One of the biggest points of confusion for anyone looking to create a WordPress site is that there seem to be two WordPress’s. WordPress.com and WordPress.org: just two names for the same thing, right?
Not so much! These two platforms are actually very different. Let’s take a look at the benefits and limitations of each one, so you can make the best choice for your website.
WordPress.org is a self-hosted content management system. To start a site with it, first you will have to buy hosting services and a domain. Then download WordPress software and install it on your computer.
Price: WordPress itself is free but you will have to buy your own hosting service, which will usually run between $50-100 per year. You also might choose to buy a premium theme, for a more unique look and higher functionality. These cost $30-100 on average, or more depending on quality and extra features included.
Themes and plugins: There are thousands of themes available to choose from, both free and premium. Find your perfect theme in the official WordPress theme directory, or check out a third-party site like Elegant Themes, Template Monster, Themeforest or Ocean Web Themes.
As for plugins, your options are nearly unlimited. You can get essential plugins for SEO, caching, security, image sliders, contact forms and more, plus specialized features for every niche imaginable.
Customization: Between the abundance of themes and plugins, WordPress.org allows you to design a unique site without touching a line of code. You can make as many changes to your theme as you want, or, if you have the skills, build your own theme from scratch.
Overall, it’s an incredibly flexible platform that can support basically any type of site.
Monetization: You have full control over advertising on your site, meaning you can choose to run ads on your site or not. If you do, you keep all the profits.
Plugins also make it possible to do e-commerce on WordPress.org. WooCommerce, for example, gives you all the tools you need to set up a fully functional online shop, complete with payment, customer accounts, inventory management and more.
Content ownership: Content on your site belongs to you. You have 100% control over how your site looks and what content appears on it.
Analytics and SEO: Third-party plugins provide powerful tools for improving your site’s SEO and gaining valuable insights into traffic and performance.
Yoast SEO is the most popular and comprehensive SEO plugin for WordPress.
Skills required: It’s possible to create a beautiful, highly functional site with a minimum of technical skills.
However, it helps to have some understanding of web hosting and domains, plus how to use control panels and the WordPress dashboard. Basic HTML knowledge will go a long way. Familiarity with the principles of graphic design will also come in handy.
You are responsible for all of your site’s maintenance, so be sure to stay on top of updates, backups, security, spam control and optimization.
WordPress.com is a blogging and website platform, based on the open-source WordPress software. To create a site here, simply register and get started.
These sites will always include WordPress in the domain name (eg. yoursite.wordpress.com).
Price: The basic plan, with up to 3GB storage, is free. Above that, plans run from $4-25 per month, giving you more customization and other features.
Themes and plugins: The free version includes a choice of 165 themes. Some users report problems with corrupted code that interferes with website performance. Paid plans come with more themes.
WordPress.com doesn’t allow any third-party plugins. It provides basic functionality (social media integration and standard blog features), and anything you can get through JetPack.
Customization: Themes on WordPress.com are very limited in terms of customization. Without plugins or access to your site’s code, you won’t have anywhere near the flexibility of WordPress.org.
Note also that you will have to display the branding “Powered by” link on the top of your website.
Monetization: You aren’t allowed to sell ads. However, if you have the free plan, WordPress.com will run their own ads on your site, which you will have no control over and get no profit from.
E-commerce is not supported, unless you use the Business plan, have a certain amount of traffic and use WordPress’s ad system.
Membership sites also are not allowed.
Content control: WordPress.com owns and has rights to your site’s content. Anything on your site has to comply with their terms and regulations.
Analytics and SEO: Since no outside plugins are allowed, SEO and analytics capabilities are very limited. (The Business plan does allow Google Analytics.)
Skills required: The best thing about WordPress.com is it’s extremely easy to set up and use. Absolutely no technical knowledge or skills are needed. All site maintenance is taken care of for you.
A nice bonus is that since you’re part of the WordPress network, they will sometimes send traffic your way.
For professional websites, WordPress.org is almost always the better choice. It’s very hard to develop a website on WordPress.com with enough style and functionality for a company.
If all you want is a good-looking personal blog with minimal investment of time or money, go for WordPress.com. Otherwise, the self-hosted version will be much more rewarding.
Simple infographic that explains it all: