WordPress.org vs WordPress.com [Infographic]
They are the largest websites on the internet with the exact same name.
It’s no surprise that WordPress.org and WordPress.com caused a lot of confusions among new users. What are they really?
Short answer: WordPress.org is the open source WordPress platform or CMS, and WordPress.com is a free hosted version of WordPress (with upgrades).
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An in-depth take on Self Hosted WordPress.org vs WordPress.com
To truly understand WordPress.org and WordPress.com, we need to go back in time to their origins. Then we’ll discuss in details every aspects that differentiate these two services such as
and of course how you can make the most out of them.
What is Self Hosted WordPress.org?
In 2003, WordPress.org became the home of the ever-so-popular WordPress platform, CMS. Started off as a simple open source software to enhance typography by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little, WordPress became the work of hundreds of individuals all around the world.
Today, WordPress powers 25% of the internet – including huge brands like Honda, the NFL, Ford, Harvard Law School, NASA and BBC Top Gear.
You can always download a free copy of this powerful CMS at WordPress.org.
You are free to use it for anything from your recipe website to a Fortune 500 website without paying anyone a license fee and a number of other important freedoms.
While the WordPress CMS is free, you need to rent a web hosting service to make your website available on the internet. A good web host for regular websites are pretty affordable at $5/ month – more on this later.
What is WordPress.com?
Two years after WordPress.org, co-founder Matt Mullenweg noticed a lot of WordPress users just want to blog without having to worry about hosting or maintaining their website – and created WordPress.com.
To bring the WordPress experience to an even larger audience, in 2005 we created WordPress.com.
WordPress.com is a hosted version of the open source WordPress CMS that allows you to “start a blog or build a website in seconds without any technical knowledge”. While boasting limited features and custom design, WordPress.com is renowned for its stability and high maintenance.
The New York Times, NBC Sports, CNN and TechCrunch are a few of their VIP clients.
To keep WordPress.com free, they offer several upgrades to remove ads on free websites, use a custom domain name, add storage space and more.
WordPress.org and WordPress.com require investments in different areas.
While WordPress.com offers free hosting with two upgrade plans, WordPress.org requires a web host and domain name.
WordPress.com is ideal for new WordPress users to experience the CMS at no cost at all. Their quality web host are free with limitations:
- 3GB storage
- Ads on all free sites
- No design customization
- Domain name limited to your-site.wordpress.com
Aside from having no custom domain name and advertising on all free websites, a 3GB storage is relatively small. If you are even slightly serious about your site, you need to consider one of their upgrades.
WordPress.com has a Premium and Business plan.
Premium, the most popular plan starts at $99/ year and gives you all the basic features such as no advertising, custom design (font and CSS) and a free domain name.
With 13GB storage, you have enough space for a medium-size blog.
But above that, WordPress.com costs up to $299/ year compared to only $180/ year if you self host. While it’s free at first, once you scale WordPress.org is slightly more economic.
It’s also important to note that while you can have your website at your-site.wordpress.com for as long as you want, upgrading to your-site.com in the future is going to hurt your search engine rankings. If you are looking to build a solid online brand, you’re best to at least start with your own domain name.
Self Hosted WordPress.org
WordPress.org only offers the free WordPress CMS. Meaning you need to rent an external web host and a domain name to make your website available on the internet.
Think of a domain name as your home address – it’s a must (i.e. Bloggingthing’s domain name is bloggingthing.com).
Fortunately, most web hosts worth using give away domain names for at least a year. Or you can register a domain name for ~ $10/ year at NameCheap or GoDaddy. While GoDaddy is the world’s biggest domain registrar, I use and recommend NameCheap – it’s more simple and has no extra fees.
Shared web hosts are ideal for regular websites for their flexibility and tiny price of ~ $5/ month for 50GB.
Recommended web hosts
What’s great about WordPress.org is no matter which web host you choose, you will have full control over your website, files and database.
First hand, you already have
- No unwanted ads
- Full design customization
- Up to 50GB storage
In other words, you don’t need to pay for any upgrades like on WordPress.com. For BlueHost users, 50GB is huge but once your site grows larger, an unlimited storage only starts at $15/ month.
Themes are what control the whole look and feel of your website from the colours, layouts to the fonts. You can to pick a theme from a collection of over 350 free and paid themes (designed for personal blogs, professional websites and portfolios) while using WordPress.com.
However, you are only allowed to modify the colors of these ready-made themes. For more customization like editing the fonts, and CSS you need to upgrade to a Premium plan at $99/ year. And this is as far as you can go with your website’s visual, you can’t touch the layout or access the mobile version.
You can change the appearance of a theme, but not its HTML markup or PHP code.
It’s notable because sometimes themes are not as responsive as they are supposed to be. For example, Sanj Sahayam showed the page below from WordPress.com is distorted on an iPhone 4.
