LearnWhen is WordPress.com the Right Solution?

Personally and professionally I’m a big fan of WordPress.com, the hosted version of WordPress, from the folks at Automattic. With a selection of free and premium themes, a suite of plugins you don’t get with WordPress.org, and a built-in community of millions of people it has some good things going for it. Plus, it feels good to support Automattic in their ventures since they give a lot to the WordPress community and continually demonstrate how to run a successful WordPress-related business.

This article doesn’t so much pertain to hardcore WordPress developers, but rather the average student of the web who at some point will want to put up a website for a personal project or possibly for someone else.

What WordPress.com Has Going For It

Let’s start with some of the basic features that you get with WordPress.com:

  • It’s free to start a new site and you can create as many as you want
  • You can add, edit and manage posts, pages, comments and media just like with in the .org version
  • You have the ability to use a custom domain name (paid feature)
  • You can connect your account with email services like Google Apps
  • WordPress.com has a great library of free and premium themes
  • You have the ability to customize the CSS and select custom typefaces (paid feature)
  • Has a simple, but great visitor analytics
  • Built-in social network integration
  • Ecommerce integration with 3rd parties like Shopify
  • A huge community of other interconnected WordPress.com users and sites
  • Great documentation and support

These features give you the toolset to build some great sites and even get help along the way from clear theme setup instructions to WordPress.com’s Happiness Engineers support team.

Two Scenarios When WordPress.com Works Great

Although you could potentially do a lot with WordPress.com sites, I want to highlight two types of sites that could potentially work really well with WordPress.com. Although this is only two types of sites, these two types cover a large portion of the types of sites you may likely need to create for a project or simple client.

A Brochure Site

This type of website usually involves a nice homepage with some feature information or call to action and then primarily static pages with maybe a blog or news section added. With the combination of a great .com theme, some decent artwork, and the copy for your site, you can get a pretty pro looking site online really quickly and know that it’s ready for a ton of traffic if you need.

Take a look at the site above (Treehouse Juice Bar) that we built for our WordPress.com course. It servers as a great example of a brochure site using the Basis theme and some images from Flickr and iStock.

I think that if more web students had experience building one or two demo business sites with WordPress.com they would see how easily they could setup sites for their own projects or clients (and begin to charge for their services).

A Marketing Blog

A lot of businesses take advantage of writing original, industry relevant content to help increase the draw to their sites. You can setup WordPress.com as a subdomain of your existing site, say blog.yourdomain.com and get a lot of potential benefits you would not get when starting with a .org version of WordPress.

WordPress.com Stats

Behind the scenes, all WordPress.com sites are tied together into a giant social network that includes more than 60 million posts per month and 16+ billion pages views. Many WordPress.com users take advantage of this network and regularly read other users content, comment on it, and check out their other services and offerings.

This is why when you login to WordPress.com you go to a reader dashboard. If you search for .com blogs and sites with content related to yours you have opened up a whole new marketing channel. If you want to see if your content aligns with popular WordPress.com content, check out their popular tags page where you can also search for tags and the recommended blogs section for some general categories regularly covered.

To use WordPress.com for your blog does not require your main business site to be running on WordPress since you can assign a subdomain to your main site work as the domain for your .com site. If you have a business site and want to get into blogging as part of your marketing outreach then WordPress.com may work as a quick win to test out how it works.

WordPress.com’s Major Limitations

When you hear WordPress.com discussed as a possible solution for a website you will often hear the following reasons acurately given for why to use the .org version of WordPress (or another solution) instead of WordPress.com:

  • You can’t edit template files – WordPress.com offers a paid option that let’s you add your own custom CSS, however you cannot edit the actual HTML or PHP for any of the template files.
  • 3rd party plugins are not supported – WordPress.com offers a few nice plugins, however, you cannot use the plugins listed in the .org repository or found in plugin market places. For sites needing features that require plugins this is often an automatic no win for .com.
  • Limited theme selection – Although WordPress.com has colaborated with some great WordPress Development shops on themes, they do have a limited amount of really nice ones that are not blog focused. I think for basic sites you can make it work, but if you don’t find a theme that you like, .com is probably not going to work this time around.

I would say that if you get into building WordPress sites as your profession, 80% of your sites might not work with WordPress.com. However, you may be able to take those 20% of your projects that could work with WordPress.com, streamline your process, and then increase the number of .com sites you’re able to do while you continually whittle down the amount of time it actually takes you. This could let you offer a package service that can really help the potential website owners it works well for, while also financially benefiting you.

At Least Learn How to Build a Great Site in WordPress.com

We designed a course around how to quickly get a professional brochure site online for a small business using WordPress.com. The course is about an hour long, with a couple of quizzes and an extra credit assignment that sends you on your way ready to create your own .com sites for yourself or a someone else.  You can see a full outline and trailer of the WordPress.com Course here.

If You Get Stuck on WordPress.com, You Have Options

Let’s say you start a .com website, work all night on it and after hours of work realize you hit a wall and need to switch to the .org version. Or you built a site for someone and a year later they want to add some features that would, again, make .org a better choice. You may also decide to never use WordPress.com, but one day get a client who needs you to migrate their site content off .com as part of you building them a custom .org site.

For whatever reason you have to migrate your content off of WordPress.com, you do have a some pretty straight-forward paths to backing up your content and reseting up your site with the more flexible WordPress.org.  We even have a course that covers how to migrate from WordPress.com to .org. The folks at WordPress.com also have a migration service where they will do it for you for a fee.

A .com Challenge to the Average Web Student

Next time to see a scenario where you may be able to help someone get a website online that would truly benefit that person or the people who may find it, see if you can take a weekend to build them a WordPress.com site. If you are at the level, or would like to test the waters, charge for your work. See if it works for you to have banging out WordPress.com sites something that becomes second nature and can benefit both yourself and those you work with.

Check all of my courses on WordPress at Treehouse.

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