What is the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com?
I think it’s fair to say that everyone who has ever tried to create a website of their own has heard of WordPress before. It’s the de-facto website building system on the Web, and hard to ignore thanks to its diverse culture and flexibility. But, the phrase WordPress can mean multiple things at the same time.
In other words, Automattic (which owns WordPress) is behind both WordPress.org and WordPress.com — two entirely different platforms. Different in a way that WordPress.org is free and open-source, while WordPress.com is free but not open-source.
Most newcomers to website building will often go ahead and sign-up with WordPress.com, whereas experience webmasters will choose WordPress.org because of its self-hosted properties and benefits.
Let’s dig deeper to understand the differences between both platforms.
So, what exactly is WordPress.com?
WordPress.com has been around since 2005, and as the platform approaches its 15 year anniversary — it couldn’t be more sought after than it is today. Unlike its sister site, the organization, WP.com is an exclusively ‘managed’ platform. Meaning, everything including the website hosting is provided to you out of the box.
As a result, this is a fairly popular choice among both inexperienced and experienced Web users who want to focus only on writing. Indeed, WordPress.com is absolutely free to use, albeit with its minuscule limitations. But, anyone can raise the stakes and sign-up for premium plans which open the door to features like a custom domain, exclusive themes, and much more.
Those are some incredible numbers for a platform that’s operating in a highly saturated yet competitive market. The Automattic team has a knack for building and maintaining products of impeccable quality and vision.
What do you get with the free plan?
Blogging has never been about imposing limitations, and the goal is to always ensure that people can open a blog with as little of an investment as possible. And this is also the promise of the WordPress.com Free Plan.
Here are the features you get when you signup for free:
- WordPress.com Subdomain
- Jetpack Essential Features
- Community Support
- Dozens of Free Themes
- Basic Design Customization
- 3GB Storage Space
- WordPress.com Advertising and Banners
The two most important things to note here is the subdomain (yoursitename.wordpress.com) and advertising banners. Having a subdomain has an impact on your ability to brand your content, but still doable.
Whereas banners mean that the flow of your content might be interrupted by ads being shown on behalf of Automattic. In essence, that is also the price you have to pay for a free plan. I guess it’s true what they say, that nothing in life is ever for free.
And also, this would be the core difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com — because with the self-hosted version (.org) you have to purchase a unique domain name, and adding advertising banners is also entirely up to you.
What do you get with the premium plan?
Chances are that you might enjoy the WordPress.com so much that you want to sign-up as a premium plan user.
At the moment, You can start with a personal Blogger account for $3 per month, or if you need more muscle then you can go for Business or even the eCommerce plan; $25 and $45 per month respectively.
Since Business is the most popular plan, here are the features you can expect:
- Free Domain for One Year
- Jetpack Essential Features
- Email & Live Chat Support
- Unlimited Premium Themes
- Advanced Design Customization
- Unlimited Storage Space
- Remove WordPress.com Ads
- Simple Payments
- Monetize your site
- VideoPress support
- Jetpack Search
- Attend live courses
- SEO Tools
- Install Plugins
- Upload themes
- Google Analytics Integration
- Remove WordPress.com Branding
As you can tell, that’s a hefty list of additional features you get by investing only $25 per month. Overall, becoming paid WordPress.com customer grants you access to tools that can accelerate the process of establishing an independent digital brand.
But, even then, this is still too vague of a way to look at what makes both platforms exclusively different. Let’s continue digging deeper.
WordPress.com Themes & Plugins
Say what you will, but the themes available for WordPress.com users (especially premium) are some of the best we have seen anywhere. And many aren’t available anywhere else, so there is a distinct element of uniqueness and originality.
Most themes are kept up to date and in-line with the latest web development technologies. Likewise, there is huge diversity for theme choices. You can pick and choose themes in categories like Magazine, Portfolio, Travel, Music, Blog, Business, Food, Wedding, and more.
And while you won’t get the same in-depth customization abilities that WordPress.org gets, you can still make some custom changes where needed, especially if those changes are based on CSS.
WordPress.com is a great choice for bloggers, photographers, artists, plumbers, doctors, restaurateurs — almost anyone. However, techies that prefer to maintain full control over their code, should consider hosting their own WordPress installation.
Just like themes, the use of plugins in WordPress.com blogs is also quite limited. Unless, you sign-up specifically for the Business ($25/pm) plan, which lets you use all the popular plugins from the WordPress.org repository.
As for free users, and those without a business plan, you get access to plugins like Essential SEO, Form Builder, Advanced Galleries, Related Posts, Backup, Akismet, Custom Widgets, and a few others.
And, of course, the Automattic crown jewel which is Jetpack.
Jetpack is a unique plugin (used by 5+ million bloggers) that supercharges your entire blog/website. There are more than a dozen unique in-built features, tools, and widgets to bring your website and its content to life.
Jetpack is available for WordPress.com users free of charge with the option to subscribe to a premium plan if you need additional features.
The core features of Jetpack are site stats, a high-speed CDN for images, related posts, downtime monitoring, brute force attack protection, automated sharing to social networks, sidebar customization, and many more.
WordPress.com is great for starting out, but not for much else. Not unless you have $299 per year to spare.
I think it’s a fair assessment that WordPress.com does have its place in the blogging world. I have used the free plan myself in the past and can say only positive things about the community and the tools that bloggers are given to write and publish.
