For many people in the blogging world, there is a lot of confusion about the differences between WordPress.com vs WordPress.org. In fact, many people don’t even know they are two different things until they have started using one and then realize it’s not what they thought it was. I’ve had experience using both, so I’m going to share some of the differences, similarities, pros, and cons – so that you can decide which one is right for you.
In case you were wondering. This website is run on WordPress.org. While I started out blogging on WordPress.com many years ago, I eventually outgrew the platform and migrated to WordPress.org.
What is WordPress?
First of all, what is WordPress? WordPress is a content management system. Essentially this means that WordPress creates a system that is going to manage your content for you. So rather than you coding and creating a new HTML file every time you want to make a new page or blog post, you just go into WordPress and add a new piece of content and WordPress does all the file creating and coding for you behind the scenes. This makes it possible for people with little to no coding knowledge have beautiful and highly functional websites.
Both WordPress.com and WordPress.org are the same content management system in that sense. However, while Dotcom is a free, fully hosted blogging platform, Dotorg is self-hosted, meaning you must find and pay for hosting yourself.
This means that you can go to WordPress.com, make an account, and start your website right away with no cost involved. In this case, WordPress.com is hosting your website for you, for free. They give you a WordPress.com domain, and host your website on their servers.
With WordPress.org you are using the WordPress system, but then you must find your own hosting from a company like Dreamhost. WordPress is still free, but it is the hosting and domain name you need to run your website that costs money.
There are many more differences than that but, understandably, cost is the one people always wonder about first. But even though WordPress.com is free, it doesn’t mean it’s the better option. Here’s a more in depth look at each platform.
If you are a blogger looking for a simple platform to get your words out there without dealing with any of the technical aspects or back-end coding, then Dotcom is for you. It is 100% free, and is as simple as signing up, writing a post, and clicking publish.
On Dotcom you pick from a list of pre made themes (some of which you have to pay for, though there are a lot of free options). You have some choices of colours and layouts, but for the most part you just have to choose one of the themes that is there and work within its design. You can edit the menu bar across the top and the widgets in the sidebar, as well as the header image and background image. If you have no design knowledge or coding skills, this is all you need.
Dotcom also has many paid upgrade options. By default when you signup you get a WordPress.com domain name, like melissacarterdesign.wordpress.com, but you can pay to get your own unique domain and remove the WordPress.com. You can also pay to be able to edit the design of the site if you have coding knowledge and want to dig into the code and make changes. You can also pay to be able to install plugins on your site. Plugins are little tidbits of code that you can install onto your website to add functionality.
For example, if you wanted to add a slider to your site, install Twitter sharing buttons, or even create a store, you can do all of those things (and much more) by installing plugins. In a normal HTML website you would have to know the code to be able to do these things, but developers create plugins on WordPress to help people use functionality they don’t know how to code. There are so many available plugins, that if you want to add something to your website, it’s almost guaranteed that there is a plugin that can do it.
On the other hand, there is WordPress.org. Like I said, to use dotorg you must find hosting and a domain name from a place like Dreamhost. WordPress.org itself is free, but you have to buy hosting and a domain, and then you install WordPress onto them. This is the biggest difference between the two platforms. You can read more about hosting and setting up your WordPress.org site here: WordPress 101 Part 2: How to Get Hosting and Setup Your Site.
When you sign in to your dotorg admin, it will look very similar to the dashboard of a dotcom blog. Many of the things you can do with your site are the same, like publishing content, editing menus, editing widgets, uploading a logo, etc. However, many of the ‘paid upgrades’ that you can make in WordPress.com are available by default within WordPress.org. You can edit your css, install plugins, and much more, all within WordPress.org without paying for any upgrades. And though you can pay for an upgrade to be able to edit your theme on WordPress.com, you have much more control over the way your site looks with WordPress.org, and can even create your own theme from scratch if you really want to.
WordPress.com was once much more limited then WordPress.org, but over time the creators have slowly begun to make the functionality of WordPress.org available in WordPress.com by paying for upgrades. For example, plugins never used to be available on WordPress.com, so anyone who wanted to add functionality to their site would have to use WordPress.org. The creators have now made plugins available to WordPress.com users by paying for an upgrade.
After looking at all the pros and cons of each platform and using both, I can confidently say that I recommend WordPress.org. If you are serious about blogging, running a website, potentially making money down the road, editing your design at some point, or any number of other things, then dotorg is for you.
Though the upgrades and added functionality may make it seem like WordPress.com offers the same options, the most important difference is that WordPress.org is self hosted. That means that you own your website. WordPress.com on the other hand is run on their servers, which means you are not fully in control. Owning your website and being in 100% control of what happens with it is vital to running a successful blog or business, so choosing WordPress.org is the best option for anyone looking to use their website in a professional manner.
The only people I would recommend WordPress.com to are those who don’t want to spend any money at all. If you are just looking for a place to create a basic blog, like an online journal to write down your thoughts, then WordPress.com is a great place to start. If you’re thinking about creating a more professional blog but don’t know whether it’s right for you, WordPress.com also might be a good place to try it out for free for a while and see if you can stick to regularly publishing content.
However, if you know you are going to one day get serious about your blog or business, start on WordPress.org. Many people transfer from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, but hardly anyone ever transfers the other way. And, if you’ve been using WordPress.com for a long time or have a lot of content published, transferring can be difficult. Save yourself time and energy now, and start with WordPress.org.
Lastly, I should say that there are always exceptions to any rule. If you searched hard enough you would be able to find successful business and blogs that are using WordPress.com to run their websites. However, you don’t have to search at all to find sites using WordPress.org. WordPress.org is one of the most widely used content management systems in the world, with over 28% of the web using it.
You can read more of my WordPress 101 series by clicking one of the images below or view the whole WordPress 101 series here.
This post was originally publishing on April 5, 2015 and has been updated to better serve you! This post also contains affiliate links – but don’t worry, I always fully believe in the products I endorse. By clicking through and making a purchase I receive a small commission, because who doesn’t love a little extra income here and there, right?