Ah, Decisions! FREE WordPress Blog or Self-Hosted Website?

Promo people and industry experts everywhere are advising clients – and anyone who will listen – that starting a blog can do wonders to promote a business. So whether you’re a real estate agent or an author (or both!), no doubt blogging is on your must-do list for this year.

I started my original, free WordPress blog in March 2011, and quickly found that blogging is about art, discipline, and commitment. What to write, when to post and the best reasons to blog in the first place have been explained by better bloggers than myself. Check out Tess Hardwick’s guest post about why you should join the club.

My discussion in this post is how intentions and the future you envision for your blog should affect the choice of venue you choose. In other words, consider your blog’s direction before you set it up. When I began, all I could think was “just do it, already!” I didn’t have goals or a plan for how a website could benefit me down the road. In retrospect, I wish I’d been less of a pantser and more of a plotter.

WordPress.com is one of the most popular free blog hosting sites out there. That’s right, with minimal work and limited computer skills, anyone can set up a free blog and start to post. But WordPress – and other free blog sites – limit your ability to control the look and functionality of your website. It’s an important consideration. In addition, free WordPress sites display the url wordpress.com. Since I couldn’t register anything close to my own name on free WordPress, my original blog didn’t help establish my “brand” in any way.

About my blog: I posted once a week consistently right from the start. According to my stats page (a WordPress perk), views grew slowly over six months to an average of 26 per day, with a higher average of apx. 60 views every day I published a new post. I’m indebted to my friend Terri Long, because her guest post How to Sell 100 Books a Day soon drew a lot of attention and boosted my page views to an average of 77 per day.

Soon after, I posted How to Build a Quality Twitter Following FAST andgot an amazing 378 views in 24 hours. Encouraged (ecstatic!), I began to use Hootsuite (watch for a future post about this fabulous twitter tool) to pre-schedule tweets with links to my backlog of posts, one per hour 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. With that, page views grew to an average of 99 daily within 8 months of starting my free blog, and I’d gained over 100 subscribers.

At the same time, I began final edits on my debut novel, Mark of the Loon. Too bad I hadn’t thought ahead about the possibilities for my blog and how I could develop it. If I’d planned, I would have realized how cool it would be to provide free sample chapters that potential readers could download from my site. (That’s how I found Author Pam Beason and her wonderful novels.) Yep, chapter downloads.  Brilliant. But you can’t do that on free WordPress.

So, if you’re a new WordPress blogger, or your goal is “To Start a Blog,” my suggestion is to research and list the functionality you’d eventually like from your website. Your own website address, fancy themes, widgets and plug-ins are not available on free WordPress. Here are several reasons to begin with (or move now) to a self-hosted WordPress.org site. Basically, it boils down to more control and more options.

Your self-hosted site can …

  • Display your own web address, “your.name.com,” which helps brand you
  • Include ads to generate revenue, if desired
  • Use a different comment system, if desired
  • Turn your single-author blog into a multi-user site with various contributors
  • Provide free sample downloads of books, and even sell your books on your hosted site

Now for the drawbacks: The self-hosted process requires a few more steps. There’s more to figure out. (Keep in mind though, I set up my own simple site and I am far from a Computer Tech.) AND – and here’s the big and: You can’t move your subscribers with you. That’s right. You can package and take all the content from your free WordPress blog, but not your subscribers. They all must manually re-subscribe. Sadly, I lost most of mine when I moved, and only hope that great content going forward will bring them back. Bottom line: If you start with a self-hosted blog and website, you’ll NEVER have to move your subscriber list.

One of the simplest alternatives to free WordPress.com is (self-hosted) WordPress.org (I know, confusing). What’s the difference? You must pay to maintain a website using the WordPress.org framework. But if I could snag a do-over, I’d start with a self-hosted site, no question. If you haven’t started a blog yet and you’re ready to take the leap, here’s the simplified process:

  • Go to Bluehost.com (many web developers prefer other hosting companies over Go Daddy)
  • Purchase your domain name
  • Sign up for two years of hosting (it’s a bit cheaper)
  • Purchase a WordPress theme from Woo or Elegant (links next week)
  • Style the theme a little bit – or simply use the defaults for now
  • Add a “subscribe to my blog” widget
  • Blog!

