TL;DR: I switched hosting providers and my blog looks different.
My personal blog began in 2006 with a series of posts on OkCupid. That may sound like a funny place for a personal blog, but in 2006 OkCupid was both a dating site and a social network. While my posts, like most of the other OkCupid bloggers, had to do with my personal takes on relationships, I also blogged about issues of interest to me to share with my OkCupid friends.
Around 2008, I became aware that most of my blogging friends were using LiveJournal. I started copying my OkCupid posts to LiveJournal so more of my friends had a chance to see them. As with OkCupid, on LiveJournal I formed connections and communities with my fellow bloggers.
Gradually, OkCupid became less of a social network and became more focused on dating. After its acquisition by Match.com in 2011, it became the meat-market Tinder imitation that it is now. Everything that made it a social network, including blogs and journals, were deleted. By that time, I shifted all my posts to my LiveJournal blog.
In subsequent years, and despite the complaints of its paying users like me, LiveJournal shifted to make it harder to use. Also, my friends in my LiveJournal community gradually stopped blogging. Facebook was taking over. It was easier to share a meme than it was to compose original essays.
Finally, as I described in my first WordPress post, I switched to wordpress.com. It made sense at the time: I knew I had to switch to WordPress (other blogging platforms, like Tumblr or Dreamjournal, did not have “clean” transfers of old LiveJournal posts). So why not go to the company that made WordPress?
Of course, you can see my mistake: wordpress.com doesn’t create or maintain WordPress; wordpress.org does. If I understood that from the beginning, there might be no need for me to write this post.
As I said, I had paid to use LiveJournal. The principle reason was to so any readers I had were not exposed to ads. I was also willing to pay wordpress.com, not only for an ad-free experience, but to get my own domain. My old LiveJournal blog was at
wgseligman.livejournal.com. My WordPress blog was at
argothald.wordpress.com. But “vanity, vanity, all is vanity”: With wordpress.com I had the opportunity to register a custom domain:
I was happy with my wordpress.com site for three years. Then Witchvox.com retired.
The two don’t seem connected. But they were, in terms of my personal needs: I wanted people to be able to find my Wiccan group if they were seeking in the New York area. All of my students since the early 2000s had found me via Witchvox. Without that site, which was the most well-known in terms of listing pagan groups, it wasn’t clear how anyone would find my group.
A couple of sites emerged to serve as listings for pagan groups: Darksome Moon and Mandragora Magika. But they didn’t have the reputation of WitchVox (at least, not yet). Before Witchvox retired, and for a couple of months afterward, anyone who did a web search on “wicca new york” would see my group among the results. I wanted to be reasonably certain that would still be true.
So I created a web site for my group. The group’s name is Acorn Garden. When I started looking for names for the web site (I wanted something more than just
acorn-garden.wordpress.com), I discovered that
.garden is an actual Internet domain. Of course, it’s mostly used for gardening sites and supply companies, but
acorn.garden was available. Again, vanity! I could have
https://acorn.garden as the address of my web site.
It turns out that
.garden is a “premium domain”, and so it costs more to reserve it. I went for it, and https://acorn.garden became a reality. I purchased a separate site on wordpress.com (I don’t want to mix
acorn.garden) and paid them the extra fee for
I picked a WordPress theme (Brompton) and started to set things up. I noticed something curious: The default editor wasn’t functioning the way I was used to. It was helpful when setting up the graphic blocks on the home page, but if I just wanted to type text I had to deliberately switch to the “Classic Editor” which let me edit the HTML directly.
I prefer to type in my own HTML rather than rely on any special tools to do it for me. Just now I typed
<a href="https://wordpress.com/theme/brompton">Brompton</a> without thinking much about it. It’s faster for me than taking my right hand off the keyboard to fiddle with my trackball. The Classic Editor lets me do this. I have no need to change.
Let’s make a note of the Classic Editor. It will become relevant later.
I finish setting up
acorn.garden and it goes “live.” I create a Facebook page to point to the site, I let my friends and students know it exists. I add it to my listings on Darksome Moon and Mandragora Magika.
I wait. For an entire week, mind you! I do web searches on “wicca New York”, “wicca Rockland County”, “wicca Nyack”, “coven New York”, “coven rockland county”, “witchcraft rockland county”, and so forth.
Acorn Garden is not returned those web searches.
I do some more research on the web, and learn about the concept of SEO or “search engine optimization”: how to make your web site indexed by the search engines on the web. Most of the sites that talk about SEO refer to adding WordPress plugins to a site (some of these plugins are even free) that add hidden keywords for web search engines.
