Upon making the decision to start a website, someone you know or some Google search you conducted probably suggested you use WordPress. The reason for that is simple: WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) in the world and it’s unlikely you’d find a better platform on which to run your website.
However, a content management system is much different than a website builder. Content management systems like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla typically give users full control over their website. This is why CMSs are so popular with web developers. But these powerful tools cannot work on their own. It requires users to purchase web hosting and a domain elsewhere so the website-building software can sit on top of them.
The makers behind WordPress.org (the content management system) understand that the cost of web hosting can add up and that this platform may simply be too much for some users. That’s why there is also a site builder equivalent available. This one resides at WordPress.com and, like with other builder tools, is 100% hosted by WordPress.
Like with WordPress.org, WordPress.com is free to download and use. Despite not being as fully-loaded as its content management system counterpart, WordPress.com has drawn a lot of interest from bloggers, small business owners, and other entrepreneurs who want an intuitive and easy-to-manage platform to run their site on.
According to WordPress, over 400 million people flock to blogs built on WordPress.com every month. And its users are just as active, creating over 79 million pages of content. That’s pretty impressive for a site builder tool.
Although there are similarities between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, we want to focus today on WordPress.com’s viability as a builder. So, whether you have exposure to the content management system or not, this review will focus solely on WordPress.com’s capabilities as a standalone product.
WordPress.com: Breaking It Down Piece by Piece
In this site builder review, we’re going to take a deep-dive into WordPress.com and assess whether it’s worth using in lieu of other builder tools.
Here are the highlights:
Domain and Web Hosting
Like other website builder solutions, WordPress offers various plans that users can sign up for and those plans usually dictate what sort of domain name is available. For users that don’t want to pay anything, their site will reside on a subdomain of WordPress. For those that do pay, you can get a custom domain name (sans the “WordPress” label) to use on your site.
Web hosting, on the other hand, is something WordPress will take care of for its users. While there isn’t information available for regular WordPress.com users regarding the hosting infrastructure or uptime guarantee, WordPress has published some information about it for its VIPs.
That said, you don’t get a reputation like the one WordPress has if you don’t put the wellbeing of your customers first, so the stability, security, and performance of its users’ hosting shouldn’t be too much of an issue. And if your site should go down on the network, the Jetpack plugin that’s included in all WordPress.com plans will notify you of when it goes down and comes back up again.
As we’ll discuss shortly, WordPress.com users have many restrictions in place that keep them from bringing outside resources into their website. In the case of security, this is a good thing as those third-party plugins and themes can sometimes serve as the source of a security breach. With the WordPress platform being one of the most commonly hacked, our guess is that this is one of the ways WordPress tries to safeguard its hosted websites and infrastructure.
Compared to other website builders, a site built with WordPress may take more time to get off the ground because of all the settings that are available to users.
That being said, the interface itself is so simplified and intuitive that it won’t matter if there’s extra setup work to do on the backend. It’s so easy to navigate from one task to another that users probably won’t mind the additional work, especially if it enables them to do more with their site than other builder tools allow for.
Once a user has created an account, things move pretty quickly within WordPress and part of this is due in part to the clean and simple interface.
Most of the work users will do on their sites will take place within the dashboard. Along the left side of the page are the various content areas of the site as well as the settings that can be manipulated. Everything here is super easy to follow and there’s absolutely no question as to where you can go to customize your design, set up social sharing, or add a new blog post.
The menu options include:
- Stats: WordPress reports on not only the performance of the website’s content, but also on how users are engaging with it.
- Plan: users can upgrade their plan right from within the dashboard. No need to leave WordPress to do so.
- Publish: this section contains three types of content — blog posts, pages, and media — that can be added, edited, and published. Each option is consistent in design and functionality, making it easy to switch from one type of content to another.
- Themes: by clicking on “Themes,” users are taken to the WordPress repository where they can choose from hundreds of free and premium themes (or designs) to skin their sites with. Users can get information on features, see a live demo (across different devices), try one out and customize it, review the developer’s notes, and make a purchase.
- Themes (Customize): by clicking on the “Customize” button under Themes, users can then update the settings for their chosen theme. This includes the logo, colors, backgrounds, fonts, menus, images, footer, testimonials, and portfolio.
- Sharing: this part of the menu is where users can update their social settings. Share buttons can be personalized here and social media pages can be connected to the site so visitors can click through to follow.
- People: site owners can manage all other users and their permissions here. Information on followers and email subscribers is also available.
- Plugins: every WordPress site automatically comes with the Jetpack plugin, so this is the place to update the settings regarding analytics, social media, engagement, security, appearance, and more. Other plugins can be added when users subscribe to the paid plans.
- Domains: users can update their domain name here.
- Settings: there are a variety of settings that pertain to the general state of the blog, how content is written and displayed, how users receive notifications about visitor engagements with their website, and more. This area of the menu also enables users to import and export their site’s data, so that migration to another system down the road won’t require having to rebuild the site from scratch.
Now, the one menu item I left off of the list is WP Admin. This is the website management tool that WordPress.org users rely on to build their websites. While there is nothing wrong with the tool itself, it’s totally different from the one within the My Sites interface on WordPress.com.
WordPress.com does offer its users access to WP Admin within the My Sites interface, but it’s something we worry may confuse users that are brand new to WordPress.
The My Sites interface is simple and clean, and everything within the dashboard is easy to use. For whatever reason though, some customizations require the use of WP Admin.
Of course, this isn’t to say that users should avoid any of these particular customizations or that they should shy away from WordPress.com because of this reason. WP Admin definitely opens up the possibilities of what you can achieve on your site. However, it does require WordPress.com users to acquaint themselves with two very distinctly different interfaces, which doesn’t seem like the ideal solution. Again, this shouldn’t be a deterrent, it’s just something to prepare yourself for.
