WordPress.org vs WordPress.com: A Definitive Guide For 2015

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

Say goodbye to confusion and hello to knowing which platform is right for you. Without further adieu, let’s start comparing.

What is WordPress.com?

The front page of WordPress.com
The WordPress.com website.

WordPress.com is a commercial site where you can host your own site for free, but with some limitations. It runs on the open source WordPress platform co-created by Matt Mullenweg and his company called Automattic.

Hosting with WordPress.com means that your site will be free forever, but you can also pay to upgrade your site to achieve your specific needs. It also means your site will be well looked after with top of the line spam-fighting power and automatic security updates.

All you need to do is sign up and choose your blog name, then design your site. You won’t have to worry about installing the software since it’s all managed for you instantly.

What is WordPress.org?

The front page of WordPress.org.
The WordPress.org website.

WordPress.org is where you can grab your own copy of the WordPress blogging/Content Management System (CMS) software for free. It currently powers 24% of the web, including WPMU DEV (of course!).

With the software comes the responsibility of finding your own hosting company to house your WordPress site along with your own domain name to point visitors to it.

You’ll also have full control over the WordPress software and your site. The only limitation you might have could be the resources you’re allotted in the hosting package you pick.

WordPress.org also includes extensive documentation and a community forum where you can ask questions if you get stuck or help someone else. It’s also the site to go to if you would like to get involved and join many other volunteers in contributing to the WordPress core code, mobile apps, translations, and accessibility.

Comparing WordPress.com and WordPress.org

With these two great options ready to power your site, it can be difficult to know which one’s right for you. To remedy that, 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.

Generally, there are less costs and more control associated with WordPress.org over WordPress.com.
Generally, there are less costs and more control associated with WordPress.org over WordPress.com.

Cost Comparison

When comparing the cost of WordPress.com versus WordPress.org, there are four areas to consider where there are different costs that are associated with each. They are: domain name, hosting, storage space, and ad removal.

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.

Let’s break down these costs and explore them further to help better understand your choices.


No matter what, hosting your site on WordPress.com is free, but there are limitations that can be removed with upgrades or plans that can be applied separately to each of your sites.

Here are all the upgrades you could choose from to have more control over your site. All but the final two are annual subscriptions:

  • Domain registration – $5
  • Domain mapping – $13
  • Domain Privacy – $8, per domain
  • VideoPress – $60
  • Custom design – $30
  • Space upgrade – $20 – $290
  • No ads – $30
  • Site redirect – $13
  • Unlimited premium themes – $120
  • Premium theme – from $20, one-off fee
  • Guided transfer – $129, one-off fee

It might be important for you to know that in order for a newly registered domain to work, you also need the mapping upgrade as well.

Depending on the type of extension you want, the price may very. For example, a .com is $18 per year, but a .me extension is $25 and a .tv is $50 per year with both upgrades included.

If you find you need several upgrades, you may be able to save money by upgrading to one of the WordPress.com plans, instead.

The plan comparison chart for WordPress.com hosting.
A comparison of the current hosting plans at WordPress.com.

A premium plan includes domain registration and mapping, 13 GB of storage space, no ads, custom design capability, VideoPress and email support for $99 per year and per blog.

A business plan includes all the features of a premium plan, plus eCommerce capability, unlimited storage space, unlimited premium themes and live chat support for $299 per year and per blog.

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.

You could save a bit of money and keep the free domain that comes with your site. It looks similar to your-site.wordpress.com, but if you need to look more professional, purchasing your own domain such as your-site.com might be a better option.

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.


On the other hand, you could opt for downloading a copy of the free, open source software, but it’s important to note that hosting your own WordPress site isn’t free, though, you can choose one of many hosting companies to house your site. You will also need to purchase a domain name as well.

Hosting can cost as low as around $5 a month for shared hosting packages depending on the company since many of them offer regular promotions.

You could also choose a more robust hosting plan with (Virtual Private Server) VPS and dedicated server packages. They cost a lot more, but the hosting is shared by much fewer people with VPS or none at all with a dedicated server.

Domain names can also be fairly inexpensive especially when many registrars offer regular promotions as well. Typically, the cost of a generic top level domain name (gTLD) such as a .com, .org or .net extension is around $10, but can vary depending on the type of extension you choose.