All the while, it’s hard to overlook the benefits of using the self-hosted version: more on that shortly. WordPress.com is by no means a cheap platform if you wish to go all the way. Meaning, for $299 you could easily create and manage 5 different WordPress blogs and still manage to save some.
That said, if you don’t have the time to worry about technicalities and other things, then sure — having a managed blog has its benefits.
What is WordPress.org all about?
More than 30% of all websites on this planet are powered by WordPress. A platform that started out as a simple blogging solution, but has since branched out to become a powerful website building platform too. You can’t go a day without stumbling upon a WordPress-powered website!
So, unlike WordPress.com which is mostly managed and doesn’t require much work on your side — WordPress.org is all about self-management, optimization, and most importantly: creativity. Yes, using the self-hosted version of WordPress can be a very creative endeavor indeed.
Creative in a sense that WordPress.org is supported by more than 50,000 free plugins and tens of thousands of free themes. On top of thousands of premium WordPress themes which are built not only by StylemixThemes (that’s us!) but thousands of other web development agencies across the globe.
To put this in perspective, the average WordPress website uses anywhere from 10 to 25 plugins. So, if you ever need to add something new and unique to your website, rest assured that the WordPress open-source community has your back.
Do you need Website Hosting and a Domain Name to use WordPress.org?
If you go with the self-hosted version, you’ll have to consider two things, your hosting provider and your domain registrar. These days, finding either of those is simple and affordable.
Which hosting provider is best for you?
If it’s your first time using WordPress then it helps to learn a little more about website hosting providers, and especially those that specialize in WordPress hosting specifically.
These days, it’s not uncommon to find reliable shared hosting for as little as $3-5 per month. And that’s about $50-60 per year at most. Compare this to the pricing plans of WordPress.com and you start to notice some concrete differences.
How do you get a domain name?
You can most likely get your hosting provider to hook you up with a domain name, usually not more expensive than $10 per year. A domain name is what helps others to find your website address, and since WordPress.org is self-hosted, you cannot avoid getting a domain name under any circumstances. It’s mandatory!
If your web host is asking too much, you can always use a domain name provider such as NameCheap. You get free WHOIS protection for one year and have your domain maintained by a company with a solid track record.
Is WordPress.org more customizable than WordPress.com, and in what ways?
Absolutely! If you want customization and the general feeling of being in charge then WordPress.org is the way to go. The platform itself comes fairly bootstrapped out of the box, with a default theme and only a handful of novelty plugins.
But once you dig deeper into the ecosystem, it becomes evident that you can use WordPress to create a website of literally any kind or type. And this also keeps contributing to the overall success of the WordPress software as a whole.
So, let’s take a closer look at what makes the self-hosted version so popular.
Thousands upon thousands of free themes
Why are any content management systems popular in the first place? Is it because they are free? Not unlikely, but for the most part, most CMS’s get their popularity because of flexibility. E.g. The flexibility for designing a website in minutes, and for free. And adding customization in a few steps, rather than having to write your own code.
At the moment, you can find more than 7,000 free themes in the WordPress.org directory. That’s 7,000 variations of a website design that you can further modify using in-built tools or page builders! It’s no surprise that so many people love this platform so much.
Needless to say, if you search Google for ‘free WordPress themes’ you are going to come across piles upon piles of them. And most modern themes are up to par with what the latest web design trends have been in recent years.
Not to mention, there is always the option to go for a premium theme too — this is sort of our specialty here at StylemixThemes. A premium theme generally ranges anywhere from $40 to $60 and has design quality that of a website built by a professional.
Though, if you were to hire an individual professional to do the website design for you — the costs might end up being $4000 to $6000 opposed to the nominal fee of $40ish.
More than 50,000 plugins and counting
By default, WordPress works pretty well out of the box. You can easily publish content and by using Jetpack not worry about much else. But what fun is in this? It’s much more engaging to customize and amplify your site in a way that reflects your identity.
And WordPress.org makes this a fun journey indeed. With more than 54,000 plugins — you can turn your WordPress website into anything and at any time. E.g. You can deck out your blog with the latest marketing tools, or add plugins to improve the display of images on your site.
The possibilities for WP plugins are endless. In recent years, plugins like website builders have gotten extreme amounts of attention. A website builder is yet another branch of extreme customization that you can add to your website.
For example, you can look up inspirational websites and pretty much copy their entire look if that is what you desire. Likewise, you can combine multiple designs together and create something unique.
Rest assured that you don’t need to know any coding or anything of that sorts, which is also why WordPress.org tends to overtake the WordPress.com platform. It’s just much more fun and entertaining to do everything yourself. And not to mention, much more affordable!
The final verdict: Go with the platform that matches your blogging or website needs at present time.
You can’t go wrong with either choice since both are WordPress based you’re getting plenty of bang for your buck.
From a personal point of view, as someone who has used both platforms, I have to say that nothing beats the versatile flexibility of WordPress.org and its open-source community. And at the same time, I have never seen such an active blogging community as I have on WordPress.com — in a few months, I had 2,000 subscribers to my poetry-based posts.
After you weigh in factors like costs and your desire to learn, you’ll quickly understand what fits your needs at this time. WordPress is an all-around content management system that has a lot to offer to both newcomers and experienced developers alike.
Don’t hesitate to let us know about your feedback and whether you have any additional questions. Is there anything specific you want to know about each platform? Just shoot us a comment and we will get right on it.