What's the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

For someone unfamiliar with WordPress, perhaps one of the first big questions that arises is why WordPress has two separate websites. Are WordPress.com and WordPress.org the same thing? If not, what are the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org and which one is better?

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org

WordPress.org and WordPress.com are not the same. While they share some similarities, it’s important to note several key differences.

To understand why both of these sites exist, it will first help to become familiar with the history of WordPress. WordPress was started in 2003 as a blogging system but has since grown to become a complete open-source content management system. “WordPress” in this sense refers to WordPress.org. WordPress.com was created in 2005.

Flexibility vs. simplicity

As stated above, WordPress.org is a complete content management system. While it is much simpler to use than many content management systems, the infinite flexibility WordPress offers can also add a learning curve. WordPress.com was created to make things simpler. It’s a significantly scaled down version of WordPress targeted toward bloggers.

This isn’t to say one is better than the other, but these two sites are very different. WordPress.org is a software package for self-hosted sites, so you need to obtain a hosting package to be able to use it. You’ll then need to install WordPress on to your site manually unless your site host offers an automated installation process. WordPress.com, however, hosts all content on its own site, so installation is unnecessary. However, on the contrary, because WordPress.com isn’t self-hosted, it doesn’t allow custom plugins and themes to be added. Themes are available for purchase directly from WordPress.com, but you can’t create your own or hire a developer to do so. Likewise, you can’t install any of the 48,000 plugins (and counting) available for a self-hosted WordPress site to WordPress.com.

Which is right for you?

Because of these differences, it’s important to weigh several factors when you decide which one to use. If you ever want to extend the functionality of your website beyond a basic blog, WordPress.com will probably create headaches for you. If you want to add a subscription widget to your mailing list, if you want to add an online store or even a contact form to your site, or if you want to make significant changes to your site’s layout, you’ll probably regret using WordPress.com. However, if you’re not concerned with any of those things and want to use the simplest possible platform, WordPress.com is exactly what you’ll need.

It’s also important to consider pricing. WordPress.com is free if you don’t want your own domain name — in other words, your site would be yourname.wordpress.com — but if you want your own website address (yourname.com), plans start at $3 a month with WordPress.com. It’s also important to note that free WordPress.com sites include advertising, and you don’t earn any revenue from those ads. Getting a hosting package from a hosting company like 1&1, BlueHost, GoDaddy tends to cost slightly more than WordPress.org, but you’re also able to use the more robust WordPress.org with those hosting companies.

If you’re sure you never want to add more versatility to your site beyond a basic blog and getting the cheapest price is most important to you, WordPress.com will probably serve you best. However, for most people wanting their own website, WordPress.com will not offer enough flexibility and a self-hosted WordPress (.org) website will be a much better option.