(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?
If you want to create a website quickly without too much effort, wordpress.com is the best and if you want the freedom to build your site then wordpress.org is the best. Truly it depends on what you expect, what is your budget, and what sort of website you want to launch.
I have a wordpress dot com blog (frommtaxes.wordpress.com) and when I started I knew nothing about the real choice I had made. Now if I wanted to change I would lose all of my links to this site and lose my Alexa ranking of around 270,000 or so. So I feel stuck with my initial decision. Do you agree or is there any way to make a change and keep my position in cyber space.
I find with each article few aspects are clarified but other new doubts arise. I am a ‘toddler’ in blogging and wordpress .com and .org baffling. I wish you could set me up in the right tracks. I can take .org and use Bluehost but my main objectives are
a. blog to book – on management
b. this route of publishing chosen so the staff in Healthcare industry, paid quite low, do not have to fork out money to buy the book/manual of operations. about 360 pages in various blogs – headings and chapters already written
c. would like to earn money from site
d. totally confused on how to go about achieving my aim.
Thanks and regards,
V S Mani
I would say go with the self-hosted version. Its far more flexible and many webhosts offer a one-click install so you can access your blog right away.
This is in response to your great post. I’m quit new to Worpress so really good to get one or two
answers to questions.
What I’m really after knowing is…
I have 2 installations already in my WordPress.org control panel.
Opimizepress & a blog. Am I able to install another blog safely in my control panel
without it interfering with my other 2 installations?
Thanks, great post though…
Jahnelle: why not Go Daddy? Why is Hostgator or Bluehost better than Go Daddy?
Speed, customer service, reliability, functionality, and non-misleading advertising campaigns that actually manage to ad sex into web development. The two hosts compared to GoDaddy use the standardized and highly flexible CPanel for your management, while GoDaddy uses a proprietary dashboard interface that pails in comparison when it comes to getting what you want out of it quickly. Aside from that, GoDaddy hosted accounts will be presented with “special offers” and “big savings” emails to their accounts to help drive their revenue so they can get more money out of you later. Meanwhile, you’ll never be bothered by the other hosts unless you call or message them (or if your bill is overdue, of course).
If you manage only 1 site, and it’s a simple one. GoDaddy is fine, and a little cheaper on costs. If you mange multiple sites, get lots of traffic, or need anything dynamic to happen… don’t use GD.
Great article, like one of the earlier posters I wish I had seem it a few hours ago before I paid $99 to “upgrade” wordpress.com
I an new to blogging. First I installed WordPress on my iPad and created an account. I didn’t have a clue I was signing up for wordpress.com and that wordpress.org was something different.
The iPad app only seems to allow the user to have one blog, oddly. So I logged into wordpress.com and then paid for the upgrade, thinking I was paying for access to all those lovely templates I keep seeing. Of course NOW several hours later I realize… those templates are for wordpress.org users who have downloaded the wordpress software. Gah.
It seems to me one has to get clear about future goals, so I had a think about this, did some googling, and found your great post.
Can i ask a question please? I am setting up 3 blogs, all the the long term goal of making money, though that comes after the primary goal of enjoying spouting off about things I’m passionate about.
Can I download WordPress on my computer, build my blog, and then post to it using the iPad app? I’d love to know if anyone has done this successfully.
Unless your computer is running as a server, then, no, you can’t do that. You can run your computer as a server just for yourself if you want to test things, design a theme, etc., but you definitely don’t want to serve your site to the world from your home computer. That would be a nightmare. Your computer isn’t set up to handle traffic and certainly isn’t secure enough. Follow the normal procedure instead. Sign up with a hosting company such as Hostgator or Bluehost (NOT GoDaddy), and let them handle the security and traffic concerns. They are well equipped for it. Then you can happily post via your iPad app, knowing your site is in expert hands, and you are handling what you do best – blogging! 🙂
Oh dear I really am so new to blogging, I didn’t even understand the basics of what WordPress is or how it works. I thought it was a piece of software I would download to my computer, and build/upload a site in it, much like Dreamweaver. I can’t believe I’m neighbor so dense in public, but how else will I learn 🙂
So when you say “normal procedure” I don’t even know what that is, but I’m beginning to understand… kinda. Is there a good idiots guide somewhere?
Why not GoDaddy? I have all my domains with them. Thanks for your help.
