Ben is a lifelong Nintendo fan who likes to build websites, and make video games. He buys way too much Lego.
Recently I’ve received a couple of emails asking about the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org versions of WordPress. The reason for the confusion is that I sell themes for both sites – and I often get people buying my themes for one platform, wanting to use them on the other.
While the website addresses are similar and both websites represent the ‘WordPress’ blogging software, the two versions are very different. This article will look at the main differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org and offer advice about which of the two is best for you.
Self-Hosted WordPress vs Server Hosted WordPress
The main difference between the two versions of WordPress is where they are hosted. WordPress.org is ‘self-hosted’, meaning you will need to install it on a server provided by a hosting company that you select and pay for. WordPress.com is hosted software, meaning it is hosted on the servers found at WordPress.com.
WordPress.com is great because it offers free hosting with a wide choice of themes, and constant upgrades and improvements – while users using the free version from WordPress.org can install the software on the hosting package of their choice. The WordPress.org software is free, however the hosting package will cost money. The cost of the hosting package will vary depending on the type and specifications of the package chosen.
Setting up a blog on WordPress.com is easier than setting up self-hosted WordPress.org blog. You can simply sign up to WordPress.com and your blog will be created. Users who use the WordPress.org will need to install the blogging software onto their server, which can be a difficult process for novice tech users.
Plugins greatly extend the functionality of the WordPress software, allowing WordPress to do things the WordPress developer team never envisioned.
The WordPress.org software can use any of the thousands of available WordPress plugins without issue. The plugins can be installed through the ‘plugins’ page in the admin menu. This allows a lot of flexibility with the ability to do whatever you want with your website. However with this comes extra management and security issues.
WordPress.com, however, does not contain support for plugins, which reduces its scope and functionality. That said the WordPress.com team have included many more features that are not included in the self-hosted version of WordPress. Things like Facebook and Twitter plugins, along with additional shortcodes, statistics and other functionality. You also don’t have the maintenance concerns that you might have with a self-hosted blog.
Security is incredibly important online – with web attacks increasing it’s something you need to consider very carefully. With WordPress.com you know the team will look after you. Because of the restrictions in plugins and themes, and because of the lack of server access, it’s considerably more secure than the self-hosted option. Not to mention that if there was a problem the wordpress.com team would fix it for you. You wouldn’t have to do anything.
For self-hosted users – you have to be ever vigilant – ensuring you keep WordPress and the plugins and themes you use up to date. Importantly you also need to make sure the plugins you use are secure. Most plugins are fine but you do sometimes hear horror stories of people installing malicious plugins that take control of your website. In addition, if your website is hacked, you will be on your own. Your host may offer basic help or restore a backup – but you will still have the responsibility of making sure these problems are resolved.
Custom WordPress Themes
WordPress.org blogs can be customised in whatever ways users see fit. There are tens of thousands of themes, both free and paid, available for WordPress.org. Savvy web designers can also dive into the software and build their own theme.
WordPress.com, however, does not allow custom themes. Instead users can choose from a large number themes (both free and paid) to use on their blog. These themes cannot be edited and they only come with a limited number of options. Note – I have a number of Premium WordPress.com themes.
Online monetization is traditionally done through banner advertising, Adsense, affiliate links, and more. Self-hosted WordPress integrates well with these monetization techniques. There are a number of plugins that make these things easy to add to a blog.
WordPress.com, however, does not allow for advertising outside of the limited WordPress.com advertising scheme – called WordAds. Affiliate links, sponsored posts, and links to external stores are also allowed on WordPress.com. You must make sure that these things follow the guidelines outlined on their monetization support doc.
For more ideas I’ve written an article on how to earn money from WordPress over on Pro Theme Design.
WordPress.com and WordPress.org might share a similar name and web address, but they are two very different products.
WordPress.com is ideal for casual/ less technical bloggers who simply want to write and reach an audience. These users are often less technical and so the ease of use of WordPress.com will appeal. You can check out our WordPress.com themes here.
WordPress.org, due to its flexibility, is ideal for people who need full control over their website. With support for themes, plugins and monetization methods, WordPress.org is perfect for users who need their WordPress site to do more than the basic blogging functionality offered by the WordPress.com software however the other technical requirements may be seen as a negative.