Wordpress.com is not Wordpress— or at least, it’s not what most people think of when they hear Wordpress. Most people know Wordpress as Wordpress.org, the popular open-source content management system (CMS). While Wordpress.com is built on top of Wordpress, it's not actually the same thing. Knowing that there is a difference between these two services is key.
The most obvious signal that Wordpress.com is different from Wordpress is that it has a different user interface— it’s a streamlined and simplified interface. More in line with what you might expect to find in a website builder.
Unlike most website builders, Wordpress.com is not a drag-and-drop, visual editor. Instead, it’s a form-based editor that separates the content of pages from the design. The downside of a form-based editor is that pages aren’t design within context.
Aspects of Wordpress.com feel like they are a result of being built on top of Wordpress rather than from thinking about what’s best for users. For example, when you choose a page template, you simply choose from a drop-down box. There is no preview— you just sort of guess and test. (Website builders such as Squarespace and Weebly have a more intuitive approach.)
Wordpress began as a blogging platform and Wordpress.com inherits the fantastic blogging features. They really have the best blog features of any website builder. (The only real competitor in blogging is Squarespace.)
Over the last decade, Wordpress has cultivated an ecosystem of third-party plugin creators. Wordpress.com lets you install any of those plugins (if you’re on the most expensive plan). These plugins extend functionality dramatically— there are plugins for everything: podcasts, membership systems, maps and more.
But here’s the thing: in order to configure almost every plugin, you have to leave behind the friendly Wordpress.com interface and enter WP-Admin. WP-Admin is the interface for Wordpress— it’s the unfriendlier interface, and avoiding it was the reason Wordpress.com was designed with a different interface from the start. Even common elements— such as forms— have to be configured in WP-Admin.
In the end Wordpress.com tries to do two things: it tries to simplify Wordpress and let users leverage the awesome power of Wordpress plugins. The result is a product that’s built on compromises— which I think will make it worth it for for two types of users: bloggers and people who are already familiar with Wordpress (because they won’t mind using WP-Admin).
Packed with excellent features: tags, categories, drafts, posts in the future, featured images, automatic post sharing, custom permalinks and a lot more. One of the best parts: you can add a team of writers who can all contribute to your blog. Wordpress.com has the best blogging of any website builder. (It's only website builder competitor in blogging is Squarespace.) Show Screenshot
A flexible promotions editor lets you add discounts and coupons that apply when certain rules are met. Products can be categorized and have variations. You can choose between Paypal Standard or Stripe as a payments provider. You are not able to customize the emails and receipts that are sent to customers. No digital products. (Larger stores may want to consider a store builder as an alternative.) Show Screenshot
Contact Form 7 is the plugin to install if you'd like to have a form builder. There are options for different fields (checkbox, dropdown, radio, textarea), though no field for file uploads. You can customize what email address form results are sent to but you can't customize the 'successful form submission' message or choose where to send visitors after filling out a form unless you wade into WP-Admin (see screenshot). Show Screenshot
iOS and Android apps let you check analytics, write blog posts and respond to comments.
Images displayed sharp and crisp on retina and high resolution devices.
There is a 'Mailchimp for Wordpress' plugin that lets you connect to Mailchimp and create sign up forms. Show Screenshot
You can install 'Buddypress', a popular Wordpress membership system plugin. Buddypress will blow the water out of any membership system from a website builder— it gives you the tools to build a full social network for example. Plus there are extensions that let you customize Buddypress. It will require you to wade into WP-Admin. Show Screenshot
There is a Google Language translator plugin you can add— but I do not count that as multi-lingual. There isn't a built-in way to manually write different language versions that I could find.
I couldn't find a plugin for restaurant menus— but I'm sure one exists somewhere.
You can install 'Give', a 3rd party donations plugin. It includes donor management and powerful donation forms (with suggested amounts, goal-matching and more). No website builder can come close to matching the features of it. Because it is a 3rd party plugin, there are many features that are have to purchased as an 'Add-on' that you will pay for separately. Like most Wordpress.com plugins, you will have to wade into the WP-Admin to use 'Give'. Show Screenshot
'Compact' is a plugin that can embed an audio file into posts and pages.
'Blubrry' is a Wordpress plugin you can install to add a podcast feed to your website. Has multiple audio players, embeddable subscribe widgets and more. Like most Wordpress.com plugins, you will have to wade into the WP-Admin to use 'Blubrry'.
There are 294 themes to choose from— a wide selection. All are responsive.
… Here’s another example theme.
It can be confusing to know what is part of your theme and what is part of your content. These are not clearly separated. For example, the text elements on your sidebar are customized by going into the theme editor. This isn’t intuitive— it’s better to keep content and presentation separated.
There is too much that Wordpress throws at users in the theme customization interface. For example, ‘Menus’ includes a wide variety of options: you can swap menus for menus and choose different menus for different locations. This level of abstraction is frankly too confusing for anyone unfamiliar with Wordpress.
The upside to this confusing interface is that it allows for some esoteric design options (for example: you can decide whether to automatically use the first image in blog posts as the featured image). But overall, I would much rather Wordpress.com simplify the interface and be judicious about what features make sense.
Wordpress.com advertises the cost of plans in months (for example: $8.00 / month), yet doesn't actually offer monthly plans. Instead they only offer annual plans:
This makes the plan page misleading. Why advertise the monthly cost if you can only pay annually?
It would be better if they simply offered what most users have come to expect: a monthly plan. That way users can kick the tires before committing.