WordPress.com Hosting is Free (But You Get What You Pay For…)
You have a fantastic idea for a blog, service, or affiliate marketing niche. All you have to do is set up a website, and you’ll be on your way. You know WordPress is a powerful yet easy-to-use content management system, so that’s your first stop. Oh, and look—they offer free hosting! You won’t have to buy a domain, pay for hosting, or spend a dime. All you have to do is choose a name for your site, pick a free theme, and you’ll be open for business.
Whoa, hold on there, quick draw. Sure, free sounds good. Everyone likes free stuff. But free doesn’t necessarily mean better, or even good. And in the case of WordPress.com (not to be confused with WordPress.org), free is most definitely not the optimal choice, for several reasons.
Even if your only ambition is to build a blog where you share personal stories with friends and family, it’d be nice to put up a small ad or two and earn a few bucks, wouldn’t it? And a lot of affiliate marketers swear by WordPress because it’s such an easy platform to customize, offering the ability to transform a site from a simple blog into an e-commerce powerhouse. That is, if you don’t use WordPress hosting.
For one thing, advertising—specifically third-party advertising—on a free WordPress.com site is prohibited. You’re more than welcome to use WordPress.com’s own advertising program, but only if you have “moderate to high traffic,” although their policy doesn’t specify what qualifies as such. Also, WordPress.com VIPs can place ads on their sites, but the VIP program costs $3,750 per month.
Get your own hosting, and use WordPress.org instead, and you can put as many ads as you want on your site. Google may not like that too much, but that’s another post.
No Plugin Control
Part of that customization affiliate marketers—and just about all publishers, really—love about WordPress comes from plugins. Thousands of plugins created by developers and members of the WordPress community allow you to add all kinds of functionality to your site, from including social media sharing buttons to shopping carts for e-commerce sites. Some are paid, but most are free to use. The thing is—you guessed it—you can’t upload plugins on WordPress.com.
When you build a free site on WordPress.com, a small bundle of plugins is pre-loaded. As WordPress.com puts it:
“We include and configure the plugins for you, so you don’t need to worry about them.”
Well, gee, that’s nice and all, but maybe you’d rather be able to choose your plugins yourself, or add plugins beyond what comes standard with a free site. When you load WordPress.org onto a self-hosted site with your own domain, you gain access to a huge library of plugins that will help you customize your site down to the very last detail.
No Control Over Your Domain
This one’s a deal breaker. Think of a website as online real estate, your own little chunk of Internet-land to do with as you please. Just like real-life real estate, owning has advantages over renting. When you rent, the landlord calls the shots about what you can and can’t do with the property. The landlord can also kick you out whenever he likes. In real life, a landlord has to give you notice. On the Internet, anyone who owns your domain can delete or suspend your site at any moment, and that includes WordPress.com.
How would this happen? WordPress, like any other service, has terms of service (TOS) to which every user must agree in order to use it. Now, be honest—how often do you actually read the entire TOS before you click that little button agreeing to it? Right. So for all you know, you’re violating the WordPress.com TOS the minute you set up your site. If you are, and WordPress catches up with you, they can suspend your site with no notice. Not only that, their policy says:
“If a blog has been suspended for violating our terms, its domain/URL and content will not be returned.”
Own your domain, pay for your hosting, and you never have to worry about anyone coming along and shutting down your site, potentially causing you to lose readers and revenue.
Now, all that said, WordPress.com does have some advantages.
There’s just no getting around the satisfaction of being able to build a website with no out-of-pocket expense whatsoever. If you’re just starting out and don’t have a big budget, or you truly just want a simple blog and aren’t worried about ads, plugins, or other bells and whistles, you can’t go wrong with free.
Be aware, though, that if you start a site on a free WordPress.com domain, and then move it to a self-hosted domain later, you run the risk of breaking any backlinks to your site. In addition, one of the factors search engines look at when ranking sites is domain age. The longer a site has been around, the more authority it has. When you buy a domain and build a site on it, you are building authority from day one, which will help people find your site later on.
Servers occasionally crash, and when they do, you run the risk of losing every bit of data on your site if it’s not backed up. With a free WordPress.com site, you never have to worry about that because it’s regularly backed up for you.
From time to time, just like any software, WordPress is upgraded. So are WordPress plugins. When you build a site on the free platform, all of those upgrades are performed automatically for you. You don’t have to worry about backing up your site first, and then upgrading everything yourself. It’s one less thing on your mind.
With the options your own hosting brings, and WordPress.org as a powerful content management system, you can build a useful, attractive, and functional site that will help you reach your goals, and your audience. Any decision calls for weighing the pros and cons. But when it comes to choosing whether to build a free WordPress.com site or get your own hosting and maintain control of your site from the get-go, the decision should be an easy one.