In my book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, I recommend you start blogging with WordPress.com. It’s free and easy to get started. But if you are serious about blogging, you will eventually want to upgrade to self-hosted WordPress, also known as WordPress.org.
What’s the difference? WordPress.com is the hosted version of WordPress. In other words, the software lives on Automattic’s servers. They are the parent company of WordPress.
WordPress.org is the self-hosted version of WordPress. You download the software for free and then install it on your own server or one you lease. With most modern hosting services like Bluehost, you don’t even have to download WordPress. You simply install it with a click or two.
WordPress.org (self-hosted WordPress) provides seven advantages over WordPress.com (hosted WordPress):
- You can use a custom domain name. Nothing is worse when it comes to online branding than a domain name that is long and includes someone else’s brand attached to it. MichaelHyatt.WordPress.com is an example of what not to do.
With self-hosted WordPress, you can buy your own domain and then connect it to your blog for free. Yes, you can do this with WordPress.com, too. It’s one of their premium services, but you have to pay $13 per year—every year—for the privilege.
- You have access to more themes. Because WordPress.com runs in a closed system, they are very selective about which themes they let you install. At this writing, you have your choice of 146 free themes and 55 premium themes (starting at $50).
While this may sound like plenty of options, compare it to the thousands of themes—both free and premium—that are available for self-hosted WordPress. I am admittedly biased, but I don’t think you can do better than the Get Noticed! Theme™ for WordPress. This is the premium theme Andrew Buckman and I developed for me. It is the perfect theme for anyone wanting to build a personal brand.
- You can install third-party plugins. These add additional functionality to WordPress. Unfortunately, WordPress.com does not allow this. You are stuck with the standard WordPress implementation.
Just to give you an idea of what you can do with plugins, here are five of my favorites:
- All-in-One SEO Pack—Optimizes your WordPress blog for search engines (SEO). It allows you to customize the meta data for each post.
- AttentionGrabber—Adds a simple drop-down banner at the very top of my site. You can use this for either announcements, ads, or both.
- Blubrry PowerPress—Embeds my podcast into specific blog posts (show notes). You can pick from a variety of player styles and display the one you want in your post.
- Disqus Commenting System—Replaces the native WordPress commenting system. It has a number of features that I like better. It is arguably the most popular commenting plugin available.
- W3 Total Cache—Improves the user experience of your blog by optimizing your server performance, caching every aspect of your site, reducing the download time of your theme, images, etc.
You can find a list of all my favorite plugins here.
- You can customize and tweak the code. This might not be important to you, but it is critically important to me. I am constantly wanting to make “improvements” to the site.
This could be as simple as adjusting the spacing between bulleted text (which requires modifying the site’s style.css file) to moving the post date from the top of the post to the bottom (which requires modifying the single.php file).
WordPress.com does allow you to modify the CSS, but only with a $30 per year upgrade. You can’t modify the PHP files at all.
- You can run your own advertising. WordPress.com runs its own ads on your site. This is one way they pay for your “free” site. For $30 per year, you can remove these ads entirely.
However, you still can’t run your own ads like I describe here. This requires the ability to ad plugins or embedded code—something WordPress.com doesn’t permit.
- You can setup a web store. Eventually, you will want to monetize your site—especially if you are thinking of going pro. Selling ads is one way to do it. But there are other, more lucrative ways to turn your blog into a cash machine.
One way is via a web store. This gives you the opportunity to sell your digital wares or your physical ones. Unfortunately, WordPress.com doesn’t provide any mechanism for doing this, since all the WordPress e-commerce solutions require self-hosted WordPress.
- You own and control your home base. In my book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, I define a “home base” as a place online you own and control. This is distinct from an “embassy,” which you don’t own or control but where you have credentials and a presence.
Clearly, a self-hosted WordPress site qualifies as a home base. You own it. You control it. But a WordPress.com site? That’s a little iffy. It’s fine for hobby bloggers, but I would not run a business or pro site on it. It simply doesn’t provide enough control.
Ready to step up to self-hosted WordPress? If so, I provide a step-by-step screencast here. It will walk you through the entire process in twenty minutes or less.