03/05/2018

WordPress.com Supports Plugins and Themes

Wordpress plans
WordPress.com plans

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, has upped their game by allowing plugin and theme installations on the business offering of WordPress.com. For $33 CAD ($25 USD) per month you have access to a fully managed WordPress website, but there are some features missing from this new entrant into the custom WordPress hosting space.

Until sometime in August 2017, WordPress.com severely restricted the use of themes, offered no plug-in installations and limited the access to CSS for theme customizations.  The ability to install plugins, themes and customize CSS made WordPress.org the most popular platform in the world. Automattic’s hosting options were great for hobbyists and people running personal blogs, but not for businesses. That all changed late last year.

By giving WordPress.com customers the ability to install themes and plugins that satisfy most business requirements, Automattic could draw millions of customers from the existing WordPress hosting services.  The question is, has Automattic offered enough technology and service at each price point to deter the average website builder from installing and maintaining their own copy of WordPress?

There is no cut and dry answer to this question because every user has a different set of priorities. Automattic’s various service plans are compared on their website, and every website at WordPress.com now comes with a free SSL certificate and a few necessary plugins that are auto-installed. With the addition of the plugins, hosting at WordPress.com is now a viable option for business users.  

We’ll start by examining the free plan which used to be very cookie-cutter because users were offered only a yearly theme (2016, 2017 etc.) Now the free plan has dozens of themes to choose from, and several plugins are included. You can store up to 3 GB of files for pictures, audio and video, and even the free version comes with Jetpack essentials. Jetpack essentials is the most popular WordPress.org plug-in and offers features such as social media share buttons, stats and analytics about your traffic, site security, faster content delivery, a subscription system, and multiple site management from one interface. Some features in Jetpack you have to pay for such as VaultPress which offers back-ups and restoration for your site for $39/year.  The free plan will still insert “wordpress.com” in your domain name and you have no choice but to host ads on your site.

Where things become interesting is in the Personal plan for $5 a month. On this plan you can have a custom domain name and you get rid of all the WordPress.com ads that are sprinkled in the free sites.  Along with hosting and looking more professional, you get support by email and live chat, 6GB of storage space and email forwarding for five custom email addresses such as yourname@yourdomain.com.  WordPress.com only offers email forwarding and not email hosting so you have to go with another provider in order to be able to ‘send’ from your custom email address.  G Suite is available through WordPress.com for another $5/month per user but their email hosting is $50/mailbox/year. Note that to support email inboxes with WordPress.com you have to register your domain with WordPress.com (or transfer it to them).

The next plan up is a $10/month Premium plan where you get everything already mentioned in the Personal plan, plus access to all the Wordpress.com themes - there are about 300 of them to choose from. You also get full access to the CSS code in order to totally customize your your theme, an ad-free video player (Automattic’s VideoPress product), 13 GB of storage space and the ability to monetize your site through Automattic’s WordAds program.  

WordAds is a proprietary program only for WordPress.com sites that combines the features of Google Adsense and Adwords.  Adsense is actually one of the many partners that WordAds manages in this program.  Drawbacks include restricted participation in WordAds unless you get thousands of hits per month and they offer less control than Google’s Adsense over which ads are displayed on your site. Since its a new program, there’s no data yet on revenue generation as compared to Adsense but it will be interesting to see the stats on this program as it unfolds.  

The next plan is a big leap in price and options with the Business plan at $33/month.  On the Business plan you get unlimited storage, access to live training, SEO tools, access to the entire 50,000+ WordPress plugin directory, the ability to install custom themes from the theme directory and Google Analytics integration.  eCommerce, the ability to transact online, is delivered through plugins, so until the cheaper levels of WordPress.com include Woocommerce or another eCommerce option, the Business Plan is the only level where you can ‘sell’ on your site.  

Every WordPress.com site comes with one free, perpetually renewed SSL certificate which can save you up to $100/year from having to buy your own certificate. That’s 3-10 months of savings right there depending on which plan you buy. When you’re protecting your site with SSL your customers will be ensured that the data and their traffic is encrypted and no warning messages will appear due to lack of encryption. More importantly a little “secure” lock will appear on every page of your site, even if you don’t sell anything online. Google loves SSL so you get an instant SEO boost by having this certificate.  Some managed hosting companies, such as GoDaddy are countering this offer by also offering free SSL for every site on their premium levels of Managed WordPress Pro hosting.

WordPress.com charges for each site on an upfront annual basis so you’re locked in for a year with their plans, and there is no month to month payment schedule or any discounts for paying for a year.  

Now let’s compare the WordPress.com offering to Managed WordPress hosting offerings from web hosting and internet domain companies:

Managed hosting usually includes server monitoring to keep your site up and running, as well as proactively dealing with issues like security, back-up and restore, staging sites, storage space and support.  By putting your site in the hands of professionals, you are less likely to incur security breaches or have site downtime and you can choose a plan that meets your needs and budget.

As for pricing, let’s take GoDaddy Managed WordPress as an example. Their normal price is CAD$11/month for their basic managed WordPress (a domain, hosting, 1 WordPress site plus 1 staging site, daily back-ups and automatic core WordPress updates.  A visual page editor is also included as well as 24/7 support phone.)

GoDaddy is currently offering a 1 year discount of only $1.49/month including a Microsoft Outlook mailbox with 5GB of storage.  They are offering the same service on an monthly basis for $6/month.  GoDaddy’s regular pricing is $11/month for the Managed WordPress and $8/month for Office 365. GoDaddy has made the free domain contingent on an upfront annual payment so they are also looking for the one year commitment although they have more flexibility in their plans by offering monthly options.

GoDaddy includes SSL in all their Managed WordPress Pro pro plans which start at $20/month for 1 website. Most of their Managed WordPress Pro plans support the ability to manage more than 1 website from one account, which is not easily possible from WordPress.com. In fact you get a discount if you set-up a 5 or 20 website plan account with GoDaddy. These plans are aimed at web designers, developers and freelancers who build sites for customers rather than end users of WordPress.

After looking at WordPress.com and GoDaddy Managed WordPress if you are dealing with multiple websites, it will probably make more sense to go with a managed WordPress host for multiple WordPress.org collection of sites.  If you only have one site, have little interest in tweaking the theme you’re using and are only looking for an easy and low-cost way to get online, WordPress.com may be your best solution.  

Deciding between WordPress.com and managed hosting with WordPress.org is an interesting debate and we’ll revisit the discussion as we work with more of the WordPress.com plans and see how the Managed WordPress providers react.

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