(Updated December 2015: Things change in time, and WordPress is no different. We’ve created a WordPress.com vs WordPress.org Infographic with updated information and easy-to-understand graphics. Come along and see what’s new!)
Many people are confused by the two WordPress versions. A common question is, “Does it really matter which one I use?” Both are free to use, can be a site or blog platform, and both have the name “WordPress”. However, the similarities end there, and the differences between the two WordPress versions are massive. In fact, they’re worlds apart.
Weighing WordPress – Dot Org vs. Dot Com
The most often cited difference between the versions is where they’re located. A WordPress.com site is hosted by the .com site. It’s on their servers. A WordPress.org site, on the other hand, is “self-hosted”, or hosted on your own server that you’ve paid for through a hosting provider. It’s because of this that the rules change drastically between the two:
First, let’s go right to the wallet, where everybody who wants to start a site has to look at. “Wait a minute. You said they were free!” Well… yes…
WordPress.com – Free to use, but there’s a caveat to that. You can end up spending as much as $100 a year for a .com site (unless you end up with tons of traffic, in which case, you could end up spending as much as $15,000 – but that’s only for enterprise level users).
WordPress.org – Free to use, but you’ll have to find a hosting provider. Hosting providers range in pricing and amount of storage, but you can get the same thing as WordPress.com for around $60 a year if you shop around.
Design, which – for those that don’t know – is how your site looks, also differs widely.
WordPress.com – Unless you pay $30 per year, you can’t have a custom design. You’re limited to 100 or so themes, with only the options those themes include. Most of the 100 or so themes available are okay, but you can’t make many changes to them to reflect your style. You can, however, pay anywhere from $30 – $100 for a premium theme (offered by WordPress.com) if you want something a little more business-like.
WordPress.org – The sky is the limit. If you want two sidebars and a partridge in a pear tree, you can have it. You can choose free themes or buy a premium theme from one of many sites. It’s no exaggeration; there are literally thousands of themes to choose from. If you’re adventurous and like CSS and PHP coding (or you can’t find what you want, but have a coder on hand), you can create your own theme. It’s just plain flexible that way.
This is where the .org version really shines, and the .com version falls incredibly flat. Plugins. Plugins are bits of pre-programmed code that you plug in to your WordPress site, in order to increase its functionality. For example, if you want to add a share button with fifteen options, you can do that. While you do have to be careful which ones you use, there are over 16,000 plugins available to choose from.
Unless you’re on WordPress.com. The .com version comes with a few functions, such as a Facebook Like Box, Recent Comments, Recent Posts and so on. The basic functions. However, if you want to expand your site to do more, you’re S.O.L. It isn’t going to happen.
The .com people do all the updates for you. With .org, you have to do your own updating. Don’t panic. It’s as easy as pushing “update”. You get a notice that your WordPress or a plugin is out of date and there’s a newer version, and you choose (or not) to upgrade. Three minutes later, you’re back to business as usual.
If you want to start a blog to make money through affiliate marketing or other type of monetization, WordPress.com is not the place to go. No affiliate links, no ads, no banners, no clickbank or anything else remotely resembling monetization. If they think you’re putting any of this on your blog, they’ll pull your blog down. Oh… except, they finally opened up a program where they’ll allow it if you split the proceeds with them.
Why Are We Bringing This All Up?
After a recent foray into WordPress.com, we couldn’t help but notice that the comparisons the company lays out between the two are somewhat misleading. For example, when they talk about viewing the showcase, they have a link that leads to WordPress.org where the showcase is. There are two pages of .com sites listed. There are fifty-nine pages of .org sites.
On the comparison page under .com, it says, “You get extra traffic from blogs of the day and tags,” with nothing across from it. It’s incomparable, right? However, the extra traffic only comes if you aren’t quickly buried under other bloggers, AND if you’re using tags people find interesting.
“You can find like-minded bloggers using tag and friend surfer.” True, but again, the .org comparison is empty. You can find like-minded bloggers using Google and “key term + blog”, too.
“It’s free (paid upgrades available).” True, and the .org side says, “Requires more technical knowledge to set up and run.” Not with one-click installs available on many hosting providers.
We’re not going to go down the whole list – the point is, it’s one sided. Sure, the WordPress creators have a business to run. Yes – they give us .org for free, and make it easy to create extra functions through plugins for free. That’s awesome of them, and yes, WordPress.com is their money maker.
However, there’s something to be said for being straightforward. For example, if you don’t have any starting capital, WordPress.com is an awesome option. Most people, by the time they can actually afford a hosting provider, are quite comfortable with WordPress.com and see absolutely no reason to change. They’d rather just pay the $100 a year and call it done. It’s actually the better option in many cases.
BUT – they don’t give you the information to make an informed choice. They dance around it, darned marketing folks that they are. These things make a huge difference to business owners just starting out, and the way the marketing is written, it feels as if you’re being misled once you start an account and get in there.
Is It Time for a Marketing Change?
As an aside, we have to wonder: is it time to change the marketing approach? We’re not the only ones disgruntled by misleading marketing (one of the reasons we’re so open here at the Archive about our practices). In fact, irritation at these techniques – tried and true – is rising as the social consumer becomes more active and savvy.
What WordPress is doing is simply marketing. There’s nothing unusual, or even particularly shady, about it. However, this experience begs the question, when is transparency better than the more traditional shading of the truth?
What are your thoughts? Is it time for change? Are consumers becoming too wary of the “too good to be true” syndrome?