I recently had a reader question sent via email –
Is there a way to try out WordPress before signing up to a hosting site? Maybe a ‘try before you buy’ arrangement, or something which you can download and try out on a laptop? Am just worried about signing up and then finding WordPress isn’t for me.
That is an excellent question. Unlike website builder services like Weebly or Squarespace or even eCommerce platforms like Shopify or Bigcommerce – there’s no real “free trial” option for self-hosted WordPress.
There are 3 ways to try WordPress before you actually purchase hosting.
WordPress.com is the commercial arm of WordPress software. They offer free accounts with a subdomain that you can sign up and use.
The only catch is that it’s a very limited version of WordPress software. You can’t test out all the plugins that you might want to try, etc. But the general feel is the same.
In fact, now that WordPress.com allows some 3rd-party plugins, you can get a solid sense of whether you like the WordPress experience or not with WordPress.com.
3 Things To Try on WordPress.com
- Sign up at WordPress.com
- Add a “post” and a “page”.
- Choose a new “Theme” under Appearances.
- Add a Menu under Appearances.
Public Test Servers
Another alternative is to explore an installation of WordPress on a publicly accessible server. There are some hosting companies & WordPress plugin companies that provide this option. But – it’s very rare due to spam. Plus – you very rarely get a truly blank installation due to other users.
ShivarWeb Sandbox for WordPress is my brand new service that just came out for setting up a quick, temporary, clean installation of WordPress. The install will expire in a week – but until then, you can click around and try a self-hosted install of WordPress exactly as you would on a hosting server.
ShivarWeb Sandbox is shutting down due to costs, spam & maintenance issues. I’m linking to an alternative called “Poopy Life” (yes, they use the branding to deter spammers) run by the awesome team at Soflyy. The Create link should still work, but it’s no longer maintained by ShivarWeb. All the best!
To try before you buy, it’s excellent (in my biased opinion). You just click to set up a test site that will expire in 1 week. You can see how to make posts, add plugins, etc – it’s the same software that you’d install on your own host.
3 Things To Try on Your Temporary Install
- Make a “post” or a “page” and view your site.
- Do a search for Plugins and try installing one.
- Under Appearances, choose a new “Theme” and see how your design changes.
Once you are done with your temporary install, you can always go to Tools –> Export and export your data. Then you can set up your own self-hosted WordPress website, click Tools –> Import and you’ll have your test work ready to roll.
On Your Own Computer
It’s a bit more complicated, but just so you know it’s out there – you can download a copy of WordPress on your own computer and install it with your computer set up as a server.
Both these setups create a server with PHP/ MySQL (WordPress’s database language). From there you’ll install WordPress on your “server” and access it with your browser.
A better way to do it would be to install WAMP on Windows (ie, a local apache, MySQL, PHP server)…and then install WordPress. Here’s a guide.
Desktop Server is also a really good freemium software that makes the process on both Mac & Windows super-easy.
Everything will work on your computer setup – plugins, themes, everything – since you’ll have an actual server environment on your desktop.
If you plan on doing the process a lot, then something like Desktop Server starts to pay off.
*If you want to get a bit more complex, you can also technically try WordPress on Google Cloud for free. But that’s way outside this post’s intent/scope.
Self-hosted WordPress does not have a ton of “try before you commit” options, but they are out there.
I’ve also compared WordPress directly to several platforms so you have an idea of what to look for –
- WordPress vs. Weebly
- WordPress vs. Squarespace
- WordPress vs. Wix
- WordPress vs. Shopify
- Self-hosted WordPress Alternatives
All the best!