This article describes a personal journey to find a website platform that works well with my technical abilities, budget, and knowledge about digital marketing. As you’ll read I didn’t land on the perfect platform (maybe that doesn’t exist), but I’m happy with my decision to go with WordPress.com. Read on to find out why.
I’ve been a marketer for over 10 years and have worked with many different website platforms. After an almost paralyzing deliberation (I first decided I wanted a personal site in late 2015) I finally landed on WordPress.com after a brief stint on Google’s Blogger.
WordPress.com is not WordPress.org.
Many people don’t know this, but the “.org” version of WordPress is an open source website architecture. Open source means anyone can use and build on the core framework. This comes with a major upside that the open source version can be very cheap with lots of functionality, but being open source also leads to some downsides, namely people abuse the platform by exploiting security vulnerabilities, or simply making buggy plugins. The simple fix to this is to use plugins with good reviews, and keep them up to date.
If you go with the .org version, you’ll need to figure out hosting and other technical aspects of the site on your own. There are extensive support forums, but there is no interactive support in the traditional sense.
Though I’ve worked with WordPress.org sites before, these downsides seamed pretty daunting. Worpress.org is typically cheaper on a monthly basis because you only need to pay for hosting, SSL, some plugins, and a theme (if you choose a non-free one).
For these reasons I chose WordPress.com. The cool stuff out of the gates were that I was able to setup my site in just a few hours. I even interacted with their chat support to troubleshoot some banner sizing issues. The site comes with a free SSL certificate (this is the security certificate which ensures data on your site is being transferred securely. You’ll see a lock you in your web address as well as “https://” before your web address rather than just “http://.” Having SSL makes your site more trustworthy to search engines like Google).
WordPress.com sites also come with accelerated mobile pages (AMP), which makes your pages load almost instantaneously on mobile devices. Having a fast site is important to your Google search rank, so I thought this integration was cool. Squarespace only has AMP on blog posts, so it’s a big shortcoming of their platform compared to WordPress.com.
I launched at their premium package level, so I could get a premium theme and have slightly more functionality. Unfortunately premium had too many limitations – the biggest being that it doesn’t support Google Analytics, or WordPress plugins – you don’t have to use Google Analytics, but it can be a real asset in showing you website performance info. Having the ability to add plugins can also help you ramp up site functionality.
In my opinion, not having analytics on a site is like driving a racecar with a blindfold on. The WordPress stats section is helpful, but it doesn’t cover all the cool info that Google Analytics does. If analytics is sight, pluggins are functionality. Sure you can live with out AC, a horn, or a trunk on your car, but they are useful tools to have.
Because of these limitations I felt somewhat forced to upgrade to their business package. As of writing this, the business package is $300/year – their site says $25/month, but they make you pay the full amount up front.
The thing is, this actually isn’t a horrible deal. It’s more expensive than almost every other platform out there, but for the $300/year, you’re getting support, SSL, premium themes (My theme would cost $160 if I bought it outright), and in general most functionality of WordPress.org, but without the security and technical maintenance downsides.
Why didn’t you choose Squarespace, Blogger, GoDaddy, Wix, or Weebly?
Squarespace appears to have site speed issues. I tested a number of Squarespace sites using the Google Pagespeed Insights test, and most were just average. This is largely due to the size of photos people upload, but still I was concerned that speed was not built into their architecture. On the other hand they have beautiful design, good support, and reasonable pricing. They just weren’t a good fit for me.
A couple years ago I built a dedicated real estate listing website on Squarespace and I had a good experience. At the time I remember it not being quite as intuitive as I would of liked, but their support was solid, the design was great, and the price point was reasonable.
I actually started this site on Google’s Blogger platform. This free platform has a lot of cool functionality, and analytics is built in. The challenge I faced with blogger is that SSL in not available for unique domain names. AMP integration appeared pretty manual. There were also design limitations. Blogger would be a good platform if you just want to get your content out there, and you can’t beat free.
What about Wix, Weebly, and GoDaddy? I actually built a GoDaddy website for my wedding. It turned out pretty cool. Despite this positive experience, I just have a sense their platform doesn’t have the scope of customization that WordPress has. One thing to note, is that you can actually setup your WordPress site hosting through GoDaddy should you choose to go the .org route.
Wix and Weebly – as far as templated sites go, these could be a good jumping off point, they’re not horrible by any means. They just don’t have the same cool factor as Squarespace, or the same expansive functionality of going the WordPress route. I also read about limitations in changing your template at a later date. This was concerning because I definitely anticipated wanting to do a design change at some point.
And the Winner is…
I chose WordPress.com expecting to have an out of the box solution for $8/month ($96/year). After paying for their premium package, I discovered I had to upgrade to $25/month ($300/year) to add Google Analytics and WordPress plugins. Despite having to pay this much for a WordPress site, I don’t have to deal with self hosting, or buying a premium theme. Plus I have support I can reach out to.
I may consider switching to self-hosting down the road, but for now, I think this is a reasonable value, and I feel like I’ve ended up with a decent site. Would love you get you notes though. Please leave feedback on this site in the comments. I’d also be happy to answer questions about this experience via Twitter.
If you want to check out these platforms for yourself, here’s a link to all of the platforms mentioned in this article and their current pricing: https://oakfive.com/2018/04/16/wordpress-com-squarespace-godaddy-websites-wix-and-weebly-pricing-as-of-spring-2018/