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The original plan was to write up a comparison post, a side-by-side analysis of the self-hosted Wales to Wherever of today and that of yesteryear, one month post-jump into the self hosted world. However, as I have no concept of time it’s actually now been more than a month now since I switched over from your bog-standard wordpress.com site to a wordpress.org site, self-hosted through SiteGround. Don’t ask me what any of that means because honestly I don’t even know.
For that reason (because I don’t know what I’m talking about), this isn’t going to be one of those posts preaching how any self-respecting blogger must become self-hosted or one day WordPress will delete your whole site and you’ll be left with nothing but heartache and a deep yearning for those likes and followers you once knew… but more, I’ll just be rambling through my own thoughts on the matter based on my own experiences over the last
month almost two months.
The truth is you don’t have to move to self-hosted. Not if you don’t want to.
As with anything, self-hosted does have its perks. The three main benefits are you get more control over the look and design of your site, the world of widgets and plugins really does become your oyster and – the crème de la crème for most – you have the opportunity to monetise your blog.
With self-hosted, gone are the days of scouring the entire WordPress free themes archive trying in vain to find something to suit your personality without looking exactly the same as 14,232,331 other blogs out there. You can create your own (apparently – don’t ask me how) or choose from one of the many, many templates available on the ole WWW which, if you shop around, could be as cheap as chips! Basically, you go from renting an apartment with strict rules about not painting the walls or hanging frames to owning your own home and being able to chalkboard paint to your heart’s content.
THE WORLD OF PLUGINS
One of the major downfalls of a standard wordpress.com site is that you can’t install plugins. What’s a plugin? Well, if you want my professional definition it is “a downloadable installable thing that can do, make or add cool things to your site”. WordPress’s professional definition is “Plugins are ways to extend and add to the functionality that already exists in WordPress”. Sounds about right. You see this font that I’m using right now? Plugin. When you switch to self-hosted there are honestly plugins for everything, most of which I don’t understand but hey, at least I know they’re there should I ever feel the need to use them.
There comes a certain point in a lot of bloggers’ blogging lives where they stop and think “hey, this is fun, I wish I could quit my desk job to do this and just this forever and ever amen”, which for most is a dream that will unfortunately never be realised. Because it’s hard to make a living as a blogger. Not that I’ve tried it…yet *insert shifty eyes*.
Monetising your blog in the form of sponsored posts, affiliate links, brand collaborations and the likes is naturally the first step to make when you’re thinking of trying to make it your full-time (or maybe just supplemental) job. But unless you’re self-hosted, you are extremely limited in what you can and can’t do when it comes to monetisation. Specifically with wordpress.com which “is intended for mainly non-profit use”, there are rigorous rules and regulations (check out the alliteration there!) in place when it comes to how you can and can’t monetise your blog. I’m not a lawyer and I really have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, but if you’re interesting you can read all about it here.
With all that being said, if you’re fine with a standard WordPress theme, aren’t bothered about fancy fonts and have no plans to ever monetise your blog then of course there’s very little point in splashing out the cash to switch over to self-hosted for the sake of it.
SO WHY DID I MOVE TO SELF-HOSTED?
Over time I had actually grown quite fond of my simple but nice WordPress theme. I even had my own header design; check me out! WordPress seemed to have a widget for everything I needed (my fave being the countdown calendars which I probably used a little too much) and blogging for me has never been about making money, merely an enjoyable hobby; a way to keep my creative juices flowing, share my love of travel and cheddar cheese and connect with like-minded people. I sound like a dating ad. Anyway, now that I’m at a point where working with brands and making a bit of money in the process is a possibility I’ll admit that yes, it would be nice to have a little extra rolling into my Lloyds account every now and again. But that’s not why I blog.
So why did I move to self-hosted? I’d like to say it’s because my blog had grown bigger than the cage it was being kept in, that I wanted to move on to bigger and better things, expand my reach outside of WordPress and become an all-seeing, all-knowing blogging extraordinaire.
But the truth is I just wanted to have an Instagram bar across the bottom of the page and different font. Life’s simple pleasures, eh?
Admittedly it was a bit of a risk jumping into the dark for the sake of a freaking Instagram bar. Especially seeing as I’ve become somewhat absent on the old ‘Gram recently, thanks to my life being nothing more than a hotel room and the occasional visit to the local arcade to play air hockey.
THE PROS & CONS
I did quite a bit of research beforehand about making the switch and weighed up the pros and cons for a lot longer than I’m willing to admit.
One of the main downsides that I’d read about is that when you move over from wordpress.com to wordpress.org you will keep all of your WordPress followers and will continue appearing on their Reader although there may be a lag of a few hours.
