Do you know what website platform some of the most successful businesses and entrepreneurs use? We’re talking NASA, TechCrunch, The New Yorker, Variety, Sony Music, MTV News, and hundreds of other big ones.
Is it a big-time, coders-only, complicated website builder? A platform that only the smartest coders can handle?
Nope. It’s good old WordPress.
WordPress currently powers a staggering 30% of the internet, with the total number of active websites being over 172 million. And the newest version of WordPress.org has been downloaded more than 53.6 million times. Did you catch that? Nearly ⅓ of the entire internet runs on WordPress.
Maybe they’re onto something.
What gives? What’s the difference? Which should you choose if you’re starting a new website?
You’ve come to the right place. Here, we’ll answer all of your questions. We’re going to break down everything you need to know about both versions of WordPress.
The Primary Differences
There are many things that differentiate these two siblings, but the biggest one is the way they’re built. Here’s a quick definition of each in a nutshell…
WordPress.com is a platform that allows you to sign up for free and create a website or blog. In some ways, it’s similar to other website builder platforms like Weebly, Wix, or Shopify. The main goal is making it easy to get started.
And WordPress.org is an open source software, which you can use to create a website. You need to download the software and install it on a web-server (either yours or one you’re renting). From there, you can customize it endlessly, creating a website that checks off every one of your boxes.
Regardless of whether it’s WordPress.org or WordPress.com – both WordPress choices have a lot to offer:
- Cost Effective: It’s free to download and install WordPress.org, and WordPress.com has a free version too.
- Beginner friendly: If you can use Microsoft Word or Google Docs, you can use WordPress. It’s just that simple.
- Great support and developer community: Both versions of WordPress power 30% of the internet. With about a 60% CMS market share, there are tons of people working together everyday to help make your website software work better.
- Works well on all devices: You never need to worry about your site not loading correctly on your phone, tablet, iMac, anywhere. With an average of 56% of traffic coming from mobile devices, this is a huge bonus.
But that’s just a very high-level distinction between the two. Let’s dig down deeper to understand what really separates the two.
Cost, Domains, and Hosting
Anyone and their grandma can sign up for WordPress.com in a matter of minutes, no credit card required. You can get your subdomain (www.yourwebsite.wordpress.com) for free, although you have to pay to have an upgraded account that will give you your own domain name.
In other words, if you want to have a normal domain name like www.mywebsite.com, you need to upgrade your account, which costs a small monthly fee.
WordPress.org is free to download, but you have to purchase web hosting and a domain from a third party, like GoDaddy or Bluehost. With WordPress.org, you can’t have a website unless you’ve secured your domain and hosting. So it’s free…but it’s not really free, if that makes sense.
Limitations And Features
With WordPress.org, you essentially have no limits.
If you want to place ads on your site or embed email signup forms, you can do that. Your only storage and bandwidth limits are those set by your web host.
WordPress.org is for those who want ultimate control of their website. If you’re serious about building a powerful website with a lot of flexibility, WordPress.org is for you.
By contrast, when you use the free version of WordPress.com, you will have limitations. There are only certain themes you can use for free, and you’ll have a storage limit of 3GB.
You’ll get tools for social media integration and basic blog features like sharing, comments, stats, and polls, but not much more.
You can’t use any plugins, can’t customize any of the code, and can only make limited changes to the appearance of your site. Essentially, you’re locked into the options WordPress.com gives you.
Of course, if you want to bypass these restrictions, you can just pay for an upgraded account. There are paid plugins, like Jetpack, that WordPress offers to allow you to customize easily without knowing code. (We’ll cover this more later).
Backups And Security
Even though a .com and a .org WordPress site are equally secure, they handle security and backups differently.
With a WordPress.com site, WP offers backups and basic security with a free plan. They handle all those details for you.
But with WordPress.org, because the site is hosted elsewhere (think GoDaddy or Bluehost), you’re in charge of securing and backing up your website. Often times, your web host will automatically do a daily backup of your site, but not always. When you sign up for web hosting, make sure that they perform automatic backups.
The same goes for security. Your web host will probably have some security measures in place, but some of that responsibility also falls to you. For example, most WordPress.org users download specific plugins to keep their sites from being overrun with spam comments.
With a free .com site, the WordPress.com team is there to help you, which is definitely convenient. But the downside is that you have to wait for them to respond before the issue can be fixed, meaning your website could have a bug for a few days while the tech team looks at it.
With a WordPress.org, you are your own technical support. If you run into a problem, you’ll need to explore a number of different avenues, depending on the problem. For example, if the problem is with your web hosting, you’ll have to get in touch with your web host. If the problem is a bug in your theme, you’ll need to contact the developer or make the changes yourself.
