So, you want to start a WordPress blog? And you’re wondering how to choose between WordPress.org and WordPress.com in order to find the right platform for your needs.Although they share the same name and are built on the same software, your choice will impact on your site and its future.
We take a look at the differences between self-hosted WordPress.org vs WordPress.com to provide you with insights into which option will be best for your brand.
To start off, let’s take a look at each platform.
WordPress.org is an open source, content management system. The software is free for anyone to use and is managed by the WordPress Foundation. As it’s self-hosted, you install it and manage it on your own web server.
The software provides customization options, allowing you to make the necessary modifications to represent your brand.
This is a hosting service run and owned by Automattic which is owned by the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg. It is based on a modified version of WordPress and manages all the hosting of your website.
So, what are the pros and cons of each platform?
WordPress.org is free. However, as with all websites you will need web hosting to store your website files on the internet. While commercial WordPress themes do have a cost, WordPress.org has thousands of WordPress themes which you can download for free.
Although the cost may vary, depending on the complexity and purpose of your site (e.g. a simple bog vs eCommerce store). Other factors which impact on cost are your choice of plugins and templates – where you have options to use free or premium versions.
WordPress.com provides their hosting service around 5 plans:
Starting off with a free, limited option – the hosting service also has paid packages of Personal (annual fee $36); Premium (annual fee of $99); Business ((annual fee of $299); VIP (starting at monthly fee $5 000)
Using WordPress.org is only a little more involved then WordPress.com, taking 4 steps to create your website as follows:
- Download WordPress
- Create a database on your web server
- Unzip the downloaded file and upload WordPress to your server
- Run the installation script
Additionally, there is also a one-click option from many hosting providers or software such as Softaculous App Installer, available on a hosting control panel like cPanel.
Setting up is a click away – either via Facebook or setting up your account. The hosting service sees to the rest, from hosting to automatically creating your site. There is no interface like a hosting control panel or technical features such as FTP. Your involvement extends to customising your site and adding the content to the infrastructure provided.
As WordPress.org is self-hosted, you are responsible for site maintenance like backups and security, while WordPress.com takes over those responsibilities.
Your website is an online representation of your brand. As such, it needs to be designed according to your brand specifications. While WordPress is customisable – the extent of control over your customisation depends on your choice of package to unlock certain features.
The self-hosting platform allows you to customise your website according to your needs. This means you can completely customise designs or functionality and modify the software. You can also use third party software such as plugins not developed by WordPress.org or make use of the WordPress directory which has thousands of free themes and tens of thousands of plugins from which to choose.
WordPress.com does not provide the option of custom themes. If you are using the free plan, you only have a very limited choice of under 100 themes with limited customisation options, compared to the thousands of free themes from WordPress.org with customisation options.
The Premium and Business packages provide a selection of premium themes with the added feature of having access to custom CSS.
Control vs Flexibility
As long as your site and its activities are above board, WordPress.org does not have terms of service which if ‘violated’ could mean that your site is turned off. As website owner, your website and all its content and data belong to you and are under your control.
You can decide on the resource (such as Google Analytics) for obtaining custom analytics and tracking options.
WordPress.com enforces a large amount of control over what you are allowed to include and use in your website. You cannot install any tracking platform. Only Business plan users can install Google Analytics, restricting you to the stats given to you by the hosting provider.
If you contravene their terms of service, they can delete your site. You have to upgrade to Business plan in order to remove the display of the ‘powered by WordPress.com’ link.
When it comes to plugins – free plan users get built-in JetPack features which are pre-activated. On the other hand, Business plan users have a selection of compatible plugins, while users with a VIP package have more flexibility and are able to install plugins.
WordPress.org gives you flexibility to monetise your site any way you want. You can build an online store, accept payments directly on your site, create courses and even run adverts, keeping 100% of the revenue generated.
When it comes to monetising, WordPress.com has a lot of rules and controls. The hosting provider does not allow you to use your website to generate income through advertising. If your site does have high traffic, you can apply for their advertising programme, WordAds, which provides a revenue sharing option of income generated. However, WordAds is immediately accessible to those using the Premium and Business packages.
As customisation is limited, you are not able to build a membership site. Additionally, eCommerce features and payment gateways are also unavailable.
Although you are responsible for support and sorting out issues, support can be found on support forums from a community of volunteers and users. Additionally, there are helpful resources such as WordPress Codex and developer handbooks.
WordPress software is constantly updated every few months with new features and modifications, while maintenance and security updates are automatically updated.
Free plan provides access to the help section community forums where staff members and volunteers can provide a solution to your query. Paid plans receive additional support via email, live chat and initial help when first setting up the site.
Building traffic through leveraging SEO and social media is the lifeblood of your site.
As WordPress.org is based on the same WordPress software, it has the same benefits as WordPRess.com, but with greater flexibility. You can install any SEO plugin, tracking service, Google Analytics and customize your domain name.
All themes on WordPress.com are search engine optimised. Additionally, WordPress.com is based on WordPress software, which facilitates the backend technical SEO. WordPress.com produces an XML sitemap which allows search engines to crawl the site more intelligently.
Content updates are communicated to Google. WordPress.com has default integration with social media, which facilitates building website traffic.
Free plans have a sub-domain which is not good for ranking. On the other hand, The Business plan provides access to more advance SEO features. Yoast.com can also be installed which further helps to optimize SEO.
Which to choose?
When it comes to choosing between WordPress.org and WordPress.com – your needs will guide you in your choice.
Personal blogging involving creating content for your family or if you have a static website, then the free option of WordPress.com will probably suit you. If you think the Business plan cost is justified by its value for your site and brand, then this choice will give you the best of both worlds, bringing you the security of WordPress.com and the flexibility of a self-hosted website (which is available free on WordPress.org).
However, if you want a professional website, then WordPress.org is your best bet – with many advanced features on WordPress.com only accessible through their payment packages, available to you for free via WordPress.org.
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