One of the best features about WordPress is that it’s super easy to get started with. But which do you go with: WordPress.org or WordPress.com? What’s the difference anyway?
I still remember taking my first web design and development class back in the 10th grade and, though I was eager, it took me almost a month to create a small security services website that consisted of 3 pages in total – and I was quite pleased about it too. After all, I was the only one in class who had managed to add a handmade custom animation to the site. HTML/CSS was fun, PHP could get a bit frustrating sometimes, but never did I think that I could do the same thing in 15 minutes or less using WordPress!
Many people head over to WordPress because of the convenience and flexibility it offers, but there are still a few confusions that one can run into, and one such confusion is choosing between the free WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress. In this post, I will be addressing this confusion by breaking it down into the variables that will be of the most importance to the users, namely, the cost, development options, restrictions, upgrades, and maintenance.
But before we jump into the comparisons, let’s go over a brief overview of the two options we have at hand.
WordPress.com is the solution for setting up a free website without having to worry about anything else that comes with the creating a website such as, security and anti-spam filters, finding a hosting provider, or maintaining your website.
WordPress.com guides the user with a simple installation and setup process by having them sign up, choose the blog name they want, and then jump straight into designing their website. No hassle and no headaches.
This convenience comes at a cost though (albeit not one that you pay from your bank). The trade-off between flexibility, server space, and resources comes to center stage which we’ll cover in more detail in the following sections.
In a nutshell, self hosting your WordPress site means downloading your own copy of the WordPress content management system (CMS), finding a domain provider, and signing up for a hosting service to host your site on the Internet. Users can get their copy of the WordPress CMS from WordPress.org for free.
With this option, all you get is the software that will power your website and you’re responsible for everything else – domain, hosting, maintenance – every single thing. Although it might sound a tad overbearing, at first, there is another way to look at it: you have full control over every single detail of your website from its structure to the level you’d like to operate it on. The only limitations your site will subject to depend on the hosting plan you sign up for.
It’s hardly a surprise that WordPress currently holds over 50% of the current CMS market share. WordPress.org’s support forum is also definitely worth a mention here as it is one of the greatest resources of online knowledge within the WordPress community.
Self-Hosted WordPress vs. Free WordPress.com
Now that you understand what each of the two options are, let’s navigate around the major points of both to familiarize ourselves with their ins and outs in order to make an informed decision on which one is best for your online business’s requirements. In this section, we’ll draw out an elaborate comparison of self-hosted WordPress vs. free WordPress.com contrasting some of the most important factors webmasters take into account before reaching a knowledge-backed decision.
From building a house to getting a website, cost is something universal to anything that you might want to get and, therefore, must be analyzed in-depth in order to make the optimal decision based on both your budget and needs.
When comparing the costs associated with self-hosted WordPress and WordPress.com, there are for major factors that are associated with cost:
- Domain name.
- Hosting service/plan.
- Storage space.
- Advertisement removal.
The cheapest option is to sign up with WordPress.com, not be picky about domain names and activate the default themes and plugins you get with the website. This basic, stripped-down alternative won’t cost you a dime and your WordPress.com site will be live on the web. Even so, if you want a domain name of your choice, the option to purchase premium themes, remove advertisements, and get more storage space on the server, the otherwise free WordPress.com becomes costly.
On the other hand, WordPress.org is a far more cost-efficient option with which you can get the domain name from a registrar and unlimited server storage space (depending upon your hosting plan). You won’t even have to pay extra to remove advertisements.
With that brief overview out of the way, let’s dig into the four major factors associated with both options and evaluate their individual costs in detail.
The costs associated with self-hosted WordPress.org are easy to understand and depend mostly on the hosting provider you opt for. Let’s quickly recap what it means to be on a self-hosted WordPress installation before we continue. Self-hosted WordPress means that you will download a copy of the WordPress CMS and purchase a hosting plan for your site.
- Domain name. With self-hosted WordPress.org, you’ll be required to purchase a domain name from a domain name registrar. Often times, users can purchase a domain name from their respective hosting provider instead of a third party. The average price of a domain name extension (for instance, .com, .net, or .org) starts at $10.
- Hosting service/plan. Most new webmasters opt for a shared hosting plan with a reputable hosting service. The hosting provider you decide to go with may charge you as little as $3.49 per month as part of a promotional package, however, the average price of hosting is estimated at $5 per month (exclusive of add-ons – security, maintenance, etc.). Check out our post on How To Choose The Right Hosting For Your WordPress Website? – A Beginner’s Guide for more information.
- Storage space. The cost of purchasing additional server resources such as more space, CPU, or memory can cost $25 per month on average. That said, with a basic shared hosting plan, you get around 50 GB of storage space from the get go which reduces the need to purchase additional space for some time.
- Advertisement removal. WordPress.org doesn’t come with advertisements packed onto your site so you don’t have to worry about removing them.
