WordPress is open-source and free software. It has many plugins and themes, the majority also available for free.
However, when you google WordPress, you’ll most likely see two different options shown in the #1 and #2 results:
This isn’t very clear, especially for beginners and it’s why we decided to create this article, to clear things up between WordPress.com and WordPress.org
Choosing the right website building platform is important for your online presence, and you should have proper information at your fingertips when making your decision.
What is boils down to:
The main difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is where your website is hosted. Let’s first look at the difference between software and website hosting.
Software vs website hosting
Try your best to separate out WordPress from website hosting. WordPress is the software you use to build your website. Website hosting is the service you use to have your WordPress built website online.
WordPress software, no matter where you host it, it’s free.
You can download WordPress from wordpress.org however, those are just software files. You won’t be able to have a website online for the world to see by just downloading WordPress files.
Keep in mind that most WordPress hosting services will have WordPress installed for you or at least a 1-click installer, which means you don’t need to download any files from wordpress.org
WordPress.com on the other hand is a website hosting company, with a convenient name. It’s simply one of the providers you can build and host a WordPress website, however you will encounter several restrictions on plugins and themes unless you’re paying pretty top dollars.
If you’d like freedom when building your WordPress website and looking for a reasonable price, you definitely want to opt for a WordPress specialized host over WordPress.com.
Let’s dive in a bit more detail!
WordPress.org is the most popular website building platform globally, and it’s often referred to as ‘the real WordPress.’
Here are some of the pros of using WordPress on a WordPress hosting service for your website:
- It’s free and straightforward to use
- It has tons of free and premium third-party plugins that allow you to increase functionality and add features to your website
- It has endless customization options as you have access to thousands of free and premium themes to build your website and create custom designs
- You can create an online store to sell your products, digital goods, online courses, accept credit card payments, etc.
- You own your data and are in total control over your website
- You can accept donations and earn money with your website
- It allows you to publish your podcasts or offer online sermons
- You can create membership websites to sell your premium content, courses, digital goods and build your online community
- It allows you to connect Google Analytics for robust tracking, statistics, conversions, etc.
There aren’t many cons when it comes to self-hosted WordPress, and most of them are very easy to overcome if you pick the right hosting provider.
- You need to take care of all updates (WordPress core and the third-party plugins and themes). If this is something you’d like taken care of for you, web hosts often do have WordPress management services. One thing to keep an eye on is cybersecurity news and making sure you don’t use any third-party plugins/themes that have known vulnerabilities
- You also need to handle your own backups in case of anything. Thankfully, there are tons of free WordPress plugins that can help you with that or you can get backups through your website hosting provider. Not everything can be done with free themes and plugins, so you may need to invest some money for premium solutions depending on your needs
WordPress.com is essentially just another hosting provider, but because it was created by the co-founder of WordPress.org (Matt Mullenweg), it’s often confused with the WordPress.org open-source software.
WordPress.com is mostly a paid service, and it has five tiers:
The first 3 tiers have heavy restrictions on themes and plugins. It’s not until the Business plan, which can cost upwards of $35 per month + (depending on your local currency) that you can access plugins.
Given the price tag and limitations, WordPress.com plans are not a viable website hosting solution for most.
However, a free plan to test the waters can be helpful.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of the WordPress.com free plan.
- It’s free up to 3GB of disk space. If you’re a beginner and don’t need a lot of storage space – this is fine, but for anything more – you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan
- You can take WordPress for a test spin, but remember, you can’t use plugins or themes, so you are limited in what you can actually test out
There are a few cons to consider when using WordPress.com:
- No custom domain name on a free plan. Instead, you get a branded subdomain (https://yoursite.wordpress.com)
- The free plan comes with a branded “Powered by WordPress.com” link on your website
- WordPress.com places ads on all free websites. Your visitors see those ads, but you don’t make any money from them. If you want to remove those – you’ll have to upgrade to a paid plan
- Custom plugins aren’t supported on any of the plans. The free plan has JetPack preinstalled only. The Business plan can use plugins from a predefined selection of compatible plugins, and if you want to install your plugins – you’ll need to opt for a WordPress.com VIP plan which is $5000 per month
- You can’t monetize your website as you’re not allowed to place ads on it. If your website has high traffic, you can apply for the WordAds program to share the ad revenue with WordPress.com
- You can’t upload custom themes. Free plan users can use themes from the limited selection, while Premium and Business plans offer premium themes. Custom CSS is only allowed on Premium and Business plans
- There are no advanced statistics. You can use WordPress.com integrated statistics, but to use Google Analytics – you’ll need a Business plan
- The online store option is only available with the Ecommerce plan (it’s pricey)
- You aren’t able to build membership websites on WordPress.com plans
- If you’ve built your website on the WordPress.com free tier and want to switch to a new hosting platform at a different provider, WordPress.com locks large components of your data, making it very difficult to move or putting you in a situation where you’re forced to rebuild your website
When it comes to features and perks, WordPress.com is pretty limited, even on Premium and Business plans, let alone the Free plan.
In the long run, you will have way more freedom and peace of mind building and hosting your website on a WordPress specialized host.