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WordPress review: ultimate guide for 2021

Wordpress Review

WordPress is the most popular website builder on the planet. And with its huge range of plugins, themes and templates, it’s easy to see why millions of people all over the world have used it to create personal sites, blogs and online businesses.

But is it the right solution for you? Are there better options out there? And how much does it cost? In this WordPress review, we’ll take you through the fundamentals of WordPress.com and WordPress.org to tell you everything you need to know. From how to create a website on each system, to functionality, features, pricing, pros and cons, and much more, we’ll arm you with all the information you need to pick the software that ticks all the boxes. 

What is WordPress?

WordPress powers millions of websites around the world every day, making it the world’s most popular site builder. It’s an open-source content management system (CMS) and a blog hosting service. 

There are two different options for building a WordPress website. First, there’s WordPress.org, which is an open-source content management system. The alternative is WordPress.com, the paid-for commercial site. This WordPress review will explore both options in detail. 

What is WordPress.org? 

Founded in 2003, WordPress.org is considered to be of the best web builders and is often referred to as self-hosted WordPress. It is a free open-source CMS that anyone can use to build a website. It was originally launched as a standalone, self-hosted CMS that you can install on your own hosting server with no limits on functionality.

WordPress main page

WordPress.org provides users with complete control and flexibility over their website, without any of the restrictions that can come with WordPress.com (more on that later). It also hosts the central depository of WordPress plugins. There, you will find over 50,000 readily available plugins that will help extend the capabilities of your self-hosted site. You will also find the main library of WordPress themes here, which has thousands of themes to choose from.

In a nutshell, WordPress.org lets you download and install the free WordPress software onto your own web server to create a website that’s entirely your own. It is powerful and fully customizable. When using WordPress.org, you host your own blog or website – all you need is a domain name and you’re good to go.  

WordPress.org pros and cons

To help you decide if WordPress.org is the right choice for you, we’ve compiled a list of pros and cons to using the platform.

Pros

  • WordPress.org software is free and open-source
  • Huge range of free, paid and custom WordPress plugins and apps
  • You own your site and all its data
  • You can make money by running your own ads
  • Lots of e-commerce features
  • Access to powerful tools like Google Analytics

Cons

  • Web hosting is not included
  • You are responsible for backing up your site
  • You are also responsible for updates

How to create a website with WordPress.org

WordPress.org is free to use, but you will need to buy your domain, hosting provider, plugins and themes. 

  1. Get WordPress

The easiest way to get WordPress is through a hosting provider. Tech-savvy users may prefer to download and install the software themselves.

WordPress hosting
  1. Install domain

If you pick a hosting provider outside of WordPress, you will need to install the CMS to connect your new domain to your website. If you use a managed WordPress hosting service, like WordPress itself, you won’t need to go through this process as it will already install it for you. 

  1. Set up your site

Once it’s installed, it’s time to set up your site. This stage includes inputting your content and picking any themes and plugins that you may require. Regardless of the kind of website you want to build, chances are, there is an existing WordPress theme or plugin for the job. 

WordPress themes

WordPress relies on a powerful templating engine to manage the appearance of your website. This engine allows developers to create a set of templates, otherwise known as ‘Themes’. There are thousands of WordPress themes available.

Theme Directory

These themes come with basic template files and a stylesheet to display different sections of a typical WordPress site. They have their own settings, which you can use to customize the appearance of your site. Themes let you pick your own colors, logos and layout combinations.

WordPress plugins

Plugins are essentially apps for your WordPress site. These can be installed to add new features and functionality to your website. There are over 50,000 plugins available in the WordPress.org directory alone.

Some are simple and add one specific feature like an image, whilst others add multiple functionalities. Indeed, plugins like WooCommerce have their own ecosystem of plugins and themes – and act as their own platform on top of the WordPress platform.

WordPress Plugins

Regardless of what you are trying to do on your WordPress.org site, plugins will make it possible. There are plugins to boost performance, create social media buttons, improve SEO and much, much more. Some of the most popular plugins include Yoast SEO assistant, WooCommerce and WordFence Security. 

Is WordPress.org hard to learn?

WordPress.org is really easy for beginners to learn. It’s simple to set up and run, easy to navigate, and doesn’t require programming or web development experience. 

WordPress has removed technical barriers so that anyone, at any skill level, can use the platform to build and run a website. As it is a CMS, users don’t need to start from scratch with a blank page. Instead, users can begin with a fully designed site that’s ready for your customization and content. 