Next week I’ll describe the process of actually moving an existing WordPress blog in more detail. Meanwhile, feel free to leave a comment about your own pros and cons or experiences with a free blog or self-hosted website!

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35 Responses to Ah, Decisions! FREE WordPress Blog or Self-Hosted Website?

  1. Phantomimic January 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    For me an important consideration was (and still is) to not spend money. I built my site using Weebly.com. It was free, easy, and it has been good for many things. I found Weebly gave me more leeway in controlling the look of my website. The main problem is that it does not have an option that allows readers to subscribe easily to my blog. Because of this I have been considering moving over to WordPress, which has that option. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence!


  2. Jo VonBargen January 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Great info, Molly!! You always deliver. Like Rolando, I’ve been looking around, and you’ve got some super tips here….much appreciated! I’ve got the look I want on Weebly, but several widgets won’t work there, and as Rolando said, subscribing for readers is a nightmare. Thanks so much for reaching out to those of us flopping about like landed trout when it comes to websites! You rock, girliegirl!!

    • Molly Greene January 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

      Jo and Rolando (Phanto, nice to finally meet you!!), thank you both for your comments! It’s not as expensive as you think, but does take patience and time. PATIENCE. Did I say patience? The “theme” is the hardest part, more about that next week!

  3. Jodi Lobozzo Aman January 10, 2012 at 1:27 am #

    Great Molly,
    As you know I, too moved to “.org” and wish I had done it sooner. Lost half of my subscribers right after a huge time consuming campaign to get subscribers! Ugh! Now I have feed burner and I don’t like how it puts the whole article in the email. If my subscribers don’t chose to comment, which most don’t, they are not recorded on my analytics- since they read it in their email.

    It is like getting used to a whole new system. I do need to get Hootsuite. I keep thinking that I’ll get to it. But it might be best not to wait…Can’t wait to see the upcoming post!


    • Molly Greene January 10, 2012 at 6:35 am #

      Jodi, my subscribe tool also sends full post, but there must be a way for us to alter this so it sends a partial?? ALSO, just an FYI, a WP plugin called “Tweet Old Posts” will automate this right from your blog. Thanks so much for your support!!

  4. Roni Loren January 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    I did the same thing–pantsed my way into blogging. And boy do I wish I had started my blog on a self-hosted site first. I’m now in the position where I have 1600 subscribers on my blogger writing-focused blog and can’t move without losing that following. I’m not willing to do that, so I started a separate author website once I got my book deal and now blog there too. It’s not the ideal set up, but that’s what I ended up with in order to preserve the following on my other blog.

    As for options for the not so tech savvy, I set up my website and accompanying blog with Squarespace (cost about 12 bucks a month) and it’s worked really well. Very user friendly. Wish I would’ve started there in the first place.

    • Molly Greene January 10, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

      Roni, 1600 subscribers! Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment, and for the info about Squarespace. And congrats on the book deal!

  5. Laura Zera (@laurazera) January 11, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    Excellent post, Molly. I moved from Blogger to self-hosted WordPress in November, and was surprised at how smoothly the import of old posts went (except for one problem with comments on one post). I didn’t buy a theme, just chose a simple one from the self-hosted WordPress themes (and will eventually customize my banner to make it look a little more unique, when I get around to it…).

    I’m loving all the things that I can do via simple plug-ins with the self-hosted WordPress — that’s a real bonus.

  6. Pamela Beason January 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    OK, now you’ve shamed me into thinking I should move back to WordPress, and upgrade to org. I started at WordPress.com, then found Weebly even easier to use, so moved there.

    You can “point” your reserved URL to most free sites, by the way, and thus use something unique like pamelabeason.com without paying for hosting, but you still are stuck with the limited functions and add-ons of the free site. (Hey, it’s FREE; I can’t complain…)

    I’ve got five books loose in the world now, so maybe it’s time to upgrade my website. Well, maybe after I get #6 done; it was due in June of 2011; Guido from Penguin Books will be knocking on my door any day now and demanding the manuscript.

    Thanks for discussing this important topic and for mentioning me in your blog, Molly. Now I’m famous!

    • Molly Greene January 12, 2012 at 6:28 am #

      Hmmm! Pam, I had no idea you used weebly – just for your blog, or your whole website? Because now you need to explain how you set up your chapter downloads if you’re using weebly! *sounds like another blog post*

  7. Karen A Einsel January 16, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    I have two blogs. One on wordpress, which is fairly new and one on Blogger, which I tend to keep updated better, so that is the one I usually share.

