WordPress was launched in 2003 as an open source content management system built for blogging. Since then, WordPress has become the most popular way to build a website. According to W3Techs, WordPress powers 32.8% of the world’s websites as of December 2018. This includes both WordPress.com and WordPress.org which leads us to the question – what’s the difference between two?
The code at WordPress.org is a free open source content management system. To use the WordPress software, you download it from WordPress.org. Both WordPress.org and WordPress.com give you the ability to create and edit pages, posts, add photos and PDFs through the dashboard without seeing any of the underlying code.
While the code is free, putting your website into the world requires you to purchase hosting from a hosting company. WordPress.org gives loads of customization options and the responsibility of maintaining the code. In a nutshell:
- You need a web hosting account to run your WordPress site (most hosts offer one-click installation though I recommend hosting specifically for WordPress with daily backups of your site)
- You can add plugins to extend the functionality
- Access all backend code, database and files for more control of the how the website looks and performs
- Use free, premium or custom themes (website layouts)
- Forums where you can post questions but no email or live chat support
- You’ll need to purchase your domain name, about $15/year.
There are loads of companies that can host WordPress websites. I look for companies who have 24/7 phone support, are U.S. based (including tech support), provide daily backups and easy site restore features. The backup and restore features make your day better in case a plugin update doesn’t work well, you’ll be able to get your site back online quickly. This hosting usually runs between $72/year and $150/year.
WordPress.com is based on WordPress.org code. You sign up for a WordPress.com account and have a working website right away.
WordPress.com allows you to set up a website for free:
- Your domain name will be something like: mywebsite.wordpress.com instead of mywebsite.com
- WordPress.com will have its logo at the bottom of the page
- Is best for small websites & blogs (no online store)
- Can only use the themes (website layout) and plugins (add new functions) that are preinstalled for you
- Have access to email and live chat support
- Your premium plan comes with an SSL certificate
If you want a business website with WordPress.com, you will have to pay at least $96 a year plus your domain name registration which usually costs about $15/year. This means to have the premium plan with WordPress.com, you’ll be paying about $111/year to keep your website on the internet. WordPress.com also offers a business plan for $300/year which would be similar to hosting your website using the code from WordPress.org. Even with the paid premium plan, you’ll:
- Have limited access to plugins and themes (paid themes are available)
- No ability to tweak backend code if you’re feeling adventurous
When to use WordPress.com
If you’re not interested in paying for hosting, managing your code and plugin updates or paying someone to take care of that for you and do not need a highly customized website, WordPress.com can be a good solution for you.
When to use WordPress.org
If you want to have a highly customized website, with functionality beyond a contact form (i.e. photo gallery, search engine optimization tools, etc.) then WordPress.org is the way to go.
I also recommend you purchase an SSL certificate for several reasons:
- When you log into your dashboard, your username and password are encrypted
- Google now factors this in its algorithm
- It’s considered best practices for websites