How do you choose between WordPress.com and WordPress.org? I'm pretty sure you ask yourself this question if you're just starting out, or you've already asked yourself if you have plenty of practice.
Indeed, there are two “versions” of WordPress. They share some common ground, but still have all many differences.
This article will discuss them in detail and explain which version to choose according to your expectations, your technical skills, and your objectives.
First off, the table of contents.
- I – WordPress: an owner's tour
- II – Pricing: what are the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?
- III – Maintenance, support and security on both platforms
- IV – And in terms of customization?
- V – Monetization
- VI – SEO on both versions of WordPress
- VII – How to create your site on both platforms
- VIII – WordPress.org or WordPress.com: which one should you choose?
I – WordPress: an owner's tour
1. What is WordPress?
Launched in 2003, WordPress is a Content Management System (CMS) used to create websites (showcase sites, online shops, blogs etc.). It's free, open-source, and has the mission to “democratize publishing”. It powers one third of the world's websites.
With a market share of nearly 60%, it is the most widely used CMS on the planet, far ahead of its main competitors, in particular:
Among the many preconceived notions that stick to WordPress' reputation is the following: “WordPress is only used to create blogs”. Oh, really?
Now, let's discover specifically WordPress.com.
2. What is WordPress.com?
WordPress.com is a hosting platform (such as Blogger, Tumblr or Over-Blog) that allows you to create your site and administer it for free. It is a for-profit business owned by Automattic, the company founded by Matt Mullenweg, one of the creators of the WordPress software. To operate, WordPress.com uses open-source WordPress software.
By creating a site with WordPress.com, you will be able to publish articles, install a theme, but you will not be able to install plugins (except in exceptional cases that we will see later) to add new features.
You may not know it, but millions of sites are hosted at WP.com. To facilitate the management of all these sites, it is preferable to maintain a certain consistency.
If everyone installed plugins, it would be a mess in no time. The quality of the service would no longer be the same and everyone would suffer.
Let me remind you that with the .com version of WP, you don't have to pay anything, if you don't wish to (there are still paid versions), but there are counterparts (we will see them later). You can't have everything, can you?
For more flexibility, we'll have to take a look at WordPress.org.
3. What is WordPress.org?
WordPress.org is the open-source software that anyone can download and use for free. To run it, you need a hosting server and a domain name.
With WordPress.org, we talk about a self-hosted solution. It is managed by the WordPress Foundation (a non-profit organization) created by… Matt Mullenweg.
WordPress.com and WordPress.org are two ways to use WordPress. But as you can see, they are still closely linked to each other. For example, WordPress' development is managed in part by Automattic – hundreds of developers “outside” Automattic also participate in the development of WP, either on a voluntary or paid basis -, which owns WP.com. Still hanging on, are you?
To sum it up, the main difference between the two versions is the way your site is hosted. Besides that, the software used to operate them is exactly the same.
Now, let's dive into a comparison between WordPress.com vs WordPress.org, by taking into account 5 main criteria: price, maintenance/security, customization, monetization, and marketing/SEO.
By the end, I will help you find out which version suits your needs best.
II – Pricing: what are the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?
1. The different plans on WordPress.com
With WordPress.com, you have two options:
- Take advantage of the 100% free offer – but you will see that it has serious limitations.
- Switch to one of the 3 paid offers (Personal, Premium and Business).
If you decide to create a free site on WP.com, you should know that ads will be displayed on it, whether you like it or not. This is one of the unfortunate counterparts to the free offer.
In addition, you will not be allowed to monetize your site through advertising.
With the free offer, you will get:
- A WordPress.com subdomain (mysite.wordpress.com).
- 3 GB storage space (that's not too bad).
- Support provided by the community (i.e. without any guarantee).
To benefit from more advanced options, you'll have to switch to one of the paid offers.
Prices go from $4 to $25/month depending on what you want to set up (more info here). Be aware that the main pluses of paid versions are:
- To be able to choose your own domain name (e.g.: mysite.fr) without suffering the wordpress.com extension.
- Delete ads.
- Benefit from more storage space (from 6 GB to unlimited for the Business option).
For one year, depending on the offer you choose, your WordPress.com site can cost you between $36 and $300.
2. The price of a site on WordPress.org
As such, WordPress.org software is free of charge. You can therefore use it on an unlimited number of projects.
But to make it work, you will still need to invest (at least) in a domain name and hosting.
A domain name costs on average about ten dollars per year. You can either take it on a generalist platform, or acquire it at the same time as your hosting solution (hosting providers almost always offer grouped offers for domain names + hosting).
For starters, shared hosting will be more than enough: you share your server's bandwidth with other users. This will be appropriate for websites of self-employed people, very small businesses, SMEs, associations and bloggers.
On average, prices can go from $30 to $80 per year for a domain name and hosting with a WordPress.org site, when you start.
Which, in the end, is more attractive than 2 of WordPress.com's 3 premium plans.
