Since its creation in 2003, WordPress.com vs WordPress.org has been a difficult decision to make for beginners just starting out with the platform. Despite its increasing popularity in the years following, there have been many questions users have raised as to which one is better and which one to choose.
The struggle to find the answers to these questions often leads users to choose the wrong platform for their needs.
We think it’s important to note that, yes, WordPress.com and WordPress.org are both owned and operated by Automattic, and are going to give you access to a WordPress installation. The WordPress software is open-source, meaning it is completely free to obtain and use. The main difference is WordPress.com will take the software and host it for you whereas WordPress.org allows you to download and install the software with any hosting provider of your choice.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions between WordPress.com and WordPress.org so you can decide which is better for your situation.
How much does it cost?
WordPress.com is a freemium platform and this can be very enticing to new users. It allows users who only want a simple website to be up and running in very little time without putting any money into the equation. The Free plan includes 3GB of Storage Space, a pre-installed SSL certificate to help secure the data submitted on the site, and your website will show on a subdomain of wordpress.com. (Ex: yoursitename.wordpress.com)
Users also have the option to upgrade their account to one of the paid plans ranging from $3/month for the Blogger plan to $45/month on the eCommerce plan for users looking to add online store functionality to their site.
Like we mentioned above, the WordPress software itself is available at WordPress.org completely free. However, if you choose this option you will need to take a few other costs into consideration.
In order for your website to be accessible to the outside world, you will need to purchase a domain name and web hosting. For this, we recommend either BlueHost. With BlueHost, plans start as low as $3.95/month and you can either purchase your domain name directly with the host or with a separate domain name registrar.
How difficult is the setup process?
With WordPress.com you don’t need to download any software or manage a web server. It is extremely easy to get started and you can be up and running in a matter of minutes. Simply go to WordPress.com and click the Start your website button.
Follow the steps to set up your user account, the name of your site, pick a theme from the free pre-made options and your site is ready! WordPress.com makes setup easy so you can focus on creating awesome content.
The setup process for WordPress.org can be a bit more involved. If you choose to self-host your website, you will need to download the software and install it on your server. Thankfully, many hosting providers include an easy way to install WordPress directly from your hosting dashboard. For this article, we will cover the two most common ways hosting providers allow you to easily install WordPress.
Some hosting providers give their users access to a one-click installer. This is one of the reasons we recommend beginners start with Bluehost. While setting up your WordPress installation you will just need to provide the name for your site, set a password, and install a theme similar to the process on WordPress.com.
The second most common installation method is using a tool called Softaculous. This tool allows you to install multiple software applications by running scripts provided by your host. SiteGround provides this tool as a quick and easy way to get started. While this tool is not as user friendly to use as Bluehost’s installer it is still an easier option than installing the software yourself.
If you choose to self-host or if you are a little more technical and willing to try your hand at installing WordPress yourself, you can download the latest version of WordPress directly from WordPress.org.
Which has more themes?
When you sign up for the free or personal plans on WordPress.com you are given access to 150+ themes. The premium, business, and eCommerce plans give you access to all of the free themes as well as 200+ premium themes.
In addition to the free and premium themes provided on WordPress.com, the business and eCommerce plans allow you to upload your own custom themes. This can be an advantage if you have purchased a theme from somewhere else or want to try developing your own.
We will just say right out of the gate, you will find way more options for themes with WordPress.org. The official theme directory, which can be accessed directly from your WordPress installation, contains over 7,500 themes to choose from.
Can I use plugins?
Out of the box, WordPress comes with functionality for creating pages and posts. If you want to enhance or add to the functionality of your site you’ll need to install plugins.
WordPress.com comes with a set of 15+ plugins built into your WordPress dashboard. These plugins will help you manage aspects of your site like SEO, analytics, security, forms, social media integrations, and more. Unfortunately, the free, personal, and premium plans do not provide the ability to upload additional plugins.
If you choose the Business or eCommerce plan, in addition to the built-in plugins, you can install third-party plugins. This allows you to enable your site to do almost anything. You will find some plugins that are not allowed on your WordPress.com site due to incompatibility with the built-in functionality. We recommend checking out the full list of incompatible plugins before choosing this option.
