WordPress.com vs WordPress.org

Last updated on May 21, 2019

Ah, WordPress – the household brand that powers over a third of the internet. But hold on a second – there are two types of WordPress? With almost identical names? Join us as we shed some light on this common confusion.

If you don’t know what the difference is between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, don’t worry – you’re not alone. In fact, you’re probably here to learn what they’re all about, right?

The truth is, despite both being part of the WordPress brand, WordPress.com vs WordPress.org is a tale of two very different platforms.

what is wordpress

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is a blogging platform. It uses the same WordPress software as WordPress.org, but is hosted for you and operates more as a website builder – similar to Wix or Squarespace.

Everything you need to create a blog is built-in to WordPress.com, although you can install extra plugins to help make your site more advanced. The same goes for your website’s layout, or ‘theme’ – there are some free, out-the-box options, but the flashier ones cost extra.

WordPress.org

WordPress.org is a self-hosted content management system (CMS for short). Instead of just logging in online and creating a website, you actually download the software on your computer, and have to host the site you build yourself.

WordPress.org is seen as the more advanced of the two, and allows you to create any type of website you see fit. You can even build online stores, but you’ll have to purchase additional plugins to do so.

Which one you use very much depends on your needs.

Below, we’ll discuss the main differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, as well as explaining which platform will suit you best. If you’re short on time, check out our summary of the key differences, and who we’d recommend each WordPress platform for.

1

How Easy Are They to Use?

Both WordPress.com and WordPress.org need a certain level of technical knowledge to use, but which is easier to learn?

Let’s start with how easy it is to actually create a website. While each platform has ‘page builders’ that help you structure and build all your web pages, you will need to know a little bit of code.

wordpress review post dashboard
Both WordPress platforms work off the same dashboard

This is especially true with WordPress.org. Because you can build all manner of sites, naturally your level of coding knowledge will need to be higher. WordPress.com is specifically designed for blogging, so it’s designed to help you add posts and edit them.

The main difference here comes in the ease of setup.

Web Hosting

Because WordPress.com is hosted for you, all you have to worry about is creating your website. Once that’s done, you can publish it online without worrying about anything else. WordPress.com is self-hosted, meaning you’re in charge of finding your own hosting provider.

There are a ton of providers out there that offer WordPress-specific web hosting – you can even read our guide on the best WordPress hosts – so as long as you pick your host well, the setup shouldn’t give you too much of a headache.

Our independent research tells us that Bluehost is the best WordPress.org hosting provider. It comes with features such as one-click installs, which means you can connect your site in just that – one click. It also automatically updates your site in line with WordPress’ updates, so you don’t have to manually stay on top of them.

Which is Better?

WordPress.com and WordPress.org are fairly similar for ease of use, but WordPress.com is more streamlined. It’s just for blogs, meaning everything you need is laid out for you, and you don’t have to worry about hosting your site yourself.

What Is Web Hosting? – Your ultimate guide

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2

Which Has Better Theme Designs and Customization?

Theme designs and customization are all about the look and feel of your website – its appearance, the options available to you, and to what extent you can edit it.

WordPress.com works in the same way as a website builder. By this, we mean it’s an online tool that allows you to create your own website, and has a variety of different pricing plans.

The higher priced plan you’re on, the more stuff you get. With themes, it’s no different.

WordPress.com has a selection of free themes – 91, to be exact – and built-in default features you can use on its lower-tiered plans.

You can make basic edits to these themes, but you’ll need to upgrade if you want access to custom CSS (code) or wish to use one of WordPress’ 200 premium themes. As for plugins, you’ll also need to upgrade to be able to install extras, such as Google Analytics.

WordPress.org is open-source, so customization is essentially limitless. You can use any WordPress themes, or add a different one built by a third party. You can even design your own custom theme, although this is very complex, so we wouldn’t recommend it unless you hire a web developer to do it for you.

wordpress themes
While WordPress itself has over 200 themes, there are over 5,000 designed by third parties available on WordPress.org

The same goes for plugins. You can add any feature to your site, whether it’s made by WordPress, a third party, or one you’ve had custom built.

Which is Better?

