Blogosphere

Why I still recommend WordPress.com for new bloggers, but am not as bullish on it as I used to be

Blogging was super hot in about 2005. Today, we’re in the post-blog era where everybody’s doing YouTube videos and podcasts. But I still maintain that if you have thoughts, ideas, or stories to tell, if you are working on a creative project or have one in mind, then you should start a blog to showcase your work and share it with the world. And I still recommend WordPress.com as the place to start your blog.

But I’m less excited about WordPress.com for new bloggers than I used to be, for two reasons. First, the free WordPress.com plan now drops pesky, low-quality ads all through your posts. Second, WordPress has evolved toward being a Web site builder, which has had the consequence of making it more complicated for a blogger to learn the tool.

Low-quality advertising

A brand new blog with its low traffic sits at the very bottom of the barrel for targeted ads of the type WordPress.com shows. That blog’s tiny audience just won’t attract major advertisers, or even advertising that has anything to do with your blog’s topics. You get lousy ads like these:

Oh, for the grand days of the free Internet — free meaning both gratis and libregratis in that you could sign up for a free blog, and libre in that you could say anything you wanted on it. Libre is still with us, but only when you own the space you’re communicating in — and having your own WordPress site accomplishes that. The Internet has never truly been gratis, however. Servers and storage cost money. In the past, companies absorbed those costs, frequently causing them to operate at loss. That was never going to last. Internet companies had to figure out how to make money.

Advertising has been the main way most Internet companies have monetized their products. Still, I can’t imagine WordPress.com makes real money from ads on its free blogs. New blogs don’t attract large audiences, which leads to low-quality and low-paying ads. It takes time and work to build a blog audience. By the time you have a decent-sized audience and can attract better-paying advertisers, you’ve outgrown the free WordPress.com offering anyway.

I support WordPress’s other way of making money: paid plans that unlock ever greater functionality and storage. The least-expensive paid plan, Personal, costs $48 annually. It removes those weird ads, increases your storage space from 3 to 6 GB, and gives you access to WordPress.com support.

This blog is on the WordPress.com Business plan, which costs $300 each year. It lets me extensively customize my site, turning it into a full e-commerce destination if I want to. It also offers 200 GB of storage.

WordPress.com, stop showing ads on your free blogs. They’re intrusive, crappy ads that harm the reader’s experience and give both that blog and WordPress.com itself the appearance of being low value.

WordPress as Web site builder

WordPress was born during the days when blogging was new and fresh. It was a purpose-built blogging tool, and it offered flexibility and functionality that its competitors couldn’t match. This led WordPress to become the engine behind at least 25 percent of all Web sites.

To continue to grow as a business, WordPress has pivoted its business away from being only a blogging platform to being a Web site builder. They completely rebuilt the back end — the editor that bloggers use to write posts.

Before, creating a blog post was much like writing a document in a word processor like Microsoft Word. That made the learning curve fairly shallow for new bloggers.

That editor is gone. The editor that replaced it does not work like a word processor; rather, it has created a unique usage model for creating content. Personally, I love it. It offers a great deal more power and flexibility than the previous editor. However, I work in the software industry and am far more technical than the average person. I take to new software easily. I am not so sure that the average blogger will find it quite as easy to learn because they can’t easily transfer know-how they already have to be productive quickly.

WordPress would do well to allow the old editor to continue to function, and allow bloggers to switch to it if they want.

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39 thoughts on “Why I still recommend WordPress.com for new bloggers, but am not as bullish on it as I used to be

  1. That seems to be a common trajectory. A platform starts with a great idea and becomes popular. But then it gets big ideas and morphs into a larger, grander experience, with new missions and functions. It becomes more about growth for them than about the user. Of course with the advertising model the user isn’t really the customer but someone to use for their own purposes. My but don’t I sound cynical this morning.

    • That’s the problem with growth companies.

      The problem with companies that just want to make a useful product, however, is that they end up getting bought by a growth company.

      There’s no way to win.

  2. I have come to tolerate the new editor but truly miss classic. It was a sad day when it completely disappeared.

    Clearly, the way of the world is videos but this shift truly annoys me. The times when I have a moment to peruse the web are often times when I can’t have sound. Plus, you can’t skim a video the same way you can skim an article. Lol. I sound so old and cranky but there really is something to be said for the written word!