Newer gTLDs such as .rocks, .company, .ceo and hundreds more have also become available last year and range in price from about $10 to over $100.

No matter which hosting company or domain registrar you choose, you will have full control over your site, files, database and domain.

If you would like more information on the different types of web hosting available and how to set up your site, check out one of our other posts 4 Steps to Wrangling Your Web Host for WordPress.

Web hosts
There are many reliable hosts out there, but many of the features they offer differ greatly. It’s best to research them to find the best fit.

If you’re ready to choose a hosting company, but aren’t sure which one to choose yet, check out our posts Web Hosting Review: So Just Who is the Best? and Top Cloud Hosting Companies for WordPress.

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 and plugin stores around, like Elegant Themes or WooThemes and of course, WPMU DEV. There’s also the Themeforest and Codecanyon marketplaces that offer more choices than you can poke a stick at.

Each premium plugin and theme varies in price as well, but the good news is, there are lots to choose from.

Freedoms and Limitations

Limitations or no limitations?

The type of site you want to build can greatly influence the choice you make for hosting your site. Depending on your goals, you may need a lot of freedom and wiggle room from a custom design to tweaking your site’s files or database.

WordPress.com offers free site hosting, but not without restrictions. If you need to run a membership or eCommerce site, for example, you won’t be able to do this successfully unless you upgrade. On the flip side, WordPress.org has a lot of freedom and you could easily scale your server and hosting plan to make room for larger sites.

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.

But what exactly can and can’t you do with WordPress.com and WordPress.org when it comes to running your site?


When you host your site with WordPress.com, it 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.


When you set up a site using WordPress on your own server, you have the freedom to do whatever you want with it. You’re only limited to the amount of storage space you have and other similar features provided by the hosting package you choose.

You can use any plugin or theme whether free or paid and there are no ads included, but you can include your own if you want such as with Google Adsense. You can also add, edit or tweak your files and database via FTP, shell access, cPanel or whatever other options you are allowed in your hosting plan.

You’ll have full control of your WordPress site, but it comes with the responsibility of maintaining it, unlike the WordPress.com route.

Maintenance and Development

Updates available in Multisite.
With a self-hosted site, you’ll be responsible for regularly updating your site.

With WordPress.com, you don’t have to worry about maintenance since it’s all handled for you. With self-hosted sites, you’re on your own, though, there are managed hosting solutions available to help you out.

No matter which one you choose, you won’t have to worry about developing WordPress to continually improve it to match the ever-changing standards for sites over the internet. The Automattic team and the WordPress community work hard to provide regular updates to the WordPress core to ensure your site has a solid foundation.

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.

You might be wondering exactly what kind of maintenance is or isn’t involved with a WordPress.com or self-hosted site so let’s take a look at both to find out.


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.


Hosting your own WordPress site isn’t without its difficulties. Unlike hosting with WordPress.com, you’re fully responsible for your own site.

Your responsibilities include:

  • Installing and setting up your WordPress site
  • Setting up your server for VPS and dedicated hosting
  • Regularly updating your themes and plugins
  • Updating your WordPress version when new versions roll out
  • Keeping your site secure for your visitors and protecting your site against hackers and spam
  • Backing up your whole site regularly in case it breaks
  • Resolving problems with your site and server if they arise

If you think you need the flexibility WordPress.org offers, but all this maintenance sounds overwhelming to you, there is another option. Consider using a managed WordPress hosting solution such as Pagely or WP Engine.

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

These services look after all the backend maintenance for you, but, of course, it comes with an increased cost.

So … WordPress.com or WordPress.org?

Both are great options and the best one for you depends on the plans you have for your site, your skill level and how much time you can spend on maintaining and designing your site.

WordPress comparison
Do you need a self-hosted or WordPress.com site?

If you would like to create a simple site or blog, don’t want to fuss with regular maintenance or security and don’t want to customize your site too much, then WordPress.com may be your best bet.

If you’re on the opposite side of the scale and need full control over your site design, plugins, files and database with total freedom to change and tweak to your heart’s content and don’t mind maintaining and securing your site, then WordPress.org can provide the software you need.

This is also the case if you’re also planning on developing an eCommerce, membership, social media or large business site since a self-hosted WordPress site may be cheaper and offers more flexibility.

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.