For pure creative control, WordPress.org wins hands down. Its customization is limitless, and you can code everything from the ground up, should you wish. WordPress.com is more of an out-the-box platform – you can make basic tweaks, but you’ll have to be on a high pricing plan if you want to make wholesale changes to your site.

Website Builder Comparison Chart – take a side-by-side look at the best platforms

3

How Good Are Their Plugins?

First off, if you’re confused by what a plugin is, allow us to explain. A plugin is a feature – like email marketing, ecommerce, or analytics – that you can install through WordPress and use on your website.

WordPress.com and WordPress.org both use the same plugin directory, so you’re picking from the same pool of plugins.   

The quality of these plugins is mixed. Because anyone can create one, there’s a lot of trash out there. Your best bet is to either stick to WordPress’ own plugins, use ones built by highly skilled developers, or hire someone to make one for you.

A good way of judging the quality of a plugin is by its reviews and number of installs. If you see a plugin that has a four and a half star rating and has been installed by over a million people, you can be pretty confident in using it yourself.

WordPress plugins
WordPress’ plugin directory shows you user ratings and how many types each plugin has been installed

With WordPress.com, you can only access the plugin directory if you’re on the Business pricing plan or higher. Otherwise, you’ve just got the default built-in features to make do with.

It already comes with everything a basic blog needs, so if that’s what you’re after, you won’t need to bother with all the flashy extras anyway.

WordPress.org gives you full access to the plugin directory. You can install any plugin, or even create your own that’s tailored to your website. Again, though, this requires a lot of technical knowhow.

In terms of price, plugins can vary. A lot are free, but some can cost up to $1,000 a year. It’s worth knowing exactly what you’re going to need before you start – that way, you can work out the full cost of your site well ahead of time and budget accordingly.

Which is Better?

Since both platforms use the same plugin directory, it’s impossible to say one is ‘better’ than the other. There’s no monthly fee to use plugins with WordPress.org, but then again, WordPress.com is for people who want a blog – and for that, everything you need is already built-in.

4

What if I Want an Ecommerce Website?

If you’re looking to build an online store, then you’ll need a platform with the functionality to sell online.

WordPress.org doesn’t come with any built-in ecommerce features, but you can still sell online by installing third party plugins.

WooCommerce, Ecwid, and WP eCommerce are all solid choices. Each come with the tools necessary to sell online, plus tons of features that’ll help market your products.

Failing that, there are specialist ecommerce website builders like Shopify. These come with everything built-in, so you can set up your online store in a flash.

To sell on WordPress.com, you’ll need to be signed up to its eCommerce plan. This lets you sell unlimited products, accept payments in 60+ countries, and even integrate with top shipping carriers.

Bear in mind, though, that the plan itself costs $45/month. And if you don’t want to use WordPress’ own ecommerce tools, you’ll have to pay extra to install an ecommerce plugin as well.

Affiliate Marketing on WordPress

Of course, selling products isn’t the only way to monetize your site. If you want to use paid advertising or embed affiliate links into your blog, that’s possible too – and you don’t even have to splash out on the eCommerce plan!

Simple advertising and affiliate marketing can be done on the Premium plan for just $8/month. It’ll also let you remove all WordPress branding from your blog and and integrate with Google Analytics, giving you eyes on exactly how your posts are performing.

Which is Better?

It really comes down to how you want to monetize your website. If you need a fully-fledged online store and wish to sell products in bulk, WordPress.org is your best bet. However, simple display ads and affiliate marketing can be done more simply and effectively on WordPress.com.

How To Build An Online Store – 9 easy steps to start selling online.

How Does Shopify Work? – Learn how to use Shopify in 9 simple steps.

5

Which Has the Best Blogging Features?

A blog can be both a nice side attraction and the whole purpose of a website in its own right. Depending on which angle you take, there’s an obvious WordPress choice.

Blogs are a great way of attracting site visitors by offering interesting and engaging content. They’re also a way of getting people to talk about your site online and share your links.

Not only that, they’re also a bona fide way to improve how highly your site ranks in search engine results. Statistically speaking, blogs give you a 434% better chance of ranking highly.

As we now know, WordPress.com is a platform specifically designed to help you create a blog. For this reason alone, it’s the standout option for anyone who needs a blogging site – be it personal or for business.

