If you’re looking to start a blog or a website, you’ve probably already heard that WordPress is the best tool to for the job. Used widely by both beginning and professional bloggers, WordPress has become the blogging standard. But … what’s the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?
The Short Answer:
WordPress.com is a web hosting service specifically for WordPress sites. At WordPress.com, you can buy web hosting, access to the WordPress software, and a domain name all in one package.
WordPress.org is a place to download the WordPress software. You may then upload the software to a web host of your choosing. However, most web hosts already have WordPress available; all you have to do is install it. I recommend SiteGround for web hosting, and they have WordPress available through their installation wizard.
Want to learn more? Great! I’ve got more. Scroll past the fabulous pin-worthy graphic for:
- Why WordPress.com vs WordPress.org is Confusing
- What is a “Self-Hosted” WordPress Site?
- Hosted vs. Self-Hosted WordPress Sites
- Why You Should Always Choose a Self-Hosted WordPress Site
What is WordPress?
Before we jump into the different “versions” of WordPress, you need to know that WordPress is merely a type of software. Contrary to what you may have heard, WordPress isn’t exactly a service, and nor is it a platform.
It’s a computer program. Just as TurboTax is software that you can install on your computer to help you do your taxes, WordPress is software that you can install on your computer to help you run a blog.
When you think about WordPress as a type of software (versus a service or a platform), it’s much easier to understand how WordPress can be downloadable, installed on your own, and available from more than one source.
Got it? Awesome, let’s move on.
Why WordPress.com vs WordPress.org is Confusing
Just like you, when I first started blogging I was was very much confused by the whole WordPress.com vs WordPress.org thing. The reason why people get confused about WordPress is that the WordPress software is available in three different places:
- A web host of your choosing
Keep in mind that these are places where WordPress is available—not necessarily services or products.
WordPress.com is a web hosting service specifically for WordPress sites. If you sign up for an account at WordPress.com, they will set you up with:
- a WordPress installation
- web hosting (they will store all of the files that comprise your website)
- a domain name (optional, with the purchase of a paid plan only)
What makes WordPress.com an attractive solution is that setting up these three things is completely seamless. In fact, when I signed up for a free WordPress.com account, it took less than two minutes to sign up, pick my domain name, and start blogging.
WordPress.org is merely a place to download WordPress so that you can upload it to a web host of your choice. However, this is typically unnecessary because most web hosts already have WordPress available on their servers (which is Option 3).
3. Web Host of Your Choice
The third place that you’ll find WordPress is your web host. (Before you sign up for web hosting, check that your chosen web host offers WordPress. Chances are good that they do, but it never hurts to check.) I use Siteground, and honestly, they seem to be the best out there for bloggers and online entrepreneurs.
To install WordPress via your web host, simply log in to your account and install WordPress from the control panel. This is more or less the same as Option 2 (downloading from WordPress.org and uploading to your web host), but you’re saved the hassle of downloading and uploading.
What is a “Self-Hosted” WordPress Site?
So, here’s where it gets a little complicated. It used to be that any WordPress site NOT hosted by WordPress.com was considered “self-hosted.” That’s because WordPress.com was the ONLY web host out there that specifically hosted WordPress sites.
However, times have changed and now there are several hosting companies that have emulated WordPress.com, and focus solely on hosting WordPress sites. So, I’ve had to alter my definition of “self-hosted,” and if you check around, other people may still use the old definition.
Here’s where we stand today: Any WordPress site that is hosted by a web host that allows other types of content management systems is a “self-hosted” WordPress site.
So, if your web host allows you to choose from WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc., then your site is self-hosted. Whether you download WordPress from WordPress.org (Option 2) or install it from your web host (Option 3) does not matter. What matters is that your web host isn’t restricting you to using WordPress, they’re not restricting the types of plugins and themes that you can use, and they’re not restricting access to the back end of your site.
Conversely, a service that ONLY hosts WordPress sites is a “hosted” WordPress service. These types of hosts typically restrict the plugins and themes that you can use with your site, and they generally do not allow you to access the back end of your site (databases and the code that runs on the server). The following services are for hosted WordPress sites:
- WP Engine
I know it can get confusing because the word “host” appears everywhere, so here’s how to keep things straight:
- A self-hosted WordPress site = Users can choose to install WordPress, or another similar content management system on a web host of their choice such as SiteGround.
- A hosted WordPress site = Users MUST use WordPress because that’s all the service offers.
WordPress.com vs. Self-Hosted WordPress Sites
Alrighty, so now let’s talk about WordPress.com (or “hosted”) vs self-hosted sites. The difference boils down to three things:
- Ease of use
- Freedom of choice
You’ll find that there’s definitely a clear winner. (Hint: self-hosted!)
1. Ease of Use
The reason why many people opt for hosted sites is that they’re usually super easy to set up. As I said earlier, with WordPress.com you can get started in as little as two minutes. The interface will guide you through picking a domain name, picking a theme, and customizing your site.
What’s important to note is that despite not having automated prompts to guide you, the actual process of buying a domain name from a registrar, buying a web hosting package, installing WordPress on your own, and customizing your own site really is not that difficult. Sure, signing up for WordPress.com might only take 2 minutes. But setting up a self-hosted WordPress site only takes about 10 minutes. Is saving 8 minutes going to be worth it? Probably not, and here’s why …
2. Freedom of Choice
Hosted WordPress services place limits on what you can do. Period.
Although WordPress.com has a few different pricing tiers with various features offered at each tier, if you’re hoping to make any money from your blog (and most people are), you’ll definitely want the ability to install third party plugins and themes. WordPress.com limits this feature to its highest pricing tier, which is a whopping $25/month! If you think that’s disappointing, consider the fact that WordPress.com used to not let users install third party themes or plugins at all.
Thankfully, with a self-hosted WordPress site, you have the freedom to install any third party theme or plugin you want right off the bat. You’re free to put ads on your site, monetize, sell products, run a membership site—the works. And all for $4-10/month, depending on your hosting package.
Here’s the deal. Although WordPress.com offers a few different plans, if you have any plans to monetize your site, start an email list, or sell a product, you’re going to need their most expensive plan, which is $25/month.
For $4-10/month with a self-hosted WordPress site, you have total freedom to do the exact same things.
C’mon, ladies and gents. It’s a no-brainer, right?
Why You Should Always Choose a Self-Hosted WordPress Site
The benefit to using hosted WordPress is ease of initial setup. And that’s all. Self-hosted WordPress sites are slightly more difficult to set up, but honestly, they have hosted WordPress.com sites beat in every other aspect. In my opinion, the only reason to choose a hosted WordPress.com site is if you’re looking for a free option and absolutely cannot afford $4-10/month for a self-hosted site. Note that the free WordPress.com plan is extremely limited.
Now, there’s one final reason why you should always choose a self-hosted WordPress site over a hosted WordPress.com site. And that is: with a self-hosted WordPress site, you are in complete control of your content. You own it. No one can shut you down. (Unless you infringe on someone else’s copyright and they file a DCMA takedown notice.)
Contrast that with WordPress.com’s Terms of Service: “Automattic may terminate your access to all or any part of our Services at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately.”
“With or without cause?” “With or without notice???”
Nope, no way. That does not fly with me.
The bottom line is that by going with a self-hosted WordPress installation, you’ll get a level of freedom that you just won’t get with a hosted site whether it’s on WordPress.com, WP Engine, or the like. Whether you’re a beginning blogger, or a pro-blogger earning a full-time income from your blog, having a self-hosted WordPress site will allow you to be in complete control while to using the best available software at a reasonable price.