If you are starting a website or blog, and you have chosen WordPress as your software of choice. That is not a bad idea, because WordPress powers more than 25% of the Internet, and it is famous for its versatility and ease of use. However, for anyone that is unfamiliar with the WordPress world, there is a point of confusion between WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org.
In this post, I have discussed a concise overview of what you should think about before getting started.
Concepts & Goals
Let me quickly say that WordPress is the name of a piece of software that can power your website on a server. So instead of uploading files unto a server to create a website, you can use WordPress to create a framework where you can log in to your website to create, edit and manage web pages, blog posts, images and any sort of content.
WordPress is just a content management system in web development term. WordPress is also an open-source software, which means that a community owns and maintains it.
This WordPress software & open-source community lives & function only at WordPress.org, where anyone can grab a copy of the software. WordPress.org is also known as “self-hosted WordPress” because you have to provide the server for the software to live on, plus you pay for hosting and any other fees separately.
Then there is the other called WordPress.com, which is a for-profit company owned by Automattic and founded by Matt Mullenweg, who is one of the original developers of WordPress.
WordPress.com is a service that offers websites/blogs powered by their install of WordPress. The WordPress.com bundle hosting, support, services, and software into a single subscription.
Look at it this way; renting vs. buying.
WordPress.com is just like renting a building for your living space (your website). Though you can pay for upgrades, but ultimately everything is up to your landlord, which in this case is WordPress.com. Remember, your landlord also pays to keep everything in working order.
While WordPress.org is just like owning a building for your living space, where you own everything on your own hosting space. This gives you the freedom to do whatever you want, meaning that you are responsible for everything.
Pricing / Goals
WordPress.com offers free website with WordPress.com subdomain, for instance; yourdomain.wordpress.com with no upgrades and with their rights to run adverts on the site. They operate on a system of bundled subscription plans that offer different features as you pay more.
In the other hand, with WordPress.org you can get a self-hosted WordPress website set up from scratch for less than $100/year, that is with domain, quality hosting and unlimited options, including potentially multiple websites.
The major point on pricing is all about what your goals are and then what your values are. If you just want to publish, could care less about specific functionality, and have budget, WordPress.com is amazing.
However, if you want to build out a website where publishing is only part of your goals, i.e., you want to run adverts, customize your design, etc, then, you are welcomed to self-hosting.
Design / Themes
Once you are running your own copy of WordPress on your own server, you can do anything you want with your design. WordPress.org also still runs off themes, so you are allowed to use free themes from WordPress.org, premium off-the-shelf themes for your industry, or use a theme framework to add tons of design features to your website. Any which way, you can always directly access your theme and edit them in any way you want.
Coming to WordPress.com, you do not have direct access to your site or your theme. Instead, you have to choose among the choice of themes that WordPress.com provides for you. Though WordPress.com provides some customization, it is still limited to what you can do through their customizer tool. Once you afford to upgrade, you can have full CSS editing, but you cannot add elements to your design. Assuming you pay for a Business Plan at WordPress.com, you not only get free access to all premium themes, you get a lot more customization options and you can install all the 3rd party themes that you have on self-hosted WordPress.
Functionality / Plugins
The use of Plugins is a large part of the reason self-hosted why WordPress is as popular as it is. Plugins enable you to add extra usefulness to your site like full online business usefulness, long range interpersonal communication capacities, and membership roles. It also allows you to customize your site exactly to your taste. You can get deep in the weeds of SEO with Yoast SEO, you can also customize your Analytics with Google Analytics plugins. You can run better advertisements etc.
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On the other hand, WordPress.com users do not have to worry about security or speed plugins. Again, they do not have to worry about keeping plugins updated, or worry about hackers targeting their installation. With WordPress.com Business Plan, you can install some vetted 3rd party plans, which provides some of the advantages of self-hosted WordPress.