WordPress.com could be thought of as a watered down version of WordPress but in a secure, fully managed environment. Sometimes you may not need all the power and flexibility of self-hosted WordPress and would prefer not to have to maintain your website yourself.
WordPress.com could be a good choice for your website if…
1. You want to use WordPress but don’t want to maintain your site yourself
WordPress is extremely popular software that is used by 27% of the web (according to wordpress.org). You may have already used WordPress yourself but if not, then it’s likely that there is someone local to you who is familiar with it and who you could ask for help if you need it. WordPress’s popularity means there are numerous books, online tutorials, articles, courses and Facebook groups to help you learn how to use it.
Like other page builders, such as Weebly and Squarespace, WordPress.com is a complete package that includes maintenance and security as well as hosting, meaning that you don’t have to worry about making sure that the software running your site is kept up to date. WordPress.com is a fully hosted platform that is quite different from self-hosted WordPress.
Comparison with Self-Hosted WordPress
If you choose self-hosted WordPress then, unless you pay extra for managed hosting or your host allows you to set up automatic updates, you’ll need to keep your site’s software up to date yourself. You have to make sure that everything is updated when new versions are released because hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in older versions.
If I set up a self-hosted WordPress website for you, I’ll install the WordFence plugin so that whenever an update is required you’ll receive an email to let you know. When you log into your WordPress dashboard you’ll be prompted to carry out the update.
If you don’t want to be bothered with frequent updates, then WordPress.com might suit you better, and would also mean that you don’t need to worry about keeping your website backed up yourself. Whereas with self-hosted WordPress you should always have a back up in case anything goes wrong with your site.
If you think you may want to move to self-hosted WordPress in the future then WordPress.com could be a good place to start. It’s possible to import the contents of a Weebly or Squarespace website into WordPress, but the switch from WordPress.com to self-hosted WordPress would be more straightforward.
2. You don’t want a drag and drop page builder
With WordPress.com you edit your pages and posts using the WordPress editor.
This isn’t “drag and drop” like Squarespace or Weebly, and you can’t install a page builder plugin as you could with self-hosted WordPress, unless you have the WP.com Business Plan.
3. You like the WordPress media library
Both versions of WordPress include a useful media library that stores all your images and lets you use them in multiple places throughout your website.
Neither Weebly nor Squarespace include this function.
4. You like to try out new looks for your site or change the content regularly
WordPress will allow you to amend your site’s content whenever you like and, unlike with Weebly and Squarespace, WordPress changes don’t take effect immediately. You can amend the contents of a page or post and preview your changes. But if you don’t click the “Update” button then the live version of your site will not be changed. This means that if you make a mistake, or decide you preferred the original version, then you can discard the changes.
Until you press “Update”, you can use the WordPress editor’s undo button to get rid of individual changes, or can move away from the page without updating it to leave it as it was after the most recent update.
If I build a website for you using WordPress.com then I’ll use one of my preferred themes. But once I hand the site over to you, you’ll be free to change the theme and try out some other looks. Sometimes a theme may have a special front page template so you’ll need to add widgets to make it look good.
Here’s a slideshow with some examples of how using a different theme can change the appearance of your website.
5. Your website is relatively simple
WordPress.com comes with certain built in functions, including contact forms, polls and slideshows. These are all things for which you would have to install plugins in self-hosted WordPress, but they tend to be simpler than the plugin versions.
For example, here’s how you would set up a slideshow in WordPress.com, by creating a gallery and choosing to display it as a slideshow.
Comparison with Self-Hosted WordPress
Compare the example above with the amount of control available with the self-hosted WordPress Meta Slider Pro plugin.
There are hundreds of plugins available for self-hosted WordPress, but these cannot be installed on WordPress.com, unless you have the relatively expensive Business plan.
6. You don’t want to sell anything directly from your website
With WordPress.com, you could add a menu link to a separate selling site (such as Shopify or Etsy) but you can sell products or services directly only if you have the Business plan.
7. A blog is an important part of your website
WordPress starting out as a blogging platform and it’s probably still a better choice for a blog than Weebly (although blogs can be included on Weebly websites). Squarespace is another reasonable option that, like WordPress, allows you to assign categories and tags to your blog posts.
8. You are prepared to compromise on your site’s appearance
For self-hosted WordPress, my favourite theme, GeneratePress and its premium add-ons plugin, makes it possible for me to change all sorts of things pretty easily. The screen prints below show only a few of the possible theme options settings:
WordPress.com provides a limited list of possible fonts and the free and cheapest plans have only a few pre-set colour schemes. A Premium plan will allow you to customise your site with CSS, but you don’t get the sort of flexibility shown in the screen prints above. Upgrading to the more expensive Business plan may allow you to install a theme such as GeneratePress (I haven’t been able to test this).
9. You don’t mind people knowing that your site was built with WordPress.com
There will be a discrete link to WordPress.com in the footer, for all but the most expensive Business plan. WordPress.com also displays its admin bar at the top of your website whenever it is viewed by a visitor who is logged into their own WordPress.com account, if they have one.
10. You need a free, or inexpensive, website
WordPress.com and Weebly both have free versions.
The footer advert in a free WordPress.com is more subtle, but Weebly has the advantages of allowing CSS code and not showing adverts on its free sites.
As at the date of writing (in January 2017):
- the cheapest paid WordPress.com account (a Personal account which does not allow CSS code) costs $35.88 (approximately £29)
- a WordPress.com Premium account costs $99 (approx. £81)
- a Weebly Starter plan costs £60
- a Personal Squarespace account costs $144 (approx. £117)
- the cheapest hosting at Vidahost (which could be used for self-hosted WordPress) costs £35.88
- a Personal managed WordPress account at WP Engine costs $348 (approx. £283).
(These prices are for one year and are for comparison purposes. They may not include taxes and exchange rates will vary.)
For more information about WordPress.com, see my blog posts Self-hosted WordPress Versus the Rest, “Website Solutions – Part 1: Self-hosted WordPress versus WordPress.com” and “Choosing a Platform“.