What’s The Difference?
WordPress is an open source content management system available as a free download through WordPress.org. WordPress.org also features informational articles about using the software, a support forum, and themes and plugins you can download and add to your site.
WordPress.com, on the other hand, is a hosting platform that provides a limited version of the WordPress software to users. A web host stores your site files on their servers so visitors can access your site. With the software available through WordPress.org, you can self-host, meaning you choose your own hosting provider, upload the software to your site, and use it from there. (Note: Most hosts feature one-click WordPress installs, making it easy to get started building your WordPress site.)
WordPress.com offers several hosting packages, starting with a free-for-life option. Unfortunately, users sacrifice the full range of features available through self-hosted WordPress options. We dig more into these features below.
WordPress.com Pros and Cons
The obvious benefit to WordPress.com is that hosting is free.
You can, however, upgrade to get additional features, such as a custom domain name, more storage space, and the ability to monetize your site. WordPress.com is also a popular choice for beginners because their team deals with the hosting, security, and backup your site needs without you having to get your hands dirty. They also offer personal support and web forums to help you learn the system.
Still, you’ll miss out on the customization options and high functionality of WordPress.org. You won’t be able to upload custom themes, install your own plugins, or work with PHP or CSS. With limited functionality, WordPress.com is not the place for setting up an eCommerce store or a small business website that you can scale.
Another problem with the free version of WordPress is that you don’t actually own your site. You’re running off an extension of WordPress.com, which means their name will be in your site’s title and they can place ads on your site. Unless you upgrade, you won’t be able to monetize your site to make money from it, and the WordPress branding is there unless you opt for the most expensive plan.
If you do upgrade, however, prices are comparable to other web hosts, yet you still don’t get full functionality, like the ability to upload custom themes and plugins. With more upgrades like a custom domain name, no advertising, and unlimited storage, WordPress.com gets expensive.
If you’re going to spend $3-$25 per month on your website, why not invest it in a self-hosted site where you can get more out of the WordPress software? There are plenty of cheap web hosts offering shared hosting plans for as little as $3 per month for the first year that will give you more bang for your buck.
WordPress.org Pros and Cons
Looking at the WordPress.org version, you’re going to have a lot more flexibility in your design and site’s functions. For example, you can purchase premium web themes complete with drag-and-drop builders that will allow you to customize each page and post with ease.
With the range of plugins available, you can add custom share buttons to your site, create beautiful opt-in forms that integrate with the top email marketing software, set your site up as an online store, create membership areas, and much, much more.
Your only limitations will be in your hosting package. The good news is that most web hosts offer multiple packages to give you room to grow as your needs evolve. Users can also ask questions in the WordPress.org support forums as well as find countless articles and video tutorials across the web to help them identify and fix any issues that arise.
The downsides to WordPress.org include that you have to go through the installation process and perform backups and maintenance yourself. Luckily if you chose the right web host, they’ll provide support to help you with these areas.
The other downside to WordPress.org is the price. Where WordPress.com is free, you’ll have to pay for web hosting with WordPress.org. Shared hosting—which means your site is hosted with others on the same server—is cheap, usually under $5 per month. Dedicated hosting plans, where your site is the only on the server, which means you get access to more resources for a faster, more secure site, can run several hundred dollars a month. While the free option appeals to many new site owners, the cost of web hosting to get the full functionality of WordPress is well worth it. It’s especially worth it if you need the room to grow.
Why WordPress.org is the Smart Choice
When comparing WordPress.com versus WordPress.org for cost, there are four things to consider:
- The cost of hosting.
- The cost of a domain name.
- The amount of storage space you get.
- The cost to remove ads.
WordPress.com comes out ahead in price if you’re looking for the cheapest option available. However, if you’re going to upgrade your plan anyway for more features, the cost rivals the hosting packages available through third-party hosts.
WordPress.com charges $18 per year for a domain name, but depending on the name you choose and where you register it, buying a domain name to use with a self-hosted WordPress site typically costs around $10 per year.
WordPress.com’s storage options are limited and expensive. You can get up to 3 GB free, but 10 GB will run you $20 per year, and 100 GB costs $160 per year. Depending on the hosting package you choose with your self-hosted site, you can get unlimited storage space for much less.
Finally, you have to consider the costs of getting rid of WordPress.com’s ads on your site. To eliminate that off your WordPress.com site, it will cost you $30 per year. You don’t even have to worry about that with a WordPress.org site.
Aside from cost, you’ll also want to compare functionality. WordPress.org outperforms WordPress.com in that aspect by allowing you full freedom and control over your site. If this is important to you, then WordPress.org is the obvious choice.
Considering these comparisons, it’s easy to see why WordPress.org is the winner. While you need to pay for hosting, you get much more functionality, and you’ll likely pay less than if you used WordPress.com with the upgrades.
WordPress.com works well in certain cases, such as when a student starts a blog for a class or a hobby blogger is just dipping their toes in and not sure if they’ll stick with it. For serious bloggers and business owners, investing a small amount of money into your self-hosted WordPress blog is well worth it.