Which flavour do you prefer? WordPress.com or WordPress.org

WordPress is the ice-cream of website development software with two different flavours to choose from. The vanilla, if you like is the free and hosted version you’ll find at wordpress.com (like this particular blog); the strawberry is the self hosted version you download and host yourself that you can pick up for … well … nothing … at wordpress.org.

Over the last couple of months I’ve noticed a number of my compatriots with popular blogs moving away from WordPress.com in order to have more ‘freedom’ on their self hosted WordPress website. And, I’ve wanted to scream … “NOOOOOOO, stop and think about this first”.

Are they really getting any benefits?

The reality is that mostly all they are going to get is a whole host of additional headaches – believe me I know, I host enough websites to know the issues that come up time and again. The thing is that for the most part what they want to do on their brand new piece of online real estate hasn’t really changed from what they were doing on their free wordpress.com blog.

Let’s have a look at the evidence and explore a few of the ‘myths’ that surround what you can and can’t do with a free site hosted here.

Myth No 1 – WordPress.com is just for blogging and I need a ‘proper’ website

OK, I have just three words for you. Get Over It. The software you find on WordPress.com is just as functional as the software you will download from WordPress.org. In fact, out of the box it is more functional and easier to set up. Your ‘blog’ can be a proper website in minutes – just change the Reading Settings to show a page as your home page. Choosing the right sort of template will give you all the sliders and widget areas you need and bingo – it’s as functional as 99% of ‘proper’ websites.

Myth No 2 – WordPress.com doesn’t allow my type of website

Actually, the folks over at Automattic who own wordpress.com are pretty keen for almost anyone to use their service and they have very few restrictions over what you can and can’t do. They welcome businesses, schools, individuals, politicians (I know, someone had to) and more.

What they don’t like are the ones which are, to all intents and purposes illegal; like copyright infringement on sites which copy the content from other websites, blogs which can’t be read by a human bean, blogs which point people to other websites that will download all sorts of nasty’s onto your computer and generally make your life hell. They also don’t like blogs that are used only for the purposes of building an affiliate income. I know that last one isn’t actually illegal, but it is on the only one on the list of ‘those we don’t like‘ which isn’t’.

For the full terms and conditions of using the service and what they do and don’t love click here: http://en.wordpress.com/tos/

Myth No 3 – I want people to sign up for my Mailchimp newsletter

It is true that you can’t host a script on a wordpress.com blog whilst you can host a script on your strawberry flavour. However, there are always ways around every problem. I use Mailchimp a lot for myself and for clients and they (along with most of the other big email marketing systems) offer you the opportunity to have your sign up form appear in a pop-up window.

If you click here – GET MY NEWSLETTER – you’ll see what I mean. This form pops up in a new tab and I’ve customised it with colours that match my blog and with some introductory text suggesting why it might be a brilliant idea to get it; that’s pretty much all you’ll do on a page on your self-hosted website. I could customise this even more by adding the same sort of menu links to the form that you’ll find on the website so that people don’t notice too much that they’ve moved away from the blog.

Myth No 4 – I want to sell stuff from my website

Once again most people are missing the point. We need to think laterally around the problem and not expect it to be solved in a simple ‘click here to install’ method.

Amongst other things I’m an author and of course I want to encourage people to buy my books, so like every good e-commerce system I have a separate page for each ‘product’ together with buy now links which take the visitor to the various places they can buy the books. If I wanted to I could strip out the script from a PayPal button leaving me with just the URL and add in a nice little link that takes people to my PayPal account. Granted this isn’t perfect, but most people aren’t looking for something all singing and dancing and if they were, they’d be using Big Commerce instead 🙂

Myth No 5 – I want to have a unique design for my website

If you have ever set up a self hosted WordPress website you will know that it works with themes which you then customise. If you are like me, you’ll take it apart and rebuild it exactly as you want; but most people aren’t like me and they’ll stick with the basic theme or download another and change the logo and their background colour; exactly what you can do here.

