March 17th was a busy day. In addition to being St. Patrick’s Day and my 2-year-old son’s birthday, it was also the day that I moved my blog off of WordPress.com and onto my own host. Why did I decide to jump off the WordPress.com train? Several reasons.
- I’m a perfectionist, and being locked into a boring theme with little room for customization was driving me crazy
- I wanted an elegant, professional magazine like look-and-feel
- I wanted to sell blog related merchandise in my own online store
- I wanted to incorporate great plug-ins, like Comment Luv
I announced the move back in February to give my subscribers ample time to prepare. In the 4 months since I started The Mainland, I had amassed 150 followers and was getting about 4,000 page views a month. Retaining as many readers as possible was my number one concern. I even put out a survey to see how many people would be willing to resubscribe once the site moved and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. That made me feel better about my decision.
And so, after a month of warning and begging people to subscribe to my FeedBurner feed, I am now off WordPress.com and on my own. Here’s a few things I’ve learned about the process.
If you (re)build it, they will come”¦just very slowly
So far, the positive reception to the move has not translated into a cavalcade of new subscriptions. As of right now, only 12 people have re-followed my blog. I had expected some attrition, but was quite shocked by how low the conversion rate actually was. One thing I will give WordPress.com credit for is that they make it very easy to follow blogs via the Follow button. Having to re-subscribe outside of WordPress.com and go through the process of validating your email address seems to be more than many of my readers are willing to do. So, now I am working on other strategies, like guest posting to attract more readers and rebuild
Google seems to take its time when you’re not on WordPress.com
One of the arguments against moving I kept hearing was that no amount of SEO tinkering on a self-hosted site will match the SEO power of a WordPress.com site. And to be honest, they may have been right. On WordPress.com, published posts often got indexed by Google within minutes, many landing on the first or second page. Since the move, I have published 2 new posts, and in addition to taking well over half a day to get indexed by Google, they rank quite poorly compared with all of the other posts on my blog. I have checked everything in Google Webmaster Tools, and there are no indications of anything wrong that I might be penalized for. Interestingly enough, I do not have this same problem with Bing. In fact, the first new post I wrote after the move appeared as the #1 or #2 link on Bing for certain keywords. It’s too bad more of the world doesn’t use Bing.
Having the power to change everything can be dangerous, especially if you have OCD
As I said earlier, a big part of my desire to self-host was for the ability to design the site the way I envisioned it. This is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to WordPress.org functionality. As someone who suffers from mild OCD, I have spent many long nights tweaking and re-tweaking. I burned through 4 different themes until I finally settled on one I really liked. I must have tried at least 20 different plug-ins for everything from generating XML sitemaps to displaying products in my CafÃ©Press store. Ultimately, I finally got the site to look the way I wanted and am very happy with it. It is far superior to anything I could have done on WordPress.com.
The bottom line
While there still are a few bumps on the road, I am pleased I made the decision to move to self-hosting. I believe there are far greater opportunities for me to attract new readers and maybe even make a few bucks. WordPress.com was a great way for me to get into blogging and learn the WordPress system. But now that I’ve been doing it for several months, it was time to take the training wheels off and see if I could ride on my own. I think I can.