The point-and-click interface makes it simple to add new content and run your website. As you get more confident, you can delve deeper and look at custom theme design or inputting your own HTML and CSS. 

Do you need programming knowledge?

You do not need programming knowledge to run a website on WordPress.org. The majority of WordPress users don’t have coding or programming skills. You don’t have to know HTML or other programming languages to code a website, which makes the platform perfect for website building beginners. 

However, if users wish to add increased functionality or customization, understanding programming, HTML and CSS can come in useful. Fortunately, the online WordPress community is on hand to guide users through the process. 

WordPress.org support

Though it’s super easy to find learning resources for WordPress, a downside with the platform is that there is no official support channel. 

As WordPress is open-source software, it is maintained by the community. This means there is no single entity providing support. Instead, users must rely on the community for help. Luckily, the community is huge, so it doesn’t usually take too long to find the assistance you need. 

WordPress.org pricing

One of the most significant advantages of using WordPress.org is that the software is entirely free to download. There are, however, some costs involved for extras that you will need to run your website. These include web hosting and your domain name. 

It costs around $11 a month to run a basic WordPress website. However, depending on what you want, it can end up costing more. If you require a web designer’s support, for instance, you will see this price increase. Of course, as you have complete flexibility over your website, you are in full control of any additional costs incurred. 

Additional costs

Your web hosting is what powers the WordPress software. Your domain name is the permanent address of your website on the internet. Luckily, even with these costs, it’s still possible to run a simple WordPress.org site for under $60 a year. This is considerably cheaper than other website builders such as Wix or Squarespace. 

Additional costs could include: 

  • Domain name
  • Hosting
  • Security 
  • Developer fees
  • Pre-made themes
  • Plugins

As your site grows you may find that you need to purchase more expensive hosting to handle the increase in traffic. This is a good problem to have, as it will mean your website is growing. 

Who should use WordPress.org?

WordPress.org is ideal for website owners who want full control and independence over their site. This is because users are free to build their site from scratch, install tools of their own choosing and completely control their website functionality. 

WordPress.org is also a good choice for users who already know how to code, because there is the opportunity to implement your own HTML and CSS. 

For users who wish to monetize their website, WordPress.org is a strong option as it lets you build:

  • A business site
  • A project site
  • An e-commerce site
  • A professional site

What is WordPress.com? 

WordPress.com was launched after WordPress.org and is built on top of the original platform. As such, it has inherited many of the features that make WordPress.org so popular.

WordPress.com is similar to a regular website builder in its design and formatting. Unlike WordPress.org, this website builder doesn’t require users to code, manage updates or host their own site. WordPress.com does it all for you. This makes it a really simple solution that’s ideal for beginners.

WordPress welcome page

WordPress.com provides many website building, blogging and hosting options. Though it began purely as a blogging platform, and still includes numerous blog community features, WordPress.com now handles most website building needs. These include social integrations, mobile presentation and e-commerce. 

With WordPress.com, users can start a website for free. However, if you need more features like extended storage space or a customized design, you will need to upgrade to a paid plan. 

WordPress.com pros and cons

To help you decide if WordPress.com is the right choice for you, we’ve compiled a list of pros and cons to using the platform. 

Pros

  • Great for blogging
  • It’s possible to set up a site for free
  • Loads of features to improve the functionality and appearance of your site
  • Automatic backups and updates
  • Free for up to 3GB of space
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Unless you upgrade, it’s not possible to sell ads
  • Limited customization options for the free version
  • Ads are placed on all free websites
  • You can’t use Google Analytics unless you upgrade
  • WordPress.com doesn’t support multisite for users

How to create a website with WordPress.com

The process for creating a website with WordPress.com can be broken down into four main steps: 

  1. Choose your identity

Once you have created an account, you’ll need to pick a name. This is incredibly important, as it tells your visitors what your site is about. You can register your domain and site title in the Settings.

Register domain on WordPress
  1. Design your homepage

Here is where it starts to get fun. You can either begin with a blank page or you can use a pre-built page layout to create a homepage in seconds. It’s simple to load any of these designs and then edit, remove or add any elements to make it uniquely yours.

Contact form
  1. Create more pages

Now it’s time to add more pages to your site. Simply go to your dashboard sidebar, then select Pages > Add New to get started.

Create new page
Add New Page interface
  1. Set up your menu

The menu is the list of links displayed at the top of a website that you can use to navigate their way around a site. Get started with setting yours up at My Site > Design > Customize > Menus. 