I’d like to go off on a tangent though because having a free blog doesn’t excuse you from creating a poor design. I see so many blogs which are badly laid out in the first place, with no thought for what a visitor might want to do or see. Instead take a bit of time to think about the navigation and the imagery you use and you’ll start to create a more ‘professional’ looking space in no time. In fact this blog is due for a revamp very soon indeed.

If you grab the CSS upgrade you can have even more control over how your blog  looks and make it truly stand out.

Myth No 6 – I don’t feel like it ‘belongs’ to me

So go and buy a domain name and fork out the tiny $13.00 per year and make your website your own. Incidentally, it’s worth doing this anyway because if you do decide you want to do much more than add pages, posts, a sign up form and a buy now button, then you won’t have lost all the precious ‘search engine optimisation’ you will have gained from the free blog when you move to your self-hosted version.

Myth No 7 – Hosting my own website is easy

No it isn’t.

As a WordPress developer the most common problem I’m faced with is being asked to take over the running of a WordPress site that has not had the software updated in years, that is full of plugins and themes that are out of date and don’t work (because the developer went and got a job) and worse, are full of security holes. I see websites which have been hacked because full security hasn’t been applied and which look dated.

Remember, when you host yourself, not only are you now paying for hosting but you are your own IT department too.

At the very least you will click the ‘update now’ button every time it appears; you will find a new plugin from wordpress.org/extend/ to replace the one which has just stopped working because it hasn’t been updated to the latest version of WordPress; you will not go and get plugins or themes from shared sites (because you don’t know what’s in them) and you will secure your site so the hackers have a hard time getting in. Incidentally, this is the primary reason Automattic don’t allow scripts to be used in a free blog.

The Number One Reason to Carry on Using Your Hosted Blog

But for me, despite all the above the number one reason to carry on using my hosted blog is the community that surrounds it.

If I leave a comment on someone else’s wordpress.com blog I get a little notification in the top right hand corner the next time I login that tells me when they reply. This simple little system is the basis of the most powerful force in online marketing – the conversation.

When I start a conversation with someone it’s great if they reply. If they are hosting their own website then in order to be told when they reply I have to sign up to receive their comments by email. Now, I don’t know about you but I get an avalanche of email every day and I’ve been busily removing myself from various mailing lists I’ve found myself on; the last thing I want is yet another whole load of email simply because I chose to start a conversation with someone (I start a lot of conversations with an awful lot of people!) so therefore I don’t subscribe to comments.

Not only do I get to see when people reply, I have notifications that tell me about who’s following the blog and how many people like a particular post; and all from its own dashboard. I can click on their names and web addresses and very quickly find out more about them, perhaps reciprocating with a comment, a follow or a like.

This conversation is also made up of the tags we add to our posts. These tags are broadcast across the whole of the wordpress.com community and act as a little signpost for anyone interested in the same subject to come and find a brand new voice.

When you self host – you remove yourself from this entire community and if you don’t have a strong enough pitch to start with you may lose whatever influence you had.

My solution

Let’s say I haven’t convinced you and you still want to go ahead and start your own self-hosted website, using the WordPress software of course. Can I suggest that you follow this recipe for success?

  1. Keep your blog where it is
  2. Buy a domain name
  3. Split the domain name with sub-domains
  4. Call one sub-domain ‘blog’ and point it at your wordpress.com blog
  5. Keep the rest of the website for everything else you want to do

It’s simple really; you just have to think a little laterally 🙂

Update: 25/07/12 – The good folk at Automattic got in touch to let me know that I’d used the wrong logo for WordPress.com in the image I added above. I should have known better, I go on about it all the time myself and get in a right old tizz when someone else does, so thanks MT for reminding to be more careful next time 🙂

Update: 14/08/2012 – About a week ago I was contacted by Matt Lakey from freestyleinteractive.co.uk who told me about an infographic he had created which he thought might be perfect for this particular post, especially after he’d enjoyed reading what I’d written so much. I thought so too when I read it and have added it to the post for the benefit of everyone else too. Hope you enjoy it and find it useful.