With a free WordPress.com account, your site will show whatever ads that WordPress wants to put on your blog. Usually these appear at the end of each blog post. However, you can upgrade to a Personal, Premium, or Business plan and remove these ads. Depending on the level you upgrade to, you can also insert your own ads if you want to make a bit more money.
If you have a WordPress.org site, you control the ads from the get-go. You can add as many or as little ads as you like and they can be whatever you want. And you keep 100% of the earnings.
Ownership And Rights
You don’t actually own your WordPress.com site or the content on it — WordPress does.
In WordPress.com’s terms of service, it states that they can delete your blog at any time they want. It’s pretty rare, but it has happened before if you’re a big rule breaker.
If this happens to you, you can always contact them to ask if there’s a way to get your content restored. However, if you’ve broken some rule in the agreement, they can permanently delete your site.
With WordPress.org, everything is self-hosted or through a third-party host, so your content is completely your own. It’s all in your hands and you own every single piece of it.
Having a WordPress.org site set up with your own domain name makes your website seem far more legitimate than having a WordPress.com with no domain name. Think about it. Is anybody taking crazycats.wordpress.com seriously?
Whether you pick WordPress.com or WordPress.org, consider choosing a domain name.
Pros And Cons Of Each
Although we covered some of the pros and cons above, let’s break it down side-by-side.
Benefits Of WordPress.org
- You own your website and all its content and data (i.e. WordPress cannot deactivate your site unless you’re doing something illegal).
- You can add pretty much any plugin or theme to your site.
- You control every aspect of your site’s customization and design (you can even create and upload your own theme).
- You can make money any (legal) way you want with no restrictions and share the revenue with whoever you want.
- You can easily integrate Google Analytics for custom statistics and tracking.
- You can create your own online store to sell digital and physical goods, accept credit cards, and keep track of inventory.
- You can offer memberships to readers and provide exclusive content.
Disadvantages Of WordPress.org
- Because WordPress.org is open-source software, it means you need to sign up for web hosting separately (where your website files get stored). This typically means you’ll pay anywhere from $3-$10 a month.
- You take care of any necessary updates (a one-click process) and manually backing up your site (there are plugins for that).
- You are responsible for the security of your site.
- Setting up a site involves several steps and takes a good amount of time.
- These sites may be overwhelming for beginner bloggers and website managers.
Benefits Of WordPress.com
- It’s fast and free to sign up (comes with 3GB of storage).
- It’s simple and pretty much anyone can have a blog up and running within minutes.
- You won’t need to worry about backing up or securing your blog — that’s all done automatically.
- It’s a very low barrier of entry to anyone who wants to start a website.
Disadvantages Of WordPress.com
- With a free plan, WordPress.com puts ads on your blog and you have no control over where they appear or what they’re for (and you don’t profit from them).
- You’re not allowed to sell ads on your site, but if you have enough site traffic, you can join WordPress.com’s WordAds program where you split the ad revenue with them.
- Plugins aren’t allowed unless you upgrade to the business plan, which is $25/month.
- You can use only the free themes they offer and you can’t edit the site’s code for customization.
- WordPress.com owns your website and its content, not you (meaning they can delete it if you break their terms of service agreement).
So let’s answer the question you’ve probably been asking this whole time: how much is each of these platforms going to run me?
The Cost Of A WordPress.com Site
If you’re looking to upgrade to a paid plan, you can choose:
- Personal ($4 a month)
- Premium ($8 a month)
- Business ($25 a month)
If you want your own domain name, that will cost an extra $8-$15 a year through WordPress.com.
The Cost Of A WordPress.org Site
Remember, WordPress.org is a software that you download. That part is free. But before you can start building a website, you’ll need to purchase a few things.
You also might want to get premium plugins or themes, but that’s optional. The costs aren’t that high, and you have complete control and own every part of the website you make.
Which One Should You Choose: WordPress.com Or WordPress.org?
You need to know what your long term goals are.
Are you starting a blog just for fun? Need a simple space online to vent?
WordPress.com is probably the better option for your needs. It’s much easier to get started, doesn’t cost anything, and allows you to focus only on creating content.
But if you’re looking to build a website that gets tons of website traffic, or becomes a big brand for your business – go with WordPress.org. Even with the paid options, there are just too many restrictions on WordPress.com sites to make it a viable option for a serious website or business owner.
And maybe you’re still not sure what your goals are yet.
Maybe you want to start blogging with the hopes that someday you could monetize and grow your website. That’s fine too. In that case, you can start with a free WordPress.com blog and, if you need to, transfer it to WordPress.org as your needs grow (more on that below).
