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Switching from WordPress.com to WordPress.org – My Experience

In April 2021, some posts on this music website, like 10 Worst Songs of the 1980s and 10 Best Hit Songs of the 1980s, went vaguely viral. My traffic doubled in a month, and I considered monetising this site as a side hustle. In order to do this, I switched from WordPress.com to WordPress.org in mid-2021.

In this post, I share my journey from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, in the hope that it helps other bloggers thinking about making the change. There are other resources that provide step-by-step technical guides – this article reflects the things I wished I’d known before making the change.

USING WordPress.com

Like many bloggers, I started on WordPress.com. It’s free, although I recommend spending $4/month for a Personal Plan. This removes ads and allows a custom domain (which is free for the first year). Your website is more professional and Google-friendly if its address is at a unique domain like https://albumreviews.blog rather than a subdomain like https://albumreviews.wordpress.com

WordPress.com is a sturdy service – backups are taken care of for you. It’s a safe and controlled environment, where you only have access to an approved selection of themes and features. It’s difficult to mess it up, and there’s a social aspect where you can easily link up with like-minded bloggers. If you just want a blog/website where you can write posts and enjoy social interaction, a Personal Plan on WordPress.com is an excellent option.

A Personal Plan, however, doesn’t allow monetisation (making money via your site) or access to plugins and Google Analytics. If you upgrade to a Premium Plan ($8/month), you can access Analytics and monetise your site. For monetisation, you’re limited to WordPress.com’s WordAds service, which doesn’t pay as well as other ad providers. Under a Personal or Premium Plan on WordPress.com, you’re also limited to a small suite of plugins. There’s nothing to help with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) or increasing your site’s speed. To access extra plugins and a choice of monetisation options, you need to spend $25/month on a Business plan. At a cost of $25/month, it’s worth considering if self-hosting is a better option.

Switching to WordPress.org

WordPress.com provides a secure environment for your website or blog. If you opt to not use WordPress.com’s services, you need to take care of some technical aspects of your website yourself. The WordPress CMS is free and open-source, but if you opt for WordPress.org you need to arrange a host for your site and take care of security and backups. In return, you have more flexibility about how your site looks and what functionality you can add to it.

Because my site was already large (with around 200 pages and 650 posts) before I moved, exporting it was a complex process. I needed to read tutorials about how to export my databases and files via the command line. Fortunately, WordPress.com have helpful support – don’t be afraid to ask for help. One irksome thing that I wasn’t aware of was that all your existing Post Likes disappear when you change from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, while you need to ask for JetPack’s assistance in moving your site followers over. The JetPack plugin is a little bloated, but it helps to keep continuity between a WordPress.com site and a WordPress.org site.

Where WordPress.com provides a mostly seamless experience, on WordPress.org there are different components like themes and plugins that can clash. You need to get into the habit of checking your site in an incognito browser, every time you update a plugin or your theme, to make sure nothing is broken. You also need to run regular backups if your host doesn’t provide this service.

If you’re using WordPress.org, you need to choose hosting, a theme, and plugins. A CDN (Content Delivery Network) can also help to speed your website up.

a) Hosting

There are many choices of web hosts out there. Hosting is relatively cheap if you opt for low-performance shared hosting, or a self-managed server where you take care of the updates yourself. It’s more expensive if you want a high-performance server that’s managed for you. It’s difficult to find information about the best hosting options – the internet is filled with misleading affiliate reviews about WordPress hosting services. Try and find a neutral source of information like https://wphostingbenchmarks.com/ or https://www.templatemonster.com/awards/winners-2021/.

I tried BlueHost and found it too slow for the volume of traffic this site receives – although it’s a viable option if you’re starting small on a budget. I’m currently using A2hosting – it’s performed well, although the renewal price after the signup special is expensive, so I doubt I’ll stay in the long term.

B) Theme

Coming from WordPress.com, themes work differently on WordPress.org. On WordPress.com you select a theme without much scope for customisation, largely using it straight out of the box. It’s tempting to follow the same approach on WordPress.org – to choose a pre-built theme from the Envato marketplace. But these themes are largely slow and bloated – it’s best to avoid themes built with Divi or Elementor and to choose a modern Gutenberg-based theme.