Like we mentioned before, when you install the WordPress.org version of WordPress, you have full control over your site and its functionality. Just like themes, plugins can also be installed directly from the WordPress admin dashboard. The directory contains access to over 55,000 plugins for free. In addition to the free plugins, you can also find and install premium plugins from marketplaces and plugin developers.
Which has better support?
In order to get access to support, for your WordPress.com site, you’ll need to be enrolled in the Personal plan or higher. With the Personal and Premium plans, you will have access to support through email and basic live chat. In addition to email and basic live chat, once you upgrade to the Business or eCommerce plans, you gain access to 24/7 Priority live chat support.
Support for a WordPress.org installation would be provided through your host. It’s important to note that not all hosts are equal and vary widely in the range of speed and quality of support they provide. Most hosting providers also have access to 24/7 support either by live chat on their website or by phone. If having great support is important to you, we recommend looking at SiteGround for hosting and their outstanding level of support.
How do I backup my site?
Backing up your site is very important and we would not overlook this while considering which option to go with. Having backups of your site can save you huge headaches if you ever need them due to your site getting hacked, bad updates, or plugins introducing conflicts with other plugins.
Backups with WordPress.com are pretty straight forward. Remember the built-in functionality that comes with your WordPress.com site we mentioned earlier? You guessed it, part of that functionality is backups. With WordPress.com you don’t need to worry about having to configure or manually trigger your site to run a backup. Everything is done for you.
With WordPress.org, backups are up to you. You can install a backup plugin and have full control over how often it runs and where the backups are stored. Our favorite backup plugin is UpdraftPlus. With UpdraftPlus, you can easily schedule backups, run manual backups, and store your backups in cloud storage so you don’t use up all of your hosting storage with copies of your site.
How do I secure my site?
This is another thing WordPress.com takes care of out of the box. For some new users, this is a positive due to the hands-off aspect and ease of use. For others who like to have full control over their site, or those interested in learning best practices for site security, this option could be seen as a limitation. The good thing is if you choose this option WordPress.com has a very good track record with no large data breaches reported.
Site security is not something to be taken lightly especially if you will be storing data from potential users. However, with plugins like WordFence or Sucuri, there is no need to feel intimidated when it comes to site security. Both of the plugins provide highly configurable security settings in a user-friendly interface. It becomes straightforward and simple to secure your site from potential hackers or ill-intentioned bots with these plugins.
Can I monetize my site?
If you are looking to start a blog and bring in some additional income by adding affiliate links to your site, WordPress.com is not the option for you. However, if you are interested in other forms of monetization, you will need at least the Personal plan to get started. If you are looking to display ads on your site in order to bring in some additional income, WordPress.com has an ad program called WordAds you can sign up for, once you sign up for the Premium plan and start getting enough traffic to your site. Google AdSense and other advertising programs are permitted but will require a Business plan.
For selling products, you can use PayPal buttons on your site but if you want a full shopping cart, you’ll need to upgrade to the eCommerce plan. PayPal buttons are also a good option for users or nonprofits looking to accept donations.
With WordPress.org you can monetize your site in any way you want. Since you have full control over your installation you can try any form of monetization. This could range from displaying ads and banners on the side of your pages and posts to installing a shopping cart to create an online store with the WooCommerce plugin. It’s up to you.
We hope the answers to these common questions have made your decision easier. However, if you are still undecided and would like to know what we think about using either option, here is what we recommend.
Who should use WordPress.com?
If you are just looking for a simple site and don’t want to bother with the hassle of day to day maintenance, security, or backups and don’t need a lot of customization WordPress.com is a good option for you. We recommend this for students, hobbyists, and freelancers.
Who should use WordPress.org?
If you need more customization, functionality, or full control out of your WordPress installation WordPress.org is the way to go. We recommend this option for bloggers, businesses, and those looking to make money from their site.
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Matt is the owner of WPGuide.co. He has been working in web development since 2012 and now teaches beginners to advanced users how to create WordPress websites using the best tools, services, and guides available today. When he’s not managing WPGuide.co you can find him playing board games, spending time with his family and friends, and daydreaming about his next beach vacation.