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With WordPress now powering 1 in every 6 websites, they must be doing something right. For both experienced developers and the complete novice, WordPress has something to offer you. But just as you start on your path of WordPress nirvana, you’re going to hit a stumbling block: “Do I need wordpress.com or wordpress.org? What’s the difference?!”
This question comes up a lot, so I’ve decided to write a definitive guide. If you’re too lazy to read 1,000 odd words – and that’s cool, I won’t judge, I know we live in a world of 140 characters limit – then here’s an easy to understand set of bullet points for you.
- No charges for increased traffic, useful for getting on the front page of Reddit.
- Very few security risks.
- No need to manage a server, or touch FTP.
- Concentrate on your writing.
- Limited choice of themes, plugins, and settings.
- You can’t make any money through advertising.
- Custom domain costs $25/year and is essential for future proofing.
- No control over anything.
- Full control over everything.
- Install anything you want.
- Customize themes and plugins, or code your own.
- Learn PHP programming.
- Heightened security risks from malicious themes, plugins and core hacks.
- No one will help you if things go wrong.
- Depending on your hosting, costs may be on you when additional bandwidth is needed.
- Slower at the cheap end; you need to expend effort and money for a fast self-hosted site.
Explaining the difference between the two is actually quite easy, but choosing between them may prove more difficult.
WordPress.com = Hosted for you
WordPress.org = Open source, self-hosted
WordPress.com is a hosted blogging platform – which means the WordPress.com site hosts your blog for you. Similar to Blogger or Tumblr, you are free to focus on your blog posts without a care in the world for how the system actually works. It is by far the easiest way to get a blog up and running for a complete beginner.
WordPress.org is where you can download the open source version of the software that drives WordPress.com – you can upload this to your own web hosting and run everything yourself.
So Which To Choose?
It really depends upon you.
How Much Control Do You Want?
A hosted WordPress.com blog will handle all the technical aspects, but this means you’re only given a limited set of plugins and themes from which to choose. You get what you’re given, and that’s it. Chances are, if you find a cool “Wordpress plugin” (such as those on our list of best WordPress plugins ever), you won’t be able to use it.
As a result, WordPress.com sites tend to be somewhat “cookie cutter” – you can tell when a site is hosted on a free blogging platform, and it may affect your perception of that site. Personally, I give more credence to something I read on a “real website” – after all, anyone can start a free blog and write anything they like pretty easily.
How Much Money Can You Spend?
A basic WordPress.com is completely free, but you’re going to be stuck with http://yourdomain.wordpress.com, which is basically the worst thing in the world you could ever do. Why? For the simple reason that if your blog ever gains some traction, and you want to add advertising and host elsewhere – get a little more creative control over everything – you’ll lose all the SEO value and traffic you’ve built up to that point. At the very least, you should purchase a custom domain for your WordPress.com site – but this is an optional upgrade that costs $25/year.
On the other hand, the cost of purchasing your own web hosting on which to install WordPress.org varies wildly depending on your needs. Personally, I pay $100/month for a virtual private server upon which I can host up to 100 of my own domains and WordPress sites, with full control over the server architecture – and it can easily handle a few hundred thousand pageviews a month. That’s a little more than most people will want to spend of course, but remember if your blog is popular the advertising will pay for all that and much more.
On the lowest end of the hosting scale, GoDaddy has some ridiculously cheap unlimited hosting for about $5/month (though I really don’t recommend them for anything other than just buying domains). Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of the best web hosts here, so you needn’t spend too long looking around. The point is though – hosting your own WordPress.org will cost money.
How Much Effort Are You Willing To Put In & Are You Happy To Learn?
With a WordPress.com hosted site you’ll never need to worry about upgrading plugins or core WordPress files, because it’ll all be done for you. You won’t need to scramble to upgrade when a new security exploit is found, and you’ll never have to wake up to find your entire site has been overtaken by Russian hackers and is currently redirecting everyone to an obscure scam phishing site. You won’t need to double check any themes you install for malicious links and obfuscated code – because they won’t be available to you in the first place.
When you host your own WordPress.org site, you are of course free to install any plugin or theme you want – so malicious code is something you need to be aware of. Thankfully, WordPress now has an bright yellow warning at the top of the admin panel if a core upgrade is available – either for new features or security patches – but when you manage hundreds of sites, those upgrades can be overlooked for quite a long time.
There is a security risk in hosting your own site – no doubt – but regular backups, keeping up to date, and sticking to only themes and plugins found on the WordPress repository can mitigate this risk 99%. Sometimes though, you will need to dip into FTP or the command line on your server in order to fix things. If you’re not willing to do a few Google searches to figure out why your site is currently showing a blank page, for instance, it’s best you just stick to WordPress.com. Things can and will go wrong with a self hosted install, and it’ll be on you to fix them.
Scalability should also be mentioned – if you hit the front page of Digg Reddit for instance, you’re going to see a huge influx of traffic just dying to see your new cat meme. If you were hosted with WordPress.com, there would be no problems. WordPress.com is built on cloud hosting, and whether you have one visitor a day or a million, it will cope just fine. You won’t need to pay overage charges for additional bandwidth. If you were self hosted on a budget web host, your website would simply collapse.
Still Can’t Decide – Just Make This Choice Easy, OK?
Do you just want to write? If the sole purpose of getting a blog is to provide a creative outlet for those thousands of words that pour from your mind everyday, WordPress.com will handle your needs just fine. If however, you want to create a popular and profitable website, something you can perhaps learn a little web development on, experiment with different plugins and have full control over – then you’re looking at WordPress.org.
If you do decide to go the self-hosted route, my complete guide to WordPress is also pretty much essential reading.
I hope that’s explained things clearly for you. If you have any question, or you think I’ve missed out some important differences, then please do add them in the comments because we’d love to hear from you.