When Should We Upgrade to a Paid Site?

by Jami Gold on April 2, 2013

in Writing Stuff

WordPress logo with text: Should We Pay for Our Site? WordPress .com versus .org

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve shared several posts about websites and blogging. I promise I’m almost done with all that. On Thursday, I’ll resume my usual balance of craft, author entrepreneurship, publishing industry, and writing life posts.

(Believe me, I get as sick of ruts as you all do. However, I hope this series has shared useful information—like how to welcome disabled readers and make our site secure—that you haven’t seen before.)

But first, today’s the post that some of you have been waiting for before registering in one of my two workshops. Today I’m sharing insight into whether we should go with a free WordPress.com site or a self-hosted WordPress.org site.

Like last Thursday’s post, this is another two-parter. The first section is over at Kristen Lamb’s blog, where I explain the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org and list tips on how to figure out which path will meet our needs and goals. I’ll wait while you check out that post. *twiddles thumbs*

The second section is right here, where I’m sharing additional links for more information on those differences. I’ll also give my parting thoughts about why I chose the route I did.

Don’t Let Fear Dictate Your Choice—WordPress.org Is Not Necessarily More Complicated

Let’s start with a bit of background. WordPress—the software—was first developed by a team that later grew into a company called Automattic. WordPress.com is run by Automattic, and Automattic also contributes to the open-source version of the software used for WordPress.org sites. In other words, the two versions of the software (.com and .org) are very similar.

Some people say that WordPress.org is complicated and difficult compared to WordPress.com. Not necessarily true.

It can be more confusing to initially set up a WordPress.org site, but once it’s up and running, the two software versions are nearly identical. Before sites reach that point though, WordPress.org sites do require software to be installed and domain names to be set up and registered.

If we’re trying to do all that on our own, the set up will be more complex. However, if we pick a good hosting company, they’ll often help us through that process—or even do it all for us. Yay!

How Others Have Explained the Differences between the Two Versions of WordPress

Straight from the folks at Automattic, here’s what the software developers state about the differences. Note that almost all the WordPress.org “cons” they list are irrelevant if you pick a good hosting company.

(My hosting company takes care of installation, backups, traffic spikes, and can even handle upgrades. And Automattic’s own Akismet spam prevention plugin is the best available, so spam comments aren’t an issue on either platform.)

WPBeginner has a great infographic on their post comparing WordPress.org and WordPress.com. They point out that WordPress.com offers many upgrades to emulate the freedom of WordPress.org sites. But those upgrades can cost far more than the price of paying a hosting company to run the fully customizable WordPress.org version. (Want to use plugins on a WordPress.com site? It can cost hundreds of dollars—a month.)

(This is why the only upgrade I recommend for WordPress.com users is purchasing a custom domain, which removes the word “wordpress” from our site’s internet address. If we want more customization than that, it’s often more cost effective to go with a self-hosted WordPress.org installation.)

Author Roz Morris’s two-part blog post also explores the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org and is a great resource for seeing how other authors make the decision. Roz shares why she loves being on WordPress.com, and she interviews author Joanna Penn and editor Jane Friedman on why they chose WordPress.orgStartBloggingOnline has an easy-to-understand graphic comparing the two options as well.

Why I Chose WordPress.org

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a control freak. *smile* I wanted to customize my site my way. I also wanted to own my site.

Free things always come with strings. As my Tech Guy says, when the service is free, you’re the product and not the customer.

I didn’t want to build my website and blog on a platform I didn’t have control over. Just in the time that I’ve been blogging, I’ve had to deal with Google Friend Connect and Feedburner no longer playing nicely with all their users.

I seriously doubt Automattic will ever shutter WordPress.com (it’s their core business after all). However, would they sell out to another company who could shut them down? Unlikely, but possible.

Call me paranoid, but stranger things have happened. Twitter bought the Posterous blogging platform, which has 15 million bloggers, and then decided to shut it down. Google Reader is the largest RSS feed reader by far and rather than figure out how to monetize it, Google is shutting it down.

Sure, our hosting company could go out of business, but moving from one hosting company to another doesn’t destroy our site or data. We’d export from the old, import to the new, and have our domain name point to the new location. Nothing lost. No need to start from scratch. Not the end of the world.

Yet I still wouldn’t say there’s only one right answer on this issue. My personal decision is just that—personal. Others have different goals or priorities for limited funds. Or maybe they don’t want to mess with plugins or any of those customization options I mentioned at Kristen’s blog. We each have to make the decision that’s best for our needs and situation.

If after reviewing these links and my guest post at Kristen’s blog you’re still not sure which path is right for you, I’ll be doing a one-hour live Q&A session on WANA International’s Facebook page on Thursday, April 11th at 7 p.m. Eastern time. Come join me and pick my brain. *smile*

Registration is currently open for my two workshops designed for those with no knowledge of WordPress, websites, or blogs. Interested? Sign up for only one of the workshops: For a free website/blog: “Develop a Free Author Website in 60 Minutes (or Less!)”; or to set up a website/blog you own: “A Newbie’s Guide to Building a Self-Hosted Blog or Website.” (Blog readers: Use Promo Code “jamisave” to save $5 on registration.)

