WordPress.com Quietly Overhauls Pricing

Last night I was looking at alternative WordPress hosting, and happened to check out WordPress.com to see what’s new. And they’ve completely reworked the pricing and offering. I’m urgently searching for the catch, because on paper it’s just so good.

Let’s lay it out:

New pricing, 2 plans vs 5

WordPress.com used to offer 5 different plans: Free, Personal, Premium, Business and E-Commerce. They respectively cost $0, $4, $8, $25, and $45 per month, billed yearly.

Now if you visit the pricing page, there’s just two plans: Free, and Pro. The paid Pro plan just costs $15, which is basically the Business and E-Commerce plans rolled into one. The only differences I can see between the old plans is that the Pro plan now has a 100,000 visit monthly cap (which isn’t a hard cap[1]) and 50 GB of storage instead of 200 GB.

There are no upgraded storage addons yet, but that’s coming soon apparently[1:1].

For my use cases, this is way more than I need: the biggest WP site I’ve personally managed reached 3GB by itself over 10 years, and I think all my WP sites combined currently add up to under 10 GB.

50 GB per site is huge. Kinsta, the host I currently use, gives me 10 GB, and a $5 VPS gives you about 25-30 GB.

Metering by visit count isn’t a big deal for me either, my Kinsta plans currently give 25k visits a month per site and I average about 2,500-8,000 on each site.

New pricing is very competitive

For managed WP hosting, $15/m is a super competitive deal for 100k monthly visits, 50GB of storage, daily backups, and WordPress.com support.

This is competitive over other managed WP hosts, like Kinsta, who currently charges $30/m for 25k visits and 10 GB of storage, and both WP Engine and WPX at $25/m. I’m not including EasyWP here because they lack automated backups and SSL is a pain.

Even if you’re not looking for third-party hosting and just want to pick a blogging platform, the new pricing is competitive with WordPress.com’s competitor, Ghost. Their equivalent pricing tier, Creator, costs $10 more at $25 a month.

New (to me) WordPress.com features

There’s a couple big features that were added over the past couple of years that I completely missed, and the lack of which were why I always ignored the service in the past.

Full site import, themes and plugins

They added this in 2020: you can import your entire self-hosted WordPress site to WordPress.com, including plugins and themes, as long as they’re not on the (very reasonable) excluded plugins list.

There’s also two ways to do it: Using Jetpack, where you install Jetpack on your self-hosted site, log in, and then start the import process on a WordPress.com site, or using a plugin installed on both sites (All-In-One Migration in this case, but I’m positive you can use other ones).

It also appears from my cursory look-through that you can upload plugins directly to your WordPress.com site too.

The fact that it’s possible to import WordPress sites using the most widely used import plugin in the self-hosting world gives me confidence migration would be smooth, because previously I had it in my head that WordPress.com had a different structure than the open-source project, possibly reinforced by how locked down their service was previously (you could only import using the XML export if I remember right).

SFTP and database access

They added this back in 2019: your paid WordPress.com site has SFTP and database access now, so if you need to drop a particularly large set of files or database import/export, you can do that. I imagine you can import a full site using this method as well, though I haven’t seen anything on that. I’d use it to get the migration plugin export transferred over instead of using my slow upload speed at home.

The docs mention you can even edit wp-config.php, and it’s just the core files + official WordPress.com plugins that aren’t editable via SFTP.

Where’s the announcement?

When I noticed the new pricing last night, I scoured the WordPress.com blog searching for the announcement on this, and couldn’t find anything. Then this morning, I found a post by VM (wayback archive) outlining their frustrations with the changes. They mentioned the changes just happened a couple days ago.

I don’t agree their point on the storage reductions - I think 500MB is still very generous for most people’s blogs, especially on the free tier. I understand that’s a huge cutback from the 6GB of storage they previously offered, but if you’re using the free tier of any service I don’t think you should expect generous allowances to remain forever.

It also appears existing tiers were grandfathered-in, they just had a temporary glitch with the free-space indicator on the media page.

So existing users still have their more-than generous 6GB of storage, and the new free tier is still a solid option if you want to get started blogging for free.

But I do understand that $15/m is not affordable for many people, and often it doesn’t make sense for a personal blog. I used to be in a similar situation, I even balked at using a $5/m VPS at the time. And as of this writing, this site is hosted for free on CloudFlare Pages.

