WordPress.org vs WordPress.com: A Definitive Guide For 2014

WordPress.org or WordPress.com? If you’re new to WordPress, it’s a common question and often one that needs a little explanation since the two get confused.

In this post we’ll compare the two and look at their pros and cons. We’ll explore:

  • The differences between WordPress.org and WordPress.com
  • Compare each of their:
    • Costs
    • Freedoms and limitations
    • Maintenance and development
  • How to decide between WordPress.org and WordPress.com

What is WordPress.org?

WordPress.org
The WordPress.org website.

WordPress is open source blogging/CMS software that powers 22 per cent of the web, including this one.

The software is a community-driven project and WordPress.org is where you can download the WordPress installation files, and search for and download free themes and plugins.

The site also contains WordPress news, documentation and community support forums. It’s also the place to go if you want to get involved in the WordPress and contribute to the core code, mobile apps, translation and accessibility.

What is WordPress.com?

The WordPress.com website.
The WordPress.com website.

WordPress.com is a commercial website where you can host a free site with some limitations or pay a yearly fee to remove the restrictions.

The site runs on the WordPress software offered at WordPress.org

Matt Mullenweg, who co-created the WordPress software, also founded Automattic, the company that operates WordPress.com.

Since WordPress.com is a hosted service, it means you don’t have to worry about finding a web host or downloading and installing the WordPress software. The service does all that for you.

Comparing WordPress.org and WordPress.com

Now let’s compare three of the most important considerations when deciding between WordPress.org and WordPress.com: cost, freedoms and limitations, and maintenance and development.

Cost Comparison

WordPress.org

If you’re new to WordPress, it’s important to note that even though WordPress is free, open source software, hosting your own WordPress is not free.

You will hosting and a domain to run WordPress. Hosting with popular web hosts like Go Daddy and Bluehost is pretty cheap (as outlined in the image below). Domains usually cost around $10+ a year.

Once you’ve got your site set up, then you need to think about themes and plugins. There are many free themes available at WordPress.org, but these usually lack the advanced features and functionality need for, say, an online store or a business/corporate site. There are many premium theme stores around, like Elegant Themes or WooThemes, and the Themeforest marketplace offers more choice than you can poke a stick up.

WordPress.com

On the other hand, WordPress.com offers plans and upgrades.

The plans include:

  • Basic – Free – Includes free blog, WordPress.com address, basic customization, no premium themes included, no eCommerce, no video storage, 3 GB of space, may show ads, community support.
  • Premium – $99 – free blog, a custom domain, advanced customization, no premium themes included, no eCommerce, store dozens of videos, 13 GB of space, no ads, direct email support.
  • Business – $299 – free blog, a custom domain, advanced customization, 50+ premium themes included, eCommerce, store unlimited videos, unlimited space, no ads, live chat support.

Here’s a quick visual breakdown comparing costs for WordPress.org and WordPress.com:

WordPress cost comparison

There are some other WordPress.com upgrades, too:

  • Custom design – $30 per blog, per year
  • Guided transfer to a self-hosted WordPress.org site – $129 per blog
  • Premium themes – One-off $20 fee, or $120 per year for unlimited themes
  • Site redirect – $13 per blog, per year
  • VideoPress – $60 per blog, per year

A free Basic WordPress.com plan is the least expensive option, particularly if you don’t want a custom domain name and don’t mind using their free themes with no modifications.

If you want a fully-featured site with your own domain name, unlimited storage for your videos and images, and no advertising, WordPress.com can become quite expensive.

If cost is your most important consideration, then downloading WordPress from WordPress.org will be your most affordable option.

Freedoms and Limitations

WordPress.org

Limitations
Limitations or no limitations?

When you set up a site using WordPress on your own server, you have the freedom to do whatever you want with it.

You can:

  • Use any free or premium plugin
  • Use any free or premium theme
  • Add and edit files via FTP, cPanel or whatever method your web host allows
  • Tweak WordPress files and server settings to improve performance
  • Full control of your content – no ads

WordPress.com

In comparison, WordPress.com comes with limitations. The folks at WordPress.com are running a business. They provide the convenience of a WordPress environment all ready for you to use. They maintain the software so that you never have to touch code or worry about security or other such concerns.

In return, you must pay for any upgrades, from simply removing advertising to activating a different theme.

Limitations include:

  • Limited to WordPress.com themes – you can’t upload your own
  • No custom plugins
  • Limited storage space
  • Limited control of your content, i.e. you must pay to remove ads
  • No FTP access to your files

It’s also important to note that with WordPress.com you can’t use third-party advertising solutions, such as Google AdSense. You also can’t track your stats with Google Analytics.

If having freedom and full control over your WordPress site is an important factor for you, consider setting up your own site with software from WordPress.org

Maintenance and Development

WordPress.org

Having full control over your site also comes with great responsibility. You will need to be prepared to regularly maintain and update your site. You will also need to make sure your site is secure and less vulnerable to hacking. Spam is also a likely problem you will need to deal with.

On top of that, if you have any problems with your server you will need to sort it our yourself with your web host.

Pagely
There are managed hosting services such as Pagely and WP Engine that can take care of the maintenance of your site for you.

Maintaining a site can take up a lot of your site unless you want to hire someone else to take care of it for you.

You may want to consider using a managed WordPress hosting solution, such as Pagely or WP Engine. These services look after all the backend maintenance for you, but, of course, it comes with an increased cost.

WordPress.com

The folks at WordPress will take care of all maintenance and development for you. You won’t have to worry about plugins breaking after an upgrade or your site suddenly going down because of a problem with your host.

You won’t have to keep up-to-date with WordPress news and upgrade your site each time a major version of the software is released.

The decision on whether or not to maintain and develop your site yourself depends entirely on your skills ability, and also how much time and effort you want to put into looking after your site.

If you would rather not deal with anything technical and don’t have the time to commit to ongoing maintenance and development, then WordPress.com would be the best option for you.

So… WordPress.org or WordPress.com?

Choosing between the two comes down to choosing the best option that will support the type of site you want to create.

If you are a casual blogger, don’t want to worry about maintenance and security, and don’t want or need a custom domain, then WordPress.com is ideal for you.

Howevever, if you want full control over your site, want to upload themes and plugins, or want to create an eCommerce or business site, then you may want to go with WordPress.org

WordPress comparison

If you’re still not sure, check out this handy video we created comparing WordPress.org and WordPress.com

This video offers a quick overview of everything you will want to consider when deciding between the two options:

Our Recommendation: WordPress.org

When it comes down to cost, freedoms and limitations, and maintenance and development considerations, WordPress.org wins hands down.

It may take more time and effort to set up a WordPress site, but you will have full control over the look and feel of your site. You will be able to use custom themes and customize their look, and also upload custom plugins to add more functionality to your site.

If you plan to grow your site and increase traffic, then downloading WordPress from WordPress.org is our recommendation.

What is your experience of using WordPress.org and WordPress.com? Let us know in the comments below.

Comments (7)

  1. Good article i think another important thing to note is that with wp.com you cannot run 3rd party advertising solutions such as adsense.

    You also cannot track your stats with google analytics so if you run ad campaigns from adwords to your site you will not be able to track conversions.

    i had a client who was happily using wp.com for a business site but that last restriction forced us to move him off of wp.com

  2. Thank you for this article. You really presented the comparison well. I am considering the free basic wp.com for cost reasons and to test out the waters of my blogging and audience (since I’m a new blogger). But if I want to upgrade to a wp.org option later with my own hosting and custom domain name, would it be an easy transition? Would my blog content be able to transfer from ###.wordpress.com to ###.com? It was never clear from the wordpress websites.

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