WordPress.com Business Plan Review: A Worthy Self-Hosted Alternative?

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If you've ever read a WordPress.org vs WordPress.com comparison post, you know that one of the common complaints against WordPress.com is that it's not "real" WordPress. That all changed in August 2017 when WordPress.com announced that Business plan users would be able to install their own themes and plugins, putting that tier of plans somewhere between the WordPress.com of old and self-hosted WordPress. So...should you consider ditching your self-hosted WordPress site and hopping on one of WordPress.com's Business plans?
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If you’ve ever read a WordPress.org vs WordPress.com comparison post, you know that one of the common complaints against WordPress.com is that it’s not “real” WordPress.

That is, you can’t install your own plugins. You can’t install your own themes. It’s just…not as flexible as what you get with self-hosted WordPress.

And for a long time, that was true. While WordPress.com users got their own helpful features (many of which self-hosted users could access via Jetpack), WordPress.com users just plain couldn’t benefit from most of the WordPress ecosystem.

That all changed in August 2017 when WordPress.com announced that Business plan users would be able to install their own themes and plugins, putting that tier of plans somewhere between the WordPress.com of old and self-hosted WordPress.

So…should you consider ditching your self-hosted WordPress site and hopping on one of WordPress.com’s Business plans?

Well…maybe. It’s still definitely not for everyone, but there are also some real benefits when you go with WordPress.com, especially for casual users who want a little bit more flexibility, but still don’t care about direct server access.

In this post, I’m going to discuss the pros and cons of WordPress.com’s Business plan to help you decide if it’s right for you.

Five Pros: It’s Really Convenient And Backed By Automattic

I think it’s good to be positive, so let’s start off by looking at the pros of WordPress.com’s business plans.

1. You Get To Use Your Own Plugins And Themes!

Ok, I already told you this (it’s kind of the entire point of this post), but it’s important to reiterate because this is still the main benefit of jumping up to the WordPress.com Business tier.

With the Business plan, you can:

  • One-click install plugins or themes from WordPress.org
  • Upload your own plugins and themes via zip file

And that right there eliminates a big chunk of criticisms against WordPress.com.

2. It’s About As Simple As Running A Website Can Be

In terms of simplicity, WordPress.com is like managed WordPress hosting on steroids. Because everything is still in the WordPress.com ecosystem, you pretty much have no responsibilities when it comes to basic maintenance. WordPress.com handles:

  • Updates
  • Security
  • Backups
  • Performance optimization
  • Etc.

There’s no beating around the bush – that’s convenient.

Of course, simplicity does come with some drawbacks that I’ll discuss in the cons section. But in general, if you value simplicity more than flexibility, it’s hard to find a self-hosted WordPress implementation that trumps WordPress.com’s Business plan, which makes the Business plan an especially great option for non-technical users.

3. You Can Pick Your Dashboard

If you love the regular WordPress dashboard from your self-hosted WordPress site, you’ll still be able to use an almost 100% identical dashboard with the WordPress.com Business plan.

And if you hate the regular WordPress dashboard from your self-hosted WordPress site, you can use the fancy WordPress.com dashboard to manage your site, as well.

4. Unlimited Space And Bandwidth Means Great Value

This is a huge benefit. You get unlimited storage and bandwidth. Not like “cheap shared host” unlimited. Actual unlimited, and backed by WordPress.com’s massive architecture.

When you consider that most similarly priced managed WordPress hosting plans will probably limit you to somewhere around ~20,000 visits per month, the Business plan’s $25 per month price tag becomes a lot easier to stomach.

5. Awesome Support Via Happiness Engineers

If you’ve ever used Automattic’s support for Jetpack or VaultPress, you know how great it is. If not…they respond really fast.

I think I usually got responses in under 10 minutes for all the tickets I’ve put in. And not only do they respond quickly, they also actually fix your problem (at least in my experience) and are available 24/7.

You will need to use either live chat or tickets (there’s no phone support), but I usually prefer ticket/chat support over phone support anyway, so I don’t think that part is a negative.

Four Cons: You Still Don’t Have As Much Control As Self-Hosted WordPress

Now that we covered the good stuff, let’s get into some of the things that still might get in the way of you loving WordPress.com’s Business plan.

