WordPress now makes up well over 1/3 of all internet sites. That’s a lot of websites. However, when we say “WordPress,” that could actually mean more than one thing. The base WordPress software is the same. But when you decide between WordPress.org vs WordPress.com, you are choosing a very specific set of features over another. While WordPress itself doesn’t change, the day-to-day usage can be pretty different. We want to walk you through both sides of WP so that you can decide which version works best for you and your site.
What is WordPress?
First off, let’s take a look at WordPress itself. Many see WordPress as a blogging platform, and it is. But over the past couple of decades, it has also become a full content management system (CMS) that can manage each and every kind of site you could want. Even if you’re not writing and publishing content regularly, you can still easily use WordPress for your website. As a landing page, a portfolio, or even an ecommerce shop.
In a nutshell (an admittedly big one), WordPress does a lot of things.
WP Features, Perks, and Details:
- It is open-source software, through the GPL license, and receives consistent and regular updates that add new features and polish and enhance old ones.
- Simple-to-use interface, both as an administrator and content creator.
- The Gutenberg block editor is intuitive and allows full-site customization immediately on installation.
- Additionally, content can be designed around various structures. Custom post types, possess unique metadata, various taxonomies and more. These allow for impressive organization.
- WordPress is a full CMS:
- Content creation (blogging, podcasting, video, streaming, etc.)
- Static landing pages
- Media management
- User management built into the base software which can be utilized for membership sites or ecommerce shops.
- The WordPress themes system gives 100% customization of every aspect of your site.
- Themes do more than just alter the design, but also add and adjust functionality.
- Thousands of free and premium themes out there for you to choose from, many available and hosted by WordPress itself.
- WP can be hosted anywhere. It is near-universally supported by web hosts.
- WordPress domain and URL customization within the dashboard
- Built for speed and page-load times
- Custom widgets provide page-by-page customization in almost any area such as sidebars, footers, and headers.
- WordPress is extensible, meaning that anyone can create a plugin to hook into the CMS and add a feature or change how something works.
- Developers can do so much through the WordPress APIs, from the REST API to HTTP requests, URL routing, and mySQL databases, WordPress is ready for translation, user management, data manipulation, and whatever features they can dream up.
Don’t Forget the People!
On top of all the technical things that WordPress can do, the community that surrounds the software is tight-knight and welcoming. You can attend WordCamps to learn about it, go to Meetups in your town, or even just participate in social media groups and forums to meet people who can help you, work with you, and even become your friends.
You get all of these with both versions of WordPress. With all that in mind, both technical and social, let’s look at WordPress.org vs WordPress.com individually to consider their strengths and weaknesses.
What is WordPress.org?
WordPress.org is very likely the software you mean when discussing generic “WordPress.” The version put out by .org is the self-hosted, independent, open-source version of the WordPress CMS.
Backed by The WordPress Foundation, WordPress.org is free to install and use in whatever way you see fit. Obviously there are some catches to that, but if you want to use WordPress in its most open and available way possible, head to WordPress.org and download it.
You may also see the .org version of WordPress referred to as “self-hosted WordPress,” meaning that the software itself is free, but you must have a webhost (such as SiteGround or Flywheel) to install it on. (Technically, you can run WP on your local machine, too, but that’s generally done for development and troubleshooting.)
In general, WordPress hosts will cost you between $5 and $25 per month, though many managed hosts can get much higher than that.
The Pros for WordPress.org Installations
The biggest and most prominent benefit of using .org installations of WordPress comes in the total freedom to do what you want. Outside of your hosting provider, you are not bound my any terms of service, content limitations, or what kinds of development, themes, or plugins you can use on your site.
You always own your content, too. You do not granting any services or platforms even the slightest consideration for what you write or put up. The absolute freedom of building and content production is the hallmark of WordPress and was one of the reasons it was created and released as open-source software.
As we mentioned, you can use any theme, any plugin, and do any kind of development that you want on your site. With WordPress.com (which we will get to below), you are limited to using approved plugins and themes, meaning that the freedom to have exactly the site that you want is impossible. You can get the exact site you want with .com, but you have to pay for the ability piecemeal. That isn’t the case with .org installations.
The Cons for WordPress.org Installations
As with anything, there are downsides to WordPress.org installations, too. The most prominent of which is that same freedom that is its primary draw. By being fully in control of your site, you are also fully in control of maintenance, purchase of themes and plugins, additional development, and any hosting issues that might come up.
Additionally, you have to sort through webhosts, making sure that the one you choose offers everything you need. (For instance, Pressable is a fantastic host for WordPress, but they don’t offer email service.)