To be more precise, the investment on a self-hosted site will then vary depending on what you want to do. Of course, you can quite simply settle for free themes and plugins. But you will soon realize that paid resources can really be useful.
III – Maintenance, support and security on both platforms
1. How WordPress.com works
To be able to start a site on WordPress.com, you just need to create an account, as you have to on a third-party service like Gmail, for example.
Then you have your hands free. You can focus only on creating your content and designing your website.
For the rest, WordPress.com works on your behalf and takes care of the maintenance and security of your site (updates, backups, anti-spam, site optimization etc.).
So as for you, just enjoy a drink and sleep well.
If you have a problem, you can go to the official forum with your free offer. Paid plans provide access to email support and live chat.
With WP.org, you will see that you have a lot more responsibility. You're going to get your hands dirty to maintain your site!
2. How does WordPress.org work?
On the self-hosted version of WordPress, the installation, maintenance and security of your site is your responsibility (you can also choose to outsource it, but at your own expense).
To start with, you should update your site as soon as possible.
This mainly concerns themes and plugins. At this level, there are a few precautions to take if you want everything to go well.
In terms of technical optimizations, it is recommended to pay particular attention to the loading speed of your site. This is important for your SEO and user experience.
The WP Rocket plugin allows you to manage this effortlessly, and it can also optimize your database.
To fight spam, the native Akismet plugin will do very well. It is bundled by default on each new WordPress installation and works immediately after activation.
In case of problems (bugs, site down), you will also probably need to use an FTP client like Filezilla, to access the server, as well as a code editor to tweak the files.
Anyway, it's a lot to think about, and a lot of tools to use. You have to get used to it, but it's not that complex with a little experience. Of course, these are responsibilities to consider before choosing which version of WordPress to use.
To sum it up, WordPress.org is no less secure than WordPress.com. On the self-hosted version, it's just your responsibility to implement the right actions and plugins to protect yourself as much as possible (no site is foolproof, unfortunately).
Finally, let's end with support on the .org version.
Here, you have to manage on your own as well in case an issue occurs with your installation.
However, you can find a lot of information on official forums, specialized blogs like… WP Marmite, or on the Codex, the official documentation of WordPress.
On the other hand, you are entitled to support (most of the time by email) if you buy premium themes or plugins. Basically, you have to pay to be directly helped.
IV – And in terms of customization?
I know the suspense is killing you, so let's say it straightaway: WordPress.org is much more flexible than its counterpart. With it, you can do whatever you want, which is not the case with WordPress.com.
1. What about themes and plugins?
On the self-hosted version, you can install all the themes and plugins you want, whether they are free or premium.
For example, you can access the extensions from your back office via the Plugins > Add New menu.
A plugin allows you to add features to your site, without you having to get your hands on the code. In total, the official WordPress directory lists nearly 55,000. Something to have fun with 😉
WPMarmite presented you the essential WordPress plugins in this article.
WordPress.com is much more limited on this level. If you want the same freedom as with WordPress.org, you will need to subscribe to the Business version, for $25/month ($300/year). Only by paying this will you be able to install WooCommerce, Yoast SEO, etc.
Otherwise, it is impossible to use third-party themes and service plugins with the first three plans (free, personal and premium).
You will have to settle for the extensions integrated natively by WordPress.com (this concerns in particular the SEO, the sharing buttons on social networks, a contact form, statistics, backup).
And in terms of themes, there are only about a hundred in the free and personal versions, and nearly 200 with the Premium offer.
2. Design customization
When setting up a website, whether for you or for a customer, it is often important to be able to modify it as you wish, so that it looks like the way you expect.
With WordPress.com, the task is quite difficult. The free and personal versions do not allow you to customize the CSS code, which is so important to manage the visual aspect of your site.
This option is available with the Premium offer. Otherwise, you will only have basic options, with which you can only influence color schemes, background designs, and predefined font styles.
With WordPress.org, you do whatever you want. You have access to all the files on your site and you are free to customize your site as you wish.
Speaking of customization, a little something more before finishing this part on customizing the design. On WP.com, you can't remove the WordPress.com branding from your footer, unless you subscribe to the Business offer.
There is nothing wrong or shameful with displaying that you are using WordPress.com (some people voluntarily leave the WP branding on their WordPress.org sites), but it can be perceived as quite unprofessional.
3. Your rights to the content
Beyond the offer you choose, you should also know that WordPress.com can delete your site overnight.
Automattic[Editor's note: the company that publishes WP.com] may terminate your access to all or any part of our Services at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately.
Of course, this only happens in rare cases (when crazy people publish crazy things), but who knows… Maybe political, religious or other opinions could be censored.
If you have monetized your site and sell products/services to your customers, you can only imagine the pain if Automattic decides to make your website disappear in a snap.
With WordPress.org, you have all the rights to your site and its content: you own it and dispose of it as you wish (but you still have to comply with the legislation of your country).
