For those new to blogging or about to set up their first blog, the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org can get a little confusing. When you visit both sites, you see a lot of similarities, a similar logo, and lots of talk about blogging. So what’s the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org? How do I decide between the two? It’s an important question.
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WordPress.com is a hosted platform (as opposed to self-hosted). This means that if you start a blog with WordPress.com, all of your content and files will live on WordPress servers. WordPress is is the CMS (content management system) for both options, but if the software lives on servers that you don’t have control over, you give up quite a bit of freedom.
WordPress.org is a self-hosted option. That means that you pick where you want your files and content to live. You’re still using the free WordPress software, but you have virtually unlimited options and flexibility on how to run your blog. Don’t get me wrong, “self-hosted” doesn’t mean that you have to set up servers in your basement; it means that you pick your own hosting service like BlueHost, SiteGround, or Flywheel, depending on your needs.If you’re starting a blog, there’s little reason to use WordPress.com over a self-hosted WordPress site.Click To Tweet
Those are the basics… now let’s get a little more specific about the limitations and capabilities of each option.
- You can start a blog with a free WordPress.com account. Your URL or domain name will look something like this: awesomeblog.wordpress.com.
- This “subdomain idea” would be similar to starting a blog on Tumblr, Blogger, or Weebly. The difference is in the software and interface used to manage your content.
- WordPress.com does allow custom domains. For around $13/year you can purchase your own domain name and use it with your WordPress.com account. Now your URL will look like this: awesomeblog.com. Much better!
- Free themes to choose from. Looking today, WordPress.com has 196 free themes to choose from.
- Premium theme upgrade options. You can choose to purchase a premium theme from the WordPress.com market. I see 176 options ranging in price $20 to $175 for a premium theme.
- WordPress.com may show ads on your site. With a free account, WordPress.com may decide to earn revenue by deploying their own ads on your site. Not an option I would want to leave on the table.
- Cannot install plugins. Plugins allow for extra functionality on your site. Maybe you want to use special social sharing buttons. Maybe you want to integrate your email marketing platform with your blog. All of that extra functionality (plus countless other examples) happens through the use of WordPress plugins. WordPress.com doesn’t allow plugins.
- Cannot display your own ads. If your blog gains some traction and your traffic begins to grow, it may make sense to tastefully display ads on your blog. WordPress.com free accounts won’t allow this functionality.
- Cannot sell your own products. WordPress.com doesn’t allow you to sell your own physical or digital products on your site. Besides being against the terms of service, the functionality would also be impossible without access to plugins.
- Cannot earn money with affiliate links. Like ads and selling your own products, established bloggers can earn substantial income from promoting other people’s products on their site with affiliate links. This is not allowed with WordPress.com
- Cannot upload a customized theme. As your blogging skill set grows, you may have the need or desire to customize your design and edit some of the theme files. Extensive theme customization isn’t an option with WordPress.com.
- Cannot use the Genesis Framework and Child Themes. I’m a huge fan of the Genesis Framework from Studio Press and their countless child theme options. Unfortunately, a custom theme like this cannot be used with WordPress.com.
- No hosted email option. While certainly not a necessity, it’s nice to have an email address that matches your domain. For example firstname.lastname@example.org or something similar. There’s no way of getting this set up with a WordPress.com account.
- Optional “upgrades” start to add up. As your blog grows you may need extra storage, a page cacheing option, or even just the ability to install Google Analytics tracking code. Some of these options require an account upgrade to a premium or business account costing $99/year or $299/year respectively.
- WordPress.com can delete your account at anytime and for any reason. I don’t want to sound alarmist and I don’t know of any cases where this has actually happened, but the WordPress.com Terms of Service (TOS) state in section eleven that they “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.” You have to play by their rules and they have all the rights.
WordPress.org (self-hosted) Facts
- Unlimited hosting options. You get to decide what company and what level of service you want with your blog host. My favorites are BlueHost, SiteGround, and Flywheel. BlueHost and SiteGround are inexpensive (a few dollars per month) with solid support. Flywheel hosting starts around $15/month, and they have plans that can grow with you.
- Unlimited theme options. With a self-hosted WordPress blog, you can install any theme you would like. You can use the Genesis Framework with a child theme by Restored 316 or Shay Bocks; you have no limitations.
- Can customize your theme. If you want to make a design change to your theme, you can edit (or pay someone else to edit) the style.css theme file. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and it’s an easy way to change the typography, color scheme, or layout of your blog.
- Unlimited plugin options. Too many plugins can slow down your site, but our blog has a half-dozen or so indispensable plugins that we just couldn’t live without. We use plugins for various email, SEO, eCommerce, backup, and security functions.
See our article, How to Start a Blog: The Definitive Guide for 2016, for a list of some of our favorite plugins.
- Blog income options. With a self-hosted blog, your future will be wide open with the option to monetize with ads, affiliate links, sponsored posts, and even your own digital products.
A self-hosted WordPress blog is the right choice for 99% of people
At first glance it may seem like a free WordPress.com is the right choice for a new blog. It’s free, you don’t have to worry about finding a host, and there is less technical stuff to worry about. But if you want to take your blog seriously, you need the control and flexibility of having a self-hosted WordPress site. Don’t paint yourself into a corner with WordPress.com. If you even have the slightest desire to make a little money from your blog some day, make sure you choose the self-hosted WordPress.org platform. Learn the best way to quickly start a blog here.