26 March 2013
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Comments: Comments Off on WordPress.org vs WordPress.com: A Definitive Guide For 2013

WordPress.org vs WordPress.com: A Definitive Guide For 2013

Today we’re going to tackle the age old question: WordPress.com or WordPress.org? If you’re new to the world of WordPress, you’ll need some information in order to get started with your own blog or website. Here’s what we’ll be covering in this comparison post:

  • Differentiate between WordPress.org and WordPress.com
  • Compare Differences in:
    • Cost
    • Freedoms and Limitations
    • Maintenance and Development
  • How to decide between WordPress.com and WordPress.org

What is WordPress.org?

WordPress.org – home of the open source WordPress software

WordPress is the open source software that powers millions of websites around the web, including this one. WordPress.org is the center of the WordPress community. This is the website where the core software is hosted, along with thousands of free themes and plugins, all of which are 100% free to use and modify. Isn’t open source software beautiful?

WordPress.org is where you can find WordPress news, documentation and community support forums. It’s also the place to go if you want to get involved with WordPress and contribute to the open source software.

What is WordPress.com?

WordPress.com – A hosted version of WordPress

WordPress.com is a commercial website where you can host a free site with some limitations or pay for upgrades. It runs on the exact same software offered at WordPress.org. However, WordPress.com relieves you of having to set up and maintain WordPress on your own server.

What’s the catch?

In return for the free hosting and maintenance, your site will be laden with restrictions and advertising. You can pay yearly in order to have these removed. That’s the basic tradeoff. You can pay for upgrades or you can figure out how to set up WordPress on your own server and commit the time to maintain your site.

Now let’s examine three of the most important considerations when deciding between WordPress.org and WordPress.com: Cost, Freedoms and Limitations, and Maintenance and Development.

Cost Comparison

Even though WordPress is open source software, hosting your own WordPress site is not free. You will need hosting and a domain. Hosting will run you anywhere from $7/month and up. Domains are around $10+ per year. Once you’ve acquired these, you can use any WordPress theme or plugins you like.

Here’s a breakdown of the cost comparison:

WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com Cost Comparison

WordPress.com can be the least expensive option if you don’t want a custom domain name and don’t mind using their free themes with no modifications. There are many free themes to choose from, although they are somewhat plain and generic for the most part.

If you want a full-featured website with your own domain name, the ability to post videos, unlimited storage and no forced advertising, WordPress.com can become quite expensive. If cost is your most important consideration then using the software from WordPress.org will be your most affordable option.

Freedoms and Limitations

WordPress.com:
The folks at WordPress.com are running a business. They provide the convenience of a WordPress environment all ready to go for you. They maintain the software so that you never have to touch the code. In return, you’ll pay for any kind of upgrade that you want and you’ll trade some freedom. Your blog will also be used for advertising unless you pay $30.00 per blog, per year in order to remove advertisements. The whole world is selling something and your blog will be too, unless you buy a year of no ads. If you’re serious about your content, then ads may be a little tacky.

Despite their compelling sales text:

“Start a blog or build a full-fledged website. The only limit is your imagination.”

The only limit is not, in fact, your imagination. There are many limitations to hosting with WordPress.com:

  • Limited to WordPress.com themes
  • No custom plugins
  • Storage Space limit: 3GB and no videos (unless you pay more)
  • Limited control of content – unless you pay to remove ads
  • You cannot use any custom plugins or custom themes
  • No FTP access to your files for security reasons

WordPress.org:
When you set up a WordPress site on your own server, you have the freedom to do whatever you want with it.

  • Use any free or commercial plugin you want
  • Add and edit files via FTP
  • Tweak WordPress and server settings to improve performance
  • Full control of your content – no ads

To quickly summarize the freedoms and limitations:

WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com Freedoms and Limitations

If having full control over your WordPress site is the most important factor in your decision, then you’ll want to set up your own site using software from WordPress.org.

Maintenance and Development

WordPress.org:

WordPress maintenance and development can be a lot of work.

With full control comes full responsibility. If you host your own WordPress site you will need to be prepared to commit to providing regular maintenance and updates. Whenever the WordPress core software comes out with a new release, you’ll need to upgrade your site to make sure it’s secure and less vulnerable to hacking. If you have a spam problem (and believe me, you will), you’ll have to find your own solutions. WordPress sites are a favorite target of spammers and hackers. If there are any sorts of problems with your server, you’ll need to be able to handle that with your host.

Maintenance essentially translates into a time investment, unless you hire someone else to take care of it for you. If you are not comfortable with FTP and are not tech savvy then the maintenance factor will end up spilling over into your costs consideration.

WordPress.com:

With WordPress.com you won’t be up late at night with your hosting company, trying to fix this or that, you won’t be pulling your hair out because some of your key plugins broke with a WordPress upgrade. You won’t have to stay up-to-date with WordPress news or the software at all if you don’t want to. This is all taken care of for you by the WordPress.com support and development team, whether you host a free blog or one with paid upgrades. If you’re a casual blogger who occasionally likes to put few thoughts online, then the free WordPress.com account may be just the ticket for you.

The consideration of maintenance and development depends entirely on your skills and how much time and effort you want to put into maintaining your WordPress site.

If not having to tackle anything technical is your most important priority, then WordPress.com would be the best option for you.

The ultimate question – Which one should I use?

If you’re creating a website for a business, no matter how small, you must retain that flexibility to add plugins and extra functionality, custom themes. Even if you think you don’t need it right now, you may expand later and wish that you had an installation ready for you to expand more speedily.

Of course, you can always export your site from WordPress.com, but you’ll then have a whole list of things to handle before being up and running on your own self-hosted installation, ie. selecting hosting, migrating your current site, purchasing or designing your own theme, adding all the necessary plugins.

When choosing between WordPress.com and WordPress.org there are many factors to consider that could be important tipping points. Let’s examine some common use cases.

Common Use Cases:

These are, of course, some broadly generalized scenarios, as most people have a number of important factors at play when deciding where to host a blog. However, this chart should help to answer a few basic questions:

Consideration in choosing between WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com

Still can’t decide?

If you’re more of an audio or visual learner, then check out our WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com summary video from the WPMU DEV Video library. It provides a quick overview of everything you’ll want to consider when making your decision between the two:

Check Out the WordPress.org vs WordPress.com Infographic

WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com Infographic

We’ve also prepared a detailed infographic to summarize all of the major differences.

Since WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org is a common question among people who are new to WordPress, we’ve made it so that you can actually embed the graphic on your site as a point of reference.

Copy the embed code below and paste it onto your site:

Our Recommendation: WordPress.org

WordPress.org wins on two out of three of the main comparison points: Cost and Freedom. WordPress.com wins on the Maintenance factor. If you have the time and a little patience, it’s easy to set up your own WordPress installation. Most hosts even have 1-click installation for WordPress and other common applications. If you’re at all hoping for your site to grow, gain traffic and eventually require more complex functionality, then setting up your own WordPress site is the way to go.

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