Your only option is to contact the support team and wait for them. WordPress.com also made headlines for abruptly replacing an old theme, Cutline for a new one back in 2010 with minimum notice. This caused users of the old theme to literally see their website transform in a blink of an eye without their consent.
Design is often considered one of WordPress.com’s shortcomings, but it’s what makes WordPress.com unique and consistent to their mission of offering a hassle-free solution for users to fully focus on their content.
Butterfly & MeeMee
The Kink and I
The layout of WordPress.com admin, and the numerous themes & clean layouts to choose from have made blogging easy for us.
Self Hosted WordPress.org
WordPress.org is much more flexible in terms of design and you are free to upload any theme you like or even create your own.
In contrast to WordPress.com where it’s impossible to differentiate your website in a meaningful way with only 350 choices. There is a large industry of beautiful hand-crafted themes for WordPress.org. Here are some of the most popular themes from ThemeForest.
You also have full access to all codes – including PHP and CSS. Which means characteristic designs like The Everywhereist are only achievable on WordPress.org.
For businesses and bloggers who don’t want to look generic, only WordPress.org can transform your visions to life.
WordPress.com is certainly easier to setup. And while this can appeal to the less technically inclined hobbyists or those who just look for some fun, once you decide to move forward with your website, you’re going to quickly run into limitations at WordPress.com.
Known to be a very controlled environment, WordPress.com not only revises all submitted codes but also doesn’t allow any third-party plugins for security reasons. This is a huge setback where WordPress.com users are unable to fully experience the powerful features of WordPress.
The good news is they still have all the features for your website and blogging needs:
- Social networks integration
- Social sharing
- Contact form
However if you ever feel the need to try out any plugins on your site like creating subscription forms, adding popups or even build a forum, your only choice is to upgrade to the high-end WordPress.com VIP hosting package which starts at $3,750/ month.
This means you can’t use email subscription forms from services like Aweber and Mailchimp. Instead, you have to ask your readers to subscribe off-site, which will certainly hurt your opt-in rates.
Unlike most services, WordPress.com doesn’t allow you to remove their branding however you upgrade. While a footer saying “Blog at WordPress.com” is nice, standard websites on WordPress.com unconsistenly show a much more unprofessional credit:
Finally, if you care about the copyrights of your content WordPress.com’s Terms of Service states:
By submitting Content to Automattic for inclusion on your Website, you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting your blog.
Self Hosted WordPress.org
There are five times more business sites powered by WordPress than news sites even though WordPress is primarily designed for blogging.
This is because with WordPress, specifically WordPress.org, sky’s the limit. You are in full control of your files and data right when you start, the best part is you don’t even need to purchase any upgrades.
Blogging from Paradise
By going this route I can add income streams, widgets and all types of tailoring which help me to boost brand awareness. My blog is 1 stop shopping for my readers; better stock the store shelves with plenty of eye-catching, valuable, authentic content if I want them to buy.
Create If Writing
If you want to take blogging seriously or even build a SITE, not simply a blog, WordPress.org has all the tools necessary to get you there.
At first, having FTP access to your site may not matter to you. But as you grow, you may want to have the ability to modify and move files around on your web host’s server.
This is only ever achievable when you self host with WordPress.org.
A killer feature only available on WordPress.org got to be the ability to add plugins to expand the core functionality of WordPress. By default, WordPress is designed to be lightweight to maximize flexibility then there are plugins that offer custom functions and features. You can choose from over 42k free and paid plugins available on WordPress.org’s directory for your specific needs.
For example, if you want to scan your entire website for broken links, there is a plugin for that. There are also over 42k other plugins to:
- compress images
- enhance SEO
- lightbox images
- even create forums or a social networks
- and much more!
Techies that prefer to maintain full control over their code, should consider hosting their own WordPress installation
The possibilities are endless, there are very few limits you might face with WordPress.org when trying to accomplish what you’d like to do with your website.
It’s important to note that plugins are made by various contributors and adding just about anything is risky. Not only can it slow your website down, it can also cause security issues. WPMU DEV explained it’s usually NOT too many plugins that cause problems on your website, but instead poorly coded ones.
So check the plugin’s rating, reviews and author before you hit download.
There is no doubt that WordPress.org offers the kind of control that WordPress.com doesn’t. If you are someone who seeks ultimate freedom, then WordPress.org is for you.
Selling your products are fine and you can upgrade to a Business plan to setup eCommerce on WordPress.com, but you cannot run ads on your blog unless you apply for WordAds that allows users with moderate traffic to turn on ads while letting WordPress.com manage your ads and share your revenue with them.
WordPress.com is also very specific about affiliate links, stating that “most affiliate links and sponsored posts from reputable merchants are allowed on WordPress.com, as long as your blog’s primary purpose is to create original content, and not merely to send traffic to these websites.”
