WordPress has been around since 2003, and it has quickly grown to become the most popular content management system (CMS) available. At the time of writing, over 36% of the internet was powered by WordPress, including everything from small personal websites to enterprise-level eCommerce stores.
On top of this, WordPress is a free open-source program. It’s easy to get started with, and most web hosting providers include some sort of one-click software installer to help streamline the process.
However, WordPress can be a little confusing for beginners. Its sheer power and number of tools available can be overwhelming, not to mention the huge number of plugins and extensions. And since it’s a free, open-source program, it can be hard to find help. There are resources online, and most web hosts come with basic guides, but don’t expect premium support.
But, that’s where WordPress.com stands out. It combines the power of the WordPress ecosystem with the convenience of a managed website builder, allowing you to create a new website in no time at all. And, you won’t even have to worry about things like hosting, updates, security, and software installation.
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A simple free forever plan is available if you want to test the platform. However, it is quite basic, with limited access to themes and advanced design tools, WordPress.com advertising, and only 3GB of storage. You won’t be able to add a custom domain, and support options are limited. Despite all this, it’s still a great choice for those looking for a beginner-friendly option to create basic websites.
Upgrading to a Personal plan costs $4 per month, allows the connection of a custom domain, and removes WordPress.com ads. You will also have 6GB of storage and access to email and live chat support.
More advanced features are available with a Premium subscription ($8 per month), including 13GB of storage, advanced design tools, and access to Premium themes. You will also be able to sign up for WordPress.com’s ads program to monetize your site.
The $25 per month Business plan unlocks an impressive 200GB of storage, along with access to a large plugin library, Google Analytics, and SEO tools, among other things.
And finally, an eCommerce subscription ($45 per month) can be used to create a powerful online store. It comes with a selection of online selling tools, as well as everything in the Business plan.
Once you’ve signed up and logged into your account, you will be prompted to choose a domain name for your new WordPress.com website. Note, though, that you will either have to pay for your domain or sign up for a paid plan.
We found this a little annoying because we selected the Start with Free option from the Plans & Pricing page, and the only option available was to search for a domain name. This delivered a selection of different options, including a branded free domain.
You also have the option to skip the domain selection process and review WordPress.com’s plans. If you do this, you will be taken to a pricing page—but there’s no free option available!
After going back to the domain registration page and selecting the free domain, we were finally given the option of starting a free site. As you can see, this process is far from easy, and WordPress.com does its best to force you to purchase a paid plan.
Once you’ve spent some time getting past the obstacles WordPress throws at you, you will be redirected directly to your site’s dashboard, where the site creation process begins.
In short, the WordPress.com interface is a simplified version of the regular WordPress dashboard. It includes a sidebar on the left of screen that provides access to everything from page management tools, a site previewer, settings, and much more.
The highlighted list of steps to help you get started—which take up the main body of the page—make it immediately obvious that WordPress.com targets web development beginners. These guided steps include naming your site, customizing your homepage, and creating navigation menus. Anyone with basic tech skills will be able to work through these in next to no time.
If you click the Update Your Homepage option from the main dashboard, you will be taken directly to the WordPress editor. Unfortunately, it’s a little disappointing, and simply doesn’t have the power most website builders do. On the plus side, though, it’s very easy to create basic pages and blog posts.
In addition, the editor supports a range of file types, including audio, video, images, and documents. You can upload pictures from a computer, via your Google account, or with a URL. The integrated Pexels library also provides access to a huge selection of free images. If necessary, you can embed audio and video files hosted elsewhere, or alternatively, upload them directly to your site.
As far as the editing options go, they are straightforward and relatively self-explanatory. For example, you will be able to add a gallery and customize its appearance with just a few clicks of your mouse.
However, there are few image customization options available. Of course, you can upload files and add captions and alt text, but that’s about it. Editing tools aren’t included, which means your image processing will have to be done with a third-party program.
Similarly, WordPress.com supports very few direct integrations with other programs. However, embedding content is generally very simple. In most cases, all you need to do is copy and paste a URL from YouTube (or other media platform) and the media will be displayed within your content.
In general, the editing interface has an uncluttered, tidy feel to it. Basic keyboard shortcuts are available to streamline the content creation process, and there are few complex features to distract you from your work.
Meanwhile, you can integrate widgets with your website via the Design menu. In short, these are small blocks that you can include in your sidebars, header, footer, and other supported areas to add elements like post archives, a contact form, or an email sign-up button. These are far from the most powerful around, but some of the more useful widgets include social media feeds, iCal-compatible calendars, and media embedding.
If you have trouble with editing, you will be able to switch straight to an HTML code editor. With the right skills, you can fine-tune your website by editing the code. This is one of our favorite features, and it gives you a lot of control over your content. Note, though, that you will need a strong working knowledge of HTML, else you risk making mistakes that could severely impact the appearance of the page you’re working on.
In its simplest form, the open-source WordPress software includes access to thousands of powerful themes. Unfortunately, though, less than 100 are available with a Free or Personal subscription.
In general, premium themes can be purchased for anything from $40 to $100 plus, even if you’re using a low-end plan. Alternatively, the three most expensive plans include full free access to the WordPress template library.
And things are pretty much the same with plugins. The base WordPress CMS comes with access to a plugin library containing thousands of add-ons designed to optimize your site. These include everything from SEO tools to powerful programs like WooCommerce (one of the top eCommerce platforms in the world).
If you’re using one of the three cheapest plans, you will be able to access and browse the plugin library, but you won’t be able to actually install anything. Plugin installations are only available with the Business and eCommerce plans.
Although these issues could concern some people, remember that free website builders are always limited. And what’s more, WordPress.com still has a great selection of advanced features.
Among our favorites is the selection of importation tools. Using these, you can import everything from comments to entire posts and pages from a range of platforms, including WordPress.org, Blogger, Wix, Tumblr, and Medium.
If you want to create a blog, you will love WordPress.com’s industry-leading blogging tools. These are numerous and versatile. For example, you can configure exactly how you want your blog comments to work, specify whether users have to enter a name and email address, set up email notifications, and automatically approve comments from trusted visitors. At the same time, you will be able to create custom rules that control how your comments are displayed and require all comments to be approved before posting.
In addition, you can monitor your website’s performance with the automatically integrated Jetpack, one of the most popular WordPress analytics plugins. In short, this provides insights into everything from visitor numbers and page views to audience location and popular search terms. Even more historical statistics are available via the Insights tab.
Finally, WordPress.com supports unlimited site hosting with a Free subscription. This means, for example, that three or four (or more) family members or friends will be able to have separate blogs connected to the same account. Unfortunately, though, costs begin to increase when you need to upgrade. For example, you can only connect one website with each Business subscription. In saying that, WordPress.com has all the basics for those who don’t need an advanced website builder.
If you want to build a simple website, then WordPress.com’s free plan is a great choice. However, you will need to upgrade to a paid plan for serious projects. These are very expensive compared to many competitors, and we’d recommend exploring alternatives like Wix and Weebly.