The dilemma of which to choose, WordPress.org vs WordPress.com for your blog is a question I often hear, and in this post, I will explain what each is and the pros and cons of choosing either option. By the end of this post, you should have a clear understanding of what they are, and which is best for you.
When people ask me what I do, I explain that I write a blog about WordPress. If they don’t ask me what a blog or a blogger is, they will often say something like, “that’s wordpress.com right?”. I explain that actually, I work with self-hosted WordPress from WordPress.org, and immediately I see a puzzled face!
The truth is that trying to differentiate between the two and to choose between them is confusing and complicated. In this post I am going to cut to the chase and very clearly lay out the differences, so by the end, you will be in an excellent position to decide which flavour of WordPress is best for you at this time in your blogging journey.
I approach this task as if I were in your shoes as a newbie starting out in the world of blogging because that is going to make the comparison much clearer to you, and the decision of which way to go much easier for you to make!
First off let me explain what WordPress is …
WordPress.com and WordPress.org are similarly named because they have the same back-end software called WordPress.
WordPress is a content management system or CMS for short. It has unique benefits for the blogger and business site owner alike, including, but not limited to, a rich post editor, fantastic search engine optimisation, excellent image manipulation, and a unique taxonomy system. Other CMS’s are Joomla and Drupal, but WordPress is the most widely used.
WordPress was created initially for blogs, but it has grown into a platform suited for business sites too.
The WordPress software now runs on 33.6%% of all websites and is the most popular CMS in the world by far! The reasons for its elevation to the top echelons of the CMS world are two-fold:
- The WordPress code is Opensource. Opensource means that the software is free for anyone to redistribute, modify and install on their own web server.
- WordPress has a revolutionary plugin system at its core. Plugins are pieces of code that you can install into a WordPress site, to provide it with extra functionality. Plugins allow WordPress to adapt to many different types of website, for example, a shop, a holiday home booking site, a social network, a forum, and much more. We only want to use it for a blog, but there are hundreds of plugins out there that can enhance your blog too.
Now we understand better what WordPress is, let’s have a look at each version
WordPress.org is the home of the WordPress CMS. At WordPress.org you can freely download WordPress core software, themes and plugins, and get support. The downloaded code can be used to host your own copy of WordPress on a hosting platform of your choice, for example, SiteGround or Kualo. You can download the WordPress CMS for free, and many themes and plugins are also free.
The biggest advantage is that you can do whatever you want with your WordPress site. The biggest disadvantage is that you have to pay for your own hosting and take on the responsibility of looking after your self-hosted site.
WordPress.com runs the same WordPress CMS that you can get on WordPress.org, but the fundamental difference is that it is hosted for you on WordPress.com servers and managed by the WordPress creators, Automattic. WordPress.com is a blog hosting provider. Other providers are Blogger, and Tumbler, and Wix. There is no technical barrier to starting a blog on WordPress.com, open an account, select a theme and you can start blogging right away. The biggest advantage is that everything is done for you.
The biggest disadvantage is the lack of freedom you have both in plugin/theme selection and monetisation.
Now we know a bit more, let’s dig deeper into the pros and cons
WordPress.com (free plan) – Pros
- There are no technical barriers to starting a blog. Just open an account, select a theme and start blogging.
- The WordPress core code and any plugins and themes are kept up to date for you, and your whole blog will be backed up, without you having to lift a finger.
- Running a blog at wordpress.com is free.
- Usually, your website name will be mywesitename.wordpress.com. In the past, you had to pay to use a personal domain, but that is now free.
WordPress.com (free plan) – Cons
The pros sound great, but is there a catch? Well, the catch is considerable and could be a deal-breaker for you as a blogger wanting to monetise your site.
- You cannot use plugins. Apart from the range of plugins available within Jetpack, you cannot use or upload a plugin. JetPack is a toolkit of plugins designed to enhance your blog. It includes social sharing icons, improved commenting, contact forms, security, and more. You may find that it is enough for you, but if it isn’t, you need to upgrade to the Business Plan allowing you to upload plugins of your choice.
