The Difference Between WordPress.com vs WordPress.org: What I Wish I Knew Before I Signed Up
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When I very first started in web management, years ago, the first website that I came on to work with used WordPress. I didn’t design it myself, I came in to manage it after the design had been done by another agency who didn’t offer maintenance plans.
I quickly fell in love with managing the site, honestly it was so streamlined for me, especially compared to hand-coded sites, which was what I had been working with before. I could actually finally teach those with no development background to do certain management tasks, and I was THRILLED.
But… then I got another client, who wanted a site built. No biggie, I thought – I’ll just get them set up with WordPress, like *other client,* and it’ll be great!!
The only problem being… I had NO idea how the other agency had set up *other client’s* site, and I was decidedly out of my depth. A quick Google search brought me to wordpress.com, and I moved forward with that.
The Problem with my Method
What I didn’t learn in that Google search, was I was in for an uphill battle. *Other client* was NOT using wordpress.com, they were set up with self-hosting through a local company, and then WordPress.org was installed on their server space. So… not at ALL what I was getting myself, and my new client, into.
I wish someone had broken this down for me, BEFORE I got thrown into the deep end, so… I’m going to detail the differences for you! WordPress.com vs WordPress.org, broken down as straightforwardly as possible.
In a nut shell……
The wildly simplified explanation of the following differences, is this: WordPress.com is WordPress.org repackaged by a company called Automatic, bundled with managed server hosting, and limitations on what you can access based on the tier of hosting you purchase.
And therein lied the problem, for me at least.
I was used to having access to the entirety of the WordPress plugin library, and being able to manage and add as many of those plugins as my other client’s site needed. I learned very, VERY quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to do that with a WordPress.com plan, without signing my new client up for an exorbitantly expensive hosting tier.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I go any further down the rabbit hole….
> What is WordPress.org?
WordPress.org is a completely open-source content management system (CMS) used by developers across the globe to make site design accessible to the masses. When we talk about “open source” in the web world, what that means, is the core code isn’t proprietary. No one technically owns it, which means it can be used, modified, repackaged, added to, and built upon by literally anyone. This is because it’s been crowd-developed by thousands of users over the years, and that’s what makes it so brilliant.
This is a MASSIVE benefit of the platform because it means that there are development companies based around solving specific problems for business owners using WordPress integrations, and they’re highly motivated to be the best out there. Want a company to help you with your search engine optimisation in your posts? There are options (though Yoast is by far the best.) Want to get set up with e-commerce, and start your own shop? Tons of options (though I would recommend Woocommerce!) And the same goes for literally any service, tool, or program you want to offer on your site. From membership access, to selling seats in classes, because WordPress is open source, SOMEone has solved that problem for you. The only thing left to you, is choosing what tool to use.
The other massive benefit of WordPress.org being open source, is the core of the platform (and thousands of the available plugins) are completely free to install on your hosting.
That’s where “self-hosting” comes in. You’ll see people discuss WordPress.org as “self-hosted WordPress” because that’s what it is. It’s the WordPress CMS, installed on the hosting of your choice.
Self-hosting your WordPress site is actually super easy, if you’re willing to spend a little time online working through the learning curve. But the best part of it, is you get to choose who you work with for hosting. Want to support a local hosting company? You can. Already have your domain through GoDaddy, and want to keep your services in one place? Bangin, pick up a hosting package and get started. Or, want to use a host who is affordable, AND reliable? I highly recommend Hostinger, they’re brilliant, and they’re who I use for myself, and nearly all of my clients now.
The point is, you get the choice of nearly any host, and you can pay anywhere between $3/mo, to $15/mo, to hundreds, depending on your server needs and the traffic your website gets. You choose your package, you choose your pricing, you CHOOSE. You’re not locked into WordPress.com pricing (which I would argue is a bit unreasonable anyway.)
> Content Freedom
This is another huge plus when it comes to self-hosted WordPress. You OWN your content, no matter what. As long as you’re not breaking the law, or the terms of your agreement with your chosen hosting company, there are no restrictions on what you can do with your website.
Want to sell advertising space through Google, or through yourself? Fabulous, set it up, and sell those slots.
Want to use a custom plugin that’s been developed for your site? Bangin, upload it and unzip it and you’re ready to go.
YOU control your site, completely.
> The Negatives
Overall there really aren’t many. The big one is that updates to plugins and the platform itself are your responsibility, however many hosting companies actually offer affordable Managed WordPress hosting plans that make this irrelevant anyway.
