So you’re ready to make a dent in the universe.
You have great ideas to share with the world, and you learned how to start a blog to do it.
Good for you.
Of course, there’s more to starting a blog than just having great ideas, but you’ve already made an important decision.
You’re going with WordPress.
After all, Internet bigwigs like Jon Morrow, Brian Clark, Chris Brogan, Amy Porterfield, Marie Forleo, Gary Vaynerchuk, Mari Smith, Michael Hyatt and Darren Rowse all use WordPress.
In fact, the more you read, the more it seems like you’d be a total idiot to go with anything else.
There are hundreds of professional themes to make your blog look gorgeous. Thousands of clever plugins to add a myriad of different features. And countless experienced WordPress professionals who can help if you get out of your depth.
So you’re certain it’s a WordPress blog you need, but the big question is:
Where do you get one?
The Seductive Lure of WordPress.com
The easiest way to get your own WordPress blog – hands down – is to create one for free over at WordPress.com.
And at first it seems like a no-brainer.
Firstly, you’re getting WordPress from the guys who originally created WordPress. That’s got to be good, right?
Secondly, they handle all behind-the-scenes technical stuff you really don’t want to have to worry about yourself. Which is a huge relief.
And thirdly, it’s free! (Did I mention it’s free?)
But while it’s an undeniably sweet deal for some, shall we say, less serious bloggers, there are a few things you should know before choosing to host your universe-denting blog at WordPress.com.
7 Reasons to Think Twice before Choosing WordPress.com
Credit where credit’s due, WordPress.com is an awesome option for some people. It’s great for personal blogs, community websites and low-key blogging experiments.
But the reality is that to provide a reliable service – for free – to a wide range of people with different needs and skill levels, you have to lock things down a bit. You just can’t offer fully fledged WordPress to everyone.
So the flavor of WordPress you get at WordPress.com is kind of like a dumbed down WordPress. It’s the blogging equivalent of those safety scissors with rounded tips they give you as a kid. They don’t cut so great, but at least no-one’s getting hurt.
And if you want to “un-dumb” it, there’s often a cost attached. But hey, the guys at WordPress.com need to put food on the table like everyone else.
So that you can start your blogging journey with eyes wide open, here are some surprising restrictions you should know about WordPress.com before hosting your blog there.
1. You’re forced to choose from a limited selection of “approved” themes
If you’ve already been thinking about the design of your blog, you’ve probably been salivating at the huge selection of professionally designed WordPress themes available to you.
Gorgeous themes from trusted sources like:
If you had your heart set on one of these, too bad so sad. You’re out of luck.
WordPress.com doesn’t support the vast majority of themes available from 3rd-party developers. So you’re just going to have to get the closest match possible from the much smaller selection of themes that WordPress.com does offer.
And while they do allow a few minor modifications to their themes such as changing the background color, the header or the navigation menu, that’s about it. So your blog will end up looking like a lot of other blogs out there.
Of course, you could take advantage of the premium theme upgrades (starting at $50) that give you a more sophisticated design, but you still have the same customization restrictions as with their free themes.
Unless you want to spend another $30/year, because WordPress.com offers a Custom Design Upgrade that allows you to modify your fonts and use your own CSS code for additional styling.
2. You can’t change your site’s layout
As you grow and evolve, you’ll want your blog to evolve, too.
Problem is, WordPress.com probably won’t let you.
For example, let’s say you go with free hosting over at WordPress.com and you like everything about the theme you picked, except you’re just not crazy about the placement of your social media icons. Perhaps you want them to appear in your header rather than in the sidebar.
If that’s the case, you’re kind of stuck because WordPress.com does not allow you to alter the underlying structure of any of their themes.
3. You’ll have to pay for various “optional” extras
Although WordPress.com allows you to get started for free, it’s a profit-making business and deep down they’re hoping that you’ll soon outgrow the limited functionality of your free blog and upgrade to some of their paid features.
I’ve already mentioned premium themes but here are some other paid upgrades that WordPress.com offers:
- Want a custom domain name?
For $13/year you can host your site on your own domain instead of a subdomain of WordPress.com, i.e. yourblog.com, instead of yourblog.wordpress.com
- Need a little more space for your blog?
Starting at $20/year you can add more space to the 3GB you get for free. 3GB might sound like a lot but you’re only allowed to upload images, documents, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations.You may not upload audio files without the space upgrade. (So that’s your podcast out of the window.)http://en.support.wordpress.com/space-upgrade
- Want to host videos directly on your blog?
That’ll cost you an extra $60/year and you can’t upload any video files without the upgrade – even if you’ve paid for extra space. Without the upgrade you’ll need to host your videos on an external site like YouTube or Vimeo, then embed those videos onto your blog. Which might be fine, but it doesn’t look at professional as using your own video player.http://en.support.wordpress.com/videopress
- Don’t want third-party adverts appearing on your blog?
WordPress.com reserves the right to display ads on your site. But for an extra $30/year you can get the “No Ads” option and keep your blog ad-free.However even with this upgrade, you still have to keep copyright links such as “Blog at WordPress.com” on your site. Per WordPress.com, “All WordPress.com bloggers are required to maintain the credit links, even our VIP bloggers. “http://en.support.wordpress.com/custom-design
For the serious blogger, many of these paid upgrades are not optional at all. You really do need them if you’re to avoid looking like a total amateur.
