I love Wordpress. Self-hosted Wordpress is astonishingly powerful: you can use it to build a blog, an e-commerce site, or a full-blown media empire. I have the deepest respect for the developers and community that surround Wordpress. And, some of the world's most popular and engaging websites are powered by Wordpress.
But, I don't think self-hosted Wordpress is right for every blogger.
Actually, I'm just going to come out and say it: I don't think it's right for most bloggers.
For every mega-blog that has evolved into a media hub requiring all the trimmings of Wordpress, there are thousands of smaller blogs run by individuals, either as a hobby or as a career. These casual and indie bloggers don't need the heavy-duty features — and the equally heavy-duty headaches — of a Wordpress blog.
But that's not what you hear in the the blogging world, is it? I know that moving to Wordpress is seen as a required step in the process of "making it" as a blogger. But every blogger should very carefully weigh the pros & cons (and costs) of moving to self-hosted Wordpress before making the switch. A premature switch can cost you your blog. Seriously.
I've seen self-hosted Wordpress blogs get completely destroyed in hacking waves — and by "completely destroyed", I mean bye-bye blog, all your content is gone. Countless others have suffered lengthy downtime and a costly recovery after getting hacked. And that doesn't even cover those that have simply floundered after an ill-timed jump to Wordpress, getting stuck with an unwieldy theme and no budget or support to get things back into working order.
If you're considering a move to Wordpress, I want you to go into it with full knowledge of the pitfalls you may encounter.
So let's talk about them.
The Wordpress Cons
You already know about the "pros" of self-hosted Wordpress. So let me fill you in on the cons no one wants to talk about. They're multifacted, but they boil down to two main categories: security and cost.
Here's what you have to do to secure your blog on Blogger, Typepad, Tumblr, Wordpress.com, or Squarespace: Use a strong password and never share it with anyone. Some platforms even offer two-step verification to help you keep your login safe.
That's all you need to do; the rest is managed by the blogging platforms themselves.
Here's what you need to do to secure your self-hosted Wordpress blog:
- Select a web host with rigorous security precautions in place to protect your blog from server vulnerabilities.
- Select a secure theme. If you're using a free, third-party theme, be sure to check for pre-installed malware before installing the theme on your site.
- Update Wordpress, your theme, and every plugin you use as soon as each update becomes available (and cross your fingers that nothing breaks after the update).
- Familiarize yourself with the components of your theme and your plugins, and keep up with Wordpress security news to make sure that none of the features of your blog have fallen victim to the latest hacking wave.
And that's just the highlights: you can read more from the official Wordpress codex.
Now, these issues are not impossible to manage. If you don't mind getting your hands dirty in the backend of your blog, security setup and maintenance is actually a fun challenge and a learning experience. If you're not technically-inclined, you can get all of these issues dealt with by hosting your blog with a managed Wordpress host (WPEngine and Pagely are two great options for managed Wordpress hosting). Or, you can invest in a relationship with a developer who can manage your Wordpress installation on your behalf.
But that brings me to the next item in the "Wordpress cons" column: the cost.
Yes, the Wordpress.org software is free, but using it will cost you more money or time (or both) than other blogging platforms. There is no way to run a successful, secure Wordpress blog without investing in managed hosting, forming a relationship with a developer you trust, or becoming an entry-level developer yourself.
Managed hosting for Wordpress automates the security and maintenance of a Wordpress blog and keeps you safe from questionable themes/plugins and database hacks. It is, of course, not free: the average managed hosting plan starts at about $25 a month for a small blog. Larger blogs and websites can expect to pay anywhere from $50 - $250/month depending on size and features required.
Good developers that speak your language (both literally and figuratively) don't come cheap. However, a good developer will make your blogging life sweet & serene. They're worth every penny, their weight in gold, and every other financial cliché I can throw at them.
Learning it yourself is rarely free — you can learn from the codex and the official forums, but to go in-depth into security topics and theme design you're better off paying for lessons or books on the subject. And then there's that intangible cost of time. If you're losing time you could use to create great content for your blog, you're hurting your blog.
Of course, the security and peace of mind these investments provide is worth it, but it all costs significantly more than running your blog on Blogger, Typepad, Squarespace, Wordpress.com, or Tumblr.
Do This Before You Switch
If those cons haven't deterred you: good! You're very well prepared for the realities of moving to self-hosted Wordpress. But before you make the jump, let's do a few quick exercises to determine if you really need to invest the time and money it takes to make the switch.Current Blog Features Inventory
- Write down a list of the features of your current blog platform. Pro tip: If you're on a blog platform that has a built-in mobile template, don't forget to add that to the list of features even if you don't personally visit your blog on a mobile device — it might be the format of choice for a big chunk of your readers.
- Compare that list with the core features of Wordpress. Look into what it will take to add all of those features to Wordpress (themes, plugins, etc).
- Estimate the time and cost of moving your blog to Wordpress with all of its current features intact.
Now that you've done an apples to apples comparison between your current platform and Wordpress, let's move on to your dream features.Feature Wishlist
- Write down your dream features for your blog.
- Confirm that those features really aren't available on your current blog platform. You may be surprised!
- Find out how you'd implement those same features on Wordpress, and make an estimate of the realistic cost (in time or money) to add them to your blog.
If self-hosted Wordpress is still the winner after you've done those exercises and considered all the costs and challenges, go to it! You have my blessing.
If Wordpress isn't the right choice for you, but you're still feeling like you're stuck in your current blog platform, I've got something to show you:
Hugely Successful Blogs on "Starter" Platforms
These popular and authoritative blogs are all on "starter" blogging platforms — and nobody cares. Consider the success of these blogs when you're worried that your platform is holding you back.
Kendi Everyday: This wildly popular everyday fashion blog is beautiful on Blogger.
Seth Godin's Blog: Mr. Godin rocks a default Typepad template, and he gets about a thousand retweets per post.
CarScoops: This automotive blog gets millions of readers every month. It's on Blogger.
Strobist: Yet another eminent blog that very openly runs on Blogger. Heck, they haven't even hidden the navbar. If your concerned that a "starter" blog design will scare off sponsors, check out their ad rates. Clearly, advertisers can deal with the plain design. They want to be associated with the blog's stellar content.
What I hope you'll see from these examples is that blog success doesn't have much to do with what platform you're on. Great, unique content wins every time. You can build an amazing, engaging blog anywhere. If you're happy where you are, stay there, and keep doing what makes your blog great.Post image by the fabulous Cris Stone