I had a client recently who wanted to migrate from WordPress.com (the paid service) to a WordPress.org self-hosted site so that he could have greater control over his theme and plugins. You’d think it’d be fairly easy. I mean, they’re both WordPress, right? This really seems like something that could be done at the click of a button.
But it wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped. Here are the problems I came across and how we worked around them.
Problem #1: Names
As the saying goes, the two hardest problems in computer science are cache invalidation and naming things (or that we only have one joke and it’s not funny).
But WordPress.com versus WordPress.org? Those names are almost indistinguishable. We have to know that they’re both separate things before we can even start thinking about this.
This is possible the worst problem on the list – you just have to know.
Someone has to tell you, or you have to google the correct phrase to know the difference. So the first step on migrating from WordPress.com to WordPress.org is knowing that the .com is a commercial service, run by WordPress the company. It’s basically hosting with some nice, easy to use features. However if you want to customise your site, you’ll need to access the files (and possibly database) directly. For complete control you’ll need to use your own web host.
Problem #2: Get a copy of your WordPress.com site
In order to migrate from WordPress.com to you need to download the data. There’s no way to just get all the files and the database in one go, so this is now a set of sub-problems.
We can’t get the files and the database, so let’s look at what makes up a WordPress site:
The easiest way to move stuff across is to install WordPress locally. Then when you have it running how you want it, you can upload the files and database to your new host.
My client was on the Business plan which meant he could install plugins. If we want to avoid manually migrating, then we’re going to need some plugins to get some of the data out. You can probably skip those. Without the WordPress.com Business plan you’re going to need to do those steps manually. This might mean a lot of copy + pasting.
Sub-problem #2.1: The Theme
My client was using the Twenty Fourteen theme. So that seems easy enough, Twenty Fourteen is an easy to find theme, it should be a breeze! No. The WordPress.com theme has additional options not included in the WordPress.org theme.
Twenty Fourteen on WordPress.com has some additional theme options, such as fonts and colours that aren’t available on the WordPress.org version.
There’s a plugin called Fourteen Colors that gives you more options for the colours, but it’s still not as flexible as that available on WordPress.com.
Plus WordPress.com has fonts from Adobe Typekit, for setting better fonts. That wasn’t a big issue with my client, so we just skipped that.
Sub-problem #2.2: The Plugins
You’re going to have to manually install each one. And you’re right, this isn’t a solution.
Also keep in mind that you get JetPack and Akismet anti-spam as part of WordPress.com. If you’re using them on a self-hosted site, you’ll need to pay a monthly fee to keep Akismet running.
Sub-problem #2.3: The Widgets
Fortunately, this one’s a bit easier. Simply install the Widget Importer & Exporter plugin on to migrate WordPress.com widgets to your own site.
When you’re doing that, be aware: Make sure you have all your other plugins installed first. If you don’t have the plugin, the importer won’t be able to create the widget. If you install the plugin later, it won’t be able to put the widget in the correct order, it’ll just append it to the end of the widget area it belongs in.
Sub-problem #2.4: The Posts, Media files, Users, and other database stuff
This one is fairly easy. On WordPress.com go to your wp-admin dashboard. Go to Tools and then Export. You can then take this file and use it to import on your local copy, or directly to the web host.
It won’t give you a copy of the media files, but once you run the import, it’ll download them from your host and create a local copy. This process can take a long time. When I ran it, I got quite a few errors. When I ran it again, everything seemed okay.
Problem #3: Plugin configuration
If you’re on the Business plan, and use any plugins that need some configuration (which will probably be most of them), you’re out of luck. Unfortunately you’re going to have to do this manually.
With the exception of plugins that allow you to export their settings, there’s no other way around it. Many popular plugins don’t have an export feature. Think about contact forms, payment gateways, event calendars… everything.
Migrate from WordPress.com to WordPress.org – Is it worth it?
Now that you’ve read through this guide, you’ll probably have a better idea. Self-hosting can be cheaper, and give much more flexibility. But you’ll probably need to keep your themes and plugins updated yourself.
When looking at the cost, you’ll also need to factor in things that WordPress.com through in as part of the package. This includes Akismet anti-spam, and things like SSL.
If you feel like you’ve outgrown the restrictive limitations, and want to migrate from WordPress.com to the freedom of a self hosted WordPress.org site, it’s not that difficult.
And it’ll be much easier to migrate from WordPress.com to WordPress.org than to another platform altogether, even though WordPress kind of sucks.
But it is more difficult than most of the sites I found while researching make it seem.
Did you enjoy this post? Have I made any errors, or do you have anything to add to this? Please let us know in the comments!
Also: This is my first post using the Gutenberg editor. So far it seems pretty good, and I hope it continues to improve.