WordPress.com versus WordPress.org

There are two questions we are periodically asked:

  • What are the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org? 
  • How do I choose which one to use?

First let me tell you in general the main benefits of each.

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is really, really easy to use. Yes, you need to learn how to use it but it’s so user-friendly that with almost no technological background, you could have a wp.com blog up and running within minutes. And then you could spend the next couple of days playing around with the functionality and themes it offers and you’re basically done.

WordPress.org

Unless you’re really comfortable with technology, you probably won’t be able to get a WordPress.org site up and running by yourself. Although it is relatively easy – a few clicks of a few buttons in a few different locations – it takes some technological bravery. But boy oh boy is it flexible. With WordPress.org you can build almost any site you could imagine and as long as the developers of the site are decent, the experience for the site owner will be really pleasant.

The major similarities between wp.com and wp.org 

The dashboard and content management system – The dashboard is where you make content changes to your site. They look identical in both, with all the functionality in a left-hand sidebar. wp.org sites will have more options but they are both easy to navigate and very similar to each other.

Menus – In both you can create whatever menus you want and depending on the theme you choose, you’ll be able to set them as your main navigation, in other menu areas and in widget areas.

Widgets – Both have widget areas. These are defined areas around your website (like the sidebar, the footer or homepage areas) into which you can drag mini programs called widgets. The basic widgets are available in both wp.com and wp.org and they include text widgets (you can enter HTML and text), menu widgets (you can show a WordPress menu) and category widgets (this shows a list of your site’s categories). WordPress.org takes it a large leap further by allowing you to install plugins to your site which sometimes add widgets, for example, we use a premium plugin that adds a form widget to all our clients’ sites.

Differences between wp.com and wp.org 

Here are the main differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org:

  WordPress.com WordPress.org  
Themes and Custom Design Choose from one of 197 themes from the wp.com theme directory, 41 of which are premium (they cost $50-$80). You can add custom CSS to your theme.

Anyone can create a theme and sell it or give it away for free. Here is the official directory of free wp.org themes. And then there is a huge number of premium themes including Woo Themes (91 themes), ThemeForest(thousands of themes) and Elegentthemes (77 themes). Prices range from approximately $30 to $100.

Or you can have a custom designed site from scratch created off of WordPress.org.

Hosting WordPress.com hosts your site for free. You need to host your site somewhere. It’s important to choose a reliable and experienced WordPress hosting provider (like us). Hosting costs range anywhere from around $5/month up to a few hundred dollars a month and can include a whole range of features. (Ours includes maintenance, upgrades, backups and support.)
Domain  By default your domain is http://example.wordpress.com. You could pay for an upgrade called Domain Mapping which makes it look like your site is at your own domain (like deena.co). This will cost you approximately $20/year including the annual price of the domain. You must purchase a domain (we recommend name.com) and once you set up your hosting, you need to direct your domain to the server. Domains cost approximately $10+ per year.
Upgrades  WordPress.com does all upgrades for you. You won’t even feel them. You’ll just get messages from them once in a while telling you what functionality they added to your site. You’ll need to take care of these by yourself. You’ll see messages in your Dashboard when it’s time to upgrade your WordPress version or your plugins. It’s important to make sure your site is backed up before doing upgrades.
Backups    If you’d like, you could export XML files of your content. There is no option to set up automatic backups of your content. There is no need to backup the files of your site (the layout, design, etc.). You need to set this up yourself. There are some great plugins you can use like BackWPUp to create automatic scheduled backups. We recommend daily backups of your database (the content) and weekly backups of your files (the site’s structure, functionality, design, etc.)
Plugins  In WordPress.com, there is a lot of functionality built in but no option to add anything new. So, for example, WordPress.com comes with a forms functionality but if you don’t love it, you have no option to use different forms. 

20.5K plugins?! Wow. Just be careful. Not all plugins are created equal. We don’t recommend freely installing plugins and actually, in our custom sites, we install as few plugins as possible. We hard code almost all the extra features of our custom sites to make sure sites are as speedy as possible and with clean code.

Search Engine Optimization You have the benefit of being part of a network of millions of blogs which could lead to increased traffic and attention. But you don’t have control over on-site optimization like the ability to modify title tags and meta descriptions. WordPress comes ready to wow Google but our all time favourite plugin WordPress SEO by Yoast gives you control over the elements you need, even adding social integration like Facebook Open Graph data.
Connecting to social WordPress.com comes with built-in options for adding share buttons on your content and links to your social profiles in Widget areas.  You can use plugins in order to add share buttons and links to your profiles. Our favourite is ShareDaddy though Automattic has stopped supporting it. They included it in Jetpack and want us to use that instead. Right now we’re sticking with ShareDaddy because of the issues we have with Jetpack.
RTL languages If you choose a theme that is built to work both left to right and right to left, when you go into Settings > General and change your language to Hebrew or Arabic, the whole site will flip around and you’ve got an rtl-language site. If you try to install a theme and flip it so it’s right to left, usually you’re asking for trouble. There are very few truly rtl-friendly themes. The huge benefit of WordPress.org is that you can have a beautiful custom site made in Hebrew and that will work fine.
$ wp.com can be free or you can take advantage of any of their paid upgrades. If you choose to use domain mapping (see above), you’ll be paying either wp.com or a third party for a domain. But in general it’s very cheap to use WordPress.com. At a minimum, the expenses you’ll have are for hosting (usually monthly payments) and a domain (usually an annual payment of $10+). You could end up purchasing a premium theme and premium plugins as well. And of course, WordPress developers can be hired in order to customize your design or what your site can do.
Statistics WordPress.com comes with built in stats which tell you basics about the visitors to your site. On WordPress.org you can use Google Analytics which give you much more in depth stats.

So, which one should you use? 

I’d say that WordPress.org is the robust yet possibly overwhelming option and WordPress.com is the simple yet lovely option. If you just want to blog and you’re just starting or you just want to deal with as few technical things as possible, WordPress.com is the way to go.

If, on the other hand, you like the idea of having much more flexibility to add functionality or have custom design, then WordPress.org will be your choice. 

But either way, they are both easy to use as content management systems and you can always start on .com and move to .org when you’re ready because moving between the two is relatively easy.

My lecture on WordPress.com at WordCamp Jerusalem, September 2011

One response

Sharon A

August 23, 2012 8:15 pm

In a recent illuminea webinar we heard about Facebook Photo Fetcher. Will that plug-in work with wp.com or just wp.org?

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