So you have decided to set up your own website and have picked WordPress as your platform, but do you use WordPress.com or WordPress.org? Both are WordPress, but what is the difference between the two?
WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org
The major difference between WordPress.com and the WordPress.org version boils down to who is hosting the site.
If you choose your own hosting package with a provider, then you should elect to install the WordPress.org version. If you go to the website, you can find the files you need to download, and then you need to manually install to your hosting server, usually via FTP.
Some hosting providers will have a simple “one click install” which takes care of the more difficult aspects, such as setting up a database and the like. If you decide on the manual installation route, then take the time to read the guide provided by WordPress.org.
WordPress.com deals with all the hosting, set up and management.
Pros and Cons of WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org
Both of these platforms have advantages and disadvantages. It depends on what you need and how comfortable you are with technical issues, should they arise.
This option lets you set up a website quickly, easily and with a minimum amount of fuss. It will offer you customisation options such as themes and content so you can get started. WordPress.com will also take care of any upgrades and backups which can be useful when inexperienced users want to just start creating their website or blog.
A big advantage is that the basic site is free. Should you need to expand the capabilities, they have premium options available which counteract some of the disadvantages.
The disadvantages of WordPress.com are that your URL domain will contain “wordpress.com” at the end – for example, “myawesomebusiness.wordpress.com.” For a business or project, this can look less professional than “myawesomebusiness.com.” The site will also display a “Powered by WordPress.com” link which some users may not want.
The size of the website you can create is limited to 3GB (unless you upgrade to the premium option).
You also won’t be able to upload any custom themes, video files, or plugins. Additionally, you can’t access any of the pre-generated php files in order to modify or customise the site to your needs.
Your website can also be deleted or suspended if WordPress feels that you have violated their Terms of Service.
WordPress adverts will also appear on the site which you have little control over.
The self-hosted WordPress.org version has much more flexibility. You can adjust every aspect to your liking.
Uploading themes is a good option, with many pre-made custom themes available. You can install WordPress to a domain, such as “myawesomebusiness.com,” to establish a brand or idea that is unique to you. This option also gives you access to the repository of plugins which can be used to develop your site, along with access to the code and database behind the site. The plugins can be installed manually or from inside the WordPress.org administration area.
Another major advantage to using WordPress.org is that you can add a WooCommerce or other ecommerce plugin. This allows you to create a shop or store and sell items or virtual goods, accepting credit card or Paypal payments.
The ability to add ecommerce to a site lets you benefit from tools like Google Analytics to track users, see trends or to take advantage of customer decisions and preferences.
Using WordPress.org requires the need for your own hosting package from a third party which is an additional cost. Initially, the cost may be low, but as the size and traffic of the website increases, you will have to upgrade to a bigger package, which costs more.
All the backup, security and update requirements will be up to you. Given WordPress is one of the most popular platforms for websites, it also has the biggest attack threat. Keeping it up to date, especially plugins, is paramount to ensuring your hard work is not compromised. Fortunately, there are a number of plugins that can be used to make backing up the site easy. Updating it is usually done via a single click from the administration area.
Which should you use?
There is a lot of initial confusion regarding which version of WordPress beginners should use. Personally, I would always suggest buying a basic hosting package and installing WordPress.org, as the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. WordPress is a learning experience, and even those who have never created a website before can make use of its powerful features. There is a great community that is ready to help and several sites which provide tips and tricks to resolve issues of any size.
This article is first published in March 2008 and was updated in August 2018.