Choose a fast, flexible theme and customise it to suit your needs. I use Blocksy, which is well-supported and has some great-looking starter sites (although regrettably not one tailored for a blog at this stage). Other similar theme options include Neve, Astra, GeneratePress, and Kadence. You can use a blocks plugin to add visual elements – I find PostX ideal for this magazine-style site, but I’ve also heard good things about GreenShift.

C) CDN

It’s optional, but you can use a CDN (Content Delivery Network) service to speed up your website. A CDN service saves copies of your site’s pages and images in different locations around the world. This means that users don’t need to access your site from the origin server if it’s a long way away – they can instead access a copy closer to their own location. I use Bunny CDN, which costs US $10/year (unless you have massive amounts of traffic).

D) Plugins

As well as paying for hosting, Blocksy Premium, and Bunny CDN, I also pay for WP-Rocket to improve site performance. It minifies and delays CSS and JavaScript, lazy loads images, and provides cached versions of pages. It’s easier to use than the other optimisation plugins I’ve tried, although I plan to experiment with alternatives like Hummingbird next time the license is up for renewal.

Other plugins that I recommend include EWWW Image Optimiser, Really Simple SSL, and Yop Poll.


I didn’t know all of this when I moved from WordPress.com to WordPress.org. My website lost momentum after I made the switch – my initial choices of hosting (BlueHost) and theme (some random theme off Envato Marketplace) weren’t ideal. It’s taken more than a year for site traffic to grow to a level beyond where it was before the change. I’ve written this guide to make it easier for anyone else planning to make the switch.

Do you have any hot tips for moving from WordPress.com to WordPress.org?


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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.

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53 Comments

  1. Well, having read your post I’d say if you’re not gonna monetize, don’t bother. I pay $25/year and let WP take care of everything including backups, support and dropping new WP versions. I have no intention of monetizing because it’s the one thing I can do that is for pure love of something and doesn’t involve money. (People write to me at least every other month wanting to pay me to have ads and I turn them down without even so much as a thought). And it sounds like a lot of trouble converting just to try to increase my traffic or going viral or anything else. After 7 years of blogging, I have about 1200 followers so that number seems ok. I wish I could get more people to comment as opposed to just lazily ‘like.’ But. So be it.

    • I think there are other reasons to change – if you want some special functionality. But, yeah, for a text-based blog, monetization is the main reason you’d consider it.

  2. Thanks for this post, it’s a lot of food for thought. Like Jim S above, I doubt that I’d convert my wordpress.com to org, as it just seems like too big of a hassle, though I probably will go for a paid plan at some point. I’ve gotten around the whole maxing out media memory by hosting my photos on flickr instead–you still need to pay something, but it’s less than wordpress.

    For my day job I maintain a website hosted on wordpress.org and we’re going to revamp it in 2023. So this post is definitely helpful for that.

    • The first level of paid plan is good, just so you can get a custom URL, which helps with search engine friendliness. Not much reason to go past that, unless you start getting lots of traffic.

  3. I don’t know anything about it. I haven’t switched but I have let ads start showing, but the earnings are less than a pittance (as in pennies for hundreds of ads showing each month) which make the ads more of a nuisance than anything. I know Max earns more because of how he titles his posts and has made his site easily searchable. If I ever get time to re-title and index my posts properly I may do better.

    • I think it’s mainly a numbers game. It can be tricky to make content that Google likes. Sometimes it’s about answering a question – like “What’s the worst song on the 1980s?”

      • I keep hearing about algorithms and I know it’s a statistical reckoning involving searches but that’s about all I know about it. Which I think is what you mean by a numbers game.

  4. I’m still on WordPress.com, with no plans to change. I do pay for a premium plan, which costs me $89/year I believe, possibly a bit more, but it allows me to choose from many more templates and themes. I’ve tried to monetize my blog, but even after 7+ years, apparently still don’t have enough traffic to my site to qualify for ads. I don’t want ads on my site anyway, so that’s fine. My blog is a labor of love, though it does stress me out to the breaking point from time to time when I allow myself to be overwhelmed with review requests from indie artists & bands.

