If you are a new blogger or new to the world of WordPress you might not know the differences between WordPress.org and WordPress.com, or even that there are differences at all.
In this guide we will try to briefly describe how each platform works, compare them and try to reach a conclusion on which one to use depending on the type of user you are.
WordPress.com is a commercial platform owned by Automattic a company created by the co-creator of WordPress. As hinted by its name, the platform runs on WordPress and it allows you to host your site for free (with certain limitations).
If you choose to create a site on WordPress.com you won’t have to worry about hosting and setup costs. You can have a free site forever on the service’s basic plan. You also don’t have to worry about site maintenance, no updates, no backups, no worries, everything is taken care for you in the background. All you need to do is create an account, select a theme and start publishing your content.
WordPress.org is the site from which you can download the WordPress software to install it on any host of your choice, even locally on your own computer. Through this site you can also access the software’s extensive documentation to help you get started, everything you need to learn, and then some can be found here. You can also become a member of the WordPress.org forums where you can post any question or problem you might have related to the software and its usage and get answers from the millions of existing users.
This self-hosted version of WordPress requires you to find a hosting service where you will install it, and connect to it a domain name which you will also have to purchase. Once everything is up and running you are also tasked with the site’s maintenance, you need to make sure everything is up to date and backed up properly to avoid mishaps.
Pros & Cons
Now that we have a basic idea of what each service offers to the user, let’s try to compare the pros and cons of each one to help you decide which one best suits your individual needs.
- It can be free forever. If you do not need custom domains or don’t plan on uploading loads of photos and videos, you won’t have to pay a penny to use it, ever.
- Very easy to get started. Just sign up, choose a theme and start writing away.
- Themes are carefully curated by Automattic staff. All themes undergo a very thorough review process to make sure code quality meets Automattic’s standards and that theme security and performance is up to par.
- No maintenance needed, security updates and backups are taken care automatically behind the scenes. You are also protected against comment spam.
- Perhaps the perfect choice for beginners and non tech savvy people.
- Support forums are available where users can seek help from both community members and “happiness engineers”, which are support personnel employed by Automattic.
- There is a limited selection of free themes to choose from, then you can select to purchase a number of curated premium themes available on the service’s marketplace.
- No custom themes permitted. You can’t upload any theme you like, you can only select from the pre-approved ones.
- No custom plugins allowed. Some popular plugin like functionalities have been implemented into Jetpack, but that’s it for now, no custom plugins can be installed to get extra functionality on your site.
- In the free version you can’t customize the theme’s appearance, no alternative fonts or custom CSS is available to free users, this is only available on the Premium and Business plans.
- Limited storage space on both the free and Premium plans. Only the Business one comes with unlimited storage.
- Ads. Your site will display ads on non logged in users when using a free account.
- No monetization for free users.
- Google analytics integration available only for Business users.
- There are T.O.S. which means that violation might incur site termination with possible loss of data.
- No eCommerce solution available.
- The software it self is free to download and use.
- Extensive documentation is available online, also there are support forums where you can easily get help, all these can be found at wordpress.org
- You have full control on your site, its setup, configuration and content.
- You can install any of the thousands custom themes and plugins available either on wordpress.org’s directories or any other third party source you trust.
- Less storage restrictions.
- You can monetize your site any way you choose.
- e-commerce functionality
- Google analytics and any other analytics method can be easily implemented.
- You need to buy web hosting and a domain name in order to get your site up and running.
- You are responsible for updating and maintaining your site, which is not as hard as you think, updates are dealt with one click and there are a ton of plugins to help you with backup, security and spam protection.
What should you choose?
That’s a very good question. Cost wise both options can range from very cheap (or even completely free) to extremely expensive when looking and .org managed hosting or .com VIP services, so cost should not be your primary deciding factor. You can weight it in along with everything else, but in every case the more you need the more it will cost.
The decision most likely comes down to personal preference. If you are someone who just wants to write something and “get it out there” without having to bother with anything else, then you would probably be just fine with WordPress.com. If on the other hand you want to create a strong web presence for your company or showcase your works in a unique way, then you would most likely want to have full control over every aspect of your site, you would want to find a particular theme that match your needs or even build one yourself if you can, if you are looking for specific functionality, well, it’s almost certain there’s a plugin for it and if not, someone can build if for you, WordPress.org is the way to go if absolute control and extreme customization is on your mind. Last but not least, in a self-hosted WordPress installation you have the control over your content, even if your host goes down, you have your backups and you can be up and running somewhere else within minutes.