After recalling some glossy-eyed faces during the discussion in last class comparing free blogging platforms with self-hosted options, I wanted to bring in some additional guidance.
Many of the discussions comparing the WordPress.com and WordPress.org platforms very accurately describe the technical details and distinctions. Here’s one such discussion directly from the folks that run WordPress. However, many fail to address the differences in their respective Terms Of Service (TOS).
If you are wanting to create a blog for generating revenue, it’s important to pay close attention to certain distinctions on what’s allowed or not allowed. In general, if you use the WordPress blogging software from WordPress.org and host your own blog (yes, paying for hosting) you can advertise anything and everything to your heart’s content. Your particular hosting company may have specific terms that prohibit you from providing/selling certain things such as pornography or engaging in illegal activities, but these restrictions are not related to the WordPress platform itself. It’s very common for people to run all kinds of advertising programs and sell affiliate products on their self-hosted WordPress-backed site.
The free WordPress.com site has many restrictions on advertising and selling products. In a nutshell, the rule is “No Advertising”. That means you can’t run Adsense (those little Google ads you often see) or link to affiliate products where you’ll get paid for a sale. There is one important exception, however. Again, directly from the forums at worpress.com:
Affiliate marketing blogs: Blogs with the primary purpose of driving traffic to affiliate programs and get-rich-quick schemes (“Make six figures from home!!”, “20 easy steps to top profits!!”, etc). This includes multi-level marketing (MLM) blogs and pyramid schemes. To be clear, people writing their own original book, movie or game reviews and linking them to Amazon, or people linking to their own products on Etsy do NOT fall into this category. http://en.wordpress.com/types-of-blogs/
So for example, if you’re a quilter and you sell your quilts on etsy.com, you might use a WordPress.COM blog to talk about quilting, share patterns & photos, and even link to your Etsy store. Someone following your link to Etsy could then buy your product on that platform, but you wouldn’t be able to add a PayPal button to let people buy directly from your WordPress blog.
One free blogging platform that does allow advertising is Google’s Blogger.com. Of course they allow placement of Adsense ads because they own Adsense too (see the small foodie blog, Herbie Likes Spaghetti as an example of a Blogger site with Adsense in the sidebar). They do allow placement of affiliate links to the extent that the blog is not a spam blog, i.e., affiliate banners everywhere with promises to make millions while you sleep along with content stolen from other sites. Be sure to read the TOS if you’re considering that platform for a money site.
Cheapskate that I am, I’m always looking to leverage free. That said, my approach to blogging is self-hosting. Even though I have to pay for a domain and hosting, I know my content is mine (yes, I maintain responsibility for backups). Once I’ve paid for hosting for one blog, that one hosting plan supports as many additional blogs as I want – the only thing I have to buy is the domain. Also, I know I can do anything I want on my blogs without having to worry about inadvertently violating TOS (which are always subject to change) and getting my site shut down.
My recommendation for new bloggers is to play around with the free platforms if you like, just to get the concept. If you know you’ll never want to use it for any kind of direct revenue generation, keep it up if it’s working for you. If you think you’ll use your site for directly making money, you might appreciate the latitude of a self-hosted approach.