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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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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