WordPress.com offers numerous website building, hosting, and blogging options at a reasonable price—it even has a free tier. Though it started life as a pure blogging play, and still includes blog community features, WordPress.com now handles most website building needs, including commerce, social integrations, and mobile presentation. The service lacks the drag-and-drop simplicity that many competing services offer, but it’s a solid, low-cost option for people who want to get online relatively quickly.
From the outset, it’s important to make clear that WordPress.com is not WordPress in the commonly understood sense. Rather, WordPress.com is a service from Automattic Inc. that uses code from WordPress.org, the popular and free, open-source blogging and site-building platform. WordPress.com hides the server code and handles hosting for you. In that sense, it resembles entries in our online site builder roundup more than sites built using the open-source WordPress.org code, which requires you to sign up for a WordPress web hosting service. You can learn more about the WordPress.com and WordPress.org differences in our How to Get Started With WordPress primer.
Pricing and Competition
WordPress.com’s ad-supported free account level includes 3GB of storage, dozens of themes, and a preinstalled SSL certificate. The Personal plan costs just $4 per month with an annual commitment, and adds a custom domain name, a limited selection of themes, and 6GB storage. It also removes WordPress ads, but not all WordPress branding. Personal doesn’t offer any way to monetize your site, but does include SEO, spam protection, social sharing, site stats, and email and live chat customer support.
The $8-per-month Premium Plan ups the storage to 13GB, removes customization limits, and allows some monetization. The $25-per-month Business plan has unlimited storage space, SEO tools, and plug-in support, and it also removes all WordPress branding. It also boasts 24/7 priority customer support and the ability to have a WordPress.com technician schedule a one-on-one screen share to quickly get your site up and running. The $45-per-month eCommerce plan builds on the Business plan by adding payment acceptance, marketing tools, and other money-making tools.
As mentioned, using WordPress.org software is free, but you need to pay for web hosting if you opt for that less-turnkey option. Such services start at about $3 per month and range up to about $20, depending on the amount of storage, number of sites, and length of your contract. Among the pure site-builder plays, Squarespace starts at $16 per month, Wix at $13, and Duda at $14.25, but keep in mind that the last two have free account levels. So, the bottom line is that WordPress.com’s pricing is quite reasonable.
Start Building Your Site
When you select Add a New Site from the My Sites page, you have two choices: You can create a brand-new site or add a WordPress site that already uses Automatic’s JetPack plug-in, which powers much of the service’s functionality. We opted to start fresh with a new site.
The first step is to fill out a form asking your desired site name, topic, and goal. The last is a multiple choice among the following: typical blogging with media, business promotion, education, selling, and portfolio. Next, you choose a URL, which can be a free one with lots of numbers in the web address unless you pick a less-common character string.
Then you choose a plan; we started with Free to see what you get for nothing. After a short wait, the site was ready to view, even though we hadn’t picked a WordPress theme, or template. It looked pleasant enough, if a bit generic. The themes thankfully use responsive designs, so they look good on mobile devices and don’t offend search engines.
WordPress.com lets you easily post to the included blog from a clearly labeled Write button at top right. But in order to change the design, you must select Site Pages from the left panel and then choose the page to edit from a list, click its three-dot overflow menu, and choose Edit. (The other options there are View Page, Stats, and Copy.)
Web Design With WordPress.com
The WordPress.com editor is definitely more suitable for blogging than for general website creation. It feels outdated compared with modern web-based site builders, because it’s not at all WYSIWYG or drag-and-drop-based like Wix and other modern site builders. Instead, you add or remove content blocks for text, business hours, contact forms, carousels, comments, images (more on that in a bit) and other essential site items. Small arrows at the top of each block section lets you move a block up or down. It works, but we’d prefer drag-and-drop functionality.
WordPress.com offers a good selection of themes, some of which are premium and cost extra. Don’t think that the free themes are worthless; some rival Squarespace’s slick visual style. When you click a theme entry, you get a preview showing tablet, phone, and desktop previews. Simply press the Activate Theme button to get started with the Customize options. Payment, multimedia, and other content widgets let you create a site that fits your vision.
When you add a page, there are no choices of page types, like those offered by Duda , for things like Contact, About, and Store. WordPress.com is GDPR-ready, with the help of a widget that pops up a cookie and privacy notification. By choosing Status from the Page Settings right-hand sidebar, you can password-protect any page. You can’t drag page entries up and down to change the navigation hierarchy here, but you can do exactly that on the Customizing > Menus page. Having these closely related functions in very separate parts of the interface doesn’t make much sense in today’s world of DIY site builders.
Working With Images
WordPress.com offers no real built-in photo editing software: You’re limited to cropping and rotating. By contrast, Duda, Squarespace, and Wix offer integrated photo editing courtesy of Adobe’s Aviary online photo editor. We do, however, like how the service lets you save any images you upload to an online repository for reuse later—on a per-site basis.