Statements from WordPress.com

VM’s post was shared on that outrage-loving orange site, and (big surprise) most of the commenters have the wrong take on the changes.

Notably, the CEO of WordPress.com chimed in, and here’s some quotes:

Traffic limits will only be enforced on the honor system. If you consistently go over the cap month after month, we will let you know and ask you to pay a tiny bit more to cover the cost, but we will NEVER shut off access to your site, nor will we ever auto-increase the amount you’re paying.

Would love to see more on how overage billing will work, but my current portfolio doesn’t get anywhere near 100k visits in a month, combined.

We will be announcing affordable add-ons for both the free plan and the Pro plan to extend both your traffic and your storage as needed. In fact, we plan to also add a handful of affordable add-ons to the free plan to make it easy for customers to pick and choose which additional functionality they want, without needing to upgrade to the Pro plan.

I imagine this will include custom domains as well, the previous free plan had that.

No older sites/blogs have been affected by these new price changes. If your site is on an older plan, there should have been no changes to your billing.

This is great customer service here, your plan doesn’t change just because they changed the pricing structure.

As you pointed out, we have historically adjusted our subscription plan prices in a number of regional areas to ensure that WordPress.com stays affordable for folks in those areas. We will continue to do so. Looks like we forgot to do this for the new Pro plan.

This is great!

Potential catches

The only catches I can find are similar to most other hosts: They have a reasonable content policy, you can’t host malware, etc.

If you’re a search engine spammer affiliate marketer, this isn’t the host for you, but if you’re genuinely writing good content and use affiliate links, that’s okay. I’m a fan of this policy.

Being restricted to WordAds looked like a catch, but the advertising help page linked on the User Guidelines clarifies that you can use most major ad providers and drop their provided HTML embeds straight into your templates, no problem.

If you need IonCube (what a relic), you’re out of luck.

Footer attribution can be turned off too, if desired.

Exporting doesn’t look hard to do either if you decide to leave WP.com, especially since you can install migration plugins.

Potential catches I haven’t explored: I’m not sure how much Jetpack-related JavaScript is running on your site, and how much can be disabled. The social features are neat for a blog though.

Notes on VPS pricing

Yes, you can get much cheaper with a $5 VPS and manage your Linux stack yourself with all the fun (and headaches) that includes. And EasyWP isn’t a bad choice here too for the same price, as long as you sort out backups and use CloudFlare for SSL (SSL is an annoying thing to set up with EasyWP if your domain isn’t on Namecheap).

Or use a managed VPS host like Cloudways, with plans that start at $12/m. But with new accounts required to send copies of government-issued ID over email[2], it’s not looking like a good alternative for $3/m less than the new WP.com plans. My friend Kev Quirk has had a good experience with them though.

Otherwise, I think static site generators (SSGs) are friendly enough these days, and great for blogs/personal sites. If you’re technically and financially inclined enough to be maintaining a Linux VPS, SSGs can be easier[3] and hosted for free.

For WordPress sites though, the reason I prefer to use managed WP hosting services is because while they cost more, they cost me less in time spent dealing with issues managing my own infrastructure.

They differ from your regular shared hosting providers with superior speed, and then nice things like automated backups and expert support teams that will fix issues for you. You’re paying a premium price for premium support and performance, or that’s the goal, anyway.

Will I use it?

I’m strongly tempted to migrate all the sites I currently have on Kinsta to WordPress.com based on the pricing difference and the new features they added (SFTP/DB access, full site import).

I think I’m going to wait for an official announcement post with more details though, and a lot of the current documentation is a mix between documenting the old plans and the new plans.

Next new WordPress site I build though, I’m going to try it out and report back.

I won’t deny I have occasionally thought about moving this blog back to WordPress, the publishing experience is great, and the mobile app is nice to have. But I haven’t found an easy way to import 150+ articles written in Markdown. And I like my current Hugo setup, so I’m sticking with it for now.

Update 4-5-2022: WP.com added a blog post with more details. Interesting things to note is unlimited traffic and 1 GB instead of 0.5 GB for the free plan.

  1. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=30896807 ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. Some reports say “not all new accounts”, and I don’t remember doing this 4 years ago, but I created a new account yesterday and was hit with this. That aside, sending ID for hosting, let alone over email, is completely unnecessary and insecure. ↩︎

  3. Your mileage may vary with SSGs depending on which one you use and how much you like or dislike writing Markdown in a text editor. The ease of publishing with WordPress is hard to beat. ↩︎