You are about to start a freelance writing website. Your friend recommended WordPress as your website platform since “everyone is using it.”
But as you learn more about WordPress, you notice that there are two flavors of WordPress:
- Self-hosted WordPress (AKA WordPress.org).
- Hosted WordPress (AKA WordPress.com).
You become confused about which version you should pick. And let’s face it: you are not alone.
So if you feel overwhelmed, this article is for you. It talks about the differences between self-hosted WordPress and WordPress.com. The post also recommends which version you should pick for your platform.
This post may contain affiliate links. Clicking them is free for you, but I get a small commission if you buy the product or service through my link.
Why Two (Almost Same) Platforms Exist in the First Place
WordPress is the most popular content management system on the Internet. And when you learn more about the platform, you can understand why.
For instance, it can be used for many types of websites, like blogs, eCommerce platforms, or membership sites.
WordPress is also extensible, thanks to over 55,000 plugins that exist in the plugin repository. There are also over 48,000 themes available through ThemeForest, which is one of the biggest WordPress theme repositories.
So what is the reason behind the two versions of this popular platform?
While self-hosted WordPress is relatively easy to learn and use, the platform is geared towards DIY persons.
For instance, when you start a self-hosted WordPress website, you have to:
- Sign-up for a web host.
- Register a domain for your website.
- Pick a theme for your site.
- Install all the plugins once the website is up and running.
- Keep all the plugins up-to-date with security patches and other updates.
- Find the support for every single plugin you have installed.
- Make sure you have a backup solution to cover your files.
- Host the website yourself!
With WordPress.com, you don’t have to worry about the points above. In that case, the hosted platform takes care of most of these items for you.
So now you are thinking: “Ok, so with WordPress.com, I get all the benefits of self-hosted WordPress without having to worry about technical stuff?”
Well, kind of ...
The Key Differences Between Both Services
There are advantages and disadvantages to using both services. So let’s dive in to see what they are.
WordPress.org (The Self-Hosted Version)
Setting up the self-hosted WordPress is relatively easy, although you have to take some steps to get your website up and running.
You start by signing up with a web host first. Once that’s done, you’ll activate WordPress through your host’s control panel.
For instance, I’m using SiteGround as my web host, and the WordPress setup happens though an admin panel called cPanel:
But installing WordPress is just the beginning.
And whose job is it to do all this work? Yours.
Naturally, you can hire someone to do the work for you, but this costs money. So if hiring someone is not an option, you’ll do the work yourself.
2. Extensibility (Plugins)
Extensibility is one of the strongest parts of self-hosted WordPress.
First, you can add new functionality to your website without limitations. This happens by installing WordPress applications called plugins.
Then there is the flexibility.
Typically, you use WordPress as a blogging platform or a content management system (CMS) for a website. But did you know that you can use self-hosted WordPress in other ways, too?
For instance, you can use it as a:
- Membership site.
- Landing page.
- An eCommerce store.
This list is just the beginning, and there are many other ways, too.
3. Layout (Themes)
Themes create the look and feel of your website.
If you don’t find a suitable theme for your website, you can either
1. Create a theme yourself (if you are code-savvy).
2. Customize the existing theme to fit your needs (for instance, this website runs on a customized GeneratePress theme).
3. Hire someone to create a theme for you.
Although a self-hosted WordPress is free to download and use, there are still costs involved in running a website with it.
- Domain name: $9 (approximately 8€) to register <aff link>, roughly the same amount per year to renew. However, certain web hosts offer a free domain for a year.
- Web hosting: starting from 3.95€ (approximately $4) per month (excluding VAT) with SiteGround
- Professional theme: $49.95 (approximately 45€) with GeneratePress <aff link>
- Plugins: While there are plenty of excellent plugins for free, you may have to purchase some premium plugins too.
For instance, this website uses these premium plugins:
- Anti-Spam by CleanTalk: $8 (approximately 7€) per year for one website. This plugin helps you to get rid of spam comments.
- WP Rocket: $49 (approximately 44€) per website per year. Google favors fast-loading sites, and WP Rocket does a great job of making my pages load faster.
- ShortPixel: Premium plans start from $4.99 (approximately 4.5€) per month. Although I try to avoid subscription-based tools, this plugin is an exception, and it has helped me a ton. My blog is full of images, and ShortPixel shrinks them so that my pages load faster.
The total costs of running a WordPress website comprise the following points:
The running costs
5. Security and Backups
When you run a self-hosted WordPress website, your web host handles certain security bits for you. For instance, they can handle the WordPress updates or set up a firewall that blocks unwanted entries to your website:
But to strengthen your website security further, you can install a plugin like WordFence to add yet another layer of protection for your site.
While WordPress doesn’t offer a backup solution out of the box, your web host may. And while this kind of solution is nice, figure out if it’s suitable for you.
For instance, learn how often the host takes the backups, or how easy it is to restore them.
Even with backups offered by your host, you may still consider installing a backup plugin for your site. This application adds more flexibility to your backup system, like where to store the backup files.
When using self-hosted WordPress, you may have to seek help from various sources with your technical questions:
- From plugin developers.
- From web host helpdesk.
- From the theme manufacturer.
- From WordPress.org support forums.