    • I actually really like the new editor. It lets me do fancy things so much more easily. But I am sure that for most it’s too much to deal with.

      I watch a fair amount of YouTube so I’m not anti-video, but like you I’m not always in a place where I can have sound on. I skim and scan a lot of blog posts which lets me consume a ton of info in little time. You can’t do that as easily with video, to your point.

      • I watch a lot of YouTube as well but I’m picky about content and creators. :)

        In my day job, I use Adobe InDesign for creating and love the versatility. Something about the new WordPress seems really clunky to me and I don’t like how they have organized the tools. It’s hard to express but I loved the simplicity of the old version. But, it is what it is and I have at least stopped grumbling. Most days. Lol.

    • Such a good point about video, it’s just such an intrusive form of media. A blog is like a book, something you can enjoy in silence, in a very low key and discrete and personal way.

      Plus you can enjoy a blog on any device, as long as the words are large enough to read. For a video, unless you’re using a larger screen – iPad minimum, preferably even larger – you lose so much of the experience of video. So it becomes a far less portable medium than a written word blog (or book).

      • I do play a lot of videos on my phone simply because that’s the device I have handy and I’m often listening rather than watching. Since writing those words, I realize I may be missing the point about videos!! Haha.

        As an aside, my bank did focus groups just before the pandemic to help us with the redesign of our website. We expected to find a lot of support for more videos on our website and found that people requested either no videos or some that supplement the relevant information they are seeking in written word. I had a 20 year old look me in the eye and express her displeasure for news sites that are too lazy to provide a written story or a manuscript to accompany a video. It was a fascinating conversation given what we are being told about the rise of the video.

        We do live in interesting times.

        • On the topic of transcripts to accompany video, we use Microsoft Teams for meetings and often the meeting is recorded and made available as a recording and an automated transcript afterwards for those who want a recap or weren’t able to attend. The transcripts are often unintentionally hilarious in how much is mistranslated by whatever AI engine Microsoft use behind it. And always far more interesting than the meetings themselves!

        • Lol. Technology probably isn’t supposed to inspire humor but I’m guessing there’s great comedy skit potential in these kinds of poor translations.

  3. matt says:

    My wife likes the block editor, but I hate it — absolutely hate it. Everything in it is harder to use than it used to be, from editing the html to scheduling posts; it all requires more clicks to use. I accept a certain amount of WP Barrel Bending because I’m just using the free plan, but If I were paying $300/year for this WP experience… well, I wouldn’t; I’d spend that money on hosting my own site. Every time WP makes an ‘improvement’ I go looking for other options to host.

    As a response to the WP new editor’s becoming default, I spent some time in node writing my own server with express and mongodb and the front end in angular — or in other words, in a weekend, I made myself a better user experience than WordPress was giving me. If I get to the point where I simply can’t handle WP’s improvements any more, I figure I can pop a site together relatively quickly.

    I found a way to use the classic editor, but it’s not convenient. My workflow now consists of New Post->Save Draft->Classic Editor->Actual work begins. Maybe it’ll help someone else? Add ‘wp-admin/edit.php?post_status=publish&post_type=post’ to the end of your domain (.wordpress.com or it might even work with <havemyowndomain.com> sites) and it brings up the classic editor option. If it helps someone out, let me know so I can continue to suggest it.

  4. If advertisers ever analyzed how ineffective the ads really are, they wouldn’t pay for them. Especially not so-called ‘targeted’ ads which are more like random shots in the dark. They might one day notice that Youtube ads can be easily skipped, meaning they are essentially valueless too. Given this the ads on a blog or video are meaningless and little more than a passing fly for the end reader/viewer. The editor issue is a bigger problem: the one thing no web site seems to have grasped is that people want things to work in a way they understand; they don’t want to have to “go back to school and learn a new language”. If the process is not intuitive and easy to manage, people won’t bother to use it. As it is we’re all just drops of water in the ocean with little to no chance of our content being seen, especially not newcomers. So if you’re not doing it for your self-expression you’re probably wasting your time. Several Youtube providers have explained just how little they make off their ‘channel’ and it hardly seems worthwhile trying. Definitely not a path to success or glory.

    • Even though I’ve built a decent-sized audience, it’s nowhere near large enough to monetize in any significant way. So this remains a labor of love.