The same goes for your site backups. Any healthy site maintenance plan includes backing up your server contents. It’s something many hosting companies offer as a super affordable add on (I most ecently paid like $2/mo to have regular backups added onto a web hosting plan) but you can also easily run manual backups on your own time.
> The Bottom Line
With self-hosted WordPress, you have the opportunity to choose your hosting company, and then access the widest library of plug-and-play tools for site building out there. If you want to harness the power of Squarespace’s drag and drop interface, there are tools for that (I recommend Divi Builder, which you can see in use in all of my client site projects!).
It’s flexible, affordable, and accessible to the average user (with a little bit of learning here and there.)
> What is WordPress.com?
Remember how I said that no one owns WordPress as a CMS? Well… technically speaking, that means anyone can make modifications to it that ARE proprietary, and sell those. Which is exactly what WordPress.com is. It’s WordPress.org, repackaged, limited, and for sale.
There are not nearly as many good things about this system. Mostly, because it disadvantages the end user, and I hate that. So, so many beginner designers who want to start with WordPress get sucked into what I did when I started out, and have to pay the price. Or worse, don’t have the background that I had to know that they made the wrong purchase, and simply thought that WordPress overall sucked.
But I digress.
Imagine there’s a really nice public park near you. Anyone can go to it – and it’s beautiful. There are signs up, asking you to please pick up your trash before you leave. You love the park. There are benches, and swing sets, and beautiful sunsets to watch. Sometimes, there are free community Yoga classes in the soccer fields, and an ice cream truck drives through at 3pm each day, with $2 cones!
There happens to be a park next door, as well. It’s an exact replica, but fenced off. You pay a fee to enter. If you want to sit on the bench in front of the pond, there’s a fee for that. And another for your kids to use the swings. Climbing the tree over there will also come with a price tag, and don’t even get me started on parking. Yoga classes are $100/class, and there is no ice cream truck. But, someone cleans up your trash for you! You can leave it anywhere, and they’ll just sweep it away.
The benefit of WordPress.com? They run your updates and backups for you, and you don’t have to purchase hosting elsewhere.
That’s it. They clean up after you, and charge you to use the swings.
> Hosting Costs
So since you won’t be self-hosting if you use WordPress.com, you’re locked into their hosting options. Which are…. Interesting, to say the least.
They do have a free option, which is excessively limited in features, but comes with 3GB of server space and a branded domain name (one of those domains with “wordpress” in there somewhere.)
Aside from the free option, you can choose between:
- Personal Plan: $4/mo
- Premium Plan: $8/mo
- Business Plan: $25/mo
- eCommerce Plan: $45/mo
- VIP Plan: $2,000+/mo
And at first glance, you might be thinking, “Gabrielle, $4/mo isn’t expensive at all!” However… with self-hosted WordPress you can get the equivalent of more than what’s included in the eCommerce plan if you choose NOT to work through WordPress. So these options? In a word, they’re highway-robbery.
> Content Freedom
In short, if you choose to work through WordPress.com and you have anything less than their business plan, you DON’T have content freedom, at all.
Taking a look at their pricing sheet, you can see that you don’t even get access to the full plugin library until you have a Business plan. And even then? You can’t actually install custom plugins that you purchase online, or have developed by other development agencies.
Want to run a store? You’re locked into the eCommerce plan, because without it, you don’t even have access to the tools needed.
Not to mention, you’re not permitted to sell ad space without working through Woocommerce’s specific “WordAds” (which makes me giggle because it’s the opposite of Google AdWords, and I find that poetic) program.
> The Negatives
Honestly It feels like through outlining the details of the services… I’ve already outlined the negatives of using WordPress.com.
You don’t have the same level of freedom, you’re locked into specific hosting plans that don’t meet the needs of many business owners, you don’t even get access to basic (free) tools like Google Analytics until you’re using a business plan – the list goes on, and on.
> The Bottom Line
WordPress.com vs WordPress.org Explained
I wish I had someone to explain all this to me, before I threw myself into the deep end years ago. Luckily, I’m set up with the appropriate tools now to get sites built without having to worry about whether I’m choosing something that I’m going to regret later.
But I want you to have the same benefits!
So – have you had WordPress.com nightmares? Or, are you wondering about something that I didn’t fully explain here? Let me know in the comments.