    • I’m struggling with the idea of desecrating my pretty site by running ads on it, although I put a lot of time and effort into it and probably should. You’re much more noble that I am about supporting obscure artists – it’s just not the focus of my site – mine’s more about making an encyclopaedia-type site of music that’s important to me.

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience! I currently have a premium plan where I pay $8 per month (or like $96 per year or something like that). While I would love to monetize my blog, I don’t have the traffic to do that yet. Plus, I need to watch my spendings especially since I probably won’t have a job after my Disney College Program ends.

  6. That sounds like a lot of work. I barely have time for what I do now. I have monetized the site and you are right, it doesn’t pay much, but it covers the annual cost and then a little extra on the side. Maybe when I retire, I will switch and try and make it an extra revenue stream for me. Great post!

  7. I have seriously thought about it. I even priced some….Bluehost was one that I looked into. I’m on the premium plan and it costs $99 I believe. I’ve made around $350 this year so far so at least it pays for itself. I made more in August than I did in July and I only posted 2 posts in August during my break…I get most of my traffic from google searches.

    I still may do it…I don’t like the plugin rule where you have to have the Business Plan to do anything, I know it’s a pain to do but I would have more control.

    • Yeah, I get most of my traffic from Google too. My new posts often struggle to break into the top ten most popular posts of the day, even when they’ve just been published.

      I didn’t want to pay $25/month for business, which is why I went to wordpress.org. But it does take a bit of effort. Mainly just checking everything on an incognito tab after every update.

      • If you don’t mind me asking Graham…how much…well compared to what you were doing does it cost now? Is it a savings or about the same?
        No I dont want to pay the business plan either. I installed around 3-4 browsers…so I use one of them to see my site every morning.

        • I think I’m paying about $6/month for hosting, $8/month for Blocksy Premium and WP-Rocket combined, and almost nothing for Bunny CDN. So a bit cheaper, but a lot more effort.

          Hosting is the tricky bit. I found BlueHost a bit slow. I think there are better options out there – they’re just good at marketing. The one I’m using now has a really good signup special if you pay up front, but renewal is expensive.

          • I’ve seen some places really affordable.
            Once you get moved…i guess you ARE the support for your site. I didnt’ know if WordPress would give any at all at that point.

            If I do it…I’ll make sure I’m clear from work for a few days. When you start using ads….are you doing with Adsense?

          • Generally you can’t fix plugin problems – I guess I could go into the code, but it’s easier just to roll it back and ask support for help.

            There’s no overarching support, but you can reach out to the plugin or theme maker.

            I imagine your site gets enough traffic that you shouldn’t just opt for the cheapest hosting. I’d quite like to build my traffic so I can qualify for something rather than AdSense.

          • I just got into it with WP about the Ads…they just turned them off for a week. I had a 120 view spike for a day or two and they had to investigate. They ended up saying it was normal…no bots…but if they would have looked in my history they would have seen that to begin with. I wasn’t happy…not the money…just the non-communication. It’s like the old joke BANG ok freeze!
            I average around 500-700 right now with my back catalog carrying it.
            I want to do what you suggested earlier… find some company who would buy a static ad….I do want more control.

          • I’ve had a traffic leap in the last few weeks – suddenly jumped up 15-20%. I just lost my part-time job so kind of interested in making my blog into a side hustle, but need more traffic to be more than pocket money.

          • I need to study more about it and see which way to go that makes sense. I mean what is considered a good amount of traffic?
            It seems to be very seasonal. 20 percent of my traffic drops in May and comes back in September.

          • I have noticed that at least for me…for the past two years Summer (here anyway).mine slows down. I was breaking 20,000 last Nov through May and then it flatlined at 13,000 until September and now it’s moving up again.

