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WordPress.com or WordPress.org: which one is better for you?

WordPress.com and WordPress.org are two different platforms that may seem the same at first. Let’s explore their differences and determine which one works best for your needs.

If you are interested in web development, you probably already know that WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system (CMS), powering around 42% of all websites. But if you google “WordPress” right now, you’ll likely find WordPress.com or WordPress.org on the search results’ #1 and #2 spots.

This raises a lot of questions. Why are there two official websites for WordPress? They both advertise a web development platform: are they the same or different? Which one should I use?

These are common questions for anyone getting started with WordPress. To answer them, this article will explore the following:

  • What WordPress.com and WordPress.org are.
  • The differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
  • The pros and cons of using WordPress.com or WordPress.org.
  • The costs of using WordPress.com or WordPress.org.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Is WordPress.com the same as WordPress.org?

No, it’s not. WordPress.com and WordPress.org are not the same, but they are related. The main difference between them is who hosts your website.

  • WordPress.com takes care of all the hosting needs for you. All you need to do is sign up, and you’ll be able to set up your website quickly.
  • WordPress.org requires that you host your website by contracting the services of a web hosting company.

That’s the big difference: WordPress.com takes care of web hosting, but in WordPress.org, you must take care of hosting. Now let’s move on to explain each service in more detail to understand their similarities and differences better.

What is WordPress.org?

WordPress.org is a free, self-hosted, and open-source CMS software released in 2003. It was co-founded by Mike Little and Matt Mullenweg, who later founded Automattic, the organization behind WordPress.com.

The WordPress core files are free, but to set up a website with WordPress.org, you must acquire the services of a third-party web hosting provider such as Bluehost or SiteGround. There are web hosting services specifically for WordPress, too, such as WPEngine.

Once you’ve chosen a plan from your preferred web host, you need to install WordPress in the web server storage you acquired. Many web hosting companies make the WordPress installation automatic through a simple click, so technical limitations will not keep you from setting up your website.

The main benefits of setting up your website using WordPress.org include the following:

  • Picking your custom domain name, such as “www.madeup-website-123.com,” instead of being forced to use a subdomain like “www.madeup-website-123.wordpress.com”.
  • Since you own the website, you have absolute freedom to develop it, including installing plugins, installing custom themes, and coding it from the ground up.
  • You’re allowed to monetize your website.
  • You’re allowed to use scripts such as Google Analytics.
  • Full eCommerce support.
  • Full support for membership websites.

With WordPress.org, you can build any site: personal and corporate websites and blogs, online stores, newsletters, podcasts, landing pages, online publications, and anything else you can imagine.

What is WordPress.com?

WordPress.com is best known as a blogging platform that runs on a modified version of WordPress software. WordPress.org co-founder Matt Mullenweg founded Automattic, the organization that oversees WordPress.com, in 2005.

WordPress.com is essentially a managed web hosting service that provides very little freedom to the website owners, especially compared to all the options provided by WordPress.org. Still, WordPress.com users enjoy the following features:

  • Easy to set up. Just sign in and provide a subdomain name for your website.
  • Free to use (no need to pay a third-party web host), with 3GB of storage. There are perks to being a paid member, but WordPress.com’s free plan is perfect for the most basic purposes.
  • WordPress.com takes care of backups, maintenance, and basic security for you.
  • Simple site customization.

As you can see, WordPress.com is very limited compared to WordPress.org, notably lacking memberships capabilities. When you set up a website on WordPress.com, your content will be fundamentally limited to blogging.

If that’s the only thing you want, there’s no need to use WordPress.org. But if you want the freedom to create anything (including a more customizable blog), WordPress.org is what you need.

The pros and cons of using WordPress.org and WordPress.com

The following table summarizes the pros and cons of using each platform.

Pros• Limitless freedom to develop your website. 
• Monetization features.
• Scripts.
• eCommerce and membership support.
• Freedom to choose your preferred hosting provider and eventually migrate to another provider if you want.
• Capability to install themes and plugins.
• Easy to set up and use.
• You don’t have to worry about maintenance.
• Easy to upgrade to paid plans, starting at $4/month or $60/year.
Cons• Upfront monetary costs for hosting your website. Prices can range from $20-$30/year to hundreds per year or more, depending on your plan and whether you use premium plugins and themes.
• If you have no software development experience, you’ll need help from a developer to implement complex websites such as online stores.
• Set up is a bit more involved than WordPress.com’s. Luckily, some hosting services make the process very user and beginner-friendly.
• You must handle website maintenance, such as updating the WordPress core installation, themes, and plugins.
• Not performing timely updates can make your website vulnerable to cyberattacks.
• You must handle security and backups. There are free and premium plugins for both.
• Your website will display ads (from which you can’t profit) unless you pay for a premium plan.
• Monetizing your site requires a premium plan.
• By default, you only have access to subdomain names like “www.my-website.wordpress.com,” which can seem unprofessional if you’re trying to build a brand.
• No customized identity for your city. You can only choose from a limited amount of templates.
• No plugins to extend website functionality.
• No membership websites.
• eCommerce plans require a premium account.
• No third-party scripts like Google Analytics unless you use a premium plan.
• WordPress.com has veto power over the content they consider controversial.
• No multisite support.