All the features are laid out for you, ready to use. It’s also a far more cost effective way of running a blog, given you don’t need to sort out hosting and security certificates separately.

That said, if you have a website for reasons other than a blog, but would like to add one as a different aspect to your site, WordPress.org can help.

There are plenty of blogging plugins out there which will allow you to create posts, incorporate social sharing, and add a comments section. Posts can also be categorized and tagged.

Which is Better?

Like we said, it’s more about what you need a blog for, rather than which is better. For blog-specific sites, WordPress.com is unrivalled, with everything built-in and a dashboard set up to help you manage your posts. WordPress.org is the full package, however, and lets you add a blog to your site with ease.

How To Start A Blog – the complete beginner’s guide

The Best Blogging Platforms – nine best options for bloggers

6

SEO Control: Will my Site Rank on Google?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of making changes to your site that will help it rank higher on search engines like Google and Bing.

WordPress is one of the best platforms when it comes to SEO. Given it powers a third of online sites, search engines trust WordPress – meaning that just by using it, you have a head start on other lesser-known brands.

WordPress will create sitemaps and send them to Google, so it’s easier for the search engine to read – or ‘crawl’ – your site and understand what it’s about.

However, similar to ecommerce, you’ll need to install third party plugins if you want advanced SEO control.

Yoast is renowned as one of the best SEO plugins for WordPress, and comes with a whole bunch of features than can help your site shoot up the rankings.

From simple tweaks like adding and editing metadata (the link and text that appears on search engine results pages) to helping you identify lucrative keywords and internal linking opportunities, Yoast can help you with all things SEO.

WordPress seo
Editing metadata and targeting keywords is made super simple on WordPress

There is a free version of Yoast, but if you’re serious about ranking highly, you’ll probably want to invest in the premium version at an annual price of around $100.

If that’s too steep for you, you may be better off looking at a website builder like Wix or Squarespace. Both come with built-in SEO features, and have relatively cheap apps available for the advanced stuff.

Which is Better?

Again, because you’re relying on plugins – which you can access on both WordPress platforms – it’s a bit of a stalemate. What we will say is because of the level of control WordPress.org gives you, you can make some manual changes to improve SEO that you can’t on WordPress.com.

7

How Good Are The Analytics?

Without tracking how your website is doing, you’ll never know how you can improve it. Even the best websites always have room for improvement.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, WordPress doesn’t really have its own analytics.

You can track the basics – like site traffic – but for any further insight, you’ll need to head over to the plugins directory.

Google Analytics on WordPress

Google Analytics is undoubtedly the best analytics plugin out there – after all, who better to trust than Google themselves? Because plugins aren’t accessible on basic WordPress.com plans, you will have to upgrade to install it.

On WordPress.org you can install, set up, and use Google Analytics straight off the bat. It lets you track things like visitors per page, bounce rates (when people land on your site and quickly click off it), time spent on page, and conversion rates.

All this can be broken down by each individual page or specific time period. This gives you a comprehensive report into your site’s performance, and highlights how changes you’ve made have had an impact.

It’s a great way of keeping tabs on your revenue, the amount of traffic you’re getting, and your growth over time.

Which is Better?

It’s clear that WordPress’ built-in analytics are far from sufficient. They offer the most basic of insight, so Google Analytics is a must for anyone running anything other than a casual personal site. WordPress.org lets you install Google Analytics for free, so it’s got to be the better platform for tracking site performance.

8

Is There a lot of Ongoing Maintenance?

Much like an award-winning rose bush, you’ll have to maintain your WordPress site. Fail to do so, and it’ll become a thorn in your side.

If you’ve read all the way down to this point (kudos!), then you’ll know that WordPress.com can be thought of as a website builder.

As a quick recap for you scanners out there, a website builder is an online tool that’s hosted for you, and which helps you create your very own website.

Web Hosting

The key takeaway here is ‘hosted for you’. One major part of the ongoing maintenance involved in WordPress.org is that you have to source a hosting provider and keep on top of this service yourself.

As previously mentioned, a good WordPress hosting provider should make your site’s upkeep as simple as possible. This is mainly done by automating both software and plugin updates.