  5. I don’t use WordPress. But according to the logs, the most frequent visitors to my two Web sites are bots from around the world probing for vulnerable WordPress installations. A typical bot may attempt to GET, POST, or HEAD hundreds of files, directories, and modules. For me it’s an annoyance that fills my logs with thousands of 404 messages every week. But a WordPress user who neglects to keep up with every update to every part of their site risks having their blog hijacked and turned into a spambot. The popularity and sheer number of WordPress sites makes them a tempting target for hackers. That’s yet another reason to avoid WordPress, unless you’re committed to constantly updating your site to patch vulnerabilities.

  6. I switched from usenet to blogging when the last few active participants in the newsgroups I followed departed. I started blogging with a domain hosted on GoDaddy and a simple HTML template written for me by a friend. But eventually when I saw some of the neat things others were doing with graphics on WordPress I signed up. I was initially dismayed then they eliminated the old editor in favor of the Block editor but a friend pointed out that I could open a Classic block and proceed as I had always done. I don’t follow any of the other online services, even Facebook, so I don’t know where I will go if WordPress becomes unusable for me. Plus ça change…

  7. I tried to like the block editor but failed. Maybe I gave up quicker than I should have but I never got to the point of seeing advantages and I saw plenty of (what I considered) disadvantages. I continue to use the Classic Editor plugin. However, I do host my own Word Press installation. Since your post and some comments seem to indicate that there is no Classic Editor access besides a block in the new editor, I’m guessing that plugin isn’t available at WordPress.com.

    • I wonder how long it will be before the Classic Editor plugin is no longer supported. WP seems serious as a heart attack about the block editor.

      You can’t run plugins on WP.com until you pay $300/year for the Business plan.

      • Unsettling clues are: Last updated 7 months ago, not tested with latest WP version, and “Classic Editor is an official WordPress plugin, and will be fully supported and maintained until at least 2022, or as long as is necessary.” Yep, I’m nervous.

  8. I had a self hosted WP site but it was too much effort so I switched to WP.com. I’ve seen those horrible adds on other sited but when I occasionally check on mine without logging in and all my ad-blockers switched off the only adds I see are for Automattic (WP parent company) and Duck Duck Go. I doubt visitors to my blog even hit double figures so maybe my numbers are too low even for people selling stuff for bowel movements!

    I started with Blogger back in 2005 but Google did what Google do and decided they weren’t interested anymore. At least instead of killing it as they did with other products they just left Blogger to gather dust on the shelf. My first Blogger blog is still out there – and still gets more readers 14 years after I stopped posting than my current one:)

        • It is worth noting that it is pretty easy to transfer your Blogger blog over to WordPress. That’s what I did with mine–it’ll copy all posts over to the new blog. Your old Blogger blog will still be out there, though. I basically shut down commenting on the old blog with a note directing people to the new WP blog if they had something to say.

  9. I’ve been using WordPress for the better part of a decade. I started blogging via Blogger in 2005, as it seemed to be the easiest/most dominant platform. But there were things I hated about Blogger, and I felt like it would be just a matter of time when Google would pull the plug as it did with “oh yeah, that existed” apps/platforms like Orkut. (But instead, they just let it wither, as Olli stated above.) So I switched platforms at the end of 2013.

    WordPress took a little more to get the hang of, but I ended up liking it. And I just feel that WP sites tend to look better–it’s not a hard and fast rule, but there were definitely some hideous looking Blogger sites out there. It’s just harder to make a WP site look so ugly. At first I hated the Block Editor, but now I mostly like it.

    But yeah, ads. I get it, nothing on the internet is free, but dumb ads are dumb ads. I still use the free tier, and should just switch to the cheapest plan to eliminate them. Hopefully soon!

    • I never tried Blogger. I know a couple of bloggers who swear by it and wouldn’t change.

      And you’re right, a Blogger site looks like a Blogger site and is identifiable from a mile away.

  10. The latest price changes are really surprising. As a WordPress.com Premium plan user I feel insecure because I can’t afford to pay more if I have to upgrade to the latest plan.

    • They allegedly will offer paid upgrades to the Free plan that might replace your Premium subscription equivalently. Here’s hoping.

      I am mostly dismayed that they no longer offer a pay-by-the-month option. For some people, the annual fee all at once is too much.

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