4. You’ll have to manage your own domain email
Web-based email providers like Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail are fine for your personal emails. But for your professional email communication, you’re going to want a company-branded email like “firstname.lastname@example.org” to show people you’re serious.
Unfortunately WordPress.com does not offer email hosting of any kind. Therefore, you’re going to have to set up your email hosting outside of WordPress.com.
To give you an example of pricing, GoDaddy offers email hosting for $7/month for up to 10 emails. If you need more email accounts, additional fees will apply.
If you choose to host your blog somewhere other than WordPress.com, email hosting usually comes as part of your web hosting package. There’s no additional charge. You can set up an unlimited number of company-branded emails, quickly and easily, from within your web hosting dashboard. It’s one-stop shopping.
5. You can’t earn money from other people’s products
If you plan on making money by placing affiliate links on your blog, you’re out of luck because WordPress.com doesn’t allow them.
As stated on WordPress.com, the exception would be if you “write an original book, movie or game review and link to Amazon” or “link to your own products on ETSY”. But that’s pretty restrictive.
If WordPress.com catches you placing affiliate links on your blog, even if you think you’re playing by the rules, your penalty could be any of following: (a) they could disable your links, (b) they could issue a warning advising you to remove the affiliate links or (c) they could just suspend your account and shut you down.
6. You’re banned from using custom plugins
A plugin is a software module that you “plug in” to WordPress to give your blog added functionality. No knowledge of coding is necessary to install and use a plugin – it simply takes a few clicks.
You can get plugins to help you with SEO, plugins for backing up your blog, plugins for creating custom forms, plugins to improve the speed of your blog, plugins to create membership sites. The list is huge. Right now the number of WordPress plugins available from independent developers is 27,000 and counting.
But for security reasons you’re not allowed to use any third-party plugins when you host your site for free on WordPress.com.
The ability to use custom plugins for added functionality is one of the great strengths of WordPress. Without custom plugins, you’ve essentially crippled WordPress.
You do have the option, however, of upgrading to WordPress.com’s VIP hosting package which starts at a mere $3,750 / month (not a misprint). Then they’ll be happy to let you use plugins. Which is good of them.
7. Your blog could be shut down at any time
This one trumps all the others.
If you host your blog at WordPress.com, their Terms Of Service (TOS) very clearly states that WordPress.com “may terminate your access to all or any part of the Website at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately.”
You might think you run a squeaky-clean blog and that you’d never come close to a TOS violation, but do you really want to give someone that much control over your livelihood?
Mistakes get made. Accidents happen. And your blog could get shut down as a result. Fair or not, it’s part of the agreement when you host your site on WordPress.com.
For most serious bloggers, the possibility of an unintentional TOS violation (however remote) and sudden shutdown is reason enough to look elsewhere. Why leave the door open even just a crack? It’s just not worth it.
The Smart Alternative for Bloggers Who Really Mean Business
While WordPress.com certainly makes is easy to get a WordPress blog up and running, you have to ask yourself if you can put up with the compromises that come along with it.
It’s like having a brand new Ferrari and being told you can only drive it 30 mph. And only on weekends.
But fortunately there is an alternative: self-hosted WordPress.
And it’s not as scary as some people would have you believe.
What the Hell is “Self-hosted” WordPress?
Self-hosted WordPress simply means that you install the free WordPress software on your own web server rather than having WordPress.com host your blog for you.
And when I say your own web server, I’m not talking about buying some supercomputer and hiding it away in your garage. I’m just talking about buying hosting services from one of the hundreds of reputable web hosts out there.
So don’t freak out if you’re not a techie. It’s really not that hard to self-host.
There are tons of tutorials on the web to assist you with self-hosting your blog. And if you ever encounter an obstacle, there are plenty of affordable WordPress specialists available online.
To self-host your blog, all you need to do is get a hosting account from a company like SiteGround (affiliate link — 60% off all WordPress plans), which costs less than $10/month.
And because WordPress is so popular, many hosts have pre-configured “1-click installs” that enable you to install WordPress on your web server in less than 10 minutes.
What Kind Of Blogger Do You Want To Be?
It all boils down to this.
What you want to do with your blog and what kind of blogger you want to be?
If all you want is a place to express yourself on the web, then a free blog at WordPress.com is probably just fine.
But if your goal is to be taken seriously as a blogger and eventually make money with your blog, you’re going to need free rein to do whatever you want with your blog. That means having the ability to change the page layout, add custom plugins or install email opt-in boxes on your site.
And the only way you’re going to accomplish these things is by self-hosting your blog.
But don’t just take my word for it.
WordPress founder, Matt Mullenweg, sums up the difference between WordPress.com and a self-hosted WordPress blog like this:
With a self-hosted WordPress blog, you can do anything you want. Knock down walls. Redecorate it any way you want. But you’re responsible for the upkeep as well. (i.e. security update, backups, feature upgrades)
Whereas with WordPress.com everything is done for you. But you lose some control. Can’t have a yard. Can’t tear down walls, etc.
So, do you want to rent your blog, or own it?
The Bottom Line
If you’re serious about blogging you’re going to need to have the freedom and control to do whatever you want, however you want, without worrying that you’ll suddenly hit a brick wall or that the rug might someday be arbitrarily pulled out from beneath you.
And the only way to ensure that is to self-host your WordPress blog.
So that’s another decision made.
Time to get on with making that dent in the universe.