WordPress completes minor updates every 2 weeks, while major updates are carried out every 2 months. The minor updates should never affect the functionality of your site, but if you don’t make the necessary changes to comply with the major ones, you’ll be in trouble.

On WordPress.com, these updates are taken care of for you. With WordPress.org, however, it’s something you’re responsible for.

Hosting providers such as Bluehost will take care of these updates for you, but it’s definitely something you’ll want to keep an eye on.

Security

Having an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is vitally important as well. This protects visitor’s personal information while they’re browsing your site, and is symbolized by a small padlock icon next to your URL.

Not only is it reassuring for your site’s visitors, it’s also something Google looks at when deciding how high your website will rank! SSL certificates are included in the monthly cost of WordPress.com sites, but they’re something you’ll have to obtain and renew individually on WordPress.org.

Much like WordPress updates, though, most hosting providers will throw in a free SSL certificate as part of the monthly cost of their hosting.

Which is Better?

If you earn a living – or even some income – from your website, WordPress.org is the safer option. It’s not that you need to be constantly wary if you use WordPress.com – far from it – but it does make you slightly uneasy knowing someone could pull the plug on your site in an instant.

WordPress Alternatives – 9 website builder options to consider

9

What’s the Deal with Copyright and Ownership?

It’s important to know who actually owns your website. What does this mean for you? And how can you protect yourself against potential issues?

One of the biggest differences when looking at WordPress.com vs WordPress.org is the question of who owns your website.

When using WordPress.com, its WordPress that technically owns your site, not you. This means that it has the power to take down or delete your site whenever it pleases.

Of course, this isn’t a common occurrence. You will have had to have violated WordPress’ terms for it to take action against you – the problem is, it’s WordPress that decides what counts as a violation, not you.

WordPress.org websites are 100% owned by you. You pay for the domain, hosting, and security, and effectively own every aspect of your site, meaning no one can take it down but you – except the government in cases of illegal activity.

You also don’t have WordPress branding on your website, or a WordPress subdomain – two things that come as standard on WordPress.com’s lower-tiered pricing plans.

Which is Better?

If you earn a living – or even some income – from your website, WordPress.org is the safer option. It’s not that you need to be constantly wary if you use WordPress.com – far from it – but it does make you slightly uneasy knowing someone could pull the plug on your site in an instant.

10

How Much Help and Support Do You Get?

For anyone who’s not a full-on web developer, having support to reach out to is always reassuring. The last thing you want is to get stuck with no one to turn to.

Help and support is another factor that’s important to the ‘WordPress.com or WordPress.org’ debate. While neither have the kind of customer service you get with a top website builder, there are a few ways to get help.

WordPress.com Support

WordPress.com doesn’t offer any specialist support on its free plan. You can use WordPress’ community forums for help, but you’ll have to sift through the sea of information – not all of which is helpful!

Upgrade to the Blogger plan at $3/month, and you receive email support – useful, but not immediately responsive. From the Personal plan ($5/month) and above, you can use WordPress’ live chat support, which is available 24 hours a day, 5 days a week.

WordPress.org Support

WordPress.org again doesn’t provide any form of specialist support. Because you don’t have to pay for the service – and you own the site yourself – there aren’t the resources there to help you out.

You can make use of the online forums, though, and a lot of WordPress.org users seek help from developers. It’s a pricey way to go, but you’re guaranteed hands on support.

WordPress support
There are plenty of forums and articles you can check out for help on WordPress.com, but no personal support

Think of it like having a burst pipe. WordPress.com provides you with a manual on how to fix it yourself. WordPress.org leaves you to deal with the mess, but you can always hire a plumber to come and take a look.

Which is Better?

There’s no doubting WordPress.com provides better help and support. Outside of community forums, you’ll have to seek professional help from a developer on WordPress.org. If you’re on a premium WordPress.com plan, however, you’ll receive help via email and live chat.

11

Pricing: How Much do They Cost?

WordPress is famously free, but how much will it actually cost you to build a fully functioning website on the platform? Let’s find out.

First off, yes – WordPress.com and WordPress.org can be used for free. In both cases, though, the reality is you’ll have to part with at least some cash to get your site up and running.

