I created my blog using WordPress.com on November 27th, 2016. I wanted a simple way to anonymously air my grievances to the world from my dorm, and my only requirement at the time for a blogging platform was that it allowed for a .blog domain extension (so that I could be theclosetatheist.blog, of course). I saw an ad that WordPress had just made .blog available, so I immediately jumped on it! That was all the convincing I needed to fly with WordPress and not a competitor. What a simple time.
Why I Chose WordPress.com
Actually, I had been under the impression that the .blog domain extension would be free—and that virtually everything one could want from WordPress.com would be free. But the free plan made me end my domain in .wordpress.com, and of course theclosetatheist.wordpress.com was not even available. Thus, my site was theclosetatheist39.wordpress.com until I reached 100 followers and vowed to pay $36 to upgrade to the Personal plan, which offered a free domain (for one year only).
As my site grew, I eventually upgraded to the $96/year Premium plan, mostly because it allowed me to add my own custom CSS. My love for my blog made it so that I would essentially pay whatever I had to in order to make it beautiful and functional. I paid over $100/year (after taxes) for my Premium plan, and $22 a year per domain (which has been at least two at any given time). That was just the way it was.
The price did not really bother me. It’s only half of why I switched. The other thing is what anyone who uses WordPress.com will likely understand: the Gutenberg Editor.
The Gutenberg Block Editor Ruined My Life
I first had the Gutenberg Block Editor nonconsensually thrust upon me on November 17th, 2018. I remember because it was the day after my wedding. Everything in my life had changed, and that included my writing experience, apparently!
I didn’t mind the Gutenberg Editor that much at first. I certainly didn’t understand how it was supposed to be an upgrade from the Classic Editor, which had always been just fine. I was tempted to switch off the Gutenberg Editor and go back to what I was comfortable with. I resisted, because I assumed the Classic Editor would be deprecated eventually, and I generally try to embrace new technology and not be a grouch about it.
The Gutenberg Editor is different. It sucks. It always has sucked, and it always will suck. Everyone hates it. It has only gotten worse, and it made writing miserable and tedious when it’s always been the highlight of my week.
This might not make sense if you haven’t used it, but it really was horrible. My biggest problem was that over the past few months, the block editor has not allowed me to highlight stretches of text over more than one line. If I did, then the page would freeze. I would have to save my draft and refresh the page. Every. Time.
If I wanted to add a link to a phrase that was longer than a few words, the link would not apply to the whole thing. (Like this.) To fix it, I would have to edit it manually in HTML, which is not that bad—except it wouldn’t allow me to switch back to a visual editor on that block. Again, I had to save my draft and refresh. By that time, who knows if I even remembered what I was about to type next.
But this didn’t actually convince me to give up on WordPress.com. There was still an option to use the Classic Editor within a block, which was my saving grace. It’s worth noting that, yes, the Classic Editor was supposed to be deprecated a long time ago, but everyone hated the Gutenberg Editor so much that WordPress had to keep the Classic Editor available or there may have been a blogger uprising.
The point of the Gutenberg Block Editor is supposed to be that your posts and pages are way more customizable. My problem is that I really didn’t need them to be. There are so many blocks that allow you to insert so many types of content, but I really just wanted to type text. I came here to write! Is that such a crime?
The way I see it, if someone is using WordPress.com, they just want their blogging experience to be cheap and easy. They’re happy with a .wordpress.com domain, a simple design, and an easy writing experience. They came for simplicity, not for endless customization options. WordPress.com can’t seem to grasp that there are people who want things to be simple. Some people don’t need a million options, especially when those options are barely functional.
The Widgets That Broke The Camel’s Back
I was finally fed up when I opted to try out my sidebar widgets in the Gutenberg Editor, which hadn’t been available for them until a few weeks ago. Well, that broke half of my widgets. With Classic Widgets, you can select which pre-made widgets you want from a dropdown menu, add them to a list, and put them in the order you like. With Gutenberg Widgets… I don’t even know. Some of them looked completely different. Some showed up in the Customizer and not on the live site. Some didn’t show up at all. If I added a block, I couldn’t delete it, even if there were several empty blocks in a row. It was an absolute shitshow. And the worst part? I couldn’t switch back to Classic Widgets.