If that’s true it actually works in my favour at the moment.
According to my stats, my blog’s most popular time is 10am on a Wednesday. Other than that anomaly the majority of my views come between 5pm-9pm GMT. The main chunk of my readers are based in Europe, mostly the UK. I’m currently in India and tend to publish posts any time between 7pm-midnight. There’s a 5.5 hour time difference between here and UK, meaning that if posts appear on the WP Reader as and when they’re published it would be between 1:30pm and 6:30pm.
Even with a few hours lag, they would still be published within the blog’s ‘prime reading time’.
So even if there is a lag in appearing on WP Reader, given my current timezone it actually makes no difference whatsoever stats-wise.
On the subject of stats, let’s take a deeper analysis…
All followers were transferred over when I switched to self-hosted and as far as I’m aware I haven’t lost any along the way. In fact, I’ve gained a random few through WP although follower count doesn’t feature as prominently anymore so this isn’t something I’m fully conscious of.
Overall I’d say there’s been no change on the WP front, although I have almost doubled my Bloglovin’ count although I’m still very much a baby over there.
They. Have. Exploded.
In a good way, of course. I’m getting traffic coming from sites and forums I didn’t even know existed, views from countries that haven’t really shown an interest before and judging by the search engine terms, the blog is featuring a lot higher in Google search results than previously and my weekly views have more than tripled. Also, very randomly somebody linked my post about getting to Great Wall of China on a budget to the Great Wall’s wikitravel page meaning I now get scores of visitors checking that out weekly. I don’t know if this is linked to the self-hosting move but either way I like it.
ENGAGEMENT (Likes, Comments etc.)
Likes have diminished into absolute nothingness but that’s something I’m more than okay with. A like count doesn’t even feature on my posts anymore and unless I get a notification saying so-and-so has liked this or that, I don’t actually know how to check. I am getting more comments than before but this may be more to do with me spreading my social butterfly wings than anything. One form of engagement that has blasted off from nothing into well, something, is email.
As long as this blog has been alive I’ve been using my personal email address as my principal form of external communication. And you know what? It’s done the job well. Probably a good thing that I’ve never been a sxcgrl1993 or iluv1d at Hotmail dot com kind of person and my email addresses have pretty much always been your boring first name followed by surname at whatever host dot com wouldn’t you think? However, as it turns out with the self-hosting package I chose for my blog there also came the opportunity to create a set of personal self-hosted email addresses – enter firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since then I’ve been absolutely inundated (okay slight exaggeration – I got five) with emails from brands and websites and accommodations with inquiries about collaborating or working together bla bla bla. I guess branching out from Hotmail or Gmail gives you that added flare of professionalism that makes people want to email you.
Now, moving on from the stats and onto the downside of self-hosted WordPress that bugs me more than anything!
As a person with a blog and a person who reads blogs without a doubt the biggest inconvenience about moving to a self-hosted wordpress.org site as opposed to your free wordpress.com site is that it’s so much more difficult to keep up with my favourite blogs.
You know how when you log on to WordPress.com it goes straight to your WP Reader, with a nifty little button in the top corner to access your site, stats and dashboard? Yep, that’s not the case with self-hosted WordPress. The dashboard is accessed via a whole different URL (yourwebsite.com/wp-admin) and so to catch up on all your favourite blogs you have to open another tab, open WordPress and sign into your accounts all over again because ‘your account is currently being used by somebody not recognised as you’ or something along those lines. And – most annoyingly – when you log onto both your Dashboard and traditional WP Reader at the same time, more often than not it periodically signs you out of one or the other.
This, coupled with my apparent inability to save as I go has resulted in me losing whole blog posts on more than one occasion. Sad face. But more importantly, it also means I’ve missed out on a lot of new posts from my favourite bloggers. Sadder face.
THE VERDICT: IS MOVING TO SELF-HOSTED WORTH IT?
It’s quite difficult to give a definitive answer to this question, especially when the only things I wanted out of it was an Instagram bar, fancy font and the opportunity to slightly grow my itty bitty blog.
With that in mind has it been worth it? Yes. I’ve got my Instagram bar, change my font pretty much daily and have seen an obvious growth in my blog. So yes, it was worth it.
From a stats-only point of view has it been worth it? Yes. Absolutely yes. My follower count and number of hits are increasing daily and I’m getting more and more new traffic sources as time goes on.
With all that being said, it’s only been about two months. I should probably wait a little longer before I start properly singing self-hosting’s praises from the rooftop of my hotel, but I will say so far so good.