|Services||Website Builder & WordPress Hosting|
|Tech Support||Help Desk, Forum & Knowledge Base|
|Uptime||Excellent (100% past 6 months)|
|Best For||WordPress functionality without the hassle||Strengths||WordPress versatility and features|
|Weaknesses||Limits on some functionality|
|Promotion||Get Started For Free|
WordPress is one of the most popular pieces of software in the website space. WordPress powers over 42% of the Internet and is famous for its versatility and ease of use.
It is so well-known, that it’s common for people with some web design experience to generally say “just use WordPress” when referring DIYers and freelancers to a website solution.
But for those who are unfamiliar with the general WordPress world, there is a major point of confusion: WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org.
In this article, I’ll be reviewing WordPress.com as a website builder and general website solution for DIYers.
|Storage||6 GB||13 GB||200 GB||200 GB|
|Free Domain Name||1 year||1 year||1 year||1 year|
But before I dive into specifics, let’s talk about the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org
WordPress is the name of a piece of software that can “power” your website on a server. So instead of uploading individual files to a server to create a website, you can use WordPress to create a “backend” where you can log in to your website to create, edit and manage web pages, blog posts, images – any sort of content.
It’s a “content management system” in web development jargon. WordPress is also “open-source” – which means that a community maintains it. A for-profit corporation does not own it. A non-profit foundation technically manages the trademark while leaving the software open under a General Public License.
The software and open-source community live an function at WordPress.org – where anyone can grab a copy of the software.
Note that I still haven’t said anything about it running a website. The other two pieces needed to run a website are web hosting (ie, a server to run WordPress and render your website) and a domain name, which allows people to navigate to your website.
WordPress.org is also known as “self-hosted WordPress” because you have to provide the server for the software to live on. You pay for hosting and domain registration fees separately. You can learn how to set up a self-hosted WordPress website here.
And then there’s WordPress.com. It is a for-profit company owned by Automattic and founded by Matt Mullenweg – one of the original developers of WordPress.
WordPress.com is a service (not just the actual software & community) that offers blogs powered by their version of WordPress software.
They bundle hosting, support, services, and software into a single subscription. I refer it to as “hosted WordPress” because you’re buying a hosted version of the software.
The renting vs. buying in real estate works well as an analogy.
WordPress.com — Renting a building for your living space (aka your website). You can pay for upgrades, but ultimately everything is up to your landlord (WordPress.com). That said – your landlord also has to pay to keep everything in working order.
WordPress.org — Owning a building for your living space. You own everything in your own hosting space. You do whatever you want. That said – you are responsible for everything.
If you want to get into the weeds, I wrote a whole post aboutWordPress.com vs. WordPress.org.
The key tradeoff here is between convenience and control.
WordPress.com is what we call an all-inclusive website builder. It competes directly with other hosted website builders like Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, GoDaddy GoCentral, etc. You sacrifice some control (like FTP access) to get a lot more convenience (like not installing security patches or crashing your own site).
Compared to its direct competition, WordPress.com focuses on scalability, support, and flexibility.
Let’s dive further into my WordPress.com review to see how it really compares.
Pros of WordPress.com
Here’s what I found to be the pros of using WordPress.com website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors, but as an overall website solution.
Easy Sign Up Process
One of WordPress.com’s biggest advantages is how easy it is to get started. To get your website up and running, you just follow a simple, 6-step process that includes creating an account, filling in your website information, and confirming your email address.
They also provide a ton of “onboarding” support (AKA the process of getting up and running with a website). I immediately received an email detailing the next steps and was even prodded later in the day when I hadn’t finished a step in the setup.
There was really no part in the signup process where I wondered, “What’s next?”. The steps were easy to follow, detailed, and included support once I got inside the dashboard.
If you’re looking for a simple, straightforward, and speedy way to go from having no website to having a site ready to build, then WordPress.com is a great choice.
Again, WordPress.com is an all-in-one solution, which means everything you need — from hosting to domain name registration to integrations (more on that shortly) to design options are all included in the platform.
That means everything just works — there’s no figuring out if this app or extension is compatible or is going to break your site. There are no troubleshooting or support needs outside of what they already offer. Even things like analytics are built into the platform.
Spending less time on research and troubleshooting means you can spend more time on stuff that matters – like content, design, and marketing your site.
Plus, since WordPress.com uses WordPress as its CMS (and WordPress is the most popular CMS platform out there), the integrations are practically limitless.
Chances are, there’s been a plugin created to do whatever you need your site to do. And if it hasn’t been created yet, there’s a developer out there who could probably get it done. Just know that on WordPress.com, your advanced customization capabilities, like installing your own plugins and themes, are limited to their highest-priced plan (more on that in a bit).
You also don’t have full control over the website functionality, because you don’t have access to your hosting. You still don’t have direct access to your files or your database. So if you want to do something in bulk or something super-technical, then you are out of luck.
All of your content is in RSS and XML format, so it’s very easy to leave WordPress.com for another service or bulk export your content.
When you set up your website with WordPress.com, you have a ton of pre-made templates (“themes” in the WordPress jargon) to choose from, including premium themes that come with higher-priced plans.
WordPress.com also indicates which themes are best for beginners, which is helpful for those who don’t have extensive website experience and are looking for the easiest way to get their website designed and ready to market.
Inside these themes, you have a range of customization capabilities based on the plan you have. You also have significant customization abilities on the individual pages themselves— even with the free plan. Inside the page builder, you can change the format by adding columns, embedding elements, and even editing the page code if you know HTML / CSS.
