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WordPress.com vs WordPress.org – Which is Right for Me?

It’s a question that’s been around almost as long as WordPress itself: WordPress.com vs WordPress.org – how do I choose the right one? What’s the difference? This is a bit of a complicated question, so let’s look at it 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 you’re looking at WordPress.com vs WordPress.org, you should ask yourself some similar questions:

  • What’s my site’s objective?
  • Do I want to be responsible for updates, backups, and security?
  • How much control do I want over how my site looks?

What are the goals of your site?

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 just need something to get you to work, the grocery store, and back home, leasing might be a really good option.  If you want something you can take on a long road trip for the Zeppelin reunion tour, buying a VW bus is probably a better choice than leasing one.

If your site’s goal is to have a place to share your thoughts, or having 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, but beyond that, functionality is fairly limited.

If your site needs to offer anything more complex than publishing content, you should definitely take a look at self-hosted WordPress.  Plugins open a whole new world of functionality that isn’t possible with WordPress.com. You can check out everything that’s available on the WordPress.org plugin repository. Let’s say you want to use WordPress for  things like online sales, data collection, and even creating your own social network.  If none of the 35,000+ plugins in the WordPress.org plugin repository suit your needs, there are plenty of online resources to help you build your own plugins, or have web agencies build them for you.

Do I want to be responsible for updates, backups, and security?

Software updates, backups and security are as crucial to your website as oil changes and tuneups are to your vehicle.  Just like not changing your oil means you’ll probably end up with a smoking engine in the middle of the freeway some day, not being a responsible blog owner will put your at risk of having your site get hacked, or even losing all of your content and hard work.

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 much less creepy.

If you feel like self-hosted WordPress is more your speed, and better fits your specific need, you’ll be responsible for making sure your site is up to date, backed up, and secure.  (If this sounds intimidating, we’d love to help).

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.

Plan Car Representing WordPress.com
Image courtesy of dave_7 on Flickr

If you decide to buy a car, that car is yours to light 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.

Custom Car Representing WordPress.org
Image courtesy of Phillip Pessar

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, you’ll have to pay a one-time $5.00 registration fee, and a $13.00/year domain mapping fee.

WordPress.com doesn’t let you customize your theme at all (other than widget placement) for free.  If you pay $30.00 per year, you’ll be able to edit your theme’s CSS, which will allow you to change colors, font sizes, spacing, etc.  Even then, you still won’t be able to edit your theme’s template files to change page  layouts, add widget areas, etc. In code speak, anything that has to do with PHP isn’t allowed on WordPress.com.

Self-hosted WordPress sites don’t have any customization restrictions at all. They’re essentially a blank canvas that you can do whatever you want with.  For example, 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.

So which version wins WordPress.com vs WordPress.org?

As Chris Lema says, “It depends.”

If you just want a place to publish your content, learn more about WordPress, or aren’t concerned with customization and getting that true custom car feel, WordPress.com is probably a great path to take.

If you feel like you’d like to do a little bit more, or may need something more customized in the not-too-distant future, take a look at self-hosted WordPress.

If you’re still not sure, shoot us an email, 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? 

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5 Comments

  1. Nishat Mahmud

    Hello,
    I have started blogging myself. I am trying to find out the basic problems that my blog is having and looking for solutions. Also, I’m searching for some basic things like themes and other stuff.
    I have read your whole article, I am looking forward to getting a positive result after performing this myself.
    Can you suggest me any basic idea that I might need in the future as a new blogger?
    Thank you

  2. Jaagrit Sachdeva

    Very unique and engaging comparison about the cars and very rightly said. Its all about how serious you are about your business and how far do you want to take it. If you are just looking for a representation over the internet, its best to start with WordPress.com, however, since you are just going to own yourspecific.wordpress.com, you will have to be careful about content.

    Several years ago, probably in 2011, we tried to share the same content on 2 WordPress.com sites and we were instantly deactivated. This, however, is not the case with WordPress.org as you are the sole owner and the whole responsibility of content, look and feel, plugins, and basically whatever you want to do with your website lies with you.

  3. Gaurav Heera

    Hi this is a worthful article because it is giving a knowledge both WordPress platform which is a rear thing lot of people are not aware of this thing, thanks for sharing meaningful article

  4. Emmerey Rose

    Awesome comparison Matt! for me, it’s always been wordpress.org that is best for bloggers. No doubt why a lot of bloggers use it. I was wondering, what is the easiest way to switch from wordpress.com to .org?

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