Note: The prices given in this section are based on Bluehost’s Shared Hosting plan.
Things get a bit trickier with free WordPress.com. As we discussed above, WordPress.com is free for everyone to create their website with but it comes with some pre-set limitations and restrictions. What if you’re absolutely fine with WordPress’s free, high-quality hosting service but want to fully avail the little control that you have over your free WordPress site – even if it means spending some money?
- Domain name. Starting at $18 per year, you can pick a custom domain name offered by WordPress.com. This ensures that your website’s URL will look something like
- Hosting service/plan. Hosting with WordPress.com is completely free. All users get high-quality hosting service free of charge.
- Storage space. Unlike self-hosted WordPress, with free WordPress.com, users get only 3 GB of storage space on the server. To increase the storage capacity, users have to pay an additional amount per year. The additional costs are listed below:
- Advertisement removal. WordPress.com is entitled to displaying advertisements on your website. Users can permanently eliminate all advertisements from their site for $30 per year.
WordPress.com handles site maintenance and development for their users but with a self-hosted site, you’ll have to take care of that yourself too (or outsource it!). One thing to be certain about here is that regular WordPress updates are guaranteed by Automattic for both WordPress.com and WordPress.org ensuring your site is safe from malware and security threats.
WordPress site maintenance and development includes updating plugins and themes, ensuring plugin compatibility after WordPress core upgrade, and measures to take if your site faces unprecedented downtime.
With self-hosted WordPress you’re completely on your own. Every aspect of development and site maintenance depends entirely on you. Every time a plugin needs to be updated, a notification appears on the admin panel and webmasters are required to handle it manually. Failing to update plugins and themes or accidentally activating incompatible resources simultaneously can lead to problems.
A webmaster with ample knowledge of site maintenance should go for WordPress.org. There are several plugins and forums out there to help you ensure your site’s upkeep isn’t compromised but taking responsibility for it is a huge commitment in itself.
WordPress newbies who are testing out the blogging waters or dipping their toe into the online business world often don’t have the technical skills or the budget required to handle the maintenance and development of their site on their own. If you fall into a similar user persona, it’s in your better interest to let the folks over at Automattic take care of it on its own.
Those of you who don’t have the skills, time, or budget to devote to maintaining and developing their WordPress site should go for free WordPress.com. On the other hand, if you have the skills and time to take care of your site then self-hosted WordPress is best for you. Lastly, those of you who don’t mind outsourcing their maintenance and development tasks should check out managed WordPress hosting or a service that takes care of WordPress site upkeep such as Stylemix.
Depending upon how much control you require over your site’s customization, files, and database, the option you ultimately go with becomes much easier to decide. The short version of this section is that WordPress.com gives you restricted access whereas with self-hosted WordPress you get full control over your website.
As the saying goes,
With great power comes great responsibility.
One of the biggest reasons webmasters opt for self-hosted WordPress is that it ensures full control and full ownership of the WordPress site. The only limitations you’re bound by are those set by the hosting plan you opt for. With self-hosted WordPress, you can use any theme or plugin you fancy (free or premium), enable advertisements, customize your site’s appearance, add custom code to your files, and even tweak the database if need be.
With free WordPress.com, you have limited control over your website and you don’t actually own it. WordPress.com users cannot upload premium plugins, they get limited space on the server, and come with advertisements added to the site’s pages. Webmasters don’t even have access to their site’s core files which basically means that if your site is hacked, you can’t restore it because you never made backups of the site’s files.
WordPress.com, however, does provide users a way out of these restrictions. Users can pay for premium upgrades to overcome each of the shortfalls that come with free WordPress.com.
Which One Is Right For You?
It all boils down to this: both WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress are great options and it all depends on three factors:
- The nature of your website/online business.
- Your technical expertise.
- The amount of time you can invest in it.
- Your budget.
For instance, if you’re thinking about operating an e-store or an e-learning website then it’s best to go with WordPress.org simply because WordPress.com doesn’t offer e-commerce functionality. If you’re designing a website for a client with a large-scale business, going with self-hosted WordPress would be the best choice which enables your client to make design alterations and leverage full control over the website.
But what if you want to operate a simple blog and don’t need powerful functionality? In such cases, it’s best to go with free WordPress.com. You’ll have your site up and running within minutes, won’t have to worry about maintenance, and you’ll be able to share your content with the world – all without having to reach for your wallet.
All things considered, we heartily recommend WordPress.org to anyone who’s serious about their online business and hope to go big. It’s cost efficient, reliable, and gives you full control over your website which eliminates the risk of losing years of progress in a split second.
That said, WordPress.com is a great way to start out in the blogosphere and acquaint yourself with the WordPress CMS. The best part is that you can always migrate your free WordPress.com installation to self-hosted WordPress.org whenever you’re ready to take things to the next level.
Which do you prefer and why: free WordPress.com or self-hosted WordPress.org? We’d love to hear from you so let us know in the comments section below!