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  1. Hi again Foxy. The things I was looking for were those that allowed me to make as much use of the page space as possible. That’s often not feasible in something that has only one sidebar. So, I’m looking for multiple sidebars including at least one right or left, plus at the footer of each page. The slider can work well if you use it properly, but that depends on the images you use and you will need to pay attention to the recommendations for image sizes. In many, if you can’t resize the image correctly, the slider won’t work.

  2. Thanks for the reply Linda. Well, right now, I think I’m too dumb to know what bells and whistles I want. Guess I’ll just keep looking and hoping, watching and waiting until something strikes my fancy. I thought about getting a premium, but because of the reason above, I thought not right now. I’ll just keep learning. Tks much!

  3. Well nice to meet you Foxy :-). Mmmm, I’ve spent a long time searching for the perfect theme because I wanted the sliders and footer widgets specifically. The one I’m using, Oxygen, is the best of the bunch – but it does have it’s drawbacks, like the small space for the actual posts. To be honest I’m contemplating just biting the bullet and paying for a premium theme. As WP are adding themes on a reasonably regular basis perhaps the best thing to do is use the filter facility on the search options under themes to make sure you only see the themes with the bells and whistles you really want.

  4. Thank you for this article. I am new to blogging, started out on Google’s bloodspot, moved to wp.com and then jumped to wp.org. Whoa! Boy, was I lost and overwhelmed. So, back to wp.com I ran as fast as I could go. This is home for now, at least until I find out what the heck I’m doing anyway. Who told me to learn to write a blog, learn to video log on youtube and handling wp.org all at the same time? Duhh! BTW, you mentioned that there are some wp.com themes that give you a lot of bells and whistles in the form of lots of widgets and sliders that make your blog page look like a webpage. Could you please name a few? Thanks so much.

  5. Those are all very valid comments Z and thanks for sharing them too. I’m a heavy user of both flavours of wordpress – I run a web development company with my partner which uses wordpress as it’s base CMS system and we build on and around it. I guess the point I was trying to make is that for many people, especially authors, what they are looking for is engagement and comments and it’s much easier to develop a community within wordpress.com than it is with a self hosted version. To build a community with the latter takes much more sustained work and effort. I’m fortunate that my other website (which is self hosted) has it’s own great community already and has done so since the mid 1990’s, but most people aren’t technically savvy enough to be able to create something that functions as well as they want it to. I guess we all move on to what we need based on what we want to achieve as that’s the nature of change and development and I’m pleased that you’ve moved on to join us in the ranks of the web development community too 🙂

  6. I decided to switch to self-hosting. My reasons? I don’t want a “work around” for everything. I want people to be able to subscribe to my newsletter in the sidebar. I do not really care about being part of the wordpress community. I don’t really use tags at all so I don’t get a big boost in traffic from that to begin with. I have also had situations where people subscribed to my blog via email and then for whatever reason they couldn’t unsubscribe and wordpress doesn’t have much in the way of customer service and I can’t unsubscribe them. So here I have somebody yelling at me because they subscribed to my blog and for whatever reason can’t unsubscribe and I don’t have the power to do it.

    WordPress.com does have REAL limitations. Those limitations may not directly affect everybody but they do affect me and probably others who switch to the .org. We are not stupid for switching.

    Hosting on my own site using my own method of getting them subscribed means I can control my subscriber list. I can delete anybody that is being obnoxious and harassing me, and I can delete anybody who wants to be deleted but can’t figure it out for themselves.

    There are a very limited number of themes on wordpress.com, whereas there are over a thousand for wordpress.org.

    I have spent years on wordpress.com constantly annoyed by various things I can’t control on it, and I’m ready to move on. Yes, wordpress.org may have more headaches due to the full responsibility involved, but I’m married to an IT tech, so… that won’t be a problem for us. In fact, he’s tried to get me to make the switch for years now because when he blogs he always uses the dot org and has always felt the dot com was “wimpy”.