- You are restricted only to themes available in the WordPress theme repository. Again, you would need to upgrade to the Business Plan to upload a theme.
- WordPress.com may place their ads on your site. If you have enough traffic, you can sign up for their WordAds program, but the payback is much less than you would get on another system.
- You don’t have the freedom to add whichever advertisements you like. If you use affiliate links, you must be able to demonstrate that your focus is primarily on producing good content, and you can’t have too many sponsored posts.
- You don’t have full rights to your content. WordPress.com clearly states in its terms of service, that they have full access to your content. Here is the excerpt:
“By submitting Content to Automattic for inclusion on your website, you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing, and promoting your blog.”
WordPress.org – Pros
- When you self-host WordPress using the software downloaded from WordPress.org, you have freedom, to install whichever plugin or themes you like. I have some essential plugins here  that I always install on my WordPress sites, but none of these would be useable on a free WordPress.com site.
- You can host your WordPress site with whichever web host you like, I recommend SiteGround or Kualo which is the host I use.
- You can monetise your blog however you wish, with paid ads, Google Adsense or similar and affiliate links and there is no restriction.
WordPress.org – Cons
- When you self-host, the process of setting WordPress up is a bit more complicated than a WordPress.com hosted site. However, most hosts make creating a WordPress site very straightforward indeed. Usually, you don’t have to go to the wordPress.org site and get yourself a copy and install it. Most hosts have handy scripts that do the whole thing for you with a few clicks, and if you have trouble contact their support and they will help you out, SiteGround and Kualo both have excellent support.
- A self-hosted WordPress blog comes with a lot of freedom, but with that comes responsibility, that of keeping WordPress up to date, making backups and keeping your site secure. If you have good hosting then backups, and a certain amount of security is done for you.
Why not opt for the WordPress.com business plan instead?
That is an excellent question, and it is one I asked myself too. With the WordPress.com business plan, you can pay to have more freedom.
According to wordpress.com documentation, the Business plan gives you:
All the features of the Premium plan plus:
- The ability to use Google Analytics
- Unlimited storage
- The ability to use third-party services, such as custom plugins, themes, and code.
- SEO tools
- Live chat support seven days a week.
- Two free concierge support sessions with Happiness Engineers to learn how to get started with your site.
- The ability to upload audio and video files.
This all looks great but here are three reasons why you may not want to go for that:
- The cost is much more than you would typically pay for a good hosting plan elsewhere.
- WordPress.com terms of service still apply in that your content is not wholly in your control.
- A Business Plan, gives you more freedom to choose other monetisation methods, for example, Google AdSense, but there are still restrictions on the types of affiliate links you can use and the amount of sponsored posts you have on your blog. More information on WordPress.com monetisation.
Which is better for me?
Choose wordpress.com if …
- Your sole motivation is producing content, and you don’t wish to monetise your blog, and don’t want to bother with the technical side.
- You have zero budget for now, but perhaps want to monetise in the future, with a view to switching to self-hosted at a later date.
Choose wordpress.org if …
- You want to generate income from your blog from the get-go.
- You require the flexibility to install themes and plugins
- You feel comfortable with the added technical aspects of self-hosting a blog.
How easy is it to switch to self-hosted WordPress.Org later on?
It is pretty straightforward to switch to a self-hosted plan later on. If you have the technical know-how, you could do it yourself very easily. Most good hosts have a free switching service. Or WordPress.com will do it for you for a fee.
In this post, I have laid out the differences between the two options, WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
If you are starting a blog now and you want to make some money from it, then you must go the self-hosted route with WordPress.org. SiteGround has a very cheap starter plan as does Kualo (my hosting provider). If you wanted to try some completely free self-hosting plans, I’ve tried some out here :
When you have your self-hosted WordPress site up and running be sure to check back on this site, as I have loads of articles to help you with setting up your blog. As always, please comment below with any questions.