What is the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

Almost every aspiring blogger will have heard of WordPress, and will know that it’s one of the most popular and easy to use Content Management Systems out there at the moment.

Powering some 25% of the world’s websites, it’s unbeatable in terms of add-ons and plugins, online tutorials, and skilled developers ready to help you out when you get stuck.

Yet one of the most confusing things for many new bloggers is deciding whether to use WordPress.com or WordPress.org.

I’m a WordPress lover and have worked almost exclusively with it for the past 6 years, and I think one of the stupidest things the WordPress team have ever done is give two very different products such confusing and similar names.

How on earth is someone supposed to know that one of those is a fully managed blogging platform, and the other is a self-hosted do-it-yourself version for those who want more control? Because that’s exactly what each one is – but you’d never guess that from looking at them.

WordPress.com – Fully Managed

The main difference between the two versions of WordPress comes down to where it’s hosted. ‘Hosting’ is the space on the internet where your website sits – it’s essentially like a folder in your computer, containing all of the files, images and content that makes up your website. However, unlike a folder on your computer, it’s accessible by anyone in the world using a web browser.

With WordPress.com, your site is hosted with WordPress itself, on their own servers. If you’ve ever used a blogging platform like Blogger or Tumblr, it’s more akin to these. To get set up, all you need to do is make an account, choose a domain (yoursitename.wordpress.com or yoursitename.com) and you’ll have your own blog set up within minutes.

It’s great if you want to get started quickly, but there are a few downsides.

Your own domain vs a wordpress.com subdomain

Their free package restricts you to using a yoursitename.wordpress.com subdomain, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend you go for this. Almost all reputable blogs and professional sites have their own domain (e.g. yoursitename.com), so having yours on a subdomain of wordpress.com won’t look good.

Although you could start off on a subdomain then move to your own domain later, this is risky. If your site does start performing well on the subdomain, and your pages begin to rank on Google, then you risk losing this when you eventually move over to your own domain. As such, I highly recommend you start with your own domain from Day 1.

Thankfully, WordPress.com does allow you to use your own custom domain – but you must be on at least their Personal package, which costs $49 yearly.

Adverts and Analytics

Their free package will also place adverts on your site, but the money these adverts generate will go straight to WordPress themselves. Choosing their $48-a-year Personal plan will get rid of these adverts, but if you want to monetise your site then you’ll need to upgrade to at least their $96-a-year Premium plan.

To fully make the most of your WordPress.com site, you’ll really want to be on their Business package, which costs $300 a year. With this package you’re able to install Plugins and integrate with Google Analytics, which are both most-haves for any blog or website.

While $300 isn’t a huge amount of money, it is a lot if you’re just starting out in blogging and don’t want to splash out on something that’s still just a hobby.

24/7 support

One of the major up-sides to choosing WordPress.com is that you get 24/7 support. If you run into trouble or need some help getting content onto your new site, then their expert support team will be on hand to help you out. With WordPress.org, you won’t get this unless you work with a web developer, as your hosting company probably won’t be able to help you out with WordPress itself.

You can see full details on the differences between the Free, Personal, Premium and Business packages on the Plans and Pricing page on WordPress.com.

WordPress.org – Self-hosted

WordPress.org is the home of the self-hosted version of WordPress. Essentially, you download all of the files that make WordPress what it is, then install them on your own hosting. There are thousands of hosting companies, so you choose the one that’s best suited for you, then install the WordPress software on that.

From there, you have complete freedom. While WordPress.com restricts what you can do unless you’re on their Business package, with self-hosted WordPress you have full access to all of the platform’s features without having to pay extra.

You can install plugins, choose from thousands of free and paid themes, monetise your site however you want (see our article on how to make money as a blogger), and can use Google Analytics or any other traffic analytics software to see how many people are visiting your website.

It’s a bit more of a complicated set up, as you’ve got to first find a hosting company, then set up your account, then install WordPress, but in the majority of cases the extra time spent getting set up will be completely worth it for the extra features you gain!

We’ve got an extensive guide here on how to start your own blog using the self-hosted version of WordPress.

Advantages and disadvantages of each

Advantages / Disadvantages
WordPress.comAdvantages

  • Quick to set up
  • 24/7 support
  • No technical knowledge necessary

Disadvantages

  • You need to pay extra to use your own domain
  • Ads on the free package
  • No ability to use plugins apart from on their expensive Business package
  • You need to be on the Premium plan to be able to monetise your site
  • Feature-rich packages may be expensive for beginner and hobby bloggers
WordPress.orgAdvantages

  • Wider choice of themes
  • Ability to use plugins
  • Use your own domain
  • Often cheaper for small sites
  • Edit your theme files directly (if you’re an advanced user and comfortable doing so!)

Disadvantages

  • Most hosts won’t offer WordPress-specific support
  • More technical knowledge necessary
  • Easier to break your site if you install an incompatible plugin