What is WordPress?
Before diving into the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org we need to know what WordPress in general is. It is a content management system (CMS). That means it is a system for creating and managing websites in a structured and organized manner.
Content management systems are very modular. Allowing for the easy creation and modification of the following:
- Web pages
- Blog posts
- Media – photos & videos
- Administrators and contributors
- Software components that allow special functionality – WordPress calls these plugins.
- Design and layout – WordPress calls these themes.
A lot of complicated, behind-the-scenes mechanics of building a website is taken care of, allowing you to focus more on the content and design of your website.
A CMS makes managing your website much easier than coding from scratch and building the individual components yourself. Making it easy for people who are not web designers or developers to create and manage websites without specialized knowledge.
You don’t need to be tech savvy to use WordPress to build a website.
When deciding to build a website with WordPress one of the first things you might encounter is deciding between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
The main difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com
The biggest difference between the two is that WordPress.org is self-hosted and WordPress.com is not. Going the self-hosted route means your website will be hosted on a web server through a hosting company. WordPress.com on the other hand hosts all of your content on their servers meaning there is no hosting company to deal with.
If you choose WordPress.org you will purchase hosting and a domain name and your website will be hosted on a server through a hosting company.
You will install WordPress on the server and be responsible for maintaining it. This option gives you more freedom to do anything you wish with your website but requires more work to maintain.
WordPress.com requires no web server to manage. It is much simpler to set up. There is no hosting or domain name purchase required with WordPress.com. You can purchase a domain name with WordPress.com but it isn’t a requirement to get started like it is with WordPress.org.
The only steps needed to get a website are to go to WordPress.com and click the Get Started link. It’s very quick and east but comes with some limitations (see below).
- WordPress.com hosts your content. No need to purchase a hosting plan or domain name. Although you can buy a domain with WordPress.com, otherwise your domain name would be mydomainname.wordpress.com.
- No need to worry about maintaining a web server, performing backups or security.
- Content is distributed across multiple servers over the US and the world, so there is no need to worry about your site going down.
- Great option if you want to try out blogging or set up a simple site very quickly for free.
- You are very limited in what you can do with the free plan. You can’t upload themes, plugins, or set up an eCommerce site unless you have the Business Plan, which costs $25 per month.
- If you want to monetize your site with ads you have to use WordAds (the official WordPress.com advertising program) on the Premium plan, which costs $8 per month. The use of Google Adsense or other third-party ad networks requires the Business plan.
- Violating the Terms of Service can get your site shut down.
- You can’t change the PHP code of your site. This isn’t important for the casual user but if you like to tinker and really want to customize your website this could be a problem.
- Complete customization and control of your site. Anything you want to change can be done with themes, plugins or your own custom code.
- Access to thousands of themes (to change the design of your site) and plugins (to add additional functionality to your site).
- Ability to change any feature of your site by editing the code that controls it.
- Hosting plans start at about $5/month or less and have no restrictions on what you can modify on your site.
- Since it is self-hosted there is no free option. You must purchase hosting and a domain name through a hosting company like SiteGround. They do offer a free domain name with their hosting plans.
- You are responsible for the security and backups of your site.
- You are responsible for the server that hosts your website. This isn’t as scary as it sounds. As long as you don’t edit files on your server that you don’t understand, you will be fine.
- If you break something on your site, it is up to you to fix it or pay someone who can. Having backups is very important.
WordPress.com is a good choice if don’t want to handle any technical aspects of your site, need limited customizability or don’t mind paying extra for customizability.
Setup for WordPress.com is incredibly quick and easy, making it one of the fastest ways to get a website up and running.
WordPress.org allows you total control over your site with no limitations at a lower price than the Business plan from WordPress.com. Although it puts responsibility on the owner of the website to manage some of the technical aspects.
Why does everyone recommend WordPress.org?
If you are reading this post you have probably looked at other posts online comparing the two different WordPress platforms.
You may have noticed a trend that a lot of websites writing about the two recommend WordPress.org. I’ve come across so many blogs that push WordPress.org to get affiliate commissions.
Affiliate programs allow bloggers to get paid by a hosting company when new customers sign up through a link on their blog.
That’s not to say the .org version isn’t a good choice, but because of affiliate programs, there is more incentive to suggest it over WordPress.com. This can lead to making WordPress.com sound like a poor choice when in reality each one has a different purpose.
Disclosure: I’m an affiliate for SiteGround Hosting. I get paid if you sign up through the link on my website (at no extra cost to you).
Both are great platforms with advantages and disadvantages. It comes down to how much responsibility and control you want over your website versus a quick low maintenance website.
That said, I use WordPress.org and have been very happy with it.
If you are ready to get started with WordPress and want to go the self-hosted route take a look at Beginning WordPress: Steps to Take When Setting Up Your First WordPress Website.