One thing to note here — you cannot edit/customize the pages on the same screen that you edit the theme. This means that you’re basically designing the pages in a bubble. You can’t see how they play out in the context of the design until you actually go in and edit the theme. If you’re not looking to do any advanced designing, this may not matter to you, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are looking to build lots of websites for clients.
WordPress.com has a robust knowledge base and easily accessible support.
In fact, their help button floats in the bottom corner of the Dashboard (and when you’re editing pages), so you can see relevant guides and articles to help you no matter where you are in your website.
You can also chat with another WordPress.com using their “Contact us” button on the floating help section, giving you an additional option if you can’t find the answers you’re looking for.
Cons of WordPress.com
But of course, no website builder review would be complete without looking at the downsides.
Every piece of software will have complaints because there is no website solution that is right for everyone. Let’s look at a few specific cons I found.
WordPress.com is a bit pricier than its competitors when you take into account what features are available to you. WordPress.com limits the amount of storage space you get on your website (AKA the number of images, video, audio files, documents, etc. you can upload to your site).
Now, there is one caveat. WordPress.com does have a free plan. You can’t use your own domain name. You have to use yourname.wordpress.com – and serve WordPress.com ads on your site. But – it’s free. This plan is certainly my favorite way to get a free, well-built website online.
However, it’s not clear that there’s a free plan available unless you go through the pricing tab. For example, if you were to click “Get Started” and just start filling in your information, you’re kind of cornered into buying a plan. There’s no option there to select a free plan. It’s confusing, especially if you don’t know that there’s a free plan available (which technically, you’re automatically signing up for when you create your account).
If you are trying to start just a basic informational website or blog and don’t want to deal with hosting, then WordPress.com’s Blogger and Personal plans are well-priced.
For a business or really any size (or website that is going to strive to make money), then it’s a bit hard to compete with running a self-hosted WordPress website or finding another solution like Website Creator (a website builder built on top of WordPress) or another drag & drop website builder.
Based on your website experience, using WordPress as a CMS does come with a learning curve — and it’s no different when it’s bundled with hosting and DNS services through WordPress.com.
Yes, you have various themes to choose from that guide your site customization experience, but even those can be more complicated to tweak than WordPress.com wants to let on. Check out the instructions on customizing this theme I selected.
If you’re looking for the ease of a simple drag + drop website builder where you can literally drag elements onto the page, drop them in place, and customize your template that way, WordPress.com might not be the best choice for you.
This is because WordPress uses a visual website builder called Gutenberg. While Gutenberg is a visual editor, it isn’t exactly the same as what appears on your website. This can be confusing and difficult when first using WordPress compared to other website builders.
There are some website builders where what you build within their editor is exactly how it appears on the published version of your website.
Limited Functionality And Control
WordPress is known for how flexible and adaptable it is as a CMS.
It’s a great way to build a website that you plan on keeping for the long haul because it’s so customizable and scalable. But here’s the thing — those benefits don’t really kick in until you have a self-hosted WordPress (AKA WordPress.org), or until you pay for the Premium business plan on WordPress.com, and even then you don’t have full accessibility with your website.
If you’re not looking for a website that you can customize and scale extensively, then this probably doesn’t matter to you.
But if you are looking to create a website that you can scale, and you were drawn to WordPress as a CMS because of that, then going with “hosted WordPress” on WordPress.com probably isn’t your best option, because you’re giving up quite a bit of functionality and control.
It should be said you can start with WordPres.com hosting and if your needs outgrow their service can migrate your WordPress website to a better WordPress hosting service.
WooCommerce And JetPack
At the risk of making this focused review too long, there are two remaining pieces to talk about in regard to WordPress.com.
Since eCommerce has a lot more considerations than a publishing site, many eCommerce owners like to have a “hosted” solution.
In this case, WordPress.com provides a great option for websites that are “content-first” but also want a large-ish online store.
The second item I should mention is JetPack.
I mentioned that WordPress.com provides a lot of things like backups, security, and support that a self-hosted WordPress website does not have? You can get most of that with JetPack.
JetPack is a paid plugin software owned by Automattic that any self-hosted WordPress website can install and get automated backups, security scans, in dashboard support, remote management via the WordPress app and more.
JetePack costs up to $29 per month with a free option. Plus, there are some hosting companies that bundle JetPack in with your hosting fee, so that it’s super-affordable.
There are many options available if WordPress.com isn’t the right fit for you. If you are looking for alternatives to WordPress you may want to check out my best website builders.
Though in my opinion, you are best to stay with WordPress hosting and find the best option.
- $12 - $40 per month
WordPress.com has many of the tradeoffs inherent with other website builders while capitalizing on the potential strengths of WordPress (ie, usability & support).
Compared to other established website builders, it lacks some capabilities, like storage, pricing, and ease of use, but it does compete well on support, theme availability, design, technical aspects, and content publishing.
WordPress.com is a really good fit for anyone looking for a solid website builder that includes more advanced functionality and theme options but still takes the headache out of finding their own hosting and additional services.
WordPress.com is a great option to just get started. And it’s great for content writers & publishers plus any businesses that have the budget for the Premium Plan.
Are you working on a long-term project, need more freedom, or are on a budget and don’t mind a learning curve? Check out my posts on trying out self-hosted WordPress and setting up self-hosted WordPress on your own server.