Do you disagree with my opinion? If you have a blog or website, how did you decide which route to take? Do you wish you’d made a different choice (or are you considering moving)? What factors are most important for your decision?

Image Credit for WordPress Logo

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21 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy April 2, 2013 at 8:21 am

Hi Jami – thanks for the mention! And what a great idea to point out the essential similarities between using the two version of Wordpress. The cost issue is interesting. I suspected it was possible to upgrade .com ad infinitum, but I didn’t realise how much more expensive it might be than hosting. Happily, the only upgrade I feel I need is the domain name.


Jami Gold April 2, 2013 at 10:06 am

Hi Roz,

I love those posts you did. It’s good to see that we can make either method work and nothing is the end of the world. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!


Carradee April 2, 2013 at 11:02 am

My blog is a Blogger site, which is a free service. Technically, they could take me down at any time, but I run regular backups to offset that risk.

My website is with a paid host, because I use it for things (temporary file hosting, etc.) that require a paid host. Eventually, I’ll likely move my blog to a paid host, as well, so I can do more with it, but for now, it’s fine for the purpose I use it for.

But for both sites, I run backups and can move them to another host, if necessary.


Jami Gold April 2, 2013 at 11:16 am

Hi Carradee,

Smart! Yes, no matter which path we take, there will be pros and cons–and we can take steps to minimize those cons. As I mentioned in the post, WordPress.org does have some big potential cons if you end up with a bad hosting company, but even then, backups and the ability to export our blog to somewhere else can help undo some of the damage.

It’s hard when we’re first starting off to know which way will be best for us. I was lucky to know a great tech guy who could give advice. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


C. C. Cedras April 2, 2013 at 11:15 am

From one control freak to another …. I have loved Wordpress.com for the blog I share, for now, but it’s clear that if/when I get to the stage where I want to head out on my own and have something to market other than my thoughts, .org is where I need to be. Thanks, Jami, for this series — it’s been invaluable! 😀


Jami Gold April 2, 2013 at 11:17 am

Hi C.C.,

Yay, I’m glad it’s been helpful! 🙂 And I’m happy to meet another control freak. LOL! Thanks for the comment!


Melinda S. Collins April 2, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Hi Jami,

I definitely agree with you 100% on the main reason for using a .org site: the control. I got to the point where I just couldn’t the thought of possibly being shut down and all my thoughts and past posts being taken down. Other things cinched the decision for me to go with .org: these sites are easily customizable (and easy to blow up–LOL!), they look more professional, and the vast opportunity of what you can provide to your readership is greater (file sharing, contact forms, newsletters, etc.), and with the right host, I feel like these sites are more secure and I feel like I can sleep better at night knowing someone’s got my site’s back in the event something horrible happens. 😉

I totally wish I’d looked at *all* the options 3 years ago before making a decision and getting out there. But I didn’t … yet had fun nonetheless. So I don’t really “regret” going with Blogger. Blogger was a good “starter” blog for me until I got more experience and lessons under my belt. I just simply regret not doing my research — obviously another lesson well-learned. 🙂


Jami Gold April 2, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Hi Melinda,

LOL! about the easy-to-blow-up issue. 🙂 Yep, been there, done that.

I hear you about researching our options. The tricky thing is that when we first start out, we don’t know what all we don’t know. So we don’t even know the right questions to ask. 🙂 Hopefully this whole series has helped explain some of the questions we should be looking at. Thanks for the comment!


Sonia Lal April 3, 2013 at 7:41 pm

I used to have one of those free self-hosted WordPress blogs. But, yeah, it came with strings and I eventually got tired of the strings.

WordPress.com has a lot of limitations, yeah, but I can live with those easier than the strings. And I don’t want to pay for a host . . . so yeah.

I miss the customization aspects and I do, but more in terms of theme and choosing any theme that strikes my fancy, altering it any way I like. But not so much I am going to for a host. And I don’t miss the plugin/widgets customizations at all – I wouldn’t use more widgets than I have right now anyway. Or different ones.


Jami Gold April 3, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Hi Sonia,

A free self-hosted blog? Wow, I can’t imagine the strings. 🙂

Honestly, there are probably many blogs that go hog wild on plugins and widgets–which can slow our sites down–so it’s not the worst thing to be limited in that way. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Sonia Lal April 4, 2013 at 7:40 am

Lol yeah I used to do that. Than I got rid of everything that just cluttered up the blog and realized I was left with widgets that WordPress.com came with. It was when I realized I could move to WordPress.com.


Jami Gold April 4, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Hi Sonia,

LOL! Yep, that makes total sense. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


J. M. Reed April 11, 2013 at 3:03 am

Thanks, Jami, for all of the great information. Been up doing a lot of research. 🙂


Jami Gold April 11, 2013 at 8:12 am

Hi J.M.,

Let me know if you have any questions. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


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