  8. Carlie Cullen February 4, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    I have to admit I was one of those people who thought “I must start blogging” and didn’t do the research. I’m on the press WordPress one and have been giving serious thought to getting a domain on WordPress, but something just keeps holding me back and I can’t quite put my finger on why . . .

    Great post, Molly! I’m grateful for your mention of hootsuite – I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know it existed – I’m defo going to check that one out!!

    Looking forward to your next post.

    Carlie x

  9. Joseph Baran February 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    Interesting inside information. It’s much appreciated.

  10. Charlie March 19, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    Great post. Another downside of wp.com is they will put ads on your posts. I really hate that, especially when I get none of the revenue and have no control over what type of ads are placed or where. I didn’t notice it at first because you only see them if you are not signed in to WordPress.

    • Molly Greene March 19, 2012 at 7:43 am #

      Hmm, I didn’t even know that because I always viewed my site logged in as admin — thanks for letting us know, and best to you!

    • Robyn March 24, 2012 at 5:12 am #

      But you can get a no-ads upgrade.

  11. Robyn March 24, 2012 at 5:14 am #

    A domain upgrade also lets you display your own URL – as is mine.

    Staff can also migrate subscribers, so it seems, if you activate Jetpack. We are still trying to get 100% assurance on that, though.

    Several of the bloggers I know are planning to move, just need to find the right host. We are a little over the badly implemented changes lately and the attitude to users.

  12. Jill Swenson May 12, 2012 at 4:51 am #

    WordPress is a fantastic platform if you know a little html code and want to tinker under the hood. Many authors just want to write. For tech phobes and newbies who want their website and blog to grow along with their publishing career, WordPress offers some hurdles and a steep learning curve. The blogging platform is very robust.

  13. Dan May 12, 2012 at 5:07 am #

    Actually you can let people download sample chapters from your wordpress if you upload them as a pdf file. Then you ‘link’ a section of words to the chapter download. Pretty simple.

  14. Lauren @ Pure Text May 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    I’m all about self-hosted. I always prefer it.

    Nice article, and sweet about your blogging success (my poor dead blog was not as lucky, lol). I hope it continues! 🙂

  15. Suzanne October 28, 2012 at 4:43 am #

    I have had blogs for ages and I absolutely love self-hosted WordPress. If I had the cash to throw and the patience to build one up again I would. Right now I mainly use Blogger. I hated to do it but now I realize that you can do so much more for free: use your own domain, have more widgets, run scripts, and have pages link to other sites. The limit of WP.com made me turn to Blogspot.

    • Molly Greene October 28, 2012 at 8:15 am #

      Hi Suzanne! I know Blogger allows a lot more “freedom” for free, and a lot of my blogging friends use it successfully. My only concern about the platform is that the sites all seem to load just a tad bit slowly, and I worry that it may discourage visitors. Do you have any tips about speeding Blogger up?

  16. David February 9, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

    Hi Molly
    I started with a free blog, always with the intention of moving to a hosted site when the time was right. It’s approaching now.

    One thing I did was add Feedburner to the blog for subscribers. This way, when the blog moved, I could shift the subscribers over. That’s become less successful now, after WP added their own subscription tool. When I last checked, there was no way to turn it off and now I have subscribers in 2 systems. (rolls eyes)

    Thanks for the details on the followup post. That’s coming up now…

    Some of my friends also use Blogger but it doesn’t have the same upgrade path. I’ve also found the commenting section too fiddly, discouraging feedback.

    • Molly Greene February 10, 2013 at 8:56 am #

      David, it seems that sometimes no matter how well we prepare things don’t go according to plan. The good news is that you have subscribers, whoo-hoo! Thanks so much for stopping by, so great to *meet* you.

  17. Russell Linton June 7, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    If the move was simply to get your own domain name, you can do that pretty easily through WordPress. If you need absolute technical control (you want to mess with the database, add PHP and such that’s customized, you’re adding a shopping cart, etc) then yeah, I see why you want your own webhost.

