WordPress is the most popular content management system in the universe. WordPress.com is a free or low-cost hosting option that uses WordPress. It’s a great choice for your family book club site, your private blog, or a classroom project. Does WordPress.com make sense for your practice website, your professional site, or your business online presence?
WordPress thinks so.
WordPress.com still offers a free plan, but they also offer business plans that cost about the same as business hosting for your WordPress.org website.
Super easy start
If you decide to make a new website at WordPress.com, there is a wizard that puts in words and pictures for you, offering you a business website that is modern, calm, professional, and so on. There are also nearly 300 other available themes, and site owners on the Business plan can upload a purchased or custom theme.
Once you’ve chosen a theme and WordPress.com has set it up for you, you get a checklist:
There are a couple more items: “Register a custom domain” and “Get the WordPress app.” Custom domain use is not free. Writing new homepage text to replace the generic starter text at your new website is not a 5 minute job. And you cannot expect to complete this checklist and have a successful professional website. This overly optimistic approach is basic to WordPress.com.
The theme you choose will, for example, include a page with step by step instructions.
These are nice, clear instructions. But you’ll notice that there is no discussion of how to plan your site architecture, branding, or customer path to purchase. “Create a page” doesn’t mention content. And you have to have quite a few functioning posts and pages just to set up the homepage correctly.
So your WordPress.com business site will be easy to build, but not as easy as WordPress.com pretends, and low cost, but not as low cost as you might have thought.
However, setting up a WordPress.org website can actually be impossible for a beginner, and it will generally not include a free option.
WordPress.com is web hosting
The free and low-cost plans do not allow you to install Google Analytics or plugins. You can choose a pricier plan to get more flexibility, and more choice of themes, but you generally will not have the same control with WordPress.com that you have with WordPress.org. You also can’t create a custom theme at WorfdPress.com, though you can upload one built elsewhere.
There is no install or download involved in putting your website online at WordPress.com. You won’t have to take care of your own updates, and there is a lot of guidance available, but WordPress.com definitely has limitations. If you’re ready to pay to reduce the limitations, you might as well have a self-hosted WordPress website and start without the limitations.
Your content belongs to… not you
Basically, your content belongs to Automatic. By using the service, you give them worldwide rights to use your content as they see fit. Also, “Automattic may terminate your access to all or any part of the Website at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately.”
What’s more, the free plan allows Automatic to place ads on your website.
This creates some of the same problems you have if you choose to use a Facebook page instead of a website.
The bottom line
If your goal is to hoist up a website quickly and cheaply, maybe even for free, then WordPress.com may suit you. Realistically, you will probably end up with a poor quality website.
However, there are some things you could do to improve your chances:
- Go through the same strategic planning for your website that you would for a custom website.
- Choose a theme that does exactly what you want.
- Use large, high quality photos for your visual elements.
- Focus on top quality content.
- Pay to use your own domain and refuse ads.
Do you have an opinion on this question? We’d like to know about it. Please tell us what you think in the comments.