You hear all the time about how WordPress is a great way to have a website. But what people don’t necessarily realize is that there are two ways to have a WordPress website: WordPress.org and WordPress.com.
Not sure what the difference is between WordPress.org and WordPress.com? Didn’t know they were two different things? Confused about how you even ended up on this post in the first place? You have come to the right place, my friend. These questions come up all the time. Like, ALL the time. For reals.
But fear not, gentle reader! We are here to answer all your burning questions, including:
- What the heck is the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com?
- In a head-to-head competition, how do they stack up in terms of:
- Cold Hard Cash?
- Flexibility and Limitations?
- And, of course the most burning question of all…should I use WordPress.org or WordPress.com?
What’s the deal with WordPress.org?
First of all, WordPress is community-driven, open-source software for running a blog or content management system. One out of every five sites on the Interwebs runs on WordPress (including Artsy Geek!), which is kind of a big deal.
WordPress.org is your one-stop-shop for downloading WordPress installation files, plus all kinds of free themes and plugins for your site.
If that weren’t enough, WordPress.org also contains community support forums, documentation, and all the latest WordPress news. So if you’re one of those community-minded types, this is where you can get involved and contribute core code, apps for mobile, translations, and accessibility features.
So, then what is WordPress.com?
WordPress.com is a commercial website (hence the .com, for those of you who are into mnemonic devices) where anyone can host a free website. There are some limitations, but if you pony up for the yearly fee, you can ditch some of the restrictions.
WordPress.com is a hosted service, which means they take care of hosting your website and you don’t have to download or install any software – it is all right there on the site for you.
Why do they have the same name then? Easy peasy. WordPress.com runs on the software offered at WordPress.org
Here comes the showdown: WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com
Whew! Glad we got that out of the way. Time for the main event! Three rounds of no holds barred, good ol’ fashioned rumble in the internet jungle, comparison time: Cold Hard Cash, Flexibility and Limitations, and Upkeep.
ROUND 1: Cold Hard Cash (or Show me the money! How much does WordPress.org cost compared to WordPress.com?)
WordPress is free (woohoo!) BUT hosting your own WordPress site is not (doh!).
To run your site with WordPress, you need a host and a domain. The good news is popular web hosts are relatively inexpensive. For hosts, we like DreamHost and Media Temple, but there are plenty of options out there. Domains start at around $10+ per year.
After you are all set up with a host and domain name, you can start getting into themes and plugins. There are pretty decent free themes at WordPress.org, but, let’s be honest, if you want the sexy stuff for your online store or business site, you’ll probably want to buy something at a premium theme store (not as dirty as it sounds). The free themes tend to lack all the fancy advanced features and functionality that you can find at a vendor like Elegant Themes, WooThemes or the Themeforest marketplace.
Does all that flexibility freak you out? WordPress.com offers packaged plans and upgrades in one place at their store.
Check out their site for details, but essentially there are three main plans:
- Basic – A free blog at a WordPress.com address, with some basic customization, but no premium themes, eCommerce, or video storage.
- Premium – Also comes with a free blog, plus a custom domain, advanced customization, video uploads, 13 GB of space, ad-free hosting, and direct email support.
- Business – Same free blog, custom domain, and advanced customization, plus 50+ premium themes included, eCommerce, store unlimited videos, unlimited space, no ads, live chat support.
Feeling extra fancy? There are some other WordPress.com upgrades, too, like:
- Custom design
- Guided transfer to a self-hosted WordPress.org site
- Premium themes
- Site redirect
If you aren’t interested in a custom domain name and are cool with the free themes sans modifications, a free Basic WordPress.com plan is the least expensive option.
BUT, if you want a fully-featured site with your own domain name, unlimited storage for your videos and images, and no advertising, WordPress.com can get pretty spendy.
DING! Dollar for dollar, downloading WordPress from WordPress.org is your cheapest option. ADVANTAGE: WordPress.org.
