April 2, 2013

When Should We Upgrade to a Paid Site?

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 site or a self-hosted 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 and 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— 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. is run by Automattic, and Automattic also contributes to the open-source version of the software used for sites. In other words, the two versions of the software (.com and .org) are very similar.

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

It can be more confusing to initially set up a site, but once it’s up and running, the two software versions are nearly identical. Before sites reach that point though, 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 “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 and They point out that offers many upgrades to emulate the freedom of sites. But those upgrades can cost far more than the price of paying a hosting company to run the fully customizable version. (Want to use plugins on a site? It can cost hundreds of dollars—a month.)

(This is why the only upgrade I recommend for 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 installation.)

Author Roz Morris’s two-part blog post also explores the differences between and and is a great resource for seeing how other authors make the decision. Roz shares why she loves being on, 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

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 (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. *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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rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy

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.


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.

C. C. Cedras

From one control freak to another …. I have loved 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! 😀

Melinda S. Collins

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. 🙂

Sonia Lal

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. 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.


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J. M. Reed
J. M. Reed

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


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