Often I see that people who are just exploring websites or blogging don’t understand the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, or they don’t know that there even are two WordPress options. So what is the difference between them anyways?
WordPress is basically a file structure. There are a bunch of files that together make up what we know of as WordPress. Both .com and .org use the same files, what differs is how you can access them.
WordPress.org or self-hosted WordPress
WordPress through wordpress.org is also known as self-hosted WordPress. This means that you can use WordPress with any hosting provider you choose. There are tons of options, from budget options like BlueHost, to managed WordPress hosting, like Flywheel. You can either download the files from wordpress.org on your computer and upload them to your site, or many hosting providers have a quick install option where WordPress is automatically added on to your site, meaning you never have to visit WordPress.org. While self-hosted WordPress does require some money to get online (you have to pay for hosting), this can be as little as $5 a month and is worth it for the other benefits you get.
You have tons of control over this version of WordPress. You can install any WordPress theme you want, you can make changes to a theme using a child theme, you can install any one of thousands of plugins available. If there is a feature you need on your site and there isn’t a plugin that does that, you can hire a developer to write the feature for your site.
Availability of Developers
The wide range of customizations is why you will find most WordPress developers work exclusively with self-hosted WordPress. If you look for a designer or developer to work on your site, you will need to use self-hosted WordPress. This allows you to extend your site in ways that a non-developer wouldn’t be able to and is a major advantage for self-hosted WordPress.
You can have anything from a simple blog to an extensive e-commerce site on self-hosted WordPress. Some of the largest sites in the world are powered by WordPress. The possibilities are endless.
So what is WordPress.com?
WordPress.com is offered by a company called Automattic. They were founded by one of the lead developers of the WordPress system.
Can be completely free
WordPress.com is a great option for people who want a completely free, simple blog. However, as with anything that is free, there are limitations. Your site will be yoursitename.wordpress.com unless you pay for one of their plans that allows you to use your own domain name. Additionally, you must choose from one of their themes and there are limits on what you can do with it and the customizations you can make. You will also have multiple references to wordpress.com on your site.
Now, there is a business plan on WordPress.com that allows you to upload your own themes and plugins and greatly expands what you can do with your site. However, for that cost, you are still better off going to a self-hosted option. There are developers that work with clients on their WordPress.com blogs, however, that is through their VIP program which is a much bigger program than most small business owners need.
With wordpress.com, your site is hosted with them no matter what. You can’t switch hosts or look for a host that better fits your business, you are locked into wordpress.com. This may not work for all business models.
The Bottom Line
With a self-hosted WordPress site, the site owner has total control over their content and how they want to use it. That is a benefit that cannot be overlooked. Self-hosted WordPress can easily start small and grow with your business while making your site completely yours from the beginning and it is by far the best choice if you want to monetize your blog or website.
The people at Automattic are great, they are major contributors to the WordPress community and it is a better community for the people at Automattic. However, wordpress.com was built for a niche of users and although they are now expanding to more features and opportunities, self-hosted WordPress is still the better option for most people.