ROUND 2: Flexibility and Limitations (or I like to boss people around. How much bossing around do I get with WordPress.org compared to WordPress.com?)
Need some ideas? Oh, how about: How much control are you looking for? (Please believe that I am doing everything in my power to avoid a Fifty Shades of Grey joke right here.) Because if you set up your site using WordPress on your own server, you can have all it all. You can do Anything. You. Want.
- Use any plugin (free or premium)
- Use any theme (free or premium)
- Add and edit files however you want (e.g., via FTP, cPanel or whatever method your web host allows)
- Improve performance by tweaking WordPress files and server settings
- Total control of the content that appears on your site (i.e., no ads!)
Maybe control isn’t your thing. And that’s OK.
With WordPress.com, you won’t get all that control. Why? Remember how .com means commerce? This is the business end of the, well, business. WordPress.com gives you the tools you need to conveniently run a website. The dirty work is all done for you: they maintain the software, deal with the code, take care of security, etc. Pretty convenient, right?
There’s a catch, of course. If you want an upgrade, you gotta pay for it. Everything from removing ads to using a different theme is going to cost you.
Your hands will be tied if you try any of these:
- Uploading your own theme – limited to WordPress.com themes
- Custom plugins
- Unlimited storage space (that’ll cost you extra!)
- Control of your content (removing ads will cost you extra, too)
- FTP access to your files
Also, third-party advertising solutions, such as Google AdSense, are off the table. And you can’t track your stats with Google Analytics. Nope. Not yours.
DING! Bossy pants wants full control and freedom of content. ADVANTAGE: WordPress.org
ROUND 3: Upkeep (or Wait, I have to do stuff? How much maintenance and development is required for WordPress.org compared to WordPress.com?)
So sayeth Stan Lee of Spiderman fame, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Same goes for your website: full control means you’re responsible for regular maintenance and upkeep. Plus, you will need to keep yourself secure to avoid hacking and spam.
Did I mention that if you have any problems with your server you will need to sort it out yourself with your web host? Because you’ll have to do that too. Site maintenance can be pretty time consuming, unless you hire someone to do it for you.
A managed WordPress hosting service (e.g., Pagely or WP Engine) can look after all the backend maintenance for you, but will (you guess it!) come with an increased cost.
If all that maintenance and development sounds a little overwhelming, the friendly folks at WordPress.com would be happy handle it for you. Instead of worrying about plugins breaking after an upgrade or your site suddenly going down because of a problem with your host, you can spend your time perfecting your latte art or cultivating your succulent garden.
No need to keep up-to-date with WordPress news or upgrade your site each time a major version of the software is released. It’s all part of the deal.
As one might expect, the decision on whether to do the upkeep yourself or have WordPress.com do it for you hinges upon your own skills and how much time you are willing to spend on it (instead of taking that artisanal cheese making class you’ve been eyeing).
DING! No time for upkeep and/or no interest in maintenance and development? Sounds like WordPress.com is your jam. ADVANTAGE: WordPress.com
So… WordPress.org or WordPress.com?
Unfortunately, much like your high school guidance counselor, I cannot tell you what is best for you. The choice depends on what is best for the type of website you want to create.
Just a casual blogger who doesn’t want to worry about maintenance and security, and don’t want or need a custom domain? WordPress.com is the way to go.
HOWEVER, if you want to be in full control of your site, upload themes and plugins, or create an eCommerce or business site, WordPress.org is the better option.
And the winner is: WordPress.org!
With decisive wins in Round 1: Cold Hard Cash and Round 2: Flexibility and Limitations, and a narrow loss in Round 3: Upkeep, WordPress.org is our clear champ.
Yes, setting up a WordPress site is likely going to take additional time and effort. But what worthwhile venture doesn’t? When it comes to having control of your site, having access to the custom themes, look, plugins and functionality of WordPress.org is definitely the way to go.
For optimized growth and traffic, download WordPress from WordPress.org and get to it.