WordPress.com pricing

WordPress.com offers users the choice of a free plan and four paid plans. These are billed annually and come with a range of features, functionality and benefits. We’ll break down what is included in each plan below. 

VersionFeaturesPrice
Free• 3GB of storage space
• Community support
• Free themes
• Basic design customization 
Free
Personal• Free domain for one year
• The option to remove WordPress.com ads
• Collect payments functionality
• Unlimited email support
$4 per month
Premium• Everything in Personal
• Live chat support
• Ability to earn ad revenue
• Premium themes
• Option to upload videos
• Google Analytics integration
$8 per month
Business• Everything in Premium
• Access to 50,000+ WordPress plugins
• Advanced SEO tools
• Automated site backups and one-click restore
• SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol) and Database Access
$25 per month
eCommerce• Everything in Business
• Ability to accept payments in 60+ countries
• Integrations with top shipping carriers
• Premium design options for online stores
$49 per month

Free plan 

The free plan is a great place to get started with WordPress. This option lets you publish your site online, free of charge, and provides a wide range of features:

  • 3GB of storage space
  • Community support
  • Free themes
  • Basic design customization 

Personal plan

The personal plan costs $4 a month, billed annually. As the name suggests, this is a good option for personal use. The plan includes:

  • Free domain for one year
  • The option to remove WordPress.com ads
  • Collect payments functionality
  • Unlimited email support

Premium plan

The premium plan costs $8 a month, billed annually. This option is best for freelancers and entrepreneurs. It comes with all the features included in the Personal plan, as well as:

  • Live chat support 
  • Ability to earn ad revenue
  • Premium themes
  • Option to upload videos
  • Google Analytics integration

Business plan

The Business plan is billed at $25 a month, and is best suited for small businesses. It has all the perks of the premium plan, plus a host of added extras:

  • The option to remove WordPress.com ads
  • Collect payments functionality
  • Unlimited email support
  • Google Analytics integration
  • Access to 50,000+ WordPress plugins
  • Advanced SEO tools
  • Automated site backups and one-click restore
  • SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol) and Database Access

E-commerce plan

Finally, the E-commerce plan is best suited for online stores. It costs $49 a month and provides an extensive range of features and functionality, including:

  • Ability to accept payments in 60+ countries
  • Integrations with top shipping carriers
  • Premium design options for online stores

WordPress.com features

Like most website builders, WordPress.com offers a wide range of features that let you extend your site’s functionality. It has a feature or plugin for pretty much every need from boosting your SEO performance to adding e-commerce features or understanding user analytics. 

We’ll explore some key features in the next section. 

SEO and marketing

WordPress.com takes care of almost all elements of SEO for you. All themes are designed to optimize your rankings, and there are a range of SEO tools available to those on the Business plan. These user-friendly tools let you tailor what appears on the search engine results page, tweak your content to improve SEO ranking (through keywords, alt text, meta titles etc.) and even optimize your content’s readability. 

Domains

You simply have to type in your site name and find the best URL available on the free plan. If you’re looking for something that stands out or want something a little more professional, you can opt for a custom domain. To do this, you will need to upgrade to any of the paid plans. 

E-commerce

WordPress.com users can access a variety of e-commerce features by upgrading to the business plan or above. These include: 

  • The e-commerce store. Available to customers in Canada and the US, this option allows users to sell in the US or go global. To benefit from this feature, you must be on the business plan and have a custom theme or plugin already installed. 
  • Simple payments. You can add simple payments buttons if you’re on a business or premium plan. It’s also possible to add a PayPal button to your site, which allows you to set up payments through PayPal. 

Analytics

WordPress.com has a built-in analytics feature that lets you see how many people are visiting your site, when they visit and where they are coming from. This doesn’t need to be set up, you simply need to click on the Stats button for an overview of your site’s activity. 

Support

Depending on the payment plan that you choose, you will have access to varying levels of support. For instance, if you’re using the free version then you will need to rely on community support. The premium version, alternatively, provides email and live chat support. 

Who should use WordPress.com?

WordPress.com is great for users who don’t want to get too hands-on with third-party tools, hosting, and custom web functionality. WordPress.com is perfect if you want to sign up and get an online space within minutes. 

The platform is a strong solution for non-technical users with few needs. This is because WordPress.com maintains your website for you, so there’s no need to worry about technicalities or security. 

WordPress.com is the ideal choice for bloggers and independent users looking to build an online portfolio.