Lol, I know that i used to be this way either. But i learn fast because i don’t have any money to spend on ‘upgrading’ my wordpress.com — so i kept on reading blog post and learning from youtube until i finally understand what’s the differences and how to setup my own blog using wordpress script. 😀
Just want to say thank you for explaining in a clear and concise manner the differences between the two WordPress formats. I have been with blogger for a couple of years and had a thought recently to venture over to WordPress and see what all the fuss is about. I wasn’t even aware at the time that WordPress.org existed until I was finding useful plug-ins that were not compatible with WordPress.com and that’s when I stumbled upon the .org version.
I do like the sound of WordPress.org, so much more possibilities and functionality, thanks again for the insights.
Great article – thank you!
I do have an existing website created on Weebly and bought another domain name to set up my website again in a format that allows more flexibility. I have been very confused about wordpress.com/.org and your article shed some light on it. I’m still not quite sure which one to choose for now and I guess what throws me is that wordpress is usually always referred to as ‘blogging site’. Can it also be used as a ‘normal’ website?
Great post and excellently explained. I’ve always been a huge fan of .org and highly recommend it to all.
I’m still confused- I currently have a basic wordpress.com blog set up (www.pelvicguru.com). However, I’m at a point where we want to add on retail and expand it. It make sense to go to wordpress.org. Can I keep the same domain name (pelvicguru.com) or do I have to change that? Very confused!
Absolutely, you can. However, I would strongly suggest reading WP’s “Moving a Blog” support page before attempting this. If you have limited technical knowledge, it may be better to hire someone more knowledgeable.
Options include WP’s Guided Transfer, a measly one-time fee of $129, or you could ask your chosen hosting provider about having them do the transfer.
Hope this helps clear up the confusion!
As others have commented – great article. Great that I found this as I gradually get my head around these issues but I’m still a bit confused, can anyone help:
1. I’ve purchased my domain name, I know I can map it to wordpress.com but what to something like elegant themes?
2. Monetization is obviously key. Which sites have themes that can make it easier to have advertising when/if I can reach that stage?
3. I’m somewhat of an intermediate user – between a novice and techno guru (longer from the latter) so would wordpress.org be too challenging for me? Elegant themes looks amazing but is that too limiting for things like advertising?
Elegant Themes, I can’t say… there are so many. We use Thesis, which allows a flexibility in design that templates won’t. Granted, you need to understand the dynamics of coding (I certainly don’t. I tell our in-house McGyver and she makes it happen).
Monetization isn’t always key. Herein lie the hard questions. Are you using this site for a niche market (affilliate) or are you using it as a mouth piece for you and your brand? Or both? Do you have a vision?
Take a look around other sites that are similar to what you want. There are several schools of thought on monitization – how to, where to, what to, etc. Bells and whistles are fine, but it would behoove you to make sure you understand the readers who will be consuming your written assets, advertisements, banners, etc.
Having said all that, you can find a slew of free WordPress themes just by searching for the term. Most of the sites provide a search feature; using “ad ready” will give you a good list. Again, we prefer Thesis, but CSS knowledge is necessary.
As far as using WordPress.org and self-hosting, it’s 1, 2, 3 easy for an intermediate user.
Thank you! And not just for the information but for wheeling out ‘behoove’ – such a great word and completely unknown in the Australian lexicon!!
I do have a vision for a niche blog that will be influential in that sector, which I understand intimately. My main priority is to avoid having to reinvent the wheel down the track and I have heard horror stories of people having to retrospectively make their sites ‘ad ready’. Obviously I wouldn’t be fussed if it was purely a branding vehicle, but it’s a point well made.
I find wordpress easy to use – I think it’s a case of bumbling my way through.
And just in case you’re wondering – we do recognise the McGyver reference downunder but it’s purely the fare of insomniacs who are still awake to watch the re-runs at 3am along with M.A.S.H, The Love Boat, TJ Hooker and King of Queens – US cultural imperialism at its most dreadful 🙂
I literally just set up my very first blog on wordpress.com and I’m totally bummed out over their marketing of the two products – dotcom versus dotorg
Since I’m new to the blogging world it took me a while to set up my blog. I thought wordpress.com meant I could monetize and I was glad to see that they do the hosting for my new ramblingrosy.com travel blog.
Now I realize what I needed all along is the wordpress.org version.
That means I will have to start over – I wonder if I can switch my domain name to the dot.org version or if it’s too late for that.
To answer your question about their marketing practices – misleading comes to mind, along with other stronger words. Well, I just spent a week and fifty bucks on something I can’t use. Just glad I stopped and searched and found your post after I noticed that their adwords are all they offer. Who knows if I would ever make it to 1000 views a day or reach the $150 required to be eligible for a pay out.
