WordPress.com Ads on Free Sites – A Nightmare on Your Main Street

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.

shocking screenshot of full screen advertisements with a small amount of site content displaying
The ads you see depend on your location and browsing history, among other things.

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.

Ad Informational banner "Occasionally, some of your visitors may see an advertisement here. Links to Tell Me More and Dismiss this message
Ad info banner c. 2013

Shuffling along to 2022 and, well…

Ad Informational banner "Occasionally, some of your visitors may see an advertisement here, as well as a Privacy & Cookies banner at the bottom of the page. You can hide ads completely by upgrading to one of our paid plans. Links to Upgrade now and Dismiss message.
Ad info banner c. October 2022-The message is clear
Shh! What's that lurking over there?

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.

Design a site like this with WordPress.com (button: get started)
Banner when visiting a free WordPress.com website
Remove this site banner with a paid plan (button: remove banner)
What the site owner sees on the public side of their site when logged in
Don't turn around!

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 Pro* will be waiting in the wings.”

*WordPress.com killed off the Pro plan in July 2022 in favor of its previous plans.

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.)

Saaave Yourself!

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.

Published by JenT

After 4 years hand-coding websites, 2 years setting up and running WordPress sites, I launched my first website on WordPress.com in 2006 and never looked back. Since then, I’ve helped other site owners safely navigate through the ins and outs of the ever-changing WordPress.com ecosystem. Find me at wpcommaven.com

11 thoughts on “WordPress.com Ads on Free Sites – A Nightmare on Your Main Street

    1. I cannot tell you how many times site owners would post (and are still posting today) in the community forums about the ads appearing on their website. So it isn’t obvious to everyone even if they’ve read the Terms of Service.

      Way back in the mists of time, in the early days of WPcom, it was possible to buy a single, standalone upgrade like No-Ads or Custom CSS. Then, I don’t remember when, those standalone upgrades evaporated in favor of bundles and then in favor of plans. Not everyone had the pocket change for a full upgrade plan, even though the Personal plan is very reasonable, but it was the last plan to be added to the available plans, somewhere around 2016. Before that, if you wanted to remove ads, your only option was the Premium plan. The No-Ads standalone upgrade only returned as an “Add On” when TPTB introduced the Pro plan last March. Thankfully, they haven’t quashed those standalone Add Ons, yet.

      Edited to add: sometime between writing this post and comment and November 2nd, the No Ads add-on disappeared from the Upgrades tab in our site dashboard. It can still be purchased (for now) through the support document I linked to in my post.

      1. I bought a stand-alone shortly after I started the blog, so that was probably 2010. I then paid extra for being able to choose fonts. Then, I wanted to upload videos, and that’s when I bundled it all with the domain name because it was cheaper.

        The annoying thing at the time (and still) is that the availability of fonts is limited by the theme (including WP’s themes) and the video player is spotty, and limited, so I stopped using it.

        . . .still happy with the no-ads part.

        I read a number of free blogs, and I’ve never noticed really obtrusive ads. They’re usually small and at the end, where the suggestions for other reading are. As a rule, I gloss over them without even noticing what they’re about.

      2. I would have had to read his blog post with blinders to miss those ads! And, yes, being logged in does change the experience, but it is no longer “sometimes.” It’s every time.

  1. I just started blogging again for the first time in a few years, and the ads are out of control. Banner ads for WordPress at the top of the page, then nine ads for nonsense between the Like function and the Comments. And being logged into WP doesn’t matter anymore either, the ads are just everywhere. I’ve always had an ad-disclaimer on my blogs, here are two examples:

    1. Hi Gabriel, welcome! Thanks for providing those examples and while I have something similar but text-based on my own free sites, it’s not quite so colorful as yours. 😉
      screenshot of ad disclaimer

      Even with a disclaimer, the ads are still everywhere. Pass me the eye-bleach!

  2. I wish I had opted for my own domain that excludes ads in the days where I posted weekly on my food blogs. Seeing those 9 ads underneath my posts truly enrages me; who wants to read a food post with weight loss ads, foot disease info etc underneath? It’s just awful.

    Currently considering whether I should upgrade just to get rid of those ads; just knowing that people will see them makes me angry…

    1. I entirely agree with you. The “quality” of the Outbrain ads is the point here and their introduction alongside the No Ads Add-on isn’t a coincidence IMO.

      And it looks like the No Ads add-on has disappeared from our Upgrades dashboard, so the push is on to get people to upgrade to a full plan. (Insert expletive here!)

  3. Whenever I see ads on wordpress now, I just remind myself of what I escaped. I used to blog on LiveJournal which is now run by a Russian (in the USA, from what I recall, though if it still is or not, I don’t know) and every last inch of the site it covered in ads. I had a friend there who sadly died some years back. I used to visit her journal (aka blog) that her daughter had memorialized, now I can’t even read the old posts as it’s quite impossible to see them.

    I think this is probabably the first time I’ve logged in here in months. So much going on in ‘real life’ I just keep forgetting, sorry! I do still read your posts from time to time, though. Hope you’re well. Do email if you’d like to, would be nice to catch up with your news.

    1. Yes, the ads are more invasive, but I don’t wonder if TPTB haven’t rolled back a bit to “sometimes” and not “ALL THE TIME!” as there are fewer complaints in the forums and I’m also seeing them less often.

      Glad to see you too! I’ll certainly drop you a note.

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