For blogging features, WordPress.com is hard to beat. WordPress as a whole started life as a blogging platform, and that continues to be a strength. From just about anywhere in the interface, a tap of the Write button lets you start venting your mind to the world. The blogging interface is simple, and in fact it’s the same editing interface you see for any site page. After you title the post, you can choose fonts and formatting, and add media, a payment button, or contact form.
When you’re done crafting your post, you can publish it immediately, schedule a date and time for publishing, and even password-protect individual posts. You can also assign categories and tags to the post, connect social media sites for sharing, and add a location. Once your post goes live, your readers can add comments to and favorite it.
As mentioned earlier, WordPress.com hosts a community of blogs you can find under the Reader tab of the start interface. Any users signed up for the WordPress.com accounts can follow your site, find it in a Discover section, and search for relevant blogs. WordPress.com even recommends blogs you may be interested in following based on your activity.
WordPress.com lets you make money with any of its premium plans. We already noted the easy PayPal payment option, but for full store functionality, you can add a plug-in, such as WooCommerce (made by WordPress.com’s developer, Automattic). The company claims that WooCommerce powers 30 percent of all online stores. Just a half-minute or so of setup is all it takes to add a Store entry to your site dashboard. Clicking it takes you to a page with just one button: Set Up My Store. After you add standard contact info, it’s a five-step process: add products, set up shipping, payment methods, taxes, and customizations.
WooCommerce is a well-equipped web storefront, with promotions, coupon codes, inventory tracking, buyer reviews, and product options like size and color. Only Stripe and PayPal are available as payment processors, but those are all most users will ever need. In addition, WordPress.com supports newsletters and email marketing blasts, much like Wix and Squarespace.
Mobile Site Creation
The WordPress.com site builder offers no specific tools for mobile site design, not even a mobile preview, but the templates display perfectly well on the smaller screens, complete with mobile-friendly menus. Other site builders I’ve tested let you customize your site for mobile to varying degrees.
WordPress.com also offers mobile apps for editing your site. In addition to adding blog posts and media from the phone, the app lets you change your theme, menus, and even install plug-ins. Further, you can check your site stats, but you can’t add or manage store products, something that Wix’s mobile app offers.
Publishing and Traffic Stats
A WordPress.com site is published as soon as you create it, but some edits require republishing. You can preview the site at any time and schedule page updates by date and time. Save a draft after an edit without specifying a time if you’re not ready. You can make a whole site private, only accessible to those whose emails you enter, and you can password protect individual pages, as you can with many site builders, including Weebly and Yola.
WordPress.com’s site management console site offers robust site statistics. You get the expected tallies of view, visitors, likes, and comments, but you also get top search terms and even a map of your visitors’ geographic location. An Insights tab lets you see your top days and times, as well as top posts and products.
WordPress.com claims that its sites have excellent SEO, and you can tweak things like metatitles and descriptions. The WP Admin page (separate from the sites dashboard or the individual site editing menu) offers a place to submit your site to the search engines, which is a must if you want any traffic.
One advantage of WordPress is that your site is portable: You can save its contents as an XML file and bring it to another WordPress web host if you like. Doing so requires that you install the JetPack plug-in on your WordPress host server.
Excellent Uptime Results
Website uptime is one of the most important aspects of a hosting service. If your site is down, clients or customers will be unable to find you or access your products or services.
We used a website-monitoring tool to track our WordPress.com-hosted test site’s uptime over a 14-day period. Every 15 minutes, the tool pings the website and sends us an email if it is unable to contact the site for at least one minute. The testing data reveals that WordPress.com is remarkably stable; in fact, it didn’t go down once in the two-week testing period. You need not worry about your WordPress.com site going down for extended periods.
Free WordPress.com sites offer only community support, while paid accounts get email and chat support 24 hours a day, Monday to Friday. Most WordPress.com pages also offer support from a question mark icon in the lower right of the editor page. After clicking that, you can type in a search box to find knowledge-base articles on your question, or initiate a chat. Business plan customers are entitled to a one-on-one, 30-minute Concierge orientation session (Zoom video screen share with audio) with a WordPress expert, but there’s no regular phone support, otherwise.
We asked about how to sell digital downloads and how to connect a domain from another registrar. After we typed a query in the help panel, the panel displayed the message, “We’ve received your message, and you’ll hear back from one of our Happiness Engineers shortly.” Our initial chat was answered in less than a minute, and the support representative was knowledgeable.
Blogging and Then Some
WordPress is not a WYSIWYG or drag-and-drop website builder like Wix or Squarespace. Its primary focus is blogs, but you can customize your site’s look and add plugins for store and social functionality. Doing so with one or our Editors’ Choice website builder services, Duda and Wix, is far more straightforward, however. The WordPress.com interface feels dated at this point compared with more modern site builders.
For tips on getting started building a website, you can read our primer, How to Build a Website.