Starting a WordPress.com Website or Blog
Launching your own WordPress.com blog is quick and easy. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do so:
- Go to WordPress.com
- Click the “Get Started” button
- Complete this sign up form. Here you’ll be able to choose your website’s domain name (either yourname.wordpress.com or choose a custom domain).
- Next you’ll choose your plan: Free, Personal, Premium, or Business
- Boom! You now have a website.
Starting a WordPress.org Website or Blog
Creating a website or blog with WordPress.org is not quite that quick and easy, but you get a lot more control and customization options. I’ve written a step-by-step to creating a WordPress website, but here’s the quick version:
- First, you’ll need to get a domain name and set up your web hosting. I use and recommend Bluehost, but some other popular options are:
- Most of the hosting options above offer a 1-click installation of WordPress.org. In other words, they may be able to install the software for you without you downloading it.If not, you’ll need to visit WordPress.org and download the software (should be at the top-right corner). Then install the software on your host (your hosting provider can walk you through how to do this).
- Now you’ll be ready to start building and customizing your website or blog.
How To Switch From WordPress.com To WordPress.org
Okay, so let’s say you signed up for a WordPress.com account, but for whatever reason (increase in traffic, a desire to monetize, you want more features), you decide you actually want a WordPress.org site.
But you’ve already built a beautiful-looking blog that people have been visiting. What now?
Export Your Content
The very first step is to export your site’s content. Here’s how to do that:
The very first step is to export your site’s content. Here’s how to do that:
1. Go to “Settings” on the sidebar
2. You can export only certain posts and pages or you can just export everything
3. Choose “Create an XML file containing your posts and comments for you to save or import into another WordPress blog.” It will be free.
4. Choose “all content” and that will export everything, downloading it to your computer
Now you’re ready to take your content to a new host.
Get A Domain Name And A New Host
You may already own a domain name (more than just yourname.wordpress.com), but if you don’t, this is when you should get one.
The good news is that most WordPress-friendly website hosts offer to register a domain name for you if you purchase one of their packages. You pay for the domain name and can take it with you wherever you go, paying a small annual fee (usually around $10).
But how do you select the right host?
You’ll want to look for features specifically for WordPress users. The main feature you’ll want to look for is a one-click installation for WordPress software, but there are plenty of other features. In the host’s package details, it should say that it’s WordPress-optimized.
One of the most popular WordPress-friendly hosts is Bluehost (recommended by the WordPress Core team), but there are others, like GoDaddy, WPEngine, A2 Hosting, and HostGator.
Take a look at each host and what packages they offer to see which one best fits your specific needs.
Download And Install The WordPress Software
Next, you’ll need to get the WordPress software. Remember that WordPress.org sites are more DIY and require you use the software to build your website.
If your host hasn’t pre-installed the software for you, they should offer a place within your account to download the software.
Here’s how that process may look (it can vary depending on your host):
- Log in to your web hosting account
- There will either be an auto-installer app or a section called “Software,” “Apps,” or “Scripts” (it will have the WordPress logo)
- After clicking on this section, follow the host’s instructions for downloading the software
Import Your Content
Remember how you exported your content a couple steps ago? Now it’s time to grab that file from your computer and import it into your new host.
1. Visit yourdomain.com/wp-admin/ or yourdomain.com/wp-login/ and log in
2. On the toolbar to the left, click “Tools” and choose the “Import” sub-option
3. Toward the bottom, you should see a “WordPress” option. Click “Install Now”
You’re done. Now you can start re-directing people to your new URL (if it changed during this process).
Redirect Your Followers
If you’re done with your old WordPress.com website and want to “take it down,” you can login to that account, go to “Settings,” go to the “Privacy” section, and choose “Private.” That way, no one can see it.
Then you can set up a 301 redirect, which will automatically forward visitors to your new site. This also lets search engines like Google know that the address has moved.
In order to do this, you’ll have to buy the Site Redirect upgrade through WordPress.com account for $13 per year.
Purchasing this and keeping it active for a year should do the trick. By then, your regular visitors will have gotten the message.
WordPress.com Vs. WordPress.org: Which Is Better?
Ultimately, there isn’t a “best” option.
It’s more of a “best-for-your-goals” option. It depends on what you want to do with your website.
If you’re just planning on blogging for fun or creating a site to throw a few pictures up, go with WordPress.com. It’s hands down the quickest, easiest option.
If you’re serious about building a massive site that get lots of website traffic, you’ll want to use WordPress.org. It’s so much more powerful and flexible, and allows you to scale your site as far as you’ll ever want to grow.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start building!