Deciding on a new church website design can be a difficult, and for some people daunting, task. At Church And Technology.ca we’re aiming to make the whole process easier for you by going through all the decisions needed once you decide to create or refresh your church website design. A quick note to say that while we talk a lot about church website design here, the principles also apply to other church organizations like presbyteries or other church related groups as well. They are also applicable to personal or business sites.
The first post in the series was on picking a platform for your church website. It went over some of the different options available to you for church website design and why I recommend using WordPress for church websites. To briefly recap, the WordPress platform was designed to be easy to use, it’s now the most popular website platform on the internet thus well supported, there are thousands of themes to choose from to help make your site look just right. And finally WordPress is very inexpensive to set up and maintain. Actually WordPress can be free, but as we’ll see in a minute, free isn’t always the best option, but then again, sometimes it is.
If you’ve done any research into WordPress you may have already come across the fact that there are two different versions of WordPress out there. One, a hosted version, is called WordPress.com, the other is a self-hosted version called WordPress.org. Most of the time people talk about WordPress.com and WordPress.org, but I find that confusing, and I deal with them a lot. So for the case of this post I’m going to use Hosted WordPress (referring to WordPress.com) and Self-Hosted WordPress (referring to WordPress.org). That said the pictures will still say .com and .org, so it is worth learning trying to remember which is which.
To me the fact that there are two versions of WordPress with very similar names causes a fair bit of confusion. And as demonstrated by the picture above, some people even think they might be competing against each other in negative ways. This could be true. None the less, WordPress is WordPress. Both use the same easy to use interface and What You See is What You Get editor. (This refers to being able to use menus to change the font and text size, like in Word, without needing to use code.) And these are two of the main reasons to use WordPress. Here is WordPress.com’s comparison of the two. Now on to my comparison.
Hosted WordPress (WordPress.com)
The most popular reason people pick Hosted WordPress is that it’s free, which is always nice. But for me possibly the best thing about Hosted WordPress is that it’s super easy to set up. In general WordPress is pretty easy to set up, but the folks at WordPress.com make it a breeze. You enter your name and email address, plus what you want the site to be called, and away you go. At least you can. Right away though you start to see where free is available, but that free is a pretty basic service, and there are lots of upgrades available. The first is that the free version gives you a domain name for your website that is YourChurch.WordPress.com, but if you pay them $13-$25 you can get YourChurch.com (if it’s available). I recommend any church website or business website have its own domain name, YourChurch.com for example. So here’s your first $20/year.
That said, you’re now paying $20/year and you’re website is up. You can now pick a theme that will determine the look of your site, and start entering content. Not bad for $20. You’ll also benefit from their expertise in keeping your church website up and running, plus their set up is next to impossible to take down by user error. They also protect you from comment spam free of charge as well as make periodic backups of your site in case something does go wrong. You’ll get to pick from their collection of over 200 themes to customize your church website design. Not bad for $20/year (or free if you didn’t get a custom domain name).
If you’re wondering what the downside of Hosted WordPress is it’s basically in the ability to customize your site beyond picking from those 200 themes. Also you are limited as to how much content you can upload. For example you would be limited as to how many pictures and audio or video files you can have uploaded right to the website. For some this might not be a problem, for others it might. WordPress.com does offer a package to mitigate these problems. Their basic premium package is $99/year.
Self-Hosted WordPress (WordPress.org)
Many people will tell you that Self-Hosted WordPress is more complicated, especially to set up. While they’re kind of right, considering the services offered today by many of the hosting providers I’d compare it to a banana being more difficult to eat then an apple since you have to peal it first. So yes, technically Self-Hosted WordPress is a bit more complicated however, most hosting providers, like the one I use, DreamHost*, have one-click installations of WordPress available that make it almost as easy as WordPress.com. Many of these also come with a deluxe install option which gives you access to 50+ themes right away. There are also many more, easy to find, free themes available after the installation.
Self-Hosted WordPress is a bit more complicated in that you have to pick a host rather then there being only one option as with Hosted WordPress, but that’s not really a big deal. There are plenty of big name hosts out there like DreamHost* and Laughing Squid that have one-click WordPress installations available and there all good. I recommend DreamHost* because I’ve been really happy with the service and support I’ve gotten with them, but it doesn’t really matter who you choose. I would however, recommend a large, big name hosting provider. Web hosting is something where bigger and more experienced really can provide a better service as well as a cheaper price. Hosting will cost between $4.99 and $12.99 per month depending on what services you get and what specials you find. Some will also include a free domain name registration with signup. Otherwise you’ll need to purchase a domain name from someone like GoDaddy.com*
Once you sign up and run a one-click installation you’ve got a basic WordPress set up just like in Hosted WordPress. The differences are that you can pick from any theme you can find on the internet and install it. (Only download themes from reputable sources though, some can contain viruses.) You can also include plugins. Plugins let you add additional functionality to your church website design. This can include for example an easy way to podcast sermons, or the ability to create a custom contact form to take prayer requests. Like themes, some plugins are free while some cost money and you should only trust reputable sources. Downloading from within WordPress using the ‘Add New’ features is a great way to know you’ve got a reliable source.
There really is no right answer as to which WordPress is better. It really depends on your situation. If the most important thing to you is ease of use and getting started quickly and easily then it might make sense to use Hosted WordPress. On the other hand if, like me, you appreciate the ability to have more control over the look and feel of your site, it might make sense to use the Self-Hosted version of WordPress. If you are considering Premium Hosted WordPress remember you still have limited customization and both Hosted and Self-Hosted will end up costing roughly the same. In either case though, you can also hire a professional WordPress designer to do the initial set up and design of the site if it still seems too daunting. We’re also going to go over the rest of the steps involved in the process over the coming weeks here at Church And Technology.ca.
What do you think, is Hosted or Self-Hosted WordPress better for your church website design? How come? What church website design features are you after?
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