In this post we’re going to show you whether you should choose WordPress.com or WordPress.org. Rather than inundating you with a bunch of technical jargon that isn’t helpful and leaves you more confused than when you arrived here. We’re going to offer another way to look at things, and describe how each platform serves real people in real world scenarios.
We talk with hundreds of people every single month about their WordPress websites. Frankly, some people who should be self-hosting their websites are on WordPress.com, and vice versa. We want to make sure everyone has the right solution for their needs, so let’s break it down, shall we?
WordPress.com vs WordPress.org
The question of WordPress.com vs WordPress.org is one that’s been around almost as long as WordPress itself. Unfortunately the lines have become even more blurred of late with the introduction and evolution of the Jetpack plugin, but we’ll address that a bit more later in this post.
The questions we hear the most are how do I choose between WordPress.org and WordPress.com? What’s the difference, exactly? What are the financial implications of my choice? Which one is “easiest”?
These are all great questions but they can get a little bit complicated. We don’t want to take you down that rabbit hole, so think about this another way. Have you ever wondered whether you should lease or purchase a car? If you have, maybe you asked yourself some of these questions to help make your decision:
- Do I need unlimited mileage?
- Do I want to be responsible for oil changes and tuneups?
- Do I want to be able to change things with the car, or do I just need something to get around in?
When deciding between WordPress.com vs WordPress.org, you should ask yourself some similar questions:
- How far do I need this website to take me?
- Do I want to be responsible for updates, backups, and security?
- How much control do I want over how my site looks?
How far do I need this website to take me?
When you lease a car, you’re given a limited number of miles you can drive the car over the term of the lease. If you need something to get you to work, the grocery store, and back home, leasing a reliable Honda Accord is a great option. It’s definitely cheaper, and lets you get a brand new ride every few years.
If you want something you can use as a roady on the Zeppelin reunion tour, you should buy a VW bus instead. You can drive to your heart’s desire, make midnight taco runs for the band, and it’s entirely your prerogative when you want to convert the cab into a recording studio.
What does any of this have to do with WordPress?
Think of WordPress.com as your leased Honda Accord. It’s reliable, low maintenance, inexpensive, and very little work is required to get you on the road. This does, however, come at a bit of a cost which we’ll talk about more.
If your site’s goal is to have a place to share your thoughts or maintain a running stream of cat photos, WordPress.com is a fantastic choice. When hosting your site on WordPress.com, you’ll be able to setup basic contact forms and polls, allow visitors to subscribe to your posts, and integrate your site with social media. All of that comes standard out of the box and requires very little configuration.
WordPress.com Out of the Box
Depending on the plan you choose, WordPress.com does offer a bevy of features to help you do more with your website.
For example the Business plan ($300 per year) unlocks a number of useful features
- Anti-spam protection
- Access to a huge library of themes
- More control over your design
- Ability to advertise and earn money with their WordAds network
- SEO Optimization Tools
- Google Analytics Integration
- Removal of WordPress.com branding from your website
That’s a nice feature set, but paying $8.25 a month to stop someone else’s ads from running on your website is probably going to feel like handcuffs for a lot of people.
WordPress.org Has All Those Features Standard, and It’s Free*
One thing you can’t do on WordPress.com is install plugins. That ends up being a massive advantage for WordPress.org, as plugins unlock a whole new world of capabilities that isn’t possible with WordPress.com. Most plugins have zero cost and are open source, so you’re able to modify them as you please.
All of the options and features in the list above are available to WordPress.org users by way of the WordPress Plugin Repository. With over 35,000 plugins in existence (at last check), you can add all sorts of functionality to your WordPress website including but not limited to eCommerce, data collection and retention, offering online quizzes, and if you’re feeling ambitious, even building out your own social network.
Check out our list of Best WordPress Plugins for a quick guide to get you started on the right track.
Do I want to customize how my site looks?
When you lease a car, you’re pretty much locked in to the way it looks and the way it runs. You might get away with a bumper sticker, or a “Baby on Board” sign, but most dealerships aren’t gonna like it if you return the car with tinted windows, a spoiler, and hot new set of rims. You’re probably gonna end up with something like this, and it’s gotta stay that way for the duration of your lease.
When you buy a car you can light it up with a new paint job, add an XBOX, or really do anything else that Xzibit and West Coast Customs would would approve. It’s gonna take some more work and more cash, but it’s all yours and you’re sure to turn some heads with your new look.
What’s in a (domain) name?
When you sign up for WordPress.com, you choose a domain name that’s part of the WordPress.com network. Your domain will look something like your-site-name.wordpress.com If you want to register your own domain, and get rid of the wordpress.com piece, that requires signing up for one of the paid tiers we mentioned earlier.
Design and layout limitations of WordPress.com
WordPress.com won’t let you customize your theme at all (other than widget placement) on the free plan. You can only edit your theme’s CSS once you’ve signed up for a paid plan. Editing CSS allows you to change colors, font sizes, spacing, etc. There aren’t any options to edit your themes template files on WordPress.com, even if you’re willing to pay. That means you can’t do things like change page layouts, add widgets, or anything that requires PHP code in WordPress.
