If you’re setting up your website or blog, you may already know about WordPress, the open-source online publishing software that supports one in six or roughly 60 million websites (according to Forbes). What you may not know is that there are two iterations of WordPress; namely, they are WordPress.org and WordPress.com.

What is the difference between these two site extensions?

WordPress.org: A Short History

In the beginning, or actually May 2003, there was WordPress.org, a freeware platform that quickly came to dominate the world of online publishing media. ‘Do-it-yourself’ website owners and tech-savvy bloggers quickly took to WordPress’ open-source format, which allowed unprecedented customization through unique themes, plug-ins and server setup.

Today, WordPress.org still offers website owners and bloggers the opportunity to create personalized websites for free. Those who struggle with some facet of WordPress can get support through support forums as well as the “how to” documentation (via the WordPress Codex). Also, due to the popularity of the WordPress platform, many web hosts offer easy one-step installation of the software.

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WordPress.org is a perfect world for those folks who are comfortable with coding, hosting websites on their own servers and debugging those pesky plugins. However, there are some flies in the ointment:

1. WordPress.org takes time and patience to master

For those individuals who are not comfortable with PHP or MySQL coding or finding/creating hosting support, using WordPress.org is both time-consuming and frustrating. Likewise, WordPress.org plugins and themes are sometimes riddled with bugs that make a website partially/completely nonfunctional.

2. WordPress.org sites still cost money

While WordPress.org software is free, hosting isn’t. Monthly hosting on a third party site starts at $7/month and goes up from there. There is also the small yearly fee (~$10/year) of registering your domain name. Finally, if you want to start your own web hosting, be aware that servers cost a minimum of $500.

3. WordPress.org sites are often managed

Many businesses and bloggers end up paying yet more money for their WordPress.org sites because they end up hiring site managers who are WordPress-savvy and can deal with the occasional plugin bug, lost/misplaced file or other issues associated with freeware.

WordPress.com: The ‘free’ solution for the busy

WordPress.com enables those who are not extremely tech-savvy to still launch a snazzy website or blog. For starters, there is no hassle over hosting or server setup because hosting is included with WordPress.com-provided sites. As a result, you, the website owner, don’t have to worry about paying for hosting by either buying your own server.

Installation of WordPress through WordPress.com is very easy thanks to specially developed snippets that enable nearly ‘one click’ download of the software onto your website. Spam protection, site backups, software updates and security features are also added in automatically with WordPress.com sites.

So, why hasn’t every blogger and her uncle migrated over to WordPress.com?

As with all ‘free’ deals, there are certain caveats (i.e., catches) attached.

Catch #1: WordPress.com sites are hard to change and customize

You may not think you know anything about the PHP source code of WordPress, but in time you’ll learn enough about it to want to make certain changes on your WordPress.com site. Well, you’re out of luck because the PHP source code of the .com version cannot be altered.

Likewise, although WordPress.com sites do offer some plugins and themes, the numbers of these doodads are severely limited and comprise only a small percentage of what are actually available via WordPress.org.

You can gain some control over your site by paying $30/year for a custom design deal; this package enables limited theme design control- and by limited, I mean it allows you to change things like font, not PHP.

Catch #2: WordPress.com domain names suck

Domain names generated through WordPress.com go by the format yourwebsitename.wordpress.com. The .wordpress extension can be removed for a fee, however.

You can also generate and transfer over a non-WordPress domain name-containing website to WordPress.com. Be aware that there is a cost involved here too (and if you can do a task like this yourself, you’re better off using WordPress.org).

Catch #3: WordPress.com sites contain ads

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Third-party ads appear on free WordPress.com sites, though they can be removed for a fee of $30/year.

Catch #4: WordPress.com sites don’t allow FTP

If you think that cute cat video you generated can be uploaded to your WordPress.com site, think again. There is no FTP functionality enabled on standard WordPress.com sites.

Having said that, you can choose to purchase a VideoPress package for $60/year and post as many cute cat videos as you want to your website or blog.

Premium themes are also available for WordPress.com sites and range from $50-$100. Unfortunately, these themes stay with your .com account and cannot be transferred to a WordPress.org or other account.

Catch #5: WordPress.com sites have limited storage

As you expand your WordPress.com site, you’ll inevitably be limited by its small storage allowance. However, expanded storage is possible for a fee of $20/year.

So…WordPress.org or WordPress.com?

Deciding whether to start a website or blog via WordPress.org or WordPress.com depends on you. Do you have the time to finagle with pesky PHP code and occasional bugs? Do you enjoy learning about WordPress updates and tweaking websites? If yes, then the .org format could be perfect for you and your budget.

On the other hand, you may just want your business to have a decent online presence and a place to showcase its products/services. You may not have a lot of time to deal with plugins that make your website partially/completely nonfunctional or code snippets that suddenly change the formatting of your pages. And let’s not forget how WordPress updates have a tendency to kill certain plugins and themes.

In such a case, the .com version of WordPress may be better for you and your sanity.

Redefining ‘free’ for you

In the end, there is no ‘free’ in the world of WordPress- you’re either paying through your time or money for a well-designed and functional website/blog. It’s just a matter of what you are inclined to learn- and what you are satisfied to leave to the pros.

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Join the Discussion

  • Tony Curtis
    Tony Curtis

    Good post Steve, one thing you forgot to mention is that wordpress.com does not allow any affiliate marketing on those sites.

  • Kathy M
    Kathy M

    I read the article. If you starting from brand new, perhaps Free is better until you have an understanding of the lay of the land. Pax

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