Should you use WordPress.com or WordPress.org?

Your choice depends on your needs. Let’s break down what each alternative is best for.

When should I use WordPress.com? 

You should use WordPress.com if:

  • You don’t want to worry about web hosting, third-party tools, and installations.
  • You have no coding knowledge and are OK with a basic website.
  • You’re not interested in monetizing your site.
  • You just want to blog.

WordPress.com is ideal for beginners or people looking for simplicity, support, and a quick website launch.

When should I use WordPress.org?

You should use WordPress.org if you want to:

  • Choose your web hosting provider and domain name.
  • Extend your website’s functionalities with WordPress plugins.
  • Choose any WordPress theme out there.
  • Edit your website’s HTML and CSS code.
  • Monetize your website without paying a premium.
  • Have more control over your SEO strategies.
  • Adapt your website’s responsiveness to different platforms (mobile, desktop, etc.).
  • Develop a membership or an online store.

WordPress.org is better if your goal is to customize your website completely. This is especially true if you have experience with code, SEO, and monetization strategies or plan to pay a development team.

Am I using WordPress.com or WordPress.org?

The URL is the easiest way to tell the difference between a site hosted on WordPress.com and a self-hosted WordPress.org website. Sites hosted on WordPress.com with a free plan have “.wordpress” on the URL, like this: www.your-website.wordpress.com.

A self-hosted WordPress.org site would have a URL like this: www.your-website.com.

However, premium WordPress.com plans allow you to strip the “.wordpress” out of the URL, making it harder to tell if you don’t have admin access to those sites.

Do you have to pay to use WordPress.com or WordPress.org?

WordPress.com and WordPress.org have different costs and payment structures. The main difference in costs is that when you pay for premium plans on WordPress.com, you pay to WordPress.com directly.

On the other hand, when you pay for anything related to your WordPress.org website, you’ll likely pay a third-party, such as your web host or plugin developer, for their services.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of costs for each platform.

How much does it cost to use WordPress.com?

WordPress.com is free to use as a blogging platform, but there are four premium plans for various purposes. They can be paid monthly or yearly.

  • Personal: $60/year or $9/month. This is the best plan for the most basic personal use.
  • Premium: $96/year or $18/month. The best plan for freelance professional bloggers.
  • Business: $250/year or $40/month. Best for small businesses.
  • eCommerce: $540/year or $70/month. It is aimed at online stores.

How much does it cost to use WordPress.org?

WordPress’s software is free, but you need to pay a provider for your domain name and web hosting to use it on WordPress.org. Costs start piling up if you need to use premium rather than free themes and plugins or advanced hosting services.

These are the most common costs associated with running a professional WordPress website, whether for personal use or business:

  • Hosting: as cheap as $1/month using shared hosting for personal use (up to about $20). It can ascend to $10, $20, or several hundred a year for more advanced business services.
  • Domain name maintenance: many hosting services offer it for free during the first year. After that, between $1/year and $20/year.
  • Premium themes: from a few dollars to over $100. In our experience, they tend to cost around $60 for a one-time payment.
  • Premium plugins: from a few dozen dollars to several hundred a year, depending on how many and the plan you’re using on each.

Many businesses also invest in SSL certificates to ensure secure online communications. Prices for SSL certificates vary from $5-$10/year to several hundred per year.

Finally, if you employ a WordPress development agency to build or maintain your website, the hourly costs range from $45 to $200, depending on the complexity of the operation.

Remember that the most expensive websites to maintain are the most complex, business ones, such as large online stores. The ones that need every bit of security they can spare and employ multiple professionals to keep them running. These are the websites that cost hundreds or thousands a year to maintain.

A personal WordPress.org website maintained only by the owner using free plugins and themes will likely cost no more than $20-$30 per year, mostly from hosting and domain name costs.

Final thoughts: Is WordPress.org or WordPress.com better?

There is no single answer to which option is better. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your website.

If you just want to blog and lack coding knowledge, the free WordPress.com experience will be enough for you. Its various premium plans offer more complete managed web hosting for professional blogging, small businesses, and online stores.

WordPress.org is better suited for you if you have coding knowledge and are willing to put in the work and time into making your personal website a reality. There are also no-code site-building plugins, such as Elementor, but they have a steeper learning curve than WordPress.com’s basic features.

Finally, if you need the flexibility to build a complex, large website that is expected to grow over time, such as an online store, WordPress.org is the best option, too. But remember that such a business endeavor requires an experienced development team, such as a WordPress development agency, many of which work exclusively on WordPress.org.

WordPress.com is better suited for users who don’t want to worry about managing the tech of a website, while WordPress.org is more aimed at professional development where owners are required to manage technical needs, with or without coding.

If you found this article helpful, read our blog for more WordPress guides, insights, and tips.