            Graham since you are independent to some degree now…can you break your statistics down like they do in that article? I would love that. I like that article… I wish I knew how many were viewing through a mobile device because my site is designed for computers more than mobile. WP just gives me the basics.

          • You should be able to get Google Analytics with your WordPress plan. That tells you stuff like the mobile/desktop breakdown.

          • Thanks for reminding me. I configured it in 2020… it doesn’t match with WP’s stats as much but I can drill a little more.

          • I think mine matches OK, although I don’t look at it much. Do you get Google Search Console reports? That’s what I tend to find most helpful.

          • I’m looking now…I originally started to set this up for Google Adsense… it’s was part of it and never configure the Adsense.
            Yes I’m going over the reports now…

          • Mine is 68% mobile…which is much higher than I would have thought. I need to view mine more on my phone to see if I need to change something.
            Apple also is most of it.

          • If I was doing your site, I think the huge list of songs in your sidebar isn’t very user friendly. I would maybe tag everything by artist (or genre) and show the artist or genre instead). It’s a huge job though. Showing your top 20 posts or something would also be an option.

          • Yes I thought about that because on the computer it’s no big deal…but with a phone it is a pain. I put that there originally so people would look at old posts…but I don’t think people even use it.
            The index I made though…it does get hit. My songs A-Z is in my top 10 most viewed posts…I do believe though I’ll get rid of the sidebar with all the links…thanks for the feedback…that is what I need.

          • Yeah, having a full list of songs on a seperate page and organised alphabetically is a good idea. I should probably do some of that stuff for some of my site.

            Must be slowing things down quite a bit to have every post in your sidebar.

            Have you played with speed tools like https://gtmetrix.com/ There’s only so much you can do on WordPress.com but simplifying your sidebar might help a bit.

          • It’s a tedious job but it bumped my traffic up quite a big. I made it in 2019 and I noticed a bump within a month. Making it is the tedious part.
            Every few weeks I have to go and manually update it but it’s not a big deal. I have an archive page so I just go there and copy the links and place them in the right place.

            I’m checking out that site now.

          • I typed out a reply in the side panel and it seems I didn’t hit send. It is tedious while you first make make a list. I’ve showed a few people how to do it but they never get back with me because it’s so tedious. After you do make it…it’s not that bad keeping up.

            Thanks for the site…my site must be damned slow…it times out usually and the one time I got it to go through…i got an F. I’ve changed the server location so I’m going to try again with a different server.

          • I’ll play around with that… I would have to clear songs from books and etc…but yea I need to try it.

          • I only got halfway through that post because it was dinner time, but I think that’s only for WordPress.org. There might be some kind of loop for WordPress.com though.

          • Come to think of it…it should be something. It would be simple to clear the other media types out. It would be nice not have to keep up with that.

    • I kept the same domain name when I switched. I had a bit of a traffic hit after a while, but that’s mainly because I initially did a sloppy job of the changeover than anything.

  8. Really interesting article, Graham. And great commentary too. Thanks for this.

    I’m impressed with the traffic you and Max are getting. I have just under 1000 followers (the inflated figure that shows on the home page included stuff like Facebook and other socials) but only get about 1/10 of the traffic you are describing.

    I’ve noticed both the undulating nature of the stats, but also a steady decline over the seven years I’ve been writing Vinyl Connection (and using the ad-free plan). After a couple of years I talked to a friend who knows about these things and decided the work to income ratio was simply not enough to justify commercialisation. Have thought about inviting a particular business to ‘sponsor’ the site but not sure if this is allowed. Can I insert a static graphic as, say, a constant post footer? Do you happen to know, Graham?

    • Thanks for reading.

      I don’t have as many followers as some of the blogs that have been around for longer. Typically a new post will get about 50 views in the couple of days after it comes out. But a few get picked up by Google and keep getting traffic.

      I imagine that there’s be no problem having a constant link through to another website. It might be against WordPress.com’s terms of service, but I doubt that they’d care or notice.

  9. This is all way over my head, but good on you for figuring it all out. We just use the free site because it’s just a silly place to barf about music and maintain Community. Monetization never seemed necessary!

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