WordPress.com vs WordPress.org – What’s The Difference?

For those venturing into the world of web development, WordPress is often the first name that surfaces. After all, WordPress is the most popular way to build a website: 43.3% of all websites on the internet are run on WordPress. This makes using WordPress an attractive option. However, there’s a critical fork in the road: WordPress.org vs WordPress.com. Most people aren’t aware the platforms are two separate entities – however, the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org are vast. 

As a prospective website owner, it’s natural to be in two minds about which option best suits your needs. Each WordPress platform offers unique features and capabilities and caters to different preferences and requirements. In this article, we’ll explain the debate regarding WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org, and break down the pros and cons of each platform. The goal is to help you make an informed decision about which one to choose for your website!

How WordPress.com Websites Work

WordPress.com is a user-friendly website builder that runs on WordPress software, designed to simplify the technical aspects of creating and managing websites, especially for beginners. Automattic, led by WordPress.org co-founder Matt Mullenweg, owns WordPress.com. Despite overlapping leadership, WordPress.com and WordPress.org are two completely separate entities with different offerings for users.

Through WordPress.com, users can access hosting, domain name registration, security, and backup services all in one place, saving them a lot of time and effort. However, while the platform is easy to use, it has limitations when it comes to customisation options and control. WordPress.com also has a tiered pricing system, meaning you need to upgrade to more costly plans for added features.

How WordPress.org Websites Work 

WordPress.org is an open-source content management system. Unlike its .com counterpart, WordPress.org allows users to choose their own hosting provider or host their WordPress site themselves. This is why WordPress.org is often referred to as self-hosted WordPress. While installing the WordPress software is free, you will have to spend money on both hosting and a domain.

Because WordPress.org is an open-source software, it’s free to use, modify, and distribute. As a result, there’s a vibrant community of developers centred around WordPress.org that continuously develop new plugins, themes and templates. This means WordPress.org offers users a higher level of customisation with never-ending possibilities. 

Key Differences Between WordPress.com vs WordPress.org 

Now that you have a basic understanding of the differences between WordPress.org and WordPress.com, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what each platform offers and what factors to consider when making a decision. Let’s dive deeper into some of the most essential things you should keep in mind before choosing between the two options:

Hosting Your Website

WordPress.com Hosting

If you use WordPress.com for your website, managed WordPress hosting is built in. This means that WordPress.com stores your website’s content on its infrastructure, and you’re essentially renting space on the platform. This means that you won’t have complete control over the server resources, and you’ll be limited to the features and functionality that WordPress.com provides. 

However, the upside to this arrangement is that you won’t have to worry about maintaining the servers or dealing with technical issues, as WordPress.com takes care of all of that for you. It’s a trade-off between convenience and control, so it’s essential to consider your needs and priorities when making this decision.

WordPress.org Hosting

In contrast, WordPress.org allows you to have a self-hosted WordPress site. You have the freedom to choose your hosting provider and manage your hosting environment, and you have full ownership and control over your website and its hosting. Your website’s files, database, and all aspects of the hosting infrastructure belong to you. If you need guidance choosing a web host, check out our article that explains the basics and what to consider when looking for a web host.

While this level of control is great for some, it also means that you need to be more technically savvy and prepared to handle the day-to-day management of your website. This can include tasks like managing backups, installing software updates, and troubleshooting technical issues. However, the benefit of having complete control over your website and hosting environment can make the extra effort well worth it.

Customisation and Control 

WordPress.com Customisation and Control

Customisation: WordPress.com offers a range of pre-designed templates (themes) that you can choose for your website. While you can customise these themes to some extent, your options are more limited than WordPress.org. This means the websites made on WordPress.org are less tailored to your business, but the website development process is a lot easier. 

Control: In terms of control, WordPress.com has certain restrictions. Advanced customisations – such as modifying the website’s code or using custom themes and plugins – are generally reserved for users on the Business plan or higher. This means that your ability to tweak your site is limited unless you’re willing to invest in a more expensive plan.

WordPress.org Customisation and Control 

Customisation: With WordPress.org, you have the freedom to customise your website extensively. You can install custom themes and plugins, modify the website’s code, and create a completely unique online presence. Thousands of free and premium themes and plugins are available, with more being added by the WordPress community daily. As a result, the customisation options are limitless. To narrow down the options, here are some of our favourite WordPress plugins.

Control: The level of control with WordPress.org is unparalleled. Since you have complete access to your website’s code and server settings, you can fine-tune every aspect of your site. This level of control is ideal for developers and businesses that require a highly tailored web presence.

WordPress Plugins and Themes

WordPress.com Plugins and Themes

Plugins: WordPress.com offers a more restricted environment for plugins, and users on the free or lower-tier plans have limited or no access to plugins. You can install third-party plugins if you upgrade to the Business Plan, but the selection is still more limited than WordPress.org, and you can’t upload custom plugins.

Themes: While several themes are available for WordPress.com, your ability to customise them is limited. If you upgrade to a premium or business plan you can gain access to premium themes that you can modify somewhat, but you’re otherwise limited to the restrictive free themes.

WordPress.org Plugins and Themes 

Plugins: WordPress.org provides access to a vast library of plugins, most of which are free. This extensive plugin ecosystem allows you to add features like e-commerce, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), and contact forms to your site without having to pay an arm and a leg.

Themes: WordPress.org also offers thousands of themes, both free and paid. You can also upload and activate custom themes, enabling you to create a website with a unique and tailored design. The level of theme customisation is virtually unlimited, allowing for complete control over your site’s appearance.

WordPress.org or WordPress.com – Which Costs Less?

WordPress.com Pricing

WordPress.com plans run on a subscription model with four different tiers, and they all vary greatly in pricing and features. 

