WordPress.com & WordPress.org: Understanding The Difference

In our increasingly digital-first world, any business or entrepreneur worth their salt needs a website. There are many different options for building and hosting a website, but the most common one that first-timers go with is WordPress. With its versatility, simplicity, and ubiquity, WordPress is a fine general option, whether you are looking to start a blog or build a storefront for your products. 

Yet what many people don’t realize is that there are actually two different WordPress websites to choose from: wordpress.com and wordpress.org. These two sites are closely related, with both offering valuable tools for building a website, but they are also different in significant ways. Which one you should use comes down to personal preference and the specific needs of your business.    

What’s The Difference? 

The key difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is who actually hosts your website. 

  • WordPress.com is both a set of website building tools AND a web hosting service, so you don’t have to worry about getting external hosting or creating an external domain name. You simply go to WordPress.com, sign up for a free account, and you can start building your website or blog. The process is relatively simple, and while there are additional options that you can pay for, a website hosted by WordPress.com is completely free. That said, you do need to pay a monthly fee in order to use your site for commercial purposes. 
  • In contrast, WordPress.org is free, open-source website building software that serves as an operating system for your website. However, while the software itself is free, you will need an external hosting account in order for anyone to see it, and this usually costs a monthly or annual fee. Though WordPress.org has similar functionality to WordPress.com, it has far fewer restrictions on content and allows for more customization options.  

The Pros & Cons of WordPress.com 

WordPress.com’s main draw is its simplicity. It doesn’t take long to get started, it requires little time or technical knowledge to set up a page, and you don’t have to worry about hosting or maintaining the site itself. It is also free if you go with the basic package, which makes it a solid choice for a beginner’s website, such as a personal blog. 

However, it has several limitations: by default, you can only set up a website under the WordPress.com subdomain (e.g. fusemarketingandmedia.wordpress.com rather than fusemarketingandmedia.com) unless you pay for the Personal plan, which costs $4 a month. A paid account is also necessary in order to remove the display ads that are placed on Free websites by default. Additionally, you only have access to themes and plugins offered by WordPress itself, which can limit how personalized a website can be.  

Most importantly for business owners, you cannot use a WordPress.com website for commercial purposes unless you pay for their Premium plan, which costs $8 a month. Furthermore, if you are looking to launch an online store, you will need to go with the even more expensive eCommerce plan, which is $45 a month. Simply put, the more in-depth you want to go with a WordPress.com website, the more expensive it becomes, and when coupled with just how limited some of the available options are, its value is diminished. 

The Pros & Cons of WordPress.org 

WordPress.org’s main draw is its freedom. While you need to pay for external hosting in order for people to see your website, you otherwise have full control over it, whereas WordPress.com can technically shut down any website that they determine has violated their terms of service. There is also a much larger pool of themes, plug-ins, and tools to draw from when building a WordPress.org website, which allows you to customize to a greater degree than you could on WordPress.com. You even have the option to create custom designs and modify existing ones. All of this means that your website can more clearly reflect your vision. 

You also don’t have to worry about any of the restrictions that WordPress.com places on different subscription “tiers.” Every WordPress.org website can have its own unique domain name, can be used for commercial purposes, and is not required to show WordPress ads. In fact, you can set up and run your own ads without sharing revenue with anyone. You can also create membership sites and sell memberships for premium content, courses, and other services, allowing you to build a community around your website. 

There are a few downsides to consider though: creating a WordPress.org website usually comes with more upfront costs compared to starting a WordPress.com blog, and it has a steeper learning curve when it comes to building and designing a website. Furthermore, you are fully responsible for completing necessary updates or making backups of your website. Still, these are relatively small issues when you consider the number of benefits.  

Making A Choice

Ultimately, whether you decide to go with WordPress.com or WordPress.org boils down to the size of your business and what you plan on doing with your website. 

WordPress.com is arguably the better option for hobby bloggers and those who are looking to get started on creating an online presence. If you aren’t planning on selling something through your website, sticking with WordPress.com and paying for a Personal or Premium subscription will probably suffice. 

However, if you have bigger plans for your website, it is probably in your best interest to invest in a WordPress.org website. Even if you pay for the more expensive subscription options for WordPress.com, it still won’t match the levels of customization and the number of design options you can get with WordPress.org. 

But whatever choice you make, remember that a website is a long-term investment. You need to put time and effort into a website before it starts to pay for itself, but once it does, you’ll see why it’s so worth it!

Mark Buckner
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Mark Buckner is a freelance writer and editor from Hammond, Indiana. A recent graduate of Purdue University Northwest, he has edited two books and written on topics ranging from social media to science fiction film. At this time, he is open to other freelance writing and editing opportunities.

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