Review: WordPress.com

Website Builder: wordpress.com
Pros: lots of designs to chose from; very well-established CMS systems; comes with TypeKit support pre-installed; WordPress has a reputation of generating HTML code that is good for your site’s SEO
Cons: Use of your own domain, video services, custom CSS and removal of ads only available at a fee; no Adsense or similar advertisement systems allowed; no realtime feedback of what the final page on your site will look like.
Price: free, though some features are only available as paid upgrades. Ultimately, there’s the VIP version that is priced at $500 (nearly 400 euro) a month.
Ideal for: pro-sumer bloggers

Ask “what is the best CMS for my website” on any online forum and chances are the first answer you get is going to be “WordPress”.

The name WordPress has almost become synonymous with CMS systems of any kind and size, especially in the open-source, self-hosted market. Since 2005, however, WordPress has also been available as a hosted solution on wordpress.com.

Hosted WordPress is based on the same software that is available for free via wordpress.org.

So what is the difference?

Well, on the good side, wordpress.com gives you free setup, hosting and support, with all technical issues taken care of. The trade-off is that you can not use a custom theme, upload your own choice of any of the hundreds freely available plugins at wordpress.org, or hack the PHP code. At least not unless you upgrade to the super-duper $500 a month VIP package.

In WordPress, all content editing and site maintenance is done through an interface that is different from your own site. No pointing and clicking the content on-page, instead, you have to go to something called the Dashboard. Despite its look of an office application, the Dashboard is actually fairly straightforward to use.

On the left side of the screen, you’ll find a vertical menu that gives you access to different maintenance-related sections of your site. Everything from posting a new post or moderating comments to changing the appearance of your site and installing plugins.

WordPress.com comes with over 100 themes to choose from and each theme has a number of customisation options. Exactly which options are available depends on the theme selected.

WordPress’s most modern theme Twenty Ten, which has all whistles and bells included, lets you customise widgets (wordpress’s plugin platform that provides additional functionality), menus, background, header and Typekit Fonts, among others. In addition, WordPress lets you edit the CSS.

The standard inclusion of Typekit fonts in WordPress should make designers very happy. Gone are the days of being limited to a handful of typefaces when designing web pages.

Typekit is an external service that has a free trial version, suitable for small sites. Designers might be more interested in the Portfolio or Performance packages, at $49.99 and $99.99 respectively, which provide a wider choice of fonts and higher page view limits.

Although wordpress.com comes with lots of functionality pre-installed, some essential functionality that a business user, for example, would be looking for is sorely missing.

Contact forms can, at this point at least, only be added by typing “[contact-form 404 "Not Found"]” into a post, page or text widget. This will automatically generate a standard contact form with name, email, website and comment fields. Customisation of the contact form is done by turning the command into something like “[contact-form 404 "Not Found"]” or something along those lines.

Similarly, wordpress.com’s solution to newsletters is actually an email subscription for blog posts.

But WordPress.com is more than just a blog hosting platform. It tries to be a social platform as well. WordPress recently implemented a “Like” button. Not the Facebook Like button, but its own version of it. When clicked, the WordPress Like button shows a Gravatar image for all the other WordPress bloggers who liked the post.

The last word

Contrary to popular believe, and as good as WordPress is as a blogger platform, it is not the be-all and end-all CMS for any website.

The strong focus in its selection of themes on blogging and magazine-style sites, combined with poor support for functionality like contact forms and newsletters makes wordpress.com less than ideal for SMBs.

Though the theme designs at wordpress.com are well-done, almost without exception they follow the standard blog and magazine layout. The customisation options are just too limited to make these themes look like anything other than a blog.

Some of the paid upgrade options, like the ability to use your own domain, are available for free or included as standard in other hosted websitebuilder solutions.

WordPress’s VideoPress solution for uploading and embedding video into your blog offers similar functionality, but a lot less disk space for the same price as Vimeo Plus.

Most seriously of all, even after you pay wordpress.com $29.97 a year to not have their ads shown on your blog, there is no option to put up your ads! Unless you go for the VIP hosting option at $500 a month that runs high-profile blogs like TechCrunch or Om Malik’s GigaOM.

All in all, WordPress.com is great for serious prosumer bloggers and company blogs for whom the Add a Domain and No-ads upgrades are all they need in addition to a secure and stable, proven platform.

To sign up for your free WordPress.com trial, click here.

If you use or have used WordPress.com or self-hosted WordPress, we would like to hear your experience in the comments below.

Disclosure: Sitebuilder-reviews.com uses self-hosted WordPress. Other than that, Sitebuilder-review.com is in no way connected to WordPress, wordpress.org, wordpress.com or Automattic.

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