types of hosting are, or that there even were different types. Unless you knew to ask, then why would you ask?

So, essentially there are two types of hosting: provider hosting and self-hosting. They each have pros and cons, and that’s what we’re going to go over in this post.

Within these two main types of hosting, there are subcategories, like shared hosting, dedicated server hosting, cloud hosting, managed hosting, etc., but for the purpose of this post, we’re going to stick with talking about provider hosting vs. self-hosting. No need to make things more complicated than you need at this point!


What is provider hosting?

What I define as “provider hosting”, is the kind of hosting you get with site builders like Squarespace, Wix, Tumblr, Blogger, Volusion, Shopify, and the like. Your hosting service is inextricably linked to the focus service; they come together as a pair. In order to use the hosting, you have to buy their focus service (which could be a standard website using their site-builder service, or an online shop, an online course builder service, or any number of online interactive services) as well.

And since the focus of their offering is site-building (or ecommerce, or online courses, etc.,), providing a platform on which to build your site simply comes with the service because it has to. You can’t have a site of any kind without hosting, so they have to have hosting as part of the service.

However, you can’t just buy hosting from them. It’s not an option. Provider hosting is a bundled/integrated service, and stops when you stop paying for the focus service.

With this kind of service, admittedly, you don’t have to think about much. Everything is handled for you, for the most part, which is why they are very popular with new online business owners. As a client, you are not expected (or, really, allowed) to think for yourself. Alas, there is a dark side. 😈


What is self-hosting?

Some techies define self-hosting as building your own web server on your local (home) computer, and creating your site there for there world to look to. I don’t, because most people don’t bother with all that (I did it once, it’s a LOT of work, and totally unnecessary).

So for the sake of this post, I am defining self-hosting as the kind of hosting you get from purchasing only a hosting plan from a hosting server company. This is a company that has built the same type of server as you can build at home, but they do it on a much larger scale, and include security, domain configuration, as well many wonderful tools for the website developer to work with to get the site built (should you choose to avail yourself of them).

Think companies like Siteground*, Bluehost, Hostgator, and any number of “web hosting service” companies. Their main – if not sole – service is web hosting. Some also provide site building, but it is always an additional service, and not the top focus of their product line. Hosting is and always comes first.

With self-hosting, your site is separate from the hosting. You upload the site files on to the hosting server so the world can see your site, but your site is technically independent of the platform it is sitting on. You can delete it, move it around your server file system, copy it to another location – any number of things. Your site is unintegrated, and therefore sovereign.


Which one should you choose and why?

Well, the annoying answer is, it really depends on the goals of your site (but, the short answer is self-hosting). If you have no other aspirations for a site other than blogging, or a very basic small business site, or maybe even an online resume sort of thing, then a Wix or Squarespace service might be a good option. Or, if your aspirations include a limited online shop, a provider-host service isn’t a bad choice.

But if your dream includes selling enough product or gaining enough traffic on your site to earn enough money to replace your current income and be employer-free, self-hosting is definitely the way to go. I would never recommend a provider-hosted service for anything other than a hobbyist site, or a site that you’re not taking terribly seriously.

Why is that? Because with provider-hosted solutions, you don’t own your website. I will say it again, over and over, you don’t own your website with a Squarespace, or Wix, or Weebly, or Shopify, even WordPress.com (not to be confused with WordPress.org), or any of these solutions.


And if you’re okay with having to pay a monthly fee forever just to keep your rather limited website, then that is okay with me. I would never be okay with that though. I want to own my business.

Another other issue with provider-hosted solutions is that they don’t really allow you to grow (which goes hand in hand with renting your site). You are limited by their templates, their space allotments, their policies, and of course by their monthly fee.

And yet another issue is, if you do decide you want to part ways with a particular provider-hosted company, you can’t take your website with you. They make it as difficult – if not completely impossible – to download your website or obtain your website code in any way (because it’s proprietary), if you want to go to another provider or go self-hosted.

So if you go the provider-hosted route, be prepared to build your site totally from scratch again if at some point you want to go somewhere else.

Bleh. With self-hosting, you don’t have this problem. That’s a beauty – your website is portable.

So if you want to become really successful, then you need to be self-hosted. The reason for that is, because you are unlimited in what you are capable of doing.

You are not limited by pricing, policies, product offerings, or any other terms and conditions. All you are required to do is learn what you need to learn to build the best site you can build.

Being able to build whatever kind of site you want, however small, big, simple, or complicated you want it to be, using whatever method you want – maybe Joomla!, ConcreteCMS, WordPress, Bootstrap, straight HTML/CSS, WooCommerce, who knows – is only offered by working with a self-hosted solution. You are limited only by how much you are willing to pay for the hosting server fee (which can be as low as $4/month), and how far your budget and imagination will allow.

And isn’t freedom what this is all about?

One caveat

Now I will add one “but” to this non-recommendation of using provider-hosted solutions: if/when you need to use a specific service that one of these companies might offer.

Say, you need a robust online shop to sell physical products, and you don’t want to have to build that yourself with plugins, etc., or have customers processing payments on your website (I don’t like that idea much, so this is when I would use a third-party service). I’d go to Big Cartel for a small, manageable shop, or Shopify if you think your product line could grow to be huge.

Or say you don’t want to have to manage the building of an online course or membership system within your site, you might go to Thinkific, or Teachable, or Kajabi to contract their services for just that portion of your product offering.

You can connect their site to your site easily enough through links and you don’t have to spend a lot of time configuring the programming on your own site. For $30 a month, that’s something I’ll pay for.

But the biggest plus is, if the company changes the way they do things, and you don’t like it, you can just fire them and move to someone else, without losing your entire website.

Therein lies the difference. Hiring a provider-hosted service for a specific function – not to be your front-facing website – is the major distinction. You are not putting all your business eggs into one basket and that is CRUCIAL.

Don’t do it!



Now it’s your turn to make a move

So I’ve given you some interesting things to think about. I admit, I would not be surprised if when you decided you wanted to get a website – regardless of the motivation – your first thought was to amble over to Squarespace. With all their advertising, and their supposed millions of customers, it does seem to be the “in” thing to do.

I challenge you to think again.

I wonder what percentage of those customers are actually making money? Any of them? How many started there and then took on the hugely arduous process of extricating themselves from there when they started to outgrow them? Or how many abandoned their online dreams simply because they got tired of paying $20 a month?

I don’t know, but I do wonder.

So I encourage you to think hard before making any commitments to monthly-paid front-facing website services. They might seem like a good idea at the outset, but if you’re thinking of long-term success, think again. Act now as you mean to go on, and you won’t go wrong.

And if you are interested in an alternative, I offer a solution over here at websiteswithoutcode.com where you can get a fully-fleshed out WordPress website template, using Elementor page builder*, with personal training by yours truly on how to manage it, and brand it to be your own. Check it out!

*This is an affiliate link. While I do use this product myself, I also earn a commission for recommending it.

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