When you’re just starting out with WordPress, you need to make a major decision: should you use WordPress.org or WordPress.com? They have the same name...So it's basically the same thing, right?
They have some fundamental differences. And if you’re not familiar with how WordPress works, it can be difficult to figure out which one's which, and which is better for your website needs.
In this article, I’ll walk you through a head-to-head comparison of WordPress.org vs WordPress.com so you can know which option is right for you.
What is WordPress.org?
WordPress.org is simply the home of the WordPress software and is often thought of as self-hosted WordPress.
From WordPress.org, you can download the latest version of the WordPress software (completely for free), find the WordPress themes and plugins directories, and get help and tutorials for setting up your new WordPress site.
Importantly, WordPress.org is not a paid service and will not give you a place to host your website. Instead, you’ll need to take the WordPress software that you download from WordPress.org and install it on your site with a third-party hosting provider.
What is WordPress.com?
WordPress.com is a hosting provider that allows you to create a website based on WordPress software.
Unlike a third-party host where you have access to the entirety of the WordPress software (from WordPress.org), WordPress.com has different paid plans that unlock different features of the software.
The WordPressure's On: WordPress.org vs WordPress.com
You can already notice some of the differences between the two platforms. For an in-depth comparison, let's take a look at the most important features.
Pricing Structures Are VERY Different
Let's begin at the business end: money.
WordPress software is open-source and completely free. However, you need to purchase a subscription with a hosting provider and a domain name in order to get your WordPress website up and running.
This typically costs between $5-$10 per month depending on your web hosting plan and domain name choice.
If you are using WordPress.com, you are paying for a hosting provider and domain name bundled with the software. There actually is a truly free version of WordPress, although your site will be very limited.
Free accounts only have access to a handful of basic themes as well as a free WordPress.com subdomain, such as ‘yoursite.WordPress.com’.
Paid ‘Personal’ plans on WordPress.com start at $5 per month and offer more storage space, an ad-free website, and a custom domain name for one year. Note that only the ‘Business’ plan, which costs $25 per month, allows you to install plugins to your WordPress.com site.
The first major difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is the amount of content you can store on your website. Since WordPress.com is a hosting provider, that service can limit the number of files you are allowed to store on your website’s server for each pricing plan.
For example, WordPress.com allows up to 3 GB of content for free users, 6 GB for ‘Personal’ plan users, and unlimited storage for ‘Business’ users.
Storage for self-hosted WordPress.org websites depends on your host and the plan you have there. However, most hosts offer unlimited server storage for all basic hosting plans so you’ll never run up against these content limits. Take a look at our best web hosting provider list to see the storage limits of popular providers.
Themes and Plugins: WordPress.org Is Much More Exciting
Another difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is that WordPress.com severely limits your access to WordPress themes and plugins. Only WordPress.com ‘Premium’ and ‘Business’ users have access to more than a handful of basic themes, and even then you cannot import a theme from a third-party developer.
Equally, it is only the ‘Business’ subscribers that are able to install plugins on their website when using WordPress.com. So, in order to get the ultimate freedom, you'd have to pay around $300 a year!
WordPress.org gives you full control over your site to add any themes and plugins publicly available on WordPress. You can also install themes and plugins created by third-party developers or by yourself. A built-in editor allows you to further modify the code of your installed themes.
SEO Features: WordPress.org Plugins Win Again
Control over your site’s SEO is only available using WordPress.org or with a ‘Business’ plan on WordPress.com. Importantly, SEO on WordPress.org requires you to add one or more plugins to optimize the SEO of your site. On WordPress.com, SEO is simpler and uses a suite of built-in tools.
The ability to integrate your site with Google Analytics also differs between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
This is important because Google Analytics provides information about the number and type of visitors that are reaching your website, as well as how they are moving through your website and what pages they are visiting.
With a self-hosted WordPress.org site, you can easily use the information provided by your host to integrate your site with Google Analytics and add a tracking code to your website. With WordPress.com, only ‘Business’ plan users are able to integrate their sites with Google Analytics.
With WordPress.com, you don’t have control over your website and its content at the end of the day. Since WordPress.com is a hosting provider, the company can take your website down at any time if it feels your site violates the Terms of Service.
While you run the same risk with a third-party host when using WordPress.org, the problem is significantly less severe. Even if your site is taken down, you still retain control over your site’s content and you could easily migrate your site to a new host.
If you want to launch an e-commerce store on your website, there is a world of difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. There is no ability to add an e-commerce shop to a WordPress.com site, even with a ‘Business’ plan.
With a self-hosted WordPress website, hosting an e-commerce site can be easily achieved using plugins such as WooCommerce, WP eCommerce, Shopify and others.
Depending on your host, you may have to upgrade to a more expensive plan to get the security features needed to conduct transactions on your website.
One of the biggest advantages of WordPress.com vs WordPress.org is that WordPress.com takes care of all back-end website maintenance for you. There is no need to update the WordPress software or your theme when updates are available since WordPress.com takes care of all of this for you.
If you have plugins under a ‘Business’ plan, WordPress.com will also make sure those are up to date at all times.
With WordPress.org, you are responsible for making sure that your website and all of its components are updated with their latest versions. This is extremely important since failing to make updates could expose your website to security issues such as hacks.
However, simply making updates can be harder than it sounds because changes to the code of themes or plugins can cause them to become incompatible with your website.
WordPress.org Unlocks the Power of WordPress
If you want to use the full power of WordPress for your website, you need WordPress.org rather than WordPress.com. WordPress.org gives you full access to the open-source WordPress software, which allows you to modify your site using custom themes, plugins, and code.
However, using WordPress.org comes with significantly greater responsibilities, such as finding a third-party host and domain for your website and making sure it remains up to date.
While WordPress.com is a more limited and expensive version of WordPress, it does have its benefits. WordPress.com wraps website hosting and WordPress together, and the lack of plugins and advanced customization features can make it easier to get started making a WordPress website.
Plus, if you get started with a WordPress.com site and eventually want to add more features that WordPress.com allows, you can always migrate your site to WordPress.org later.
Did this guide help you understand the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org? Let me know in the comments below!