WordPress is one of the most popular pieces of software in the website space. WordPress powers over 25% 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|
|Bandwidth (per month)||unlimited||unlimited||unlimited||unlimited|
|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 – What’s the Difference?
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 & open-source community live & 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 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.
WordPress.com is a service (not just the actual software & community) that offers blogs powered by their install 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 on 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 about the differences between WordPress.com and .org. But that analogy says it all.
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 Using WordPress.com as a Website Builder
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 pro 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 detail next steps, and was even prodded later in the day when I hadn’t finished a step in the set up.
There was really no part in the sign up 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 registration to integrations (more on that shortly) to design options is 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’s no troubleshooting or support needs outside of what they already offer. Even things like analytics are built into the platform.
Plus, since WordPress.com uses WordPress as it’s 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.
That said, compared to other website builders (like Site123 or Jimdo), WordPress.com is inherently more open and accessible because it runs WordPress software. 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 Using WordPress.com as a Website Builder
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. But 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.
Because here’s the thing. In many ways, WordPress is more than software. It’s like a whole platform / subculture. You know how Facebook has “Likes” and “Newsfeed” and “Groups” and all these other terms that make sense…but only once you’ve used Facebook? Ok – WordPress is like that. When you first start out, there’s all this jargon to figure out. It makes sense quickly, but that doesn’t make it any less weird.
Limited Functionality + 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.
WooCommerce & JetPack Addendum
At the risk of making this focused review too long, there are two remaining pieces to talk about in regard to WordPress.com and their services.
First is WooCommerce. WooCommerce is a software plugin for WordPress that brings a *ton* of amazing ecommerce functionality to any WordPress website. It is amazing. It has a ton of extensions and integrations only rivaled by Shopify. And it works on any existing website running WordPress. If you are using the WordPress.com, you can add it to your plan.
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.
Second is JetPack. You know how I mentioned that WordPress.com provides a lot of things like backups, security, and support that a self-hosted WordPress website does not have? Ok, so 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.
In fact, this website uses JetPack. It costs between Free and $29/mo depending how many services / themes you want (security is free). Plus, there are some hosting companies that bundle JetPack in with your hosting fee, so that it’s super-affordable.
WordPress.com Review Conclusion
WordPress.com has many of the tradeoffs inherent with all website builders while capitalizing on the potential strengths of a website builder (ie, usability & support).
Compared to other established website builder brands, 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. It’s 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.
Not sure WordPress.com fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.
Are you working on a long-term project, need more freedom, or 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.
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