Who is WordPress.org For?
WordPress.org is for anyone who wants a website. Really. If you want a website of any sort, WordPress.org can create it for you. With full freedom and ownership of your site, design, and content, there is really no reason not to give it a shot. With having responsibility for your site one of the only real drawbacks to using WordPress.org, it really is a fantastic option for anyone who wants a website.
What is WordPress.com?
To start with, WordPress.org vs WordPress.com is comparing a software to a service/platform. WordPress.com is is a free website service, not free website software like .org. You don’t have to download anything or install it. You sign up for an account and create a site that is hosted by WordPress.com. To do so is absolutely free. You will be given a choice of templates and suggested plugins and a yoursite.wordpress.com URL.
Essentially, everything is handled for you from the moment you sign up. Which, like .org‘s freedom, is .com‘s primary benefit and detriment.
The Pros of a WordPress.com Website
If you’re looking for a free, no-frills, no-hassle website, WordPress.com can absolutely give you that. From the moment you sign up, you’re walked through the process of setting up the site. Pick a name and URL and theme. Then you’re free to start publishing content immediately.
You don’t have to find a host because WordPress.com is your host. They give you a decent, albeit limited, amount of space per site (3gb) before requiring you to pay for a plan. If you are looking for a 100% free site that you can get started from nothing in essentially moments, you can do that here. No hosting costs, no domain registration, just sign up and go.
They also handle backups and maintenance and upgrades for you. Meaning that you won’t have to worry about your site getting security holes in it from not having X, Y, or Z plugin at its newest version.
The hosting is the same that powers Pressable, and it’s top-notch. You won’t have to worry about your site’s stability when using WordPress.com.
The Cons of a WordPress.com Website
The limitations that come with a WordPress.com site tend to be the main things that drive people away from the platform. Because .com is a platform and not just software, the company that runs it (Automattic) is out to make a profit. So like any free service on the internet, you only get the most basic elements for free.
If you want a custom URL (mysite.com instead of mysite.wordpress.com), you have to pay extra. To use any theme you want (from their approved list), you have to pay extra. Same for plugins. Want a run an ecommerce site? Yup, upgrade your plan. Do you see the pattern here?
Plan prices range from $7 per month to $59 per month, with discounts if you pay annually.
WordPress.com also shows ads on your site and doesn’t pay you for them. At least, if you’re a free member. The saying of “if you’re not paying for a product, you are the product” holds very true here. Automattic definitely profits off your use of their service, whether you pay or not. (And in this case, at the expense of your users’ experiences.)
You cannot use external services such as Google Analytics or Google AdSense, but you can apply for their proprietary ad system and use Jetpack stats. Unless, of course, you upgrade to a higher plan.
And finally, you are bound by the WordPress.com EULA and ToS. Which means that they have the right to do with your site what they want. While you own the content there, they may choose to use it in advertising. And if they decide your content violates their terms, they can take your site offline without your consent (or knowledge, sometimes).
Who is WordPress.com For?
In its free version, WordPress.com websites are for people who want a no-frills publishing experience that doesn’t require any upkeep. Using the .com version of WordPress means that you can get your work out to the world with zero upfront cost and very little effort and almost no maintenance.
If you need a temporary site or a demo or just a place to blog as a diary/journal, .com can certainly be what you want.
Also, WordPress.com is an option for people who run high-revenue businesses and high-traffic sites who also want a hassle-free experience. The WordPress.com VIP packages (starting at $2,000 per month) are about as hands-off as any website can get that’s WordPress-based, but it’s priced out of nearly everyone’s reach. The VIP portion of WordPress.com is targeting Fortune 500-level companies, not ordinary people who need a free website for a bit.
The Verdict: WordPress.com vs WordPress.org
Overall, our verdict is that WordPress.org is by far the superior product. While you do have a little more to handle on your end as a site owner and user, the freedom you get (f0r free) is just too much of an incentive. Not being upsold to use whatever plugins or themes you want (even if you’ve purchased them) alone is worth using .org.
WordPress.com is an absolutely solid platform. If you decide to host your website through their service, it will be stable, easy-to-use, and very little trouble. But if you want anything else, it will cost you. If you have the budget for it and don’t want the responsibility, consider a .com site. However, even though you have to pay separately for .org hosting, the cost is generally lower and you can run more sites than just one on that hosting service.
In the end, whether you go with WordPress.com vs WordPress.org, you still get to use WordPress. And that’s a win, no matter which side you’re on.
What are your thoughts on WordPress.com vs WordPress.org? Let us know in the comments!