WordPress.org vs WordPress.com – overview

It’s easy to get confused between WordPress.org and WordPress.com. In the following table, we have provided a direct comparison of key features and elements of each service. 

FeatureWordPress.orgWordPress.com
Ease of useRequires more input from the user, but it’s still relatively easy to use.WordPress.com takes care of domain, hosting and design for you. 
PricingThe software is free but you will need to purchase your own domain name and find a decent hosting company.Offers a completely free plan to work with – no strings attached. You can also upgrade to premium plans. 
HostingA self-hosted site that anyone can download and use. Users purchase their own host and have full control over everything. WordPress.com hosts your site and handles everything for you. The drawback here is that your control is somewhat limited. 
ThemesUsers have access to thousands of free and premium website themes. There are compatible themes to be found all over the internet. The plan you choose will determine how many theme options you can pick from. Opt for premium, business or e-commerce plans to access hundreds of free and premium themes.
PluginsUsers can install as many new plugins as they like from the very beginning – for free. You can also source thousands of plugins on the internet.Users on business or e-commerce plans will have access to 50,000+ powerful plugins.
AnalyticsIt’s straightforward to install Google Analytics and other powerful third-party analytics to gain all the insights you need. The free WordPress.com plan comes with built-in stats, but users can’t install more powerful third-party analytics tools. 
SEOFreedom to install numerous SEO plugins and utilize other third-party SEO tools. Search engine friendly. Users have limited control over SEO features. 
ControlUsers have 100% control over (and rights to) their content. WordPress.com only offers somewhat limited control to the user. You will be restricted by the site’s terms and conditions. 
SecurityThe software is built to adhere to all modern standards and security requirements. Basic security and backups are available immediately when you launch your WordPress.com site. 
MaintenanceUsers will need to take care of their own backups and maintenance. However, there is the option of downloading plugins to take care of this. WordPress.com handles all software updates as and when they are needed. 
MonetizationUsers can monetize their site as they want with no limits or restrictions. Free and personal plans can’t be monetized. Users must upgrade to a premium plan to do so. 
SupportNo dedicated support service, though the WordPress community is huge and offers advice on pretty much any subject. Varying levels of support are available to users, depending on the chosen pricing plan. 

WordPress.org vs WordPress.com – which is better for you?

The free WordPress.com platform is best suited for bloggers who don’t mind being restricted by the terms of service and have no plans to monetize. WordPress.org is suited to users who want complete control over their site. This is because it’s possible to customize your site to any extent, monetize as you wish and add unlimited features. 

In the following section we’ll take a look at the various uses for WordPress to help you decide which option is best for your needs. 

Personal website

If you’re not a blogger or a business owner, WordPress.com is a good option for you. There are many themes to choose from, so you’re sure to find a style and format that suits your personal tastes. 

If you’re not currently looking to make money from your personal site, you could begin with the free version of WordPress.com. Of course, if you want to add extras such as media, you will need to upgrade to the premium plan. 

Blogging

WordPress.com was designed to host blogs. As such, all the relevant features you could want for your blog are automatically built into the platform. These include display categories, analytics, archive, search feature, social bookmarking, RSS feed and comments. 

The platform stands out amongst its competitors because it offers intuitive settings options, such as automatically using the first image in your post. You can easily edit your blog display in the Customizer. 

Last but not least, there are many settings and features that make WordPress.com a solid choice for blogging.

Business website 

When it comes to building an online business site, WordPress.com is probably not your best option. This is because it lacks high-level customization, so users may struggle to meet their specific business needs. 

Of course, users can choose to upgrade to the business plan for $25 a month, billed annually. This is the option that WordPress recommends for small businesses, as it includes Google Analytics support, unlimited storage and business theme templates. 

Membership website 

WordPress.org is the best choice for a membership website because it gives users unrestricted access to all the tools and features you will need. There are lots of free and paid WordPress membership plugins available, such as WPForms (for enabling user registration) or MemberPress (for selling subscriptions, digital downloads or paid content). 

Though it’s possible to access some of these features with paid plans on WordPress.com, it makes complete sense to use WordPress.org and enable these features for free. 

E-commerce website 

While WordPress.com has e-commerce features, users must upgrade to the business plan to access them. 

Alternatively, with WordPress.org, you can install as many new plugins as you want. This is regardless of which website host you have chosen. With WordPress.org you will have access to all 50,000 plugins that are available with the WordPress.com business and e-commerce plans. As such, we’d recommend WordPress.org as the right choice for your e-commerce website. 

