First steps with WordPress: the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org

The content management system WordPress comes in two flavours: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. For the non-initiated, it can be confusing to understand the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

Let’s clarify it here once and for all.

The blatant difference.

WordPress.com is a free hosted platform.
On WordPress.com you can build your own blog or website using the WordPress content management system, for free.

WordPress.org is where you can download the WordPress open source software and install it on your server or web host, to create your own website. The application in itself is free: what isn’t free is the web hosting, which you will need to choose and purchase. You will also need to organise the whole set-up and build of your website.

So the main difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is:

  • the .com version is easier to set up, it potentially has no cost but comes with many limitations
  • the .org version requires the cost of an external web host and is more complex to set-up, but it has zero limitations.

Free, but with limitations.

Some of the limitations of WordPress.com can be removed by upgrading to a paid plan. Some others cannot be removed at all.

  1. On WordPress.com you cannot have your own domain name. You will only be able to get a subdomain, which will look something like this: www.mywebsite.wordpress.com. Bit of a mouthful, and doesn’t look very professional. More importantly, using your own domain name is essential if you want to have control of your own content, and not leave it to your provider. When you have your own domain, you can always move your content elsewhere. You can choose to have your own domain name on WordPress.com, but you’ll have to go on a paid plan.
  2. You can only choose from a limited amount of ‘themes’, that is to say templates, to build your site with. For a price, you can choose between unlimited templates.
  3. You cannot upload any third-party plugins at all. This is a major inconvenient. Plugins provide the WordPress platform with extra functionality that’s not present in the core. For instance, you may want a full-width image gallery, or add an events calendar: that’s what plugins are for. No plugins allowed on WordPress.com.
  4. In the same vein, you cannot make any changes to the PHP code of your pages. This may not mean much to you right now, but trust me: it’s painful.
  5. There is no e-commerce solution at all on WordPress.com. There used to be a Shopify integration but it’s been discontinued. This means the only way for you to sell anything is to add a PayPal button to a page or post.
  6. Your pages will have WordPress.com ads on them. You can remove them if you move to a paid plan.

Conclusion

The main difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is that the .com version is for amateurs only.

In my opinion, not even the paid plans are ultimately the right choice for a professional website, because they still come with a lot of limitations (no plugins and no e-commerce! And no email opt-ins that use JavaScript).

WordPress.com is a good solution if you are running a blog that’s purely for your own pleasure. A family blog, a private diary only for a chosen few: yes. In this case, I recommend WordPress.com.

Man looking at beautiful mountain landscape. With WordPress.org, the sky's the limit.
Photo by Joshua Earle via Unsplash.com

But if you need a professional website, the WordPress.org option is the only way to go: a self-hosted website is the best solution for a flexible, scaleable, infinitely expandable and powerful future.

Of course, with power comes responsibility: it takes skill, time, effort and financial investment to build and run a WordPress site. But the sky will be the limit.

For a more detailed analysis of why serious bloggers should use WordPress.org, please read this excellent piece by Mark Brinker at Smart Blogger.

2 thoughts on “First steps with WordPress: the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org”

  1. OMG! I LOVE this post!
    I am constantly asked the difference between the two and although I know, I find myself getting tied up in detail.
    Thank you Piccia, you’ve nailed it.
    Direct and simple initial explanation of the core differences between the two platforms.
    I’ll be sharing this far and wide!!

    • Thank you so much Elaine, I am very glad it’s been useful. Indeed, it’s confusing even when you do know the difference. Thank you for sharing!

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