Not that long ago our knitting guild was considering moving its website to WordPress.com. I half-jokingly mentioned to a fellow guild member that I hoped WordPress.com advertising would never be like on our guild’s current free website, hosted elsewhere, that is covered in more ads per pixel than content. Sadly, it seems the day of the zombie apocalypse has arrived here, too.
I recently followed a link in the forum to a photographer’s free WordPress.com website after he complained that ads were covering his photos. While his issue was malware in his web browser, this horror greeted me on his post while I was logged out. If you can stomach it, click to see a full size screedshot.
Over the years, ads have become more and more flagrant on free websites. The most recent viral infection is “Sponsored Content” by Outbrain, where the hordes sometimes attack in groups of threes and, sometimes, all nine at once. (Lock your windows! Lock your doors!)
On WordPress.com Free and (legacy) Starter plan sites, we sometimes display advertisements on your blog or site to help pay the bills.WordPress.com Ads – Support Documentation 2022
Then and now…
Back in 2013, WordPress.com started letting site owners know (more graphically!) that they sometimes run ads on free websites (since 2006!) by displaying an info banner where ads would appear. They also provided a link to Tell Me More that explained what this was all about and what our (single) option was.
Shuffling along to 2022 and, well…
Have you visited a newish Free website recently? Did you spy the top banner promoting sign up for WordPress.com on the site’s front page? You might see that, but the site owner sees an entirely different prompt in that same banner when logged in.
Images you insert in your post might open in a special page frame promoting WordPress.com sign up. Sometimes.
Back in April, WordPress.com reiterated its commitment to hosting free websites, so that
“…anyone, anywhere can put up a blog or a site, whatever their situation. With the Free plan you’ll still be able to get the word out, create a beautiful site, and take advantage of the fastest WordPress managed hosting on the planet. And when you’re ready to scale up your ambitions,*WordPress.com killed off the Pro plan in July 2022 in favor of its previous plans.
WordPress Pro* will be waiting in the wings.”
And while that is true, the flip side is that free sites are billboards. You might not need or want to “scale up your ambitions”, but you’ll probably cough up to get those ads off your site* if your site is publicly visible to search engines and the Reader.
(*Update 2 November 2022: WordPress.com recently removed the No Ads Add-On from purchase through the Upgrades dashboard. The only way to remove ads for now is by purchasing an upgrade plan for your site.)
I get that advertising helps keep free sites free, but the recent Outbrain injection brings down the standard for everyone, including WordPress.com itself.
Maybe the next phase of this ad infection is WordPress.com offering an upgrade so you won’t SEE those horrible ads anywhere, ever. (If that happens, you heard it here first!)
N.B. Am I still recommending WordPress.com as a host for folks just starting out? Yes, but. Transparency builds trust.
As always, the information in this post is correct as of publication date. Changes are inevitable.