WordPress.org vs WordPress.com

One of the more confusing aspects of WordPress websites is that there are actually two options available to anyone first embarking on their WordPress journey: WordPress.org and WordPress.com. For a newbie, you’d almost certainly assume they are the same thing, and while they share the same base WordPress Content Management System (CMS) software, their implementation, cost and flexibility differ.

WordPress.org is (Mostly) Free and Flexible

WordPress.org is what we and most Web Developers will refer to when talking about a WordPress website. The software is available for free download and is called open-source, which means that you can use it and alter it however you like. As with any website, that means that you have to find somewhere to host it, which will incur a cost. Because you can host anywhere you’d like, this is referred to as “self hosting” and this provides great flexibility, as you can move from one website host to another very easily and shop around for cost, features, quality of service, etc. You can also expand upon the base software with a nearly endless choice of themes (controlling the look and feel of the site) and plugins (adding new features and functionality). Themes and plugins run anywhere from countless high quality free options, to more feature rich paid premium versions, and at the higher end completely custom solutions implemented by a web developer.

The flexibility in both hosting and customizability is what makes WordPress.org the better choice in most cases than its sibling implementation, WordPress.com.

WordPress.com is Expensive and Less Flexible or Free and Rigid

WordPress.com is a hosted website solution, which means that when you sign up for WordPress.com, you will be hosting your WordPress CMS on WordPress.com. WordPress.com is owned by the same team that overseas development for the open-source WordPress.org CMS and WordPress.com is the business side of that operation (along with a number of popular plugins and themes such as WooCommerce). There are a number of different service level tiers for WordPress.com all the way from free (limited flexibility) to Enterprise (very flexible, but still less so than WordPress.org).

The main advantage of WordPress.com is that you don’t have to worry about finding a web host, but you will definitely pay a premium in monthly hosting costs for that “advantage”. Another advantage for some, is that security, updates, and general website maintenance is handled by WordPress.com. For those without a trusted web development team, this can avoid the headache of trying to manage this yourself, but there is some rigidity in even the most flexible (and expensive) service tiers as a result of this (rigid restrictions on which plugins and software you can integrate with your WordPress website). The less expensive options have even more limiting restrictions.

The free version is a decent option for anyone wanting a simple website without the need for customizing the look or adding bells and whistles. Perhaps you want a family website to share pictures or post updates for relatives as an alternative to social media, or you are running a small neighborhood gardening club and want to post event and other information for new or existing members but don’t want to exclude those not on social media and/or prefer the website format for this. In those cases WordPress.com can be a very attractive and user friendly free option. But for any organization wanting to really use the power of WordPress to build an audience and help achieve business goals, a free WordPress.com website will quickly become limiting. If you are really on a tight DIY budget, you are better served by paying for low cost shared hosting using WordPress.org, and then once you have your feet under you, plan to work with an experienced web development team and reliable web host to build out your website further.

WordPress.org is (Almost) Always a Better Choice than WordPress.com

Over the years, we’ve had to explain to many new clients what the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com is, and in a number of cases after they had already set up a WordPress.com site. Moving from one to the other is sometimes simple, sometimes convoluted (depending on the choice of themes and plugins on WordPress.com), but it’s never going to be as seamless as moving a WordPress.org site from one web host to another. Given the cost and restrictions, there rarely is a compelling reason to use WordPress.com instead of self hosting a WordPress.org site aside from some of the niche cases explained above.

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