I wrote to customer service, or a “Happiness Engineer,” asking to please switch me back to Classic Widgets. She told me that there was a plugin for Classic Widgets available for customers who used the $300/year Business Plan. (Plugins are what give you the ability to control what your site can or can’t do, and they’re only available on the Business Plan.) I responded,
Hi. It is just incredibly frustrating that WordPress does not listen to the users when for three years we have all been saying that the Gutenberg editor is horrible. Instead of getting rid of it, it has now been extended to the widgets area where it is even worse and nearly impossible to use. I should not have to pay $300 a year to have widgets that function the way they are supposed to, which is also the default that I have been using for five years up until yesterday. If I had known I couldn’t change it back I would not have switched to the blocks version.
If you won’t simply return my ability to use Classic widgets then I suppose I need your help to individually fix each and every widget, wasting both of our time. I’m sure this frustrates you as well.
. . . I could spend hours messing around trying to fix this in CSS, or it could just… work how it is supposed to.
She gave me Classic Widgets back after that.
Why I Switched
But I had already started searching for alternatives to WordPress.com when I found this comparison:
I could not believe it. I hadn’t thought $100/year was too much to pay for a limited plan with a weird half-working Gutenberg Editor and no plugins until I realized I could get everything I wanted for half of I was paying for it. I had always thought I would need to pay $200 more per year to get that, not up to $50 less!
But there must be some downsides to leaving WordPress.com, right? What about my handy dandy WordPress app, my easy-to-read stats, my ability to show up on the WordPress Reader feed, and of course, my Currently Reading on Goodreads widget!? All of that and more might seem like benefits of WordPress.com, but they are actually benefits of Jetpack. If you’re switching from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, then Jetpack is your best friend. It allowed me to keep all of that and more, even migrating over my stats and subscribers. The only thing I lost was the likes I already had, but people can still like my posts going forward. (You wouldn’t be interested in going back and liking all of my posts, would you? No? Okay.)
The Ups and Downs of Switching
I’ll just go ahead and say it. Migrating my site from WordPress.com to a self-hosted WordPress.org site was exhausting. I laughed. I cried. I had dreams about CSS for nights in a row. I barely read a chapter of my book all week, for crying out loud!
In the end I think it has been worth it. This is a commitment that I’ve seen compared to the difference between renting a house and buying a house. Before, I was at the mercy of whatever strange venture WordPress.com decided to explore and take all their users with it. Now I am in charge of my site. I also read during my research that WordPress.com can remove any content from your site that they deem inappropriate, which is not the case with a self-hosted site. It’s probably good that I switched before letting out all this frustration…
Now I have everything I have ever wanted for my website, and I just paid Dreamhost $113—for not one but three years of hosting, plus my new email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. For these first three years, my domain is free, but I did pay $25 for thecuriousatheist.blog to redirect here for one more year. Finally, I paid $169 for the Pro version of my theme, Radiate, which I justified because it was a one-time expense rather than a monthly or annual one. Unlike with WordPress.com which is a set cost depending on your plan, a WordPress.org site can cost as much or as little as you want. There are pro versions of a lot of things, like Yoast and Jetpack, but for now the free versions of both are working just fine for me.
My Advice for WordPress.com Bloggers
If you’re frustrated with WordPress.com, then I do suggest you leave like I did. It’s only good if you want the bare minimum for your blog. Anything more and you’re wasting your money. While it was difficult, migrating my site to WordPress.org was doable, especially with the help of this simple guide from WordPress itself and this better, more detailed guide from WPBeginner—and with the help of my amazing husband Johnathan who is better at CSS, and more dedicated to getting to the bottom of a technical problem, than I am.
Unfamiliar terms like “nameservers,” “DNS,” and “XML,” sound scary, but if you follow the directions then you will be fine. And if you’re not, then WPBeginner will migrate your website for you for free. I actually broke down in a panic after one day of trying to move my site and tried to use their service, but I had already bought my Dreamhost hosting. WPBeginner can only make their service free if you use their promo codes for hosting, so don’t buy your hosting first if you’d like to use their service!
As I wrap up this post, I am finally ending this week when I have spent countless hours laboring to make this new blog perfect, and exactly like the old one but better. After getting everything moved, my anxiety told me that every pixel of my site must be immaculate. I spent way longer in the CSS editor looking at my sidebar widgets than I needed to. (I think they look awesome, though. And I am very happy about my header parallax!)
You, my readers, might not notice that my branding is more unified or that my colors are both darker and more vibrant, but switching to WordPress.org is going to hopefully make my life a lot easier. (There are some things in it for you, though; you can now comment using your Google, Twitter, or Facebook accounts, in addition to your WordPress account!)
Now, I am finally going to close this computer and go breathe the outside air with a good book in hand. Next week I’ll be back with a brand new book review and return to my regular content!