I am glad to hear you say that trust and quality is becoming an issue with the web users, probably be cause people like you and I are fed up with all the lies and misleading one comes across.
Excellent article by the way – quite enlightening, just wish I’d seen it a couple of weeks ago.
This is really informative. Before I was confused after I saw that there is wordpress.com and .org at the same time. I was wondering if they are the same or in what way they are different. I have searched about it and I have learned that .org is a little more complicated and require more technical skills to operate compared to wordpress.com.
I’m an authentic fan or wordpress.org. It provides me with all the tools I need and I can customize it by myself. There is no color between both, and even, it’s fantastic for seo.
Great article, very helpful. I’ve been blogging with wordpress.com for 3+ years and really like it. But we’re ready to do something for business, and we’ll do that with wordpress.org.
One thing, as I’ve been researching this, that no one has mentioned is why is the free one .com and the one more suited for business and which costs money .org. Seems backwards to me.
But anyway… Thanks.
I think you have hit the nail on the head, as it were. The article was clearly about the way companies, in this case WordPress, market themselves to the consumer, with often misleading statements. I myself set up a wordpress.com blog, only to find that what was ‘sold’ was not necessarily what I required. After looking into WordPress.org, with the help of a site called becomeablogger, it became apparent that the flexibility for design and monetisation of my blog would be met by hosting wordpress myself. One of the clearly misleading ‘cons’ written about using wordpress.org, which you so rightly pointed out, was the supposed difficulty of setting up a self-hosted blog. Registering a domain, finding a host and installing worpdress (using the script Fantastico – which is a matter of a couple of clicks) was done in well under an hour. As so much patronage on the internet is now around trust, maybe it’s time for companies to be up front and honest about what they deliver and the associated caveats; more blue ocean than red. Good article.
SUCH a good clear concise article. Thank you very much!!! This has saved me hours of fumblin’ over words with clients. Bravo.
Glad we could help, Bonnie!
For commercial sites there’s no question – WordPress.org and your own domain hosting are a must. WordPress.com is fine as a blogspot alternative, but anything more substantial will need its own hosting.
Welcome back, Alex. Couldn’t agree more with your synopsis – it’s quick and too the point. Thanks for weighing in!
Very confusing article, Mrs. Pittman. It looks as you’re angry at both WordPress. This sort of anger drives “bloggers” (a lot of people think that it is easy to express themselves, so they choose a “free” platform to do it) to blogspot. And it’s not good. Not good for business. You are using wordpress for your blog! If it wouldn’t work you would have change it to other (Jumla, Drupal, whatever). Your site is a model for many! It’s discouraging. So it seems to me right now.
Rodolfo – Somehow I missed your comment when you posted, so let me apologize for the late reply.
I had not meant, at all, to imply that WordPress is not an excellent platform. We do, indeed, use it ourselves and recommend it to our clients. -And, each version (.com and .org) allows its own freedoms and appeals to its own market.
My disappointment comes entirely from the way the two versions are marketed by their creators, not the products themselves. In short, as explained by the article, the marketing is misleading. It leads several people to believe WordPress.com is the best solution of the two, when there are vast caveats.
There’s a large market of people who would willingly pay $100 a year for worry-free hosting, not having to do their own updates and so on. For them, WordPress.com is an excellent solution. However, there is also a large business market that needs the freedoms WordPress.org gives, without the restrictions the .com version has.
The purpose of this article was to provide a clear guide between the two versions – since the company’s marketing seems a little biased, and there are still many individuals who ask the question – “what’s the difference”.
However, my question at the end still stands: is it time for a marketing change? Are the frustrations (and I’m not the only one who feels them) indicative of a need for more transparency? This really is the question. What do you think? -And, do you feel the same frustrations with the lack of transparency exhibited in the marketplace as a whole?
Let’s hear it for WordPress.com – what they provide for free is amazing. I’m quite happy with my theme thank you. It costs me nothing to connect with educators round the globe.
I have to say, your point of view on the differences echo mine. I have always told my customers to go with the .org version once they are comfortable with the software. The expandability of the self hosted .org version is beyond beautiful for those that don’t want to do a lot of programing. Their marketing really is just that, marketing. They have to make money some how to keep this going. The .com is a good place for those that don’t want any hassles at all in the back end. I know lots of people that will pay for the .com just to get away from having to do anything. extra on their own. 🙂
That’s a good point, Shannon. Some people just don’t want to worry about anything – they just want to blog. For them, WordPress.com is an excellent choice. However, I’m with you on the .org – that’s the one we suggest most often, simply because of the ability to expand and grow a site.
Thanks for the comment!