Moving from WordPress.com to WordPress.org

If you begin your web building journey on WordPress.com, it’s completely possible to move your site to WordPress.org at a later date. Not only will you be able to move all your content, you will also have the option of changing your domain name, or redirecting your domain name to your new site. To make the move, you simply have to follow these steps: 

  1. Export your content from WordPress.com
  2. Use a built-in tool to import your content to self-hosted WordPress
  3. Set up a redirect to send all of the visitors from your old WordPress.com site to your new WordPress.org site

WordPress alternatives

Before deciding which website builder is right for you, it’s worth checking out the alternatives. WordPress is a popular choice for many, but it can’t meet every site owner’s needs. For this reason, we’ve put together a list of some worthy WordPress alternatives in the following section.

Squarespace 

Squarespace is a website builder designed to help creatives showcase their own work and build their own websites. It is ideal for anyone passionate about design, as it lets users build a beautiful, image-focused website without coding. It is suitable for all levels of technical ability. The powerful site builder has high-quality features and an impressive array of template designs. It also offers plenty of e-commerce features and website tools. 

Squarespace is not user-friendly from the get-go. It takes a bit of time to get to grips with the editor. Despite this, it generally fares well amongst user reviews. 

Wix

As a leading alternative to WordPress, Wix is a super popular website building platform. Wix offers a limited free version to use for personal or small business websites. Both free and paid plans come with pre-designed templates that users can modify with the drag and drop page builder. 

Within its paid plans, Wix offers e-commerce support. This means that site users can accept online payments through Authorize.net or PayPal. 

Essentially, Wix is a classic template website builder and an AI platform rolled into one. Users will benefit from 500+ templates, SEO and marketing tools and many apps to help scale. Wix also has everything you may need for portfolios and blogging. 

Weebly

Weebly is a great option for small business sites and portfolios. It is user friendly and has a large selection of features and apps to choose from. Weebly has a drag-and-drop editor which makes it easy to use and a great choice for blogs, portfolios and online stores. 

If they want, users can edit their own HTML and CSS to customize their websites. There are many subscription levels available to users, including e-commerce plans. Overall, Weebly is a strong option for anyone starting a portfolio website or small business.  It is suitable for novices and coding experts alike. You can find out more about Weebly in our review

Site123

Site123 is designed for individuals and businesses who need to get a website up fast with little effort. It’s not the best choice for complex sites, but it’s great in terms of efficiency. 

Site123 takes a design-assisted approach, which makes creating a website super easy. The templates are mobile responsive and offer both e-commerce and blogging functionality. It can, however, be tricky to customize elements of your site with Site123 properly. The lack of flexibility means that it can be hard to build a site with many specific requirements. 

Find out more in our detailed Site123 review

WordPress review summary and final thoughts

The key difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is where your site is hosted. With WordPress.org, you host your own site – giving you full control. With WordPress.com, the hosting is taken care of for you. Though this is more convenient, it also means you have less control. With WordPress.com, you can’t customize your site as you can with WordPress.org. 

Overall, we’d recommend that you start your web building journey on WordPress.org. It is one of the most flexible publishing platforms around, and it is super easy to make a site your own with custom themes. WordPress.org users have access to thousands of plugins to extend site functionality. There’s no need to hire a developer or programmer because you will have access to the enormous (and ever-growing) WordPress.org community. 

The only exception to this advice is if you are looking to start a blog or hobby website. In that case, WordPress.com is a brilliant option. It was designed specifically for building and hosting blogs, and it’s possible to stay on the free plan to do so. You also don’t need to purchase a domain name or web hosting to start a free blog – you can use a free WordPress.com subdomain instead. 

FAQs

Should I choose WordPress.com or WordPress.org?

Choose WordPress.org if you want to build an independent website with full control over functionality and design. Choose WordPress.com if you don’t want to get involved in third-party tools, custom site functionality or hosting. 

Is WordPress beginner-friendly?

WordPress is a great web builder for beginners. The user interface is intuitive and simple, making it easy to build your site from the ground up. Creating new functionalities and features is also straightforward thanks to the wide range of plugins available. 

Is WordPress absolutely free?

WordPress can be free, but it can also come with associated costs. The WordPress software itself is completely free and open source, but you will need to pay for add-ons such as hosting and a domain name. 

Can I use WordPress for an e-commerce website?

Yes. With WordPress.com, you will need to upgrade to the business or premium payment plans to access the functionality required to run an e-commerce site. With WordPress.org, you can freely install as many relevant and free ecommerce plugins as you want. 

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