I’ve been blogging for a long time. I started out at Livejournal in my teens, keeping basically an online diary, and then moved over to Blogger/Blogspot while I was in college to write about artists and Japanese history and culture. I even used Apple’s me.com for a bit, until it was discontinued. At all three sites, I did my best to be engaging (but unfortunately, I didn’t know about SEO or the importance of commenting on other blogs on your provider’s network). However, traffic was next to nothing, and I wasn’t even sure I was reaching an audience.
Then, I switched to WordPress.com and something clicked. For the first time, I was actually getting comments on my blog. I had people interested enough in what I was saying to “follow” me. I had actual traffic. I didn’t do anything inherently different from what I’d done at Blogger. I tagged my posts the same way, made the whole thing presentable and colorful, and talked about the same kinds of stuff. After a year and a half on Blogger, I had a dismal count of about 6 comments on over 45 posts.
By the time I’d written three posts on WordPress.com, I had 5 followers and about as many comments. I was excited. Ready to start blogging regularly and passionately. I made an attempt to blog at least once a week, when I had something interesting to say, and started learning about SEO and comment-networking. (I also learned how easy it is to suddenly be following 250 blogs that you want to read, but don’t have time to keep up with because they post more than twice a week. For the record, even if I love your blog, I’m probably not reading it/not following it anymore if you are a serial-poster, blasting out 8-20 posts a week.)
At the end of two months on arielhudnall.wordpress.com, I had almost 40 subscribers (not counting my email subscribers, because I didn’t know how to check that at the time), and I was feeling really good about my blog… good enough to start considering buying a domain name.
Now, for those of you that don’t know, two things fueled this decision. The first was that my name, Alex Hurst, is already taken in every format on WordPress.com’s available username list, so my web address “memoirsofhereafter” was not only long, but lacked the ‘branding’ that writers are told they need. Secondly, I wanted a bit more functionality, with the ability to imbed cool widgets from outside sites that were only available on WordPress.org.
When you buy a domain, WordPress gives you two options.
- Export your blog and host it on an external server, like Blue Host. This option gives you full functionality, a host of really awesome themes to use (and even more premium themes like Elegant Themes, which I tried on for a while), and a few extra features (like the ability to edit a comment before it is approved, feature sliders, and mess with your theme’s CSS down to the pixels).
- Map your domain to your current WordPress.com account (memoirsofhereafter). This gives you no extra features… your new domain just redirects browsers to your current blog.
I chose the first option, and bought a package with Blue Host to set up my new address alex-hurst.com. The import feature was relatively easy, except for the mapping process (I wanted people who visited memoirsofhereafter to be redirected to alex-hurst.com). Blue Host and WordPress seemed to disagree on nameservers, and I eventually gave up on that idea and just made a plea on WordPress for people to click a link and follow me at my new location. 7 people did.
Once I got my website running, I was ready to start playing around with themes. Initially, I was using Elegant Theme’s “Feather”.
I really liked the design elements of Elegant Themes. The featured slider was lovely, and worked really well for my Illustrious interview series, but a fatal flaw in nearly all of their designs was font size. I had to manually go into the CSS style code to change the font size by searching for “font-size” and enlarging it to something readable, because they don’t have that as a built in option. For everything. Headers, body text, links, secondary headers, titles, etc.
For a few weeks, I was happy with it, but I kept getting distracted by the slanted line background, and the fact that the body text had a shadow. It made the page look fuzzy, and the text often looked like it was “swimming”. I finally gave up on Elegant Themes (though still use them, and their theme Chameleon, for the Writers’ Anarchy site) and switched to Parabola by CryOut Creations.
Parabola was a lovely theme, and far more customizable than Elegant Themes. The lines were strong and “popped”, the slider dimensions were editable. I really have no complaints about this theme and hope it will be available on WordPress.com soon. When/if it does, I’ll be switching over to it immediately.
So, I was finally happy with my website, and I was getting an okay amount of traffic (about 50% down from my time at WordPress.com). But my comment section wasn’t attracting new people. In fact, there were absolutely no new people commenting on my blog. That’s when I realized what I had left behind when I switched to WordPress.org. The community. Even with Jet Pack, which gave my blog the appearance of being WordPress connected, I wasn’t a part of the community anymore. I also was excluded from WordPress.com trophies, like Freshly Pressed, I couldn’t be easily reblogged (or reblog other people), and most importantly, I couldn’t be followed without someone handing over their email, or finding me on their various feed burners, like Bloglovin‘ or Feedly.
Last night, I took a look at my stats. On both websites, and honestly? The customization isn’t worth the loss of community over here at WordPress.com. Surprisingly, I had more email followers over here than I did at WordPress.org! (12 subscribers on the self-hosted domain… 300 on this blog! Wow! No contest.)
EDIT: WordPress.com used to have a “similar articles” feature, but they removed this feature in the newest WP incarnation, citing that they did not like using a third party system within the website. Whether they are working on creating something similar to replace it is still up in the air.
The Girl also noted in the comments section below that your blog gets excluded from WordPress’s Reader, which is another loss of casual traffic.
So, I made the executive decision. I imported all of the posts I made over at the new blog and returned to memoirs, and mapped my domain to wordpress.com
And you know what?
It’s nice to be back.