Multiple support sources make it harder to identify and find a solution than if there was centralized support for all your queries.
Having second thoughts about using WordPress.com? No worries!
If you would like to move your WordPress.com website content under your self-hosted website plan, you can do that.
If you plan to monetize your website, you can use pretty much any monetization method you wish, including:
- Affiliate marketing
- Selling your products
- Running a membership site
Self-hosted WordPress means flexibility. And monetization is an excellent example of this factor.
In most cases, you register a domain for your website. Although your web host can help you with this task, you may still have to renew the subscription or even set DNS addresses.
WordPress.com (The Hosted Version)
The setup is probably the strongest selling point of WordPress.com. Building a site (barebones version) is a quick operation and happens with just a couple of clicks. And once you have gone through the setup wizard, your site is live:
Setting up a website on WordPress.com is easy for a non-technical person. You can build your site without having to get hosting or install plugins.
Once you have done the initial setup, you’ll then fill the website with your content.
2. Extendibility (Plugins)
You can install plugins only on Business or ECommerce plans.
Even though these two plans support plugins, check out the list of applications that WordPress.com doesn’t support.
3. Layout (Themes)
You can only install custom themes if you have Business or ECommerce accounts:
However, there are free themes you can choose from, even if you are not using any of the paid plans.
This is an area where the self-hosted WordPress wins the battle between the two versions of WordPress.
With a typical, out-of-the-box installation of self-hosted WordPress, you get these features for free:
- You can install custom plugins.
- You can install custom themes.
- Your web host provides backups (this depends on the host, though).
- Google Analytics integration.
With WordPress.com, you first need a Business plan to get the mentioned features. At the time of writing, a Business plan costs 25€ (approximately $28) per month.
You should also understand that there are limitations to your account.
For instance, a free account forces you to use the wordpress.com domain as part of your website address. You have to display the WordPress.com branding on your website unless you are a subscriber of Business or eCommerce plans.
5. Security and Backups
WordPress.com provides plenty of security measures out of the box.
For instance, all the websites (starting from the free plan) come equipped with pre-installed SSL certificates. Also, WordPress.com provides firewalls to protect the accounts. They also help you to monitor any suspicious activity on the network.
However, backups are only available if you have a Business or ECommerce subscription. And since you can’t install a backup plugin on a free plan, you are on your own if your data gets lost.
With any of the premium-level WordPress.com subscriptions, you have access to email and chat support.
The chat support is available 24/5 from Monday till Friday, for Personal and Premium plans. With Business and ECommerce plans, you can access the chat, 24/7.
If you have a free account, chat or email support is not available. In that situation, you can access the knowledge base articles and the support forum.
You can migrate your content from WordPress.org to WordPress.com. However, there is just one thing to note in this (rare) scenario.
Some website content is created and maintained with plugins. Therefore, it’s essential to know in advance whether you can install the particular plugin on WordPress.com or not.
Otherwise, the migrated content may look weird on WordPress.com if it does not support the plugin.
There are certain limitations with the least expensive premium plans on WordPress.com.
For instance, you can only use AdSense or BuySellAds ad networks through the Business plan. You can set affiliate links, but you cannot link to certain types of websites (gambling, MLM…).
Also, you need a custom domain to apply for the WordAds program. WordPress.com also supports sponsored posts but with certain limitations.
If you want to run an eCommerce site, these features are only available on the eCommerce platform.
If you sign up with the Free plan, you must use the wordpress.com sub-domain as part of your website address. However, from Personal plans and up, you get a free domain for one year.
Please note that hosting your domain through WordPress.com is more expensive than through a third-party registrar, like NameCheap.
WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org: The Comparison Chart
Here is a comparison table of all the mentioned areas. I have also included justifications of why you would choose one platform over the other.
Starting a website in the hosted version is done with just a couple of clicks.
While both of the platforms support plugins, self-hosted offers this type of extensibility without charges.
You can use custom themes on a self-hosted WordPress for free.
Running a self-hosted website, even with some premium plugins, is normally less expensive than with WordPress.com.
Security & Backups
WordPress.com offers stable security features out of the box. However, backups are only available for premium plans.
With self-hosted WordPress, your web host (most likely) provides the necessary tools for backups and other security measures.
You also have more flexibility with WordPress.org because you can install security plugins.
WordPress.com platform offers both email and chat support.
With a self-hosted platform, you have to find support for yourself.
Migrations work in both directions.
However, if you are moving from a self-hosted platform to WordPress.com, find out if the content created with a plugin works on WordPress.com.
WordPress.com has some decent ways of monetizing your website.
I’ll still choose WordPress.org, since it gives me more flexibility with this matter.
With both platforms, you can register a custom domain for your website.
However, with a self-hosted WordPress, the registration costs are normally lower than with WordPress.com.
The Self-Hosted WordPress vs. WordPress.com: What’s My Pick?
Let’s make the long story short: I recommend self-hosted WordPress.
Yes, you get your website up and running faster with WordPress.com. You also get support on specific plans when you choose the hosted platform.
Still, self-hosted WordPress means flexibility and control. But with WordPress.com, you may run into limitations at some point. That’s when you have to consider migrating from a hosted to a self-hosted platform.