Updated 2 June 2020.
When setting up a website, many people will turn to WordPress due to its popularity and ease of use. But it’s easy for people to get confused by the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. So what’s the difference, and which one is best for you to use?
What you need to set up a WordPress website
At minimum, you need:
- A domain name – this is the name like www.abrightclearweb.com, which people type in to find your site. You can buy a domain name from a domain registrar company – though I don’t recommend using the same company for hosting as well.
- Hosting – this is like rental space for your website real estate. Your host should support PHP and MySQL, and ideally run on Linux. There are thousands of web hosts worldwide, and prices start from a few pounds a month. In general, though, you get what you pay for.
- The WordPress software – WordPress is open source, meaning it is continually worked on by hundreds of contributors. Best of all, the software is free.
- A theme for your site – this is the code that displays your website’s content in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
What does WordPress.com offer?
WordPress.com offers the simpler way to get started. WordPress.com is a subsidiary company of Automattic, founded by Matt Mullenweg, one of the co-creators of WordPress.
With WordPress.com, installing the WordPress software and hosting are taken care of for you. That includes all the software updates and security.
You can sign up for a free account and start a blog or website within minutes.
Choose from over 180 free themes, or pay extra for a premium theme.
For your domain name, you are assigned a subdomain of WordPress.com that reflects your username (e.g. https://example.wordpress.com/). For a fee you can pay for your own domain name e.g. myawesomesite.com.
Pros of WordPress.com
- WordPress.com has different pricing tiers, but you can start with the free plan.
- Easy to get going and create a site and/or blog quickly.
- Hosting is included.
- Site security is built in.
- Updates are done automatically.
- Backups are done for you.
- SSL is included for free.
- Akismet is built in – this protects your site from spam comments, at no extra cost.
- Social sharing links are installed and ready to use.
- Polls for your site are included.
- Supports SEO (search engine optimization out of the box.
- Storage is generous – you get a 3GB limit for free, which is pretty big.
- A number of widgets are available for you to use on your site in sidebars or ‘widget areas’. This includes such things a Facebook Like box, Instagram photos and Twitter feed.
- Free support is available on the WordPress.com forums.
- You can make your site/blog private if you want to, and share with selected others.
- Theme choice is limited. You can’t use a WordPress theme downloaded elsewhere unless you’re on the top
Cons of WordPress.com
- You don’t own or have full control over your site – WordPress.com does.
- Have to pay for extra features. If you want to add videos, you need the Premium plan. If you want an ecommerce store, you need to pay for the Business plan or the more specialised eCommerce plan.
- Limited theme customisation, which you need to pay for.
- Email or live chat support requires a paid plan.
- Domain names are expensive to buy compared to other domain registrars.
- Theme choice is limited compared to WordPress.org themes. You need to pay for premium themes.
- On the free version, adverts are shown.
- Can’t upload certain file types unless you upgrade (e.g. mp3, video).
- You can only use the features supplied by WordPress.com. No plugins can be installed, unless you upgrade to either the Business or eCommerce plan.
- You can’t run banner ads on your site. WordPress.com has its own ad program, WordAds.
- Unless you’re on the Business plan or higher, you can’t use Google Analytics for tracking your site visitors. (There are site stats built in, but they tend to inflate the figures a bit, I find.)
- You can move to a WordPress.org site later on, but if you want the move done for you by WordPress.com staff, it costs $129 for a ‘guided transfer’. (You could choose to do it yourself for free.)
What Does WordPress.org offer?
A WordPress.org or self-hosted WordPress site is a little more work to set up. You need to make sure you have bought a domain name and have suitable hosting in place to begin with. You also need the latest WordPress.org software. You then need to install WordPress on your host. The install process takes only a few minutes to do. Many hosts offer a one-click install option through the hosting control panel which makes it even more straightforward.
Once you are set up, you have a whole heap of goodies to play with. You are supplied with three default themes, but can choose from thousands of others from the WordPress.org theme repository or many other commercial sellers.
The array of plugins is also another major plus point. Plugins allow you to add extra functions to your site. There are currently over 36,000 plugins free to download from WordPress.org. There are also many premium plugins you can buy. For example, Gravity Forms lets you build advanced forms through a drag and drop interface.
Examples of common plugin types
- Social media sharing /feeds
- Email subscription forms
- Twitter feed
- Contact forms
- Google Maps
- Ecommerce i.e. online shops
- Image sliders
- Events management
WordPress.com now allows you to add plugins if you subscribe to the Business or eCommerce plans, but there are some limitations on the ones you can use.
Pros of WordPress.org
WordPress.org vs WordPress.com in general:
- You control your site and what goes on it.
- You have direct access to your site files and database.
- Your website is more credible than a WordPress.com site.
- No unwanted adverts. You can choose to add your own if you wish!
- You can use Google Analytics or other tracking software.
- Far greater selection of themes than WordPress.com, and you can modify them much more.
WordPress.org vs WordPress.com business plan or greater:
- Even at the highest plans, you still don’t get file and database access to your website.
- Self-hosted WordPress offers a completely free choice of plugins, as some plugins on WordPress.com are disallowed.
- WordPress.org is better suited to some kinds of specialist sites such as membership websites.
Cons of WordPress.org
- You pay for your domain name and hosting. Some hosts offer domain names for free when you sign up, though it’s better to have domains and hosting in separate places.
- You (and/or your host) are responsible for backing up your site – this means both your database and files.
- You need to set up your own SEO – I recommend Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin for this.
- Some hosts charge for an SSL certificate, though most good ones offer them for free.
- Site security is your responsibility. This includes anti-spam comment protection. (There are a number of good free plugins available for this.)
- You need to update and maintain your site yourself, or pay someone to do it for you.
- More can go wrong!
So which version is better?
It really depends on the purpose of your website, and how happy you are to take care of it.
If you are just starting out in business, wanting to get a blog going quickly or are not technically minded, WordPress.com is probably the better option, as a lot is managed for you. Though you still need to add the content (!)
If you’re looking for more control, innovative features and the ability to extend your site further in the future, I would go with WordPress.org.
Do you have a WordPress site? Which do you think is better – WordPress.com or WordPress.org? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.