You have probably seen this term a lot if you are researching website options for your company or organization. Most of the choices at your disposal fall in one of two categories: “self hosted” and “builder” based. Your builders would be Wix, Weebly, Squarespace etc. All of these platforms are hosted and run by the company they are named after. They provide you with the platform (usually very intuitive and user friendly but limited in flexibility) to create your pages, and the server space to host your site. They are great places to put something together quick and easy that is unlikely to grow much over time.
Keep in mind – to put a website together you need 3 components:
- a platform to create the website
- a server to run it on
- and a domain name
A website “Builder” would bundle all 3 components for you into one product that they have full control of.
How is self-hosting different?
Full control of the platform
In a self-hosted scenario you choose the platform you would like to create your website with. By far the most common (43% of all websites at time of writing vs. less than 5% for Wix/Squarespace combined), user friendly, and powerful option available is WordPress. WordPress is simply a piece of software you can install on any web server to run your website. With the platform in place you can create all your content using any tools you see fit, themes, plugins, extensions etc. You are not restricted by the features offered by the website builder you have originally selected. The possibilities are truly endless due to the massive community of open source developers creating add on functionality (plugins) to allow anything from complex eCommerce to forum builders to complete learning management systems.
Your choice of a hosting service
Since you own the entire code base, you can select the hosting service of your choosing and even move your site between different hosting services without much difficulty. If you do not like the features, customer service, or prices there is nothing that will prevent you from migrating your site to a different hosting service. With a website builder there is no possibility of you migrating the site. You would have to rebuild the site from scratch if you decide to part ways with your original builder.
Downsides of self-hosting
There are a couple of potential draw backs of self-hosting. It does require a little more up front work selecting the components you will be using for your site. It also requires more maintenance work on your end. You will become responsible for keeping the software on your site up-to-date and secure. Working with a good development team who manages the maintenance schedule for you is the best option here.
The difference is a little like owning vs renting a car. Owning a car allows you to put your favorite joke on the bumper sticker, buy nice seat covers, install a roof rack and upgrade the stereo system. But every now and again you will have to change the oil and you run the risk of having to take the car into the shop.