WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org — What’s the Difference?

Applies to Version(s): WordPress

It’s a frequent point of confusion — what’s the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

A simplified version is this: WordPress.org is an information and “grab the software” repository; WordPress.com uses the same core software, but focuses on the provision of hosting services.

WordPress.org Overview

In brief, WordPress.org is where “WordPress” the software is freely available to the public. The same goes for thousands of plugins, in addition to a number of “premium” plugins that can be purchased separately.

WordPress.org is terrific resource for “do it yourself” site owners. With support forums and tons of “how to” information, site owners can modify their designs and functionality to the limits of their creativity.

Also covered by the “ORG” side’s documentation are the basics: installing WordPress, walk-throughs of your first posts and categories, etc. The supporting documentation is remarkably good considering it’s a no-cost service.

With the WP Codex at your command, you’ll be able to find everything you need to get WordPress (the software) rolling on your own domain — and most web hosts have very simple “one click” WordPress installation scripts.

Summarizing, with WordPress.org, the sky is the limit, and you won’t need to pay to remove third-party ads. With no restrictions, you can modify the core PHP, add fancy jQuery elements, use any theme you like, and/or install any plugin you want.

There’s really only one thing missing… while one-click installation of WordPress often makes setup quick and easy, you will need a web host — and a host is not free.

Web hosting costs vary, but for “decent” WordPress hosting of a typical small- to medium-sized site, $7-15/month is about the range.

You’ll also pay a few dollars for the annual renewal of your domain name (example: diythemes.com).

WordPress.com Overview

Over on WordPress.com, things are flipped a bit. Installation is a snap, and the web hosting is provided. And, ignoring the usual asterisks, the hosting is free!

The pros of no-cost hosting are clear. Aside from quality hosting services, you’ll also get baked-in spam protection, automatic backups, automatic updates, proven security, and some WordPress.com plugins and services not found elsewhere (or not right away).

That’s the good news.

The primary “cons” are that you cannot modify the PHP source code (even “newbies” often discover they want to make a few changes). You can’t upload any plugins, either — though there are plugins available on WordPress.com, these represent a fraction of the “19,000 and counting” available on WordPress.org.

Finally, while you can choose among nearly 200 themes, you can’t upload your own — and customization of these boilerplate themes is relatively limited.

Remember the asterisks? Most of them go away with a price tag. Here are some notable ones.

Your “domain name” will sound unprofessional, i.e. yourthirdchoiceofname.wordpress.com — though you can buy your own domain name, then map it to the WordPress.com system. At a cost, of course, but one you’d also have with self-hosted WordPress.

Don’t like seeing third-party ads on your site? For $30/year, the ads can be removed.

A “custom design” package will let you get limited control over your chosen theme’s design, such as changing the font and making basic CSS changes (no PHP, no FTP) — for $30/year.

Links advertising WordPress.com and themes cannot be removed. Extra storage begins at $20/year. If you want to roll-out your own videos, then VideoPress is $60/year (note: Youtube embedding is available without the VideoPress upgrade).

Premium themes have a price tag as well, ranging from about $45 to $100, each — and these themes can’t be transferred off WordPress.com if you later choose to go self-hosted.

WordPress ORG or COM — Which is Better for Me?

While it was a recurring theme above, the cost should not be the primary factor in your decision, though it’s always important to recognize a simple truth — you get what you pay for — period.

Whether it’s with managed WordPress hosting (this is the .org kind) or the (starts at) free WordPress.com hosting, at some point, you’re going to pay to play.

While most self-hosted WordPress (the ORG kind) sites won’t have the “here and there” optional costs noted with the above WordPress.com “kill the ads” sorts of options, a year of web hosting isn’t going to “save” on WordPress.com — if anything, self-hosting tends to be (slightly) more expensive.

So if it’s not the money, what should be the deciding factor?

Simple — it’s you. This is your site, your brand, and your voice. The deciding point is how you wish to present yourself.

For certain types of blogging or personal sites, WordPress.com hosting offers an inexpensive method to share your thoughts, images, and connect with others. Are you planning a private “our family” site? For free, or near-free, you can probably ignore the clumsy “domain” name, the design limitations, and general “ad and link” clutter.

On the other hand, if you run a professional site — your portfolio, an industry blog, a business — then you are much more likely to want need total control over your hosting, advertising, branding, and more. You’ll want to pick a great framework — ever hear of Thesis? — as well as plugins that serve your needs.

To make the most of your voice and brand, you’ll also want to dive — or hire a pro to dive — directly into FTP, PHP, and all the other goodies that can bring your site bubbling to the top.

And if you’re a professional currently hosting with WordPress.com, don’t worry — you can migrate to a self-hosted platform at any time.