Self-hosted WordPress sites don’t have any customization restrictions at all. They’re a blank canvas that you can do whatever you want with. If you find a theme that you mostly like, but the homepage layout isn’t quite right, there are plenty of WordPress developers who can work some code magic and make it look just the way you want. You can even hire an agency to design and build a theme specifically for your brand. It’s custom work and it’s going to be more costly, but it’s all yours.
Speaking of being all yours, what about content ownership? WordPress.com offers convenient export options so you can move away from their platform at any time, but does that mean you own the content? It’s still hosted in a place that you don’t own and you’re subject to any changes they make to their platform, so it’s hard to say for sure whether your content is truly yours when it’s living on WordPress.com.
That’s a long debate that isn’t worth much energy, but could be a concern for people who are big believers in the open web and owning the platform that’s the source of all their content.
As an aside, we see people move to self-hosted WordPress from WordPress.com all the time once they find the platform too limiting for their growing needs.
So if WordPress.org adds all that amazing functionality, allows me to own my content, customize everything, and it’s free, why would anyone ever choose WordPress.com?
I’m glad you asked…
Do you want to be responsible for updates, backups, repairs, and security?
You probably noticed the asterisk next to FREE a few paragraphs back. The lifetime cost of your website both financially and time investment is going to be higher on WordPress.org. Guaranteed.
Software updates, backups, and security are as crucial to your website as oil changes and tuneups are to your vehicle. When you don’t change your oil, eventually you’ll end up with a smoking engine in the middle of the freeway. If you have a WordPress.org website and you’re not acting responsibly and using best practices, you will get hacked or lose your content. I promise. It will happen. It’s not an IF question. It’s a WHEN question.
We’ve heard way too many horror stories from people who wanted something “simple” so they setup a self-hosted WordPress site. Later they ended up with a whole bunch of technical overhead they weren’t expecting and eventually gave up on trying to stay on top of things. That’s when bad things inevitably happen. Our company fills in the gaps when you want the flexibility of WordPress.org but the reliability and peace of mind that WordPress.com offer.
Automattic to the Rescue
One of the best things about hosting your site on WordPress.com is that employees of Automattic, the company that runs WordPress.com, work behind the scenes to make sure your site is online, backed up, and safe from hackers. It’s like having the car dealership come to your house to tune up your car while you sleep, but less creepy.
We Can Save You Too
WP Site Care does exactly the same thing but for your self-hosted WordPress (WordPress.org) websites. We allow you to host your website where you please, have all the flexibility that WordPress.org brings to the table, without the intimidating technical junk.
Don’t be scared. Find the Site Care plan that’s right for you
Jetpack is Bridging the Gap
The Jetpack plugin for WordPress brings a lot of the functionality and stability of WordPress.com to self-hosted WordPress. Here are some of the specific services and functions you can get with Jetpack:
Warning: This list is not comprehensive and is ever-expanding so stay up to date on the Jetpack plugin page. Mostly I just cherry-picked the most interesting features
- Brute Force Attack Protecton
- Two-Factor Authentication
- High-speed CDN for loading your images
- Markdown support
- Tiled galleries
- Automatic sharing and posting to social networks
- Site stats and Analytics
Everything I listed relies on third-party services from WordPress.com, but can be added to your self-hosted WordPress site for free. This plugin is massive and packs a punch, so remember to only turn on the parts you’re using and turn off everything else.
In some ways Jetpack is blurring the lines between WordPress.org and WordPress.com, but for the most part it’s bringing the best that WordPress.com has to offer to self-hosted WordPress.
So which version wins WordPress.com vs WordPress.org?
By now you should have a pretty good feel for which platform is right for you. If it’s still unclear, you’re in luck cause we’re about to get really specific!
If you want a place to publish your writing or photography, learn more about WordPress, and aren’t concerned with customization and getting that true custom car feel, sign up for WordPress.com.
WordPress.com is great for
- Aspiring artists wanting to share their portfolios
- College graduates wanting to share their resumes
- Hobby or family bloggers (no monetization goals)
- Early stage online magazines working to prove out a concept and gain some traction
- Wedding websites with info about your big day
- Restaurants who don’t need features like online reservations or a complex menu structure
If you need something more custom or robust in the not-too-distant future, take a look at self-hosted WordPress. Remember that before you can use self-hosted WordPress you’ll need a web host (check out our list of top performing WordPress hosts here) and of course we’d highly recommend you check out our site management plans.
WordPress.org is great for
- Businesses needing a full blown content management system
- Online Stores
- University & Education Websites
- Established food, fitness, and other niche bloggers
- Established online magazines
- Publishers in need of custom functionality or workflows
If you’re still not sure whether WordPress.com or WordPress.org is right for you, get in touch or hit us up in the comments. We’ll be glad to help you figure it out.
If you’re already using WordPress, did you start on WordPress.com? Are you still on WordPress.com? Or did you jump straight into using self-hosted WordPress from the beginning?