As we discovered in our review of WordPress.com, the website builder and hosting site has its ups and downs: we love the customization, but we’re less happy with the level of difficulty. But just how difficult is it to build and host a business site on WordPress? To find out, we had to dive in ourselves—a process we detail below.
To help you get an idea of how to create a website on WordPress—and to find out if it’s right for you—we’ll walk you through our basic website build and what stood out to us.
As a reminder, this how-to post is about WordPress.com, not WordPress.org. WordPress.org is a free, open-source software that syncs seamlessly with most business-website hosting services. It’s easy to modify and has seemingly endless free plugins (including search engine optimization plugins), widgets, and free themes. (Psst: if you are looking for info on WordPress.org, check out our WordPress.org how-to page.)
On the other hand, WordPress.com is a site builder and hosting combo, which is why features like plugins and premium themes are limited to paid plans.
Does that clear things up? If you’re still confused, see our in-depth explanation of WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org. But if you understand the difference and are specifically looking to build with WordPress.com, keep reading (or, if you prefer, watch our build video below).
The basic website
To start building our business website on WordPress, we signed up for the site’s free plan. This did limit our test a bit, but only when it came to the online store, which we’ll address in a moment.
After giving our website a name, we chose a free theme.
You can find lots of WordPress themes on third-party sites, but we stuck to the provided themes, so we had about 100 free themes to choose from. WordPress also has Premium themes, which are free with higher-tier plans, but those would have run us somewhere between $20 and $150.
Then we got to editing, which begins with customizing your theme via the Customizer (intuitively accessible via the “customize” button). We chose a color theme, selected our fonts, and chose how our menus would appear. As we made changes using the left-hand menu, the preview pane on the right showed us how those changes would look.
There are lots of WordPress templates on third-party sites, but we stuck to the provided themes, so we had about 100 free templates to choose from. WordPress also has Premium themes, which are free with higher-tier plans, but on the free plan, those would have run us somewhere between $20 and $150.
Once we chose our template, we got to editing, which begins with accessing your WordPress dashboard and customizing your theme via the Customizer (intuitively accessible via the “customize” button). We chose a color theme, selected our fonts, and chose how our menus would appear. As we made changes using the left-hand menu, the preview pane on the right showed us how those changes would look.
Even in the middle of creating a website, we could toggle between desktop, tablet, and mobile views to make sure our site would look good on all devices. After all, you don’t want to lose a customer because they can’t read your site on their phone. As we played with customization options, it was helpful to see how the changes showed up on each view.
While the Customizer mostly edits sitewide things like color schemes, menus, and logos, it’s also where we could edit our home page. Given that you edit all your other pages elsewhere in WordPress, this felt confusing.
Also confusing, our home page editing options were limited to inputting text and choosing a featured image. While that worked for our needs, we had expected a few more options. Evidently we would have needed to create a page from scratch for those. This was a theme-specific issue, though; another WordPress theme would give you different options for editing your home page (and you always have the option of making it from scratch yourself).
WordPress won’t save your changes automatically; you have to press the “Publish” or “Update” button to save. Don’t forget, or you might lose your work.
Once we finished with that, we backed out of the Customizer and began creating and adding pages. This led us to a visual editor where we could add different blocks to assemble our page. But unlike the attractive pre-built blocks you’d find from something like Wix or Squarespace, these are bare-bones blocks. The media and text block, for example, just lets you place an image or video next to some text; there’s no design whatsoever.
So creating an attractive page took a lot of work on our part—more work than many small-business owners have the time to dedicate to a website builder. We had to keep adding and editing blocks, figuring out how to make them look good together. It took a while. And honestly? We liked our WordPress page much less than the page we could build with a drag-and-drop website builder like Weebly.
In the end, we cobbled together a functional about and contact page in about 25 minutes or so.
The online store
Because we tested the free WordPress plan, we couldn’t create an online store. E-commerce with WordPress.com requires plugins, which you only get with the top-tier Business plan.
We did do our research, though, so we can confidently tell you that, with the right plugins, WordPress can go toe-to-toe with the best e-commerce site builders. The most popular e-commerce plugin, WooCommerce, has all the features you’d expect from an e-commerce builder, from payment gateways to inventory management to product filtering.
Plus, WooCommerce heard you like apps, so it put apps inside its app so you can increase the functionality of your increased functionality. No really—WooCommerce has lots of extensions that add things like shipment tracking, gift wrapping, or even Google Analytics. (Note that while WooCommerce itself is free, some of these extensions cost money.)
And that’s just one of the e-commerce plugins available with WordPress. You’ll find a plugin for selling digital downloads, a plugin for selling subscription boxes, a plugin that creates limited-time sales, a plugin that adds a contact form, a plugin that—well, you get the point.
So while we didn’t get to test an online store or e-commerce website personally, we know that WordPress has what it takes to sell your goods. And since WordPress has plenty of retail-specific themes, it can sell them in style.
WordPress is all about blogging. Unlike other builders that require you to create a blog via some complicated menu, your WordPress blog exists all along, waiting for you. There’s even a shortcut to add a new blog post on your main navigation menu.
And just as you’d expect, adding a blog post takes almost no time. You can paste in previously written text, and WordPress keeps all your formatting (a huge time-saver). You even have the option to add those content blocks we mentioned, though you probably won’t need them for basic blogging.
Our WordPress blog had all the features we expected. We could add tags to posts and put posts in categories, which makes it easy for users to find relevant blog posts. We had the option to add featured images and excerpts. We could even schedule a post to publish in the future, so it would go live on our days off.
For our test, we published three posts, complete with images and, in one case, a video. Our blog page looked great—very bold, modern, and attention-grabbing.
Like any site builder and hosting provider, WordPress has its pros and cons. Overall, whether you choose the free version of WordPress or a more expensive premium version, it can be a good choice for small-business owners who need to get their businesses online fast: we built the entire site above in just over 35 minutes.
You’ve seen the process now, so it’s up to you to decide: Is creating a WordPress site worth it? If you don’t mind spending a little extra time for a little more customization, we recommend you give it a try!
Not sold on WordPress.com? See our list of the best website builders for small businesses to find the right one for you.
At Business.org, our research is meant to offer general product and service recommendations. We don’t guarantee that our suggestions will work best for each individual or business, so consider your unique needs when choosing products and services.