WordPress.com is the hosted version of WordPress.org, a software tool used by more than a third of the websites in the world. It uses the same software but hosts it for you, meaning that they store your website files on their servers.
WordPress.com keeps the versatility of WordPress.org while taking the hassle out of finding your own hosting. Also, you can learn the WordPress platform without hosting your site.
Who it is for
If you're a blogger, WordPress.com might be your platform. Especially at the higher-level plans, the design flexibility and features for bloggers is outstanding.
WordPress.com is also an excellent option for people who know they want to use WordPress.org eventually but want to start with a hosted version first to learn the platform.
The higher-level plans offer the flexibility that WordPress is known for. If you'd like design flexibility without hosting hassles, WordPress.com might be the right fit.
Who is it not for?
WordPress.com has tried to simplify the WordPress platform at the lower-level plans. However, it is still not the easiest platform to learn.
A non-techy person that doesn't want to deal with the WordPress learning curve might not be interested in this platform. If you want the most straightforward website platform, this is not it.
People who want an all-in-one platform without having to figure out which plugins will create the website they want – this is not your platform.
Also, even though WordPress.com supports plugins that allow e-commerce, memberships, and courses, I don't recommend it for those purposes. There are limitations that make it unsuitable for these types of websites.
The lower-level WordPress.com plans offer a few design options and limited features. It's perfect for a beginning blogger or a basic business brochure website with a home, about, services, and contact page. Search engine optimization features are limited on the lower-level plans, but you can upgrade anytime.
Higher-level plans offer an experience more like WordPress.org, allowing you to install your own plugins and customize your website. You have much more design control, and you can add features with the plugins. You'll need some tech-savvy to add, update, and maintain the plugins, but you won't have to host your website.
Since WordPress.com is not an all-in-one platform, you have to add plugins to get email marketing integrations, analytics integrations, and any other extra functionality for your website, including more advanced search engine optimization features.
As I mentioned, WordPress.com allows e-commerce, but I don't recommend it on the hosted platform because of the cost and lack of features. Instead, I would recommend a dedicated e-commerce platform, an all-in-one platform for small stores, or WordPress.org and hosting it yourself.
Plans and cost
WordPress.com offers four plans, Personal, Premium, Business, and E-commerce. Plans range from $4 to $49 per year, depending on the level and whether you are paying monthly or annually.
For the Business and E-commerce plans, you can add your own apps and themes, possibly adding costs to your project.
The personal plan allows you to build a basic website from a limited range of free themes or a broader range of paid ones. There are no ads placed on your site, and you can collect payments - but you cannot connect Google Analytics at this level.
Adding a more comprehensive range of free themes (some of the ones that were paid on the tier below), and the ability to connect Google Analytics and upload videos to the site, the premium tier is cost effective but a notch above the personal plan.
The business tier adds the ability to install plugins and themes to your website. There are tens of thousands of plugins available to integrate with email marketing, add forms, reduce photo sizes, and much more. It also offers advanced SEO tools, automated backups for your website, and access to the files and database on the back end of your website.
WordPress.com offers basic plans, with the most basic plan--WordPress.com Personal Plan--offering a free domain name, browser-based content management system, and 500 MB of storage space for images and videos.
Higher-level plans offer access to premium themes. At the Business Plan or higher, you can add themes or plugins for increased functionality.
Things to watch for
WordPress.com's free plan is great for bloggers or individuals who want to share their content on the web, but it doesn't offer much flexibility, and some features are limited.
The ability to add themes or plugins at higher levels is excellent for increased flexibility to your website, but those plugins require updates to keep working. Updating plugins take a bit of technical savvy.
Also, if you plan for a complex site such as e-commerce, memberships or courses, consider whether the limits offered by WordPress.com hosting will fit your needs.
WordPress.com has a lot going for it: it's free, relatively simple to use even with no knowledge of code or design skills, and pretty customizable on higher tiers (though not as much as WordPress.org). So taking hosting off your plate while giving you the flexibility and blogging features of WordPress is WordPress.com in a nutshell.