Butterfly & MeeMee
The Kink and I
WordPress.com does not allow ads, and for this reason, we are ineligible to join most of the blogger-ad networks we want to join.
Self Hosted WordPress.org
The most important perk of using WordPress.org is there are no limit on how you make money out of your website (general laws still applies, of course!).
In other words, you are free to use any services from Adsense, even WordAds, to affiliate promotions while earning full profits from all income streams. You are not dependant on any third-parties like on WordPress.com.
You can run any ads you’d like if you manage your own WordPress installation.
It was a no brainer – just took a friend to set me straight. Now I’m proud to be a part of where WordPress is going.
WordPress.com is obviously in short of control compared to WordPress.org, still, 37 million websites chose to host on their server. Not to mention some of the big brands like The New York Times, NBC Sports.
Because WordPress.com offers arguably some of the highest quality, WordPress optimized hosting on the internet.
They even goes as far as claiming even if a meteor were to hit all the WordPress.com servers and destroy them beyond repair, all of your data would still be safe and you could have your website online within a couple of days.
You don’t have to worry about the pipes freezing in winter, you don’t have to mow the backyard, and you don’t have to fix the dishwasher if it breaks — all of that is your landlord’s job.
What makes about WordPress.com unique is how it’s almost impossible for anyone to render their site unusable. If you don’t want to bother with the administrations, backups and security. WordPress.com is the safest place to go, there are a lot of preventions (like no third-party themes or plugins) in place to make sure that you don’t accidentally break or prevent it from working.
Self Hosted WordPress.org
Along with control, comes responsibility. At WordPress.org, your web host only takes care your site’s uptime.
“There are two major things missing with WordPress.org”, Matt Hooper wrote on ProBlogger, “that you get with WordPress.com: backups and protection from extreme traffic spikes.”
You can’t always rely on your web host to do backups for you. Some web host may claim to perform daily backups, but still make sure that you backup your website on your own frequently.
While it’s not a lot of work, it certainly takes more dedication to maintain a WordPress.org site. Here are the steps to make sure your website is always in squeaky conditions:
Security – install the Jetpack plugin from Automatic, also WordPress.com’s provider, to prevent your website from brute force attacks and much more.
Backup – Backups are VITAL to your website. If you don’t want to end up loosing everything at once, install a free plugin like UpdraftPlus or buy VaultPress ($99/ year) from WordPress.com.
Update – Updating WordPress and plugins are only one click away and you will be notified whenever there are new versions (remember to backup before any changes).
As a free member at WordPress.com, you have access to their support forum to ask questions and get help from other members or sometimes the support staffs.
With Premium plan, you are allowed to send direct mails and live chat if you are on Business plan. Experts at WordPress.com are specialized on, well, WordPress so you can rest assured with CMS related questions.
Self Hosted WordPress.org
WordPress’s primary support website is WordPress.org where you can find WordPress Forums, an active online community of WordPress users. As well as WordPress Codex, the online manual for WordPress that are “created by and for the community”.
Many cities around the world hosts monthly WordPress meetups where users at all experience levels come together to talk about how they’re using WordPress, share tips and tricks, and help each other with their websites.
Huge WordPress communities also host yearly WordCamps with sessions on all things WordPress for three days.
A must-go for all WordPress users!
Which WordPress wins?
If either design, control or monetization matters to you, you will love the flexibility of WordPress.org. It’s certainely the most powerful WordPress yet, although you will need to think about some of the techie stuffs like maintenance and backups.
On the other hand, WordPress.com comes in a close second – offering enough customizations for the hobbyists who simply want to express themselves without any distractions.
In fact, out of 72,4M websites powered by WordPress, 50% self hosted on WordPress.org while the other opted for WordPress.com. There isn’t a BETTER choice but preferable ones, like vanilla and chocolate.
How do you know which WordPress is for you?
Simple – it depends the purpose of your site, the features you need and the cost you want to save. In other words, the real question is who are you?
The hobbyist – If you fancy a hassle-free way to build a good-looking site to simply express yourself without worrying about the technical stuffs. Then WordPress.com is perfect for you.
The serious blogger – If you crave full control over every aspect of your site, and maybe even earn a profit from it. Then you have to sign up at Bluehost.com because WordPress.org is made for you.
The news agency – If you seek to outsource maintenance, so you can fully focus on polishing your content. WordPress.com is the most reliable choice.
The entrepreneur – Whether it’s a landing page or your official website, you envision robust features and designs to further differentiate your brand. Then you’ll need a web host to unleash the full potential of WordPress.org.
Ultimately, it’s YOU and how you want to present yourself and your brand.
Now that you’ve found the WordPress for your next big thing, download the checklist below to build and optimize your site in less than 15 minutes.
P.S. Bloggingthing aims to be the space that supports bloggers growth – subscribe to join the vision. 😉