1. There Are Still Some Plugins You Can’t Use

While the Business plan lets you install your own plugins, that doesn’t mean you can use every single plugin in existence because WordPress.com does still ban some plugins.

Now, disallowed plugin lists certainly aren’t unheard of with managed WordPress hosting for self-hosted sites, but WordPress.com’s is a little larger than your average managed WordPress host and goes beyond the normal blocking of caching/backups/related posts plugins.

You can view the full list here, but a few notable banned plugins are:

  • WP RSS Aggregator
  • Duplicator (and other clone/migration plugins)
  • Another WordPress Classifieds Plugin
  • Post Views Counter
  • Google Captcha

Make sure to check the full list so that you don’t get surprised.

Additionally, because you can’t use most clone/migration plugins, I’m unsure if it’s possible to move your entire site from WordPress.com to self-hosted WordPress, should you desire to do that in the future. This is also something to keep in mind.

You can always export your content, but I couldn’t find any mechanism that would make it as easy as migrating your self-hosted WordPress site from one host to another.

2. You Still Don’t Have Full Access (No SFTP, SSH, or Database)

The big criticism of WordPress.com in comparison to self-hosted WordPress has always been lack of control. Letting you install your own plugins and themes solves a big part of that criticism, but it doesn’t solve this part:

You still don’t have direct access to your server or database.

That means:

  • No FTP/SFTP to upload files or manage files
  • No SSH access
  • No phpMyAdmin access to make database edits

Now, depending on how involved you are with hosting your site, you might not care about any of those things (leaving them out is part of what makes it so hands-off). But if you like the ability to work directly with your server and database, these restrictions are probably a deal-breaker for you.

3. You Still Have Those Weird Monetization Restrictions

As part of WordPress.com’s rules, it has restrictions on how you can monetize your site. Now, Business plan users are exempt from most of these rules. For example, Business plan users have free reign to incorporate:

  • AdSense
  • BuySellAds
  • Other third-party ad networks

But WordPress.com still has this weird wording around affiliate links and sponsored posts that would personally give me pause:

There are a few restrictions in what affiliate programs are allowed. We do not allow affiliate links for gambling, get-rich-quick schemes, multi-level marketing programs, disreputable merchants, pornography, malware, or phishing-type scams. We also do not allow sites that exist primarily to drive traffic to affiliate links.

We do not allow sites where the vast majority of content is sponsored content. Sponsored posts also may not include any content that violates our Terms of Service.

Ok, those rules aren’t overly strict in theory, but I still don’t like my site’s monetization hinging on someone’s interpretation of whether or not the site exists “primarily to drive traffic to affiliate links”.

4. You Have To Use Jetpack And Akismet

This is a smaller consideration, but I should still point out that you cannot deactivate Jetpack or Akismet on WordPress.com’s Business plan.

Again – not the end of the world, but another good example of how you still don’t have full control over your site.

Should You Use WordPress.com’s Business Plan For Your WordPress Site?

If you haven’t picked up on this already – there’s not a single right answer here.

I think WordPress.com’s Business plan makes a great option for some types of users, but definitely not for everyone.

So what type of person will enjoy WordPress.com Business?

If you:

  • Value simplicity over flexibility.
  • Want the most convenient experience possible.
  • Want to be able to use almost any WordPress theme or plugin.
  • Don’t care about directly accessing your server or database.
  • Plan to stick with WordPress.com for the long term.

Then you’ll probably be pretty happy with WordPress.com Business hosting. And the fact that you have unlimited storage and bandwidth means that your hosting will easily scale as your site grows, which is another benefit in comparison to self-hosted WordPress.

On the other hand, if you:

  • Want/need the flexibility to connect to your site via SFTP/SSH or edit your database.
  • Need a plugin that’s banned on WordPress.com.
  • Prefer the pure, unadulterated self-hosted WordPress dashboard.
  • Want to be able to easily clone your site, either for staging or migration purposes.
  • Just generally love the “anything goes” aspect of running your own self-hosted site.

Then you should probably stick with self-hosting WordPress for now.

Now over to you – would you ever consider switching to WordPress.com’s Business plan? Why or why not?

Colin Newcomer

Colin has been using WordPress for over a decade and is on a quest to test all 60,000+ plugins at WordPress.org. He has been a Writer and Product Review Expert for WP Mayor since 2017, testing well over 150 products and services throughout that time.

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