Despite not incorporating a drag-and-drop builder into the tool (though that may soon change), WordPress.com absolutely shines when it comes to content creation. It is so incredibly easy to create new pages and posts and to upload media to websites that it’s kind of shocking why anyone would choose to use a slow, clunky, and overwhelming builder tool if generating content is their primary goal.
In addition, because WordPress comes with the Jetpack plugin, there are a number of integrations that make the content creation process even more impressive.
- Categories and tags can be added to posts
- Content can automatically be shared across your social media profiles
- Discussion settings can be altered
- With paid plans, users have even more options for optimizing content for search.
The WYSIWYG editor is awesome to work with and users also have the option to switch over to HTML/plain text editing as well. Publishing new posts and pages to the website is easy and users can even schedule them for publication at a later date, giving them even more control over their site than would typically be found with a website builder.
If you know anything at all about WordPress.org, then you know that the true strength of the platforms lies in the fact that it is open source software. This means that anyone can contribute new tools and features — vetted by WordPress first, of course — that give users the ability to do more with their websites.
Themes enable users to apply beautiful and professional-looking designs to their websites even without knowing how to use Photoshop or how to write a line of code. Plugins enable users to add e-commerce functionality, create special sales popups, integrate video, and much more.
However, with WordPress.com, users can only choose from the themes and plugins that WordPress makes available to them. This means that nothing from outside of the WordPress.com repository is allowed into your website, which does lead to a restrictive design and content creation process. Even at the higher plan tiers where premium themes and plugins do become available, customization is kept to a minimum.
So whether you want that sort of control now, or you know you’re going to need it when it comes time to scale, this is something to be aware of. WordPress.com can definitely grow with you, but only to a point.
For anyone that’s nervous about having to go it alone when it comes to building a new website, we’d strongly suggest you go with WordPress.com for that reason and that reason alone. It really can’t be said enough: WordPress is a well-loved and well-supported platform. This pertains not only to WordPress.org, but also to WordPress.com.
Support comes in a variety of forms:
- Contact form
- Setup checklists
- Support forum
- Community forums
- Self-guided courses
- Video tutorials
- WP Blogging University
- Paid plans through WordPress.com also offer email, live chat support, and VideoPress support.
WordPress.com Plans and Pricing
Finally, we come to plans and pricing.
Perhaps one of the nicest things about WordPress is the fact that the “cheapest” plan is one that doesn’t cost anything at all. Granted, your website will reside on a WordPress sub-domain and storage and customization will be limited, but it’s still a great value considering how much you can still do with WordPress.com out of the box.
On top of the Free plan, WordPress also offers three paid plans, each of which loosens up more of the reins WordPress holds over features and customization capabilities. These include:
- Custom domains
- Email and live chat support
- Advanced theme customization
- WordPress.com branding removed
- G Suite email domains
- Greater access to themes and plugins
- Site monetization options
- Additional SEO and social media options.
Honestly, there is so much room to grow within WordPress.com. For a small business owner that doesn’t need much to start and doesn’t expect business to scale too rapidly over too short a period of time, this site builder would be absolutely perfect. The four pricing tiers offer more than enough room to grow within.
As a bonus, plan upgrades are seamless and have no effect on your website. They simply alter what you’re capable of doing with it.
Weighing the Pros & Cons of WordPress.com
As you can see, there is a lot to take in with WordPress. While other site builders focus on simplifying the process of getting a website up and out there for the world to enjoy, WordPress is more about simplifying the platform through which the user creates the website. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to be aware of before hopping onto the platform if it doesn’t jibe with your expectations.
So, now that we’ve gone through the most important features of WordPress, let’s break it all down into a simple pros versus cons.
- Perfect platform for bloggers, small business sites, and portfolios
- Great solution for a website that is going to scale up
- Hosting is already taken care of
- Interface layout and design
- Highly simplified content creation
- Bonus features and customizations you likely won’t find elsewhere (thanks in part to Jetpack)
- Comprehensive support
- Can access with desktop, iOS, and Android.
- Takes time to set up and shouldn’t be used straight out the box
- The Reader tab (which is basically an RSS feed of other WordPress blogs) may confuse users
- The My Sites admin area isn’t all encompassing, forcing users to become comfortable with multiple interfaces (My Sites, WP Admin, and Customize)
- Limitations on what users can add to site in terms of themes and plugins and consequently customize
- No drag-and-drop too.
- No e-commerce, newsletter, donations, multilingual, and other features that may otherwise be included with other site builders
- Can’t design a website from scratch or modify the code.
So, what’s the verdict here? Well, WordPress has definitely done a good job in creating a site builder tool. It might not resemble anything that the competition has built (especially in the way of drag-and-drop builders), but the platform is so clean and intuitive that it shouldn’t matter. If users want to create content and focus on making that content as high-quality as possible, then WordPress.com will definitely deliver on that.
There are a number of target end users that WordPress.com is suitable for.
Bloggers and freelancers wanting to show off their portfolio can definitely get a big bang for their buck (or lack thereof) with this site builder. Small business websites that aren’t planning on adding e-commerce functionality to their site or don’t have any intention of growing it too big over the next year or so would do well with this too.
On the other end of the spectrum, WordPress.com is not really an ideal solution for medium to large business websites. Users can buy into one of the more expensive plans, but at that point, it would make more sense to sign up for reliable web hosting and use WordPress.org.
At the end of the day, this is about providing a simplified content creation tool to users. Anyone whose primary focus is on creating quality content would benefit from using WordPress.com.