So you have decided to set up a website or blog, and have also decided to use WordPress.com as the platform on which your new project will be based. There is a wealth of information about using WordPress available, but the best way to learn about this powerful and adaptable piece of software is to start using it. But first…
WordPress.com Vs WordPress.org
When you choose to use WordPress as the platform for your blog, you have the choice of two different options: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. The choise you make depends on your abilities, your long-term goals for your blog and how much time you are willing to give to getting set up.
WordPress.com is a managed, shared hosting platform that uses WordPress, and that handles all of the updates, backups, and security for its users. Unlike WordPress itself, WordPress.com is a company with employees whose job it is to develop, maintain, and support the WordPress.com platform. It is the most accessible for the beginner and it allows you to focus more on content and less on things like hosting and databases.
The downside is that you cannot install plugins and themes which are not already included as part of the platform (because it is a shared platform, this could introduce security risks) and you are much more restricted with what you can do to customise your blog. Your URL is also restricted, as it will always include the “.wordpress.com” part at the end. If your blog or website is for a professional or business website, this can look a bit amateurish.
There are premium upgrades, which you pay for on a yearly basis, which allow you to use your own domain name with WordPress.com, as well as offering other perks. If you are planning a professional blog, but want to use .com, you should definitely consider upgrading to premium.
Ease of Use – Incredibly easy to get up and running, with no knowledge of hosting, servers, ftp or domains needed.
Free to Use – Unless you decide to upgrade to one of the premium packages, WordPress.com is always free to use.
Automatic Updates – Unlike with the self-hosted version, WordPress.com is automatically updated when new versions appear.
SEO Optimised – All of the themes available for WordPress.com blogs and sites are SEO optimised, making getting found easier.
Secure and Safe – There is much less risk of your blog or site being compromised by malicious files when using WordPress.com.
One of the best ways we have heard of explaining the differences with .com and .org is this: Imagine that WordPress.com is like renting an apartment in a block. Security, maintenance and repairs are all taken care of for you, you don’t have to worry about tidying the garden, but you can’t just knock down walls and add a skylight if you want to improve your home. Using WordPress.org, in this scenario, is like buying your own house. You can change whatever you want to (within reason) to improve your house, you can build a garage, rent out a room, paint the walls pink. However, if the pipes burst in the winter, or the roof starts to leak, it’s up to you alone to sort it out.
If you self-host, you can install all the plugins you want, but if one of them breaks your site, you have to figure out how to fix it (luckily, WordPress.org has a great support forum with many knowledgeable and helpful volunteers). You’re also responsible for performing routine updates and backing up your content, but the only rules you are bound by are your own.
WordPress.org is often seen as the “Professional” option, but this is not really the case any longer. What it does give you is complete freedom. Setting up a .org version of WordPress also gives you the opportunity to learn some skills which can come in handy later, especially if you are planning to blog or work online as a career.
More Themes – If you are working with a self-hosted version of WordPress, you have thousands of themes to choose from online, both free and premium.
Powerful Plugins – There is probably a plugin available for anything you want to do, from adding a forum to selling goods and services.
Domain Choice – If you are self-hosting a WordPress install, you can use any domain name you like, from any that you own.
File Editing – If you decide to, you can actually edit the HTML, CSS and PHP files which make up your WordPress theme.
Get Started with WordPress.com
Head to www.wordpress.com in your Internet browser to see the very simple sign in/sign up page. You can click the arrow at the bottom of the screen to read more about WordPress.com features (and there are lots of new features to discover) or just click the “Create Website” button.
The first thing you need to do is choose the type of website you want to create. This choice will define the themes you can initially choose and a few other options, but it can be changed at any time so you don’t need to worry about it too much at this point in the process.
Next, you can choose an initial theme from the selection provided. As mentioned, the exact choices available will vary. Again, if you are unsure, just pick anything and move on, you can change your theme at any time once everything is set up on WordPress.com.
It is now time to choose a website address to use. If you are using WordPress.com as a host, the address will always finish with .wordpress.com. You can change to a self-hosted URL later on if you wish, but for now, go ahead and choose a name you like.
As you type your chosen domain name, you will see different top-level domain options (such as .org, .net and .com) along with the yearly price for each. You can also search for a completely different URL using the search field. Again, you can always upgrade later if you wish.
There are four different account options to choose from when using WordPress.com: Free, Personal, Premium and Business. Although both Premium and Business offer a free trial, there is a yearly charge for each after the trial ends. They do, however, offer a lot of additional options.
Now that you have your URL, theme and plan picked, you will need to create your login username and password, as well as entering a valid email address. As with the URL, the username you choose will need to be unique to your account. Make a note of your login details.
To fully activate your WordPress.com account, whether Free, Premium or Business, you will need to validate the email address you entered during setup. When the email arrives shortly after completing all setup steps, click the “Activate Account” button.
Back in WordPress, you will see that a basic site is displayed with some holder content, based on the theme you chose. The menu bar on the left lets you choose an action to perform (add a post, etc.,) You can open and close the menu by clicking “My site” at the top-left corner.
If you click on the site title at the top of the left sidebar to view the website or blog as it will appear in a browser, on a tablet, or on a phone. Use the controls at the top of the preview window to choose the view. Lots of sites are now viewed mainly on mobile, so this is a useful tool.
You can view and manage your blog via WordPress.com, as shown here. Alternatively, you can manage your blog through the more powerful Dashboard. To get to the dashboard of a specific blog, open the site in the browser and add “/wp-admin” to the end of the URL.
You should notice that the style of the backend changes (closer to how WordPress looks when self-hosted) and the URL changes. Rather than WordPress.com/Yoursite, it will now display as Yoursite.Wordpress.com/wp-admin. This tells you that you are in the right Dashboard.
You can now start to explore the Dashboard, and take a look at what you can do to your WordPress.com blog. The main Dashboard contains a lot of useful information (or rather it will when you begin posting), such as total number of published posts and pages, visitor stats, etc.
You don’t need to sign out every time you finish in the Dashboard, although it is a good idea if you share a computer with friends or family. To log out, roll your mouse pointer over the small avatar image in the top-right corner of the screen. From the menu, click “Sign Out”.
To sign back in to your WordPress backend, you can either load www.wordpress.com in your browser, click “Log In” and enter your username and password. Or you can type www.yoursite.wordpress.com/wp-admin into the URL field, and then sign in.
If you have not already done so, it is now a good idea to take some time to sketch out the important pieces of your site, like the critical information and the pages you want to include. Making a plan now, even a rough one, can help make your blog or site easier to manage as it grows.