WordPress.com Pricing

WordPress.com offers six different pricing plans, ranging from free to $45/month. All plans must be paid for annually upfront, so it’s worth bearing that in mind before you make your final decision.

Below, you can see a breakdown of WordPress.com’s pricing:

PlanCost (billed annually)
Free$0
Blogger$3/month
Personal$5/month
Premium$8/month
Business$25/month
eCommerce$45/month

Despite WordPress advertising a totally free plan, there is one thing you will need to purchase before you can put your site live online: a domain. A one-year free domain is included in every other plan, but it’s something you’ll have to pay for should you opt for the free plan.

A domain isn’t exactly expensive – usually around $10-15 for a year – but just to be totally transparent, it’s something you will have to pay for.

WordPress pricing
There are six WordPress.com plans, all tailored to different types of websites

The Blogger plan includes a .blog subdomain. In other words, you can register your domain name for free, but it will have .blog at the end of it – e.g. websitebuilderexpert.blog.com.

The Personal plan is the first point where you can have your own domain free for a year, and receive dedicated support via email and live chat. At this point, though, you’re still limited to a blogging site, and will need to upgrade should you wish to create anything else.

The Premium plan is WordPress.com’s most popular, and it’s easy to see why. This is the cheapest point at which you can access WordPress’s premium themes and make advanced customization.

The Business plan is for, well, businesses. It removes all WordPress branding, and lets you install third party plugins. This plan is what separates a quality personal site from a top quality business site.

The eCommerce plan is fairly self-explanatory – you can sell online! Sell unlimited products, accept payments in over 60 different countries, integrate with top shipping carriers, and use marketing tools to help your products reach a wider audience.

WordPress.org Pricing

WordPress.org is a little less straightforward. The WordPress software is free to download and install, and using it won’t cost you anything either. But in order to actually design and create your website, you’re going to have some overheads.

Below, we’ve outlined the typical costs involved in creating and publishing a WordPress.org website:

  • Domain – $10 – $15 per year
  • Hosting – $5 – $300 per year
  • Security –  $5 – $250 per year
  • Premium Plugins –  $10 – $1,000 per year
  • Premium Theme –  $35 – $200 one-time cost

This gives you some idea of the total cost involved in building a WordPress.org site. The cheapest total price – assuming you use a free theme and only free plugins – would be around $25/year. Pretty cheap in truth, but you won’t be able to build a quality site on that budget.

It’s more than likely you’ll want a premium theme that lets you make advanced customizations, and premium plugins to help add that touch of class. That’s before you even start thinking about hiring a web developer’s services – something that could set you back thousands.

Which is Better?

Technically, the cheapest way to create a WordPress website is by using WordPress.com’s free plan, and then just purchasing a domain name. Other than that, it’s really down to what you need your site to do. Either way, a quality WordPress website with advanced customization will cost you a fair few bucks.

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Summary and Our Recommendation

As you can see, there’s far more to WordPress than first meets the eye. It’s split into two different platforms, which are for very different types of websites.

WordPress.com is a blogging platform that is hosted for you online. You choose a pricing plan depending on your needs, and pay an annual fee to WordPress for the use of its platform.

WordPress.org is a self-hosted content management system. You own your own website and have total creative control. You need coding knowledge to use it, though, and despite it being free, you will need to pay for things like hosting and a domain separately.

Below, we’ll recap the major differences we’ve discussed between the two platforms.