    As for expense of self-hosting, With all the stupid upgrades I was paying for on wordpress.com without being able to do most of the things I REALLY wanted to do without bizarre workarounds, it’s not going to be that much more expensive.

    So, I respect that some people prefer wordpress.com and if it’s right for them, awesome, but I should have left and made the switch years ago.

  7. You’re welcome and I’d keep your blog where it is and use it on a sub-domain or even add a sub-domain for your shopping cart – you’d need to have your domain name held outside of wordpress.com though as I don’t think they provide the facility for sub-domains.

  8. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU so much for this…I have been struggling with this decision, simply because I, actually, LOVE being on wordpress.com because of the wonderful blogging community. I started my art/travel/photo blog as a personal journey about two years ago. I have been in the process of developing Online Creative Courses, so naturally, I have plans to switch to wordpress.org, in order to incorporate the e-courses, shopping cart, etc…

    The decision I have been struggling with was: Do I export my entire blog over to my new site at wordpress.org or should I keep it here on wordpress.com??? I love the blogging community here, and I feel like I’d miss out that genuine connection. Thanks for your insight and the great tips! 🙂

  9. I know it’s brilliant isn’t it and yep we end up dealing with the fall out from other developers who seem to think it’s ok to leave their client on 2.8.1 (I kid you not, we have one at the moment!). For most people it’s the ideal solution, persuading them of that though can take some doing 🙂

  10. At last, someone who likes wordpress.com as much as I do! I set up most of my clients on this platform and it’s great, particularly for that huge technophobe population out there. Out of the box, it’s much easier to learn to set up and use than wordpress.org. In fact, I’ve had clients crash websites because they wanted to shove every possible plug-in they could! Database update? What’s that??

  11. Absolutely. I’ve picked and re-picked my theme here and will continue to do so until I find the one that is absolutely perfect for my needs too. Which will now explain to everyone that pops in to wonder ‘what has she done now!’ 🙂

  12. That’s very true Steve. This post doens’t mean I don’t like wordpress.org – quite the opposite in fact, I love the software it’s just that for many people it can be easier to do something simple because that’s all they are ever going to do anyway.

  13. Yep, there are often more loopholes. I also find it easier to comment on Blogger sites because it allows me to connect through my WordPress.com account.

  14. I totally agree-the .org site is more difficult to comment on-sends a blogger through all kinds of unnecessary loopholes. I am no mire likely to read or find interest in a site because it has.org after it. This site is ti enjoy and share. I like it just as it is. Great editorial!

  15. Nice solution to a common problem. I think that for many people the desire to ‘move camp’ comes from a feeling that they are not in contro,l but the reality is often that once moved they set up much as they were before. The only real difference being that they now have, as you say, a whole lot more work to do and of course expense. It’s worth remembering too that an existing website (non WordPress) can be augmented with a WordPress.com blog very easily.

  16. I’m not going to self-host. I’ve done that before and I like this much better. You’re definitely right about picking the theme that has the elements you need. As the blog evolves you can easily change your theme.

  17. You have to understand CSS Nifti. Each reference in CSS refers to a particular ‘class’ – now that might a particular section or thing like a particular widget or the fonts; each class then has attributes such as width, height, colour, font etc … and these are things you can amend. You can’t create new classes or elements you can just amend the settings for each thing. The important thing to remember is that you are starting with the CSS that comes pre-installed with the theme you have already chosem so it’s worth spending some time finding the right theme first – the one which has the most elements you are looking for.

    For instance, I’m on a mission to find a theme which has both the ability to create a home page slider from sticky posts, a choice of right or left hand side bar, the opportunity to have what’s called a ‘showcase’ page (as my home page) and footer widgets. Once I’ve got those basic elements then editing the CSS becomes much easier.

    If you want to know more about CSS try this primer out http://codex.wordpress.org/CSS

  18. Hi Linda!

    So much information, thanks for sharing this. I am currently trying to revamp my blog too… But I cannot figure out the CSS. I have capabilities to change, but have no idea how to go about it. Any ideas?