WordPress.com and WordPress.org: What’s the Difference?

WordPress.com and WordPress.org: What’s the Difference?

Here at WPMU DEV, we use the word “WordPress” a lot (for obvious reasons!). And when we do mention “WordPress” (there I go again!), I think it’s safe to say that most readers understand that we’re talking about WordPress.org, the self-hosted content management system.

If you’re brand spanking new to WordPress, however, you may not be aware that there are actually two different versions of WordPress content management systems. There’s WordPress.com and WordPress.org

Do you know the differences between the two? Does it even matter? And if it does, how do you know which is right for you?

Let’s take a closer look.

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org: How to Tell the Two Apart

According to WordPress.com, the WordPress software powers 27% of all websites around the globe. A more impressive way to state that fact is to say that nearly 75 million websites run on WordPress.

Let’s take a look at what each of these platforms does.

What is WordPress.com?

WordPress.com Home

WordPress.com is a blogging and website service owned by a company called Automattic. WordPress.com uses the open source WordPress software.

WordPress.com doesn’t require much from its users. When you’re ready to get started, all you need is:

  • The ability to grasp a basic understanding of the WordPress.com platform and dashboard interface.
  • A little bit of time to poke around at the limited theme and feature options available.
  • And that’s about it!

Here is what you get with WordPress.com:

The WordPress.com user interface.

Cost
It’s free to use, up to 3GB. You can pay more for customization capabilities and additional features.

Hosting
Web hosting is included with WordPress.com accounts, so no need to pay for additional web hosting.

I should also note that all free WordPress.com sites come branded with a WordPress hosting label and also include WordPress.com ads. If you’re willing to pay for one of their plans, you can have either or both removed.

Domain
If you use the free plan, your website will run on a sub-domain from WordPress.com, which means that “WordPress” will be in your domain name (i.e. www.myawesomesite.wordpress.com). The paid plan options allow you to upgrade to a non-WordPress domain name.

Software
There’s no need to download any software. Just create an account with WordPress and get going.

Setup
There’s minimal muss and fuss here. Setup is easy as they give you a handful of simplified options to start from: blog, website, portfolio, and online store.

Security and Backup
Both are included, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your site is 100% hack-free. See the WPMU DEV guide on WordPress security for more information.

Management
Management of a WordPress.com site is minimal. This means you won’t need access to an FTP or control panel to manage the backend piece. This also means you won’t have to manage core or plugin updates. You can just focus on creating content.

Coding
If you were hoping to have access to the coding of your site for personalization purposes, you can forget about that with WordPress.com.

Themes
Currently, there are 165 WordPress themes you’ll have access to on the free plan. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using a free WordPress theme, you do have to be careful as there are usually limitations and possible corruptions that could adversely affect your site. If you want access to premium themes, you’ll have to pay for one of their plans and, even then, customization of the design is limited.

Plugins
For the most part, you have to work with what WordPress gives you in terms of additional features and functionality. This includes social media integration, basic blog features like sharing, stats, comments, and polls, etc. Whatever you use, however, has to come from WordPress (in other words, Jetpack).

Support
With the free plan, the only support option you have is through self-guided research in the WordPress forums. For paid plans, WordPress does offer email and live chat support for setup.

Analytics
Analytics will come straight from WordPress since you can’t integrate with Google’s tools on the back or front ends (unless you’re on the Business plan, in which case they do grant you access).

e-Commerce
WordPress has a strict sales policy for their .com websites. So, if you’re planning to sell anything through your site, you can only do so if you pay for their Business plan. Even then, you have to have a certain amount of traffic and have to use WordPress’s own ad system.

WordPress Network
This is one of the nicest parts about hosting your site with WordPress.com. Because you’re part of the WordPress network, they may on occasion feature your site and send additional traffic your way.

What is WordPress.org?

The WordPress.org website.
The WordPress.org website.

With WordPress.org, you host your own blog or website. WordPress.org is where you’ll find the free WordPress software that you can download and install on your own web server.

When you’re ready to get started, all you need is:

  • Some technical knowledge. HTML is ideal, but not a must.
  • A familiarity with web hosting, domains, and how to procure and manage them.
  • An understanding of what a control panel does and why you’d need it.
  • Comfort with how the WordPress dashboard works and to know how to tailor it to your needs.
  • The ability to use themes and plugins to extend the power of site (if you don’t want to code).

Here is what you get with WordPress.org:

Adding a new post to your website using the software available at WordPress.org
Adding a new post to your website using the software available at WordPress.org

Cost
WordPress.org is free to use. But the rest of the stuff you’ll need to really rip it open and make it work for you? Not so much.

Hosting
When I say that WordPress.org is a “self-hosted” content management system what I mean to say is that you need to take care of the web hosting yourself. This means you have to work with a third-party web hosting company, like GoDaddy, for example, that will offer space on their server in exchange for what basically amounts to monthly or annual rent for that space.

Domain
Same deal here. WordPress is just giving you the tool to manage your site through, so you need to purchase your domain name elsewhere. It will 100% be your own and have no trace of “WordPress” in the title… unless your company’s name contains “WordPress” in it.

Software
In order to access the CMS, you’ll need to download and install the software yourself.

Setup
Obviously, I’d argue that WordPress.org is easy enough to setup, but for super novice users who have barely stepped foot inside a cloud-based software platform before, this might prove to be overwhelming.

Security and Backup
Security and backup ideally needs to come from you, your web hosting company, a plugin, and possibly another third party (like Defender or Wordfence).

Management
When you go the self-hosted route, this means the site you create is 100% yours, which also means you’re 100% responsible for creating and managing it. This includes staying current on all updates to the WordPress core as well as any tools you install.

Coding
This is key for developers who don’t want to be limited by the capabilities of WordPress or of third-party integrations. So long as you know what you’re doing, you can feel free to edit the coding of your site as much as you want!

Themes
There are no restrictions on which themes you can use on your WordPress website. If you want to use one of the thousands of themes located in the WordPress.org Theme Directory, have at it. If you’d rather use a premium theme found off-site, you can do that as well. You can also customize these themes as much as you want or you can create your own theme from-scratch.

Plugins
WordPress has tens of thousands of plugins available in their directory, all free to use. If you can’t find what you’re looking for or want something that’s going to pack more punch, you can take your search outside of WordPress. Or you can create your own plugin.

Just a reminder: whenever you plan on adding a new tool from outside WordPress to your site, be sure to do your research first.

Support
In terms of getting support for problems or questions with the WordPress platform, you’ll have to rely on self-guided support through the forums. I’d also suggest you subscribe to a WordPress blog like WPMU DEV as there’s a lot you can learn there, whether it’s a quick fix to a common problem or some new tool that’ll help save you hours in development.

Analytics
Because you’re free to use whatever type of third-party integrations you want, you can get as crazy with analytics and advanced testing and monitoring as you want. Google Analytics is a must. A/B testing is also worth looking into once your site’s rocking and rolling (especially now that Google just launched Optimize).

e-Commerce
Again, without the restrictions of working strictly on WordPress’s hosting platform, you can really open your site up to a lot of different money-making possibilities, like running ads, remarketing, selling products, offering memberships, and more.

WordPress Network
You’re not part of the WordPress network when you go with .org, so you’re fully responsible for marketing and getting the word out about your site.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it: a bare-knuckle brawl between the two WordPress platforms. If you’re still not sure which is right for your WordPress business, check out Quiz: Should You Use WordPress.org or WordPress.com?

Brenda Barron
Over to you: Has anyone ever advised you against using either .com or .org? If so, was their reasoning any different from what we mentioned above?