V – Monetization
This may not be your main goal when launching your site, but it can become your main goal over time. Someday, you may want to monetize your site, for example to cover your operating costs.
If you choose the .com version, I wish you good luck! Since it is a commercial company, its purpose is to make a profit. As a result, it will be able to display ads on sites that use its free offer. It doesn't sound very professional, right?
To have your hands free, you must at least subscribe to the Personal offer to be able to delete ads.
Then, to monetize your site, you will have to use either the Premium offer or the Business offer.
Please note that:
- You can advertise, but only through the official WordPress.com platform, called WordAds. Except that you can't precisely choose the location and type of advertising, WordPress.com does it for you. To choose your own advertising service, such as Google AdSense for example, it is necessary to contract the Business offer.
- You can add affiliate links but only if the main objective of your site is to create original content.
- WordPress.com does not allow sites where most of the content is made up of sponsored articles.
That's still a lot of limitations.
And how does this work if you want to create an online store?
Well you can use WooCommerce, but only with the Business offer.
Otherwise, you can sell your products and/or services… but your buyers will only be able to pay you if you have a PayPal account (WordPress.com provides a PayPal button or link).
With WordPress.org, no worries. Once again, you will be able to do anything you want in terms of advertising, affiliation, e-commerce and so on.
VI – SEO on both versions of WordPress
To attract traffic on your site, you will also have to take care of your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
WordPress.com is naturally optimized for SEO (like WordPress.org, by the way), comes with an XML sitemap, and does what it takes to index your site on search engines.
You can also access detailed traffic statistics and, if necessary, you can even connect your site to the Google Search Console.
Not bad – and it may be enough for some of you. However, I do note some shortcomings.
With the free offer, you cannot use a custom domain name and must choose a subdomain, such as mysite.wordpress.com.
This is not optimal from an SEO point of view, and it's better to use a custom domain name (you can do so with WordPress.org).
Secondly, you can't use an SEO plugin to optimize precisely your on-page SEO. For instance, you can only use Yoast SEO if you subscribe to the Business offer.
If you do not want to use Yoast, advanced SEO tools will be available on WordPress.com, but only with the Business offer (the SEO Tools option allows you to modify your title and meta-description tags, for example).
Another plus that you only find with the Business Plan is the integration with Google Analytics, which provides access to more advanced statistics.
With the WP.org version, you have no limitations. You start with the custom domain name of your choice, and you can install the SEO plugins that suit you.
VII – How to create your site on both platforms
1. The procedure on WordPress.org
To create a site on WordPress.org, you will have to follow 5 steps:
- Choose a domain name.
- Find a website hosting service.
- Install WordPress, either automatically (1 click) or manually. This article from our blog summarizes this whole process for you.
- Customize the design.
- Install the right plugins.
And to go even further, you can also read the article How to make a professional website using WordPress?
2. The procedure on WordPress.com
Installing a site on WordPress.com is much faster and less technical.
There are 4 steps:
- You specify an email address, username and password (to go faster, you can even log in via your Gmail account, if you have one).
- You give a name, a theme and a goal to your site.
- You choose a domain name and its extension. WordPress.com then invites you to choose either its free offer (WordPress.com subdomain), or one of its 3 paid offers.
- Finally, a few seconds later, you are directly connected to your site and can start customizing it, by choosing a theme, for example.
VIII – WordPress.org or WordPress.com: which one should you choose?
1. WordPress.com, for whom?
WordPress.com is primarily aimed at beginners who want to create their first personal site/blog quickly and on their own, without having to manage technical operations (hosting, maintenance, backups, updates).
All you have to do is create content and basic customization, WordPress does the rest.
Pricing is also an argument that might come into play: with WP.com, you can create a site for $0 with the free offer. But don't forget: you will be extremely limited in this case:
- You cannot use a custom domain name.
- Storage space is limited to 3 GB.
- You cannot change the design of your theme.
- You cannot monetize your site.
- Advertisements will appear on your site etc.
To enjoy more advanced features, you will have to choose a paid version.
However, even the most advanced (Business) will remain less flexible than a WordPress.org site.
2. WordPress.org, for whom?
If you plan on launching a personal site with a minimum of ambition, or a professional site (corporate site, association, blog, portfolio, online store or other), creating a self-hosted WordPress site is essential.
We can summarize this as the tenant / landlord dilemma. Being a tenant is not bad in itself, it's just more practical at some point in your life. However, one day you want to stand on your own two feet and become a homeowner.
If you plan to have an independent site, go for WordPress.org.
Although it requires some technical knowledge, practice and time investment initially, WordPress.org is appropriate for any type of user (from beginner to advanced) who wants to have their hands on the site and not be limited in its customization.
In this case, you can only rely on yourself to install, maintain, secure and backup your site.
So, which version of WordPress did you choose to use? WordPress.com or WordPress.org?
For what reason?
Tell me everything in the comments. And if you liked this article, share it on Social Media!
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