I’m going to get ahead of myself here and reveal some truths that I wished I knew before I became impatient: I spoke with a friend who works at Google. The search engine companies know all of these SEO tricks and work to avoid them. The businesses that spend millions on consulting firms to raise the SEO of their sites are throwing their money away. All I had to do was wait a couple of months. My site would show up eventually… and in fact it did. Do a web search on “wicca rockland county” if you want to see for yourself.
But this is now, and that was then. I wanted to install at least one free SEO plugin (Yoast) to understand and improve the rankings of
That’s when I finally “read the fine print” of getting the least-expensive hosting plan at wordpress.com: They don’t let you install plugins. That requires a “Business plan”, which costs at least four times as much.
I started shopping around for other WordPress hosting providers that did not have plugin restrictions. I had not been aware that WordPress site hosting was a thriving competitive business. There were plenty of companies offering to let you set up a WordPress site on their servers for less than wordpress.com charged. I looked at Bluehost, and even transferred
acorn.garden to Dreamhost for a while. But neither of them could handle the premium
.garden domain. (If I could make myself settle for
acorn-garden.org, this would not be a problem; alas, “all is vanity.”)
Finally, I went with a company I’d worked with previously: Namecheap. They could handle premium domains. They integrate with a WordPress hosting firm called EasyWP. They offer less technical hand-holding than wordpress.com in setting up a site, but they have plenty of web guides and, as a sysadmin, I didn’t need much in the way of assistance.
The only problems were wordpress.com’s parting “gifts”:
- While the pictures I uploaded to the wordpress.com site were imported by EasyWP, the links to those pictures were not properly updated. I had to go and edit the HTML for each image on the site. Fortunately, there aren’t many.
- The reason for the problems with the pictures was wordpress.com’s emphasis on using themes that depend on “blocks.” The home page of https://acorn.garden uses blocks, in order for the page to render properly on desktops, tablets, and phones (“responsive design”). But after I started editing the HTML directly, the blocks would not be recognized by the theme. Again, I could work around this, but it was annoying.
At this point,
acorn.garden was being hosted by Namecheap/EasyWP, and
argothald.com was hosted by wordpress.com. I could live with that.
Or so I thought.
This past month, wordpress.com upgraded the version of WordPress on its site. It was supposed to have all sorts of wonderful features. One feature was not so wonderful: the Classic Editor was gone. Everything was supposed to be done with blocks.
I tried to write a new blog post, and found it an exercise in frustration. There was a “Classic Block” you could use, but you couldn’t use it to enter HTML directly. Instead you had to use a toolbar to format your document. For me, this meant a lot of wasted time and movement to fiddle with my trackball as I typed the text. Also, by coding HTML directly I had more control of the formatting of my text; for example, the bulleted lists I use in this post.
There was a plugin that let you go back to the Classic Editor. But wordpress.com charges four times as much to be able to install plugins.
I had enough. This was repeat of what LiveJournal had done: They’d decided to make changes that left users twisting in the wind.
I did what I should have done three years ago: I transferred
argothald.com to Namecheap/EasyWP. I could install the Classic Editor plugin (I’m using it as I type this), and I’m paying less to keep the blog ad-free and for the domain.
There was one final “gift” from wordpress.com: While they allowed my blog posts and their embedded media to be transferred, they didn’t export the post tags, only the categories. This means that the “tag cloud” at the side of my posts is rather sparse right now. I know of no way to import the tags without re-importing the entire blog, even if wordpress.com were to allow exporting the tags. Oh, well.
With all that said, do I totally dis-recommend wordpress.com? Not necessarily:
wordpress.com handles creating SSL certificates for you. The other providers I worked with required me to separately create and pay for certificates for my domains.
acorn.garden, as a premium domain, was tricky and cost a bit more. The total cost after I went through the process was less than what wordpress.com charges, but it might be rough for the technically challenged.
- wordpress.com doesn’t let you install plugins, but it comes with a set of pre-installed plugins would have cost money if I wanted to install them on my sites. For example, they include a contact form plugin (handy if you want people to reach you without giving them your email address), and an analytics plugin (to see how many hits your pages are getting).
- wordpress.com handles SEO for you. As I hinted above, I never really needed Yoast or another such plugin. Perhaps if I stuck with wordpress.com I would have “searchable” sooner.
- Everything about the look and feel of the current wordpress.com is oriented around the idea that the only reason for you to have a WordPress site is to monetize it. Clearly, that doesn’t suit my needs for a personal blog site and for a Wicca-group site. If your goal is to toss some snazzy pictures and effects onto a page, be assured that it will automatically have a responsive design, and think about charging for something, then wordpress.com is worth considering.
But if you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll pay less and be better-supported on other hosting services.