WordPress.com vs WordPress.org – Summary

AreaSummary
Ease of UseWordPress.com and WordPress.org are fairly similar for ease of use, but WordPress.com is more streamlined. It’s just for blogs, so everything you need is laid out for you, and you don’t have to worry about hosting your site yourself.
Theme Design and CustomizationFor pure creative control, WordPress.org wins hands down. Its customization is limitless, and you can code everything from the ground up, should you wish. WordPress.com is more of an out-the-box platform – you can make basic tweaks, but you’ll have to be on a high pricing plan if you want to make wholesale changes to your site.
PluginsSince both platforms use the same plugin directory, it’s impossible to say one is ‘better’ than the other. There’s no monthly fee to use plugins with WordPress.org, but then again, WordPress.com if for people who want a blog – and for that, everything you need is already built-in.
EcommerceIt really comes down to how you want to monetize your website. If you need a fully-fledged online store and wish to sell products in bulk, WordPress.org is your best bet. However, simple display ads and affiliate marketing can be done more simply and effectively on WordPress.com.
BloggingThis is more about what you need a blog for, rather than which is better. For blog-specific sites, WordPress.com is unrivaled, with everything built-in and a dashboard set up to help you manage your posts. WordPress.org is the full package, however, and lets you add a blog to your site with ease.
SEOAgain, because you’re relying on plugins – which you can access on both WordPress platforms – it’s a bit of a stalemate. What we will say is, because of the level of control WordPress.org gives you, you can make some manual changes to improve SEO that you can’t on WordPress.com.
AnalyticsIt’s clear that WordPress’ built-in analytics are far from sufficient. They offer the most basic of insight, so Google Analytics is a must for anyone running anything other than a casual personal site. WordPress.org lets you install Google Analytics for free, so it’s got to be the better platform for tracking site performance.
Ongoing MaintenanceWordPress.com is the standout winner. Everything is taken care of for you, so you can sit back and relax. You’ll have some ongoing maintenance with WordPress.org, but most of this can be taken care of for you too (if you pick a sound hosting provider).
Copyright and Ownershipf you earn a living – or even some income – from your website, WordPress.org is the safer option. It’s not that you need to be constantly wary if you use WordPress.com – far from it – but it does make you slightly uneasy knowing someone could pull the plug on your site in an instant.
Help and SupportThere’s no doubting WordPress.com provides better help and support. Outside of community forums, you’ll have to seek professional help from a developer on WordPress.org. If you’re on a premium WordPress.com plan, however, you’ll receive help via email and live chat.
PricingTechnically, the cheapest way to create a WordPress website is by using WordPress.com’s free plan, and just purchasing a domain name. Other than that, it’s really down to what you need your site to do. Either way, a quality WordPress website with advanced customization will cost you a fair few bucks.

You Should Use WordPress.com If…

…you’re slightly less tech savvy, and want an all-in-one solution. It’s perfect for personal blogging sites, and can even be a great option for small businesses who may need a bit of help, but ultimately want control over their own website.

You Should Use WordPress.org If…

…you know how to code, or have the budget to employ a web developer. You can build any site imaginable – nothing is off limits. You’ll also own your own website, so there’s no risk of it being taken down. There’s no doubting WordPress.org is the more powerful and advanced option.

If WordPress.com sounds like the platform for you, great! You can sign up to one of its plans and start creating your website today.

If it’s WordPress.org that you’re looking for, however, there are a few things you’ll need to sort out before you get building. Firstly, you need a hosting provider – and where better to start than reading our guide on the best WordPress hosting providers?

FAQs

Which is better: WordPress.com or WordPress.org?

While there’s no definitive answer to this question (it really depends on your needs), WordPress.org is the bigger and more powerful platform. You can install premium themes and plugins, have complete creative control, and perhaps most importantly, actually own your own website.

Can you switch from WordPress.com to WordPress.org?

Absolutely! First, you’ll need to find a hosting provider for WordPress.org. Then, you can simply export your WordPress.com site under settings, and import it to your new website through an importer plugin. This is recommended if you feel like you’ve outgrown WordPress.com, or want more creative control.

What should you look for in a WordPress hosting provider?

Firstly, it’s definitely preferable to go for a provider that offers WordPress-specific hosting. After that, things like one-click installs and automated updates for WordPress software and plugins should be top priorities. Then you have more general things, such as uptime, SSL security, and bandwidth.

Found our comparison helpful?

Did this guide help you decide whether to use WordPress.com or WordPress.org, then help to get you started building your website? If so (or if not!) leave a comment below.

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Charlie Carmichael

About Charlie Carmichael

It's my job to research website builders and find out which one's really are best for your specific needs. Having tested numerous builders, I'm in a great position to help you guys not only get online, but have great success once there.

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Charlie Carmichael

About Charlie Carmichael

It's my job to research website builders and find out which one's really are best for your specific needs. Having tested numerous builders, I'm in a great position to help you guys not only get online, but have great success once there.

Leave a comment