Free:You can use WordPress.com for free but with extremely limited features. The free plan includes an SSL certificate – check out our article on why SSL certificates are so important if you haven’t heard them before. You also get 1G of storage and access to free WordPress themes. However, the free plan has its downsides: you’ll have to have a generic domain name like ýourwebsite.wordpress.com, you can’t remove WordPress ads or monetise the site yourself, and there’s no customer support available. WordPress.com’s terms of service mean you can’t use the website for any commercial activity if you’re on the free plan. All up, it’s a pretty bare-bones approach to creating a website.

Personal:The personal plan allows you to create a WordPress.com site for only $12 a month and includes a free custom domain name, the ability to remove WordPress ads, and 6 GB of storage. However, your customisation options are still minimal without access to premium themes and plugins. You also don’t have access to SEO tools or the ability to upload videos, and you can’t use the WooCommerce plugin to sell products. If the goal of your WordPress website is to promote your business effectively, this plan isn’t for you.

Premium: The premium plan, at $22A a month, gives you 13GB of storage and allows you to use premium WordPress themes – a big step up from the highly limiting free themes. You can also monetise your site with WordAds, upload 4K videos, and customise your theme more with extended colour schemes, background designs and complete control over CSS. The premium plan also allows you to integrate Google Analytics – a powerful tool to track the traffic to your website. However, you still don’t have plugin-enabled WordPress.com or access to custom themes. This greatly limits your SEO capabilities compared to a self-hosted WordPress.org site.

Business: The business plan, at $54 a month, is where inclusions really start to ramp up, and WordPress.com says this plan is the best option for web developers. This plan includes 50G of storage, uptime monitoring, SEO tools, and the ability to install third-party plugins and themes. This makes a huge difference to how much you can customise your website, but $54 a month does add up quite a bit over time and still has less flexibility compared to WordPress.org.

WordPress.org Costs

Using WordPress.org is free – however, the freedom it provides can incur costs. These include:

Website hosting: As we explained above, the primary difference between the two platforms is that WordPres.org requires you to find a hosting provider or host the website yourself. Plans with WordPress hosting companies can vary between $10 to $50 a month, depending on whether you choose dedicated or shared hosting and the bandwidth your website requires. Most quality hosting plans come with free SSL certificates, domain name registration, regular backups and firewall protection.

It’s important to be selective about your hosting provider and plan, as it can affect your website’s speed and overall performance. You can read our article about how web hosting affects SEO to learn more. 

Website maintenance: Using WordPress.org might also mean paying for outsourced website maintenance. While you can maintain your website yourself, it requires a high level of expertise and large amounts of your time, which can be hard to come by if you’re running a business. WordPress sites require regular updates to remain secure and function properly, and installing WordPress updates must be done carefully so your site doesn’t break. Outsourcing WordPress website maintenance can cost between $10 to $100 a month but can save you a lot of time and effort. 

Paid plugins and themes: While there are thousands of free plugins and themes available on WordPress.org, thanks to its open-source nature, there are some behind a paywall. These premium themes allow you to customise your site even further and add intricate functionalities WordPress.com does not allow, like booking platforms and form integration. The average plugin runs between $50 to $200 a month. 

Ease of Use

One of the most critical factors to consider when choosing between WordPress.com or WordPress.org is ease of use. Not everybody is a born WordPress expert, and the two platforms differ significantly in how easy they are to use. Here are the key differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org regarding usability:

User-Friendliness of WordPress.com

WordPress.com is renowned for its user-friendly setup. It offers a guided, step-by-step process for building a website, and WordPress.com doesn’t require coding skills. If you’re using WordPress.com, you also don’t have to worry about hosting, maintenance, or security – this makes it a great option for a beginner looking for a simple website that allows a hands-off approach.

Learning Curve of WordPress.org

The WordPress.org setup requires a bit more technical know-how. You need to choose a web hosting provider, install the WordPress software, and handle server configurations. While this process isn’t overly complex, it can be intimidating for absolute beginners. However, once you get past the learning curve, WordPress.org offers extensive control and customisation options. You can change your website at the code level, install custom themes and plugins, and tailor it to your exact specifications.

Why WordPress.org is Better For Businesses 

We hope this article helped clear up the differences between WordPress.com and its .org counterpart. Personally, we always recommend choosing the .org version of WordPress. While WordPress.com works well for beginners wanting to start a blog or personal website, it’s not as well-suited for business websites. These days, your website serves as a visual storefront and is often the first impression people get of your business – so being able to customise your website freely to suit your brand identity is crucial. WordPress.com does not offer anywhere near the customisation options that WordPress.org does. The control WordPres.org allows extends to branding, user experience, and functionality, allowing businesses to create a unique online identity that aligns with their objectives.

Crucially, WordPress.org does not have the same limitations on e-commerce and monetisation that WordPress.org does. Even if you’re currently just looking to give your business a platform rather than sell products directly, it’s vital to have the option to scale up your e-commerce capabilities as your business grows. WordPress.org also has a huge number of SEO and marketing plugins available, ultimately helping more people discover your business.

Experienced WordPress.org Website Development, Maintenance and Hosting 

At Futuretheory, we’ve used WordPress.org to develop over a 100 websites for businesses around Australia over the past decade – check out our work to see some examples. During that time, we’ve gained extensive knowledge on how to leverage WordPress to develop and design SEO-friendly websites that actively drive forward the business goals of our clients. We also offer high-speed, secure web hosting, and worry-free WordPress website maintenance. If you’re looking for someone to launch and manage your online presence with expertise, get in touch with us.

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  • Futuretheory combines data with design to launch solutions that help clients realise their growth potential. We are committed to growth and transformation for clients across industries, stages of business and geographies.
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