It’s choice time. Time to decide which WordPress option is the right one for your blog or website. The only problem is, well, you’re kind of confused—and afraid you’ll screw up.
One of the most frequently asked questions from my clients is, “What the heck is the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org? And should I even care?”
I always answer: “Simply put, yes.”
First, let me clear something up. Some people think that using WordPress.org means that their site will be located there. Not true. You will simply be using the software from that site on a hosting service that you will purchase (and have control over).
But if you decide to go with WordPress.com, your site will be hosted there.
So, for the sake of clarity, let’s change the options to:
WordPress.com vs. Self-hosted
Back to the comparison. There are distinct differences between the two and understanding what they are will make a huge difference in which one you decide to use.
Now let’s compare the basic features in terms of usability and flexibility.
No differences here. WordPress software is free in both cases.
Ease of Installation
WordPress.com – It’s free and easy to set up a simple blog or website. No installation necessary.
Self-hosted – The software is free, but you need to pay a small monthly hosting fee to a third party provider, as you do with your website. Some hosting services, such as Bluehost.com and Hostgator.com, have one-click installations. If the host you choose doesn’t, you will need some understanding of FTP (file transfer protocol) and database setup.
Updates, Back-ups and Security Features
WordPress.com – Everything is automatic: all backups, including your posts, updates, security and spam filtering.
Self-hosted – You need to back up your post and files, install spam filtering, and do your own updates. But there are plugins for these functions that make easy for you. For example, WordPress DB backup lets you schedule your backups and will email you the files. BackupBuddy will back up your whole site and database. WordPress has one-click updates on your dashboard. But before updating, I suggest you make sure everything is backed up!
Choice of Themes
WordPress is based on themes, or what some people think of as templates.
WordPress.com – You are limited on your theme choices. There are limited number of themes to choose from and more are added from time to time. You can search the available themes by characteristics through your dashboard. And they have a selection of premium themes as well.
Self-hosted – You have access to thousands of themes, both free and paid. With so many choices, you are more likely to find a theme that fits your needs, style and personal brand.
A note on themes: There are several great, free themes out there, but understand that with paid themes you are likely to get more stable features, updates as new WordPress versions come out, and much better support.
Plugin and Widget Options
Plugins are tools to help you expand the functionality of your WordPress blog or website. Widgets are like plugins, but give you a simpler way to arrange the various elements of your sidebar content—without having to change the code.
WordPress.com – Comes with a limited number of widgets and plugins. The one widget you will probably find most useful is the text widget. It lets you insert html code to create a widget that otherwise would not be available. But with this limits what you can do with your site. For example, you cannot add a shopping cart plugin and there are restrictions on how much advertising you can have as well.
Self-hosted – As with themes, there are a ton of widgets and plugins available on the Web and on WordPress.org. And, unlike WordPress.com, you are able to upload them to your site. A note: Research your plugins and widgets on the Web to find reputable and stable ones. For instance, find out if they will still work when you upgrade to a newer version of WordPress. Also, be selective. Don’t add plugins and widgets just because they are fun and cool.
Ability to Customize
The beauty of WordPress is the ability to customize your blog or website to convey your unique brand. In both cases, your theme has its own features to customize (for example, custom headers and colors).
WordPress.com – You are limited to which customization options each available theme has (custom headers, font size, etc.) WordPress.com does have an advanced feature: for $30 a year, per theme, you can customize the CSS (cascade style sheet). This will allow many more customization options, but you must understand CSS editing.
Self-hosted – There are two parts to this. First, you can now upload many more themes, including paid premium themes. Several of them have a wide array of custom options that don’t require CSS or html knowledge. The Headway theme is a good example of this. The second part: If you do know CSS or html, you have complete control to change code—if you are technically minded and know what the heck you are doing.
Ownership of Your Site
In my mind, this is the biggest difference. Full ownership of your site is critical.
If you are self-hosted, you have total control over your site. If you don’t like one hosting service, you can move the whole thing somewhere else. You can also back up everything so you will never lose it.
There are additional differences between .com and self-hosted, but this gives you a starting point as you weigh your options. consider Just remember to figure out your goals and needs first and then find which option will best fit them. For simple blogs and some websites, WordPress.com will probably serve your purpose. But for more customized blogs and websites, consider putting WordPress on your own server, especially if you want the flexibility you’ll need to grow your site down the road.
In my books the choice is obvious, 99 times out of 100 I suggest self-hosting. What do you think?