    Realize though, this puts you in charge of securing the site, making sure the database, PHP, and CMS is always updated, adding security patches etc. I just did the opposite of this – moved my domain TO WordPress to avoid dealing with these headaches so I’d have more time to blog and because my webhost had a lot of difficulty securing their servers.

    • Molly Greene June 7, 2013 at 11:06 am #

      Hi Russell! I hear what you’re saying but still believe a self-hosted website is the best way to go. I use and rec’d Bluehost and a WordPress.org theme as the basis for a website. Updates and security are fairly easy. I don’t consider my website a headache at all, and appreciate the flexibility it provides to add widgets, plugins, and a little bit of monetization to pay the way. Your comment illustrates how diverse our needs are, and why we’re all so fortunate to have the options of BOTH free and self-hosted WordPress. Thank you so much for stopping by!

      • David June 7, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

        The big one I’d note is commercial activity. A hosted blog allows you to advertize, sell ebooks and offer your services. (see this page above for examples) A free WP blog is a great way to explore, but no more.

        If you want to present as a professional, you won’t do that well through free.

        Hosting adds all kinds of other abilities as well. The many features of a web site, control, huge design options, plus the ones you mention, etc.

        • Russell Linton June 7, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

          True on most accounts, and I’m not second guessing anyone’s decision! Like I mentioned, if you need e-commerce and some serious custom HTML then yeah, you need your own host. If you’re simply blogging, building an audience and providing links to offsite resellers of your books / stories well, you can get by with -mostly- free pretty darn well.

          • David June 7, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

            Agreed, Russell. I have 2 free WP blogs myself, since ’07. One, I’m planning to migrate to hosted. Another WP bonus – that you can migrate. And if you pick up a domain on WP, that can migrate too.

            I’ve also found it handy to have a separate domain registrar, even if a host like Bluehost includes it. It makes it much easier to migrate hosts later, should your needs change. An old habit from days when I managed dozens of domains for a large web apps company.

  18. Antony June 15, 2013 at 8:54 am #

    Hi Molly, nice article however “Sign up for two years of hosting (Google likes to see a commitment)” is actually just a myth, there is no ranking factor for future domain registration length or hosting agreement.

    • Molly Greene June 15, 2013 at 10:49 am #

      Hi Antony, thanks for weighing in. I read that suggestion from a respected source way back when I set up my blog, and since we don’t actually know exactly how Google operates, I figured it was cheaper to sign up for two years in the long run … so I did. Readers, please note that my opinion may not be correct!

  19. Antony June 15, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    Hi Molly, indeed there are still many things Google keeps close to their chest however this particular idea was debunked by Matt Cutts last year. On a related note Learning about the basics of SEO is another good idea if you are running your own site. Google does a great free starter guide pdf for anyone who wants to learn.

    • Molly Greene June 15, 2013 at 11:31 am #

      Well then I’ll simply go with the economics: It’s cheaper by the month to sign up for a two year contract. And we all know how time flies :-O

      • David June 15, 2013 at 11:57 am #

        Make sure you keep your domain contact info current. If you change your email address, you won’t get the renewal reminder or other notices and your domain can get dropped. Visitors will get a not found message and your SEO and other marketing efforts will be for naught.

        A friend of mine’s domain expired and her host replaced her site with links to porn sites, to her horror. (another reason to choose a reputable host) There are also services that monitor domains to “drop catch” unrenewed domains that may have some perceived value or someone else wants. I’ve also seen some recent examples where someone lifted the domain and required a fee to get it back or they transferred it to China for another client so it could not be recovered.

        Most of this is of course around desirable domains but make sure your domain registration is locked so it cannot be easily transferred and if you get an unlock notice, check into it immediately.

  20. Naznin Azeez January 10, 2015 at 8:40 pm #

    Hi Molly!

    Interesting post. End of December, I decided to move from my WordPress.com of 2 years to WordPress.org. I am not a computer techie at all. But I came across WPBeginner’s free blog setup while googling for help!. When signing up for a hosting service (which one has to do anyway!), I had to just use the referral link of WPBeginner and as a thank you, they migrated my free WordPress blog to my new WordPress.org blog!. I didn’t have to worry about anything.

    One of the main things they did is install a ‘Jetpack’ that helped me migrate ALL my followers to my new site. So, I just want you to know, that it is possible.

    Just thought to share.. Happy New Year by the way ♡