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The difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

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When deciding on owning a website and the kind of website that you want, there are many choices out there and for a customer, it might be a little confusing.

While both of these sites offer the popular WordPress site building and content management software, there is a big difference between the two and knowing those differences can help you make the right choice for your new website and WordPress hosting needs.

What Are WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

So what exactly is WordPress? WordPress is one of the world’s most widely used site building software.  According to W3 Web Technology Surveys, as of April 2021, “WordPress is used by 64.8% of all the websites whose content management system we know. This is 41.2% of all websites. ”   It’s free and open source so that it can be modified and shared by any user in the WordPress community. The WordPress software file can be downloaded for free by anyone from the WordPress.org site, or it can be installed as part of a hosting package from a web hosting provider.

WordPress.com also supports WordPress but it is a hosting company. It is run by a commercial company called Automattic that was created by one of the founders of WordPress for hosting WordPress driven sites. Users don’t have to download or install WordPress, it’s part of the hosting services that WordPress.com provides.

Having a website hosted by WordPress.com has its benefits and its drawbacks. They do offer a free option where all a user needs to do is sign up for a free account, pick a theme, and start publishing. WordPress.com takes care of everything else, with no need to be concerned with site maintenance and technical issues. This makes WordPress.com a popular choice for many, including students, bloggers, and beginners who don’t have a need or have an interest in the full range of customization options offered by WordPress.org.  But unless a user upgrades to a paid plan that includes a custom domain name, a WordPress.com site will always have the extension “WordPress.com,” in the site name, a sure sign that you’re using a free hosted site.

WordPress.org: The versatile choice

WordPress.org is where you will find the WordPress software files, a collection of templates in the PHP programming language that can be modified by anyone. With its vast collection of customizable templates, plugins for added functionality, and a visual text editor, WordPress can be used by both beginners and experienced site designers, who can work directly with its files and stylesheet for precise customization. But, with this self-hosted version of WordPress, it’s up to the user to maintain the site aside from features offered by the hosting provider and to install the plugins and other elements for customizing the site.  With the WordPress software in hand, the sky is the limit.

Comparing their features

Themes

Themes are a very important feature of a WordPress site. With a hosted WordPress.com site, you have the choice of a wide range of premade free themes, the only thing needed is to add the content that you desire. Unless you pay for the premium plans, you cannot add a theme from an outside source. You are limited to the themes offered by them.

The self-hosted version allows users to install and change themes at will, and themes can come from any source and there are a lot of sources of free and paid themes with the paid themes costing around fifty dollars. All of the themes can then be customized by you or by any developer to fully customize the design to your specifications. Generally speaking, the paid premium themes have more capabilities and customization features compared to the free themes.

Plugins

What is a WordPress plugin? A WordPress plugin is just a little bit of code that “plugs in” to your self-hosted WordPress site. A plugin essentially adds new functionality to your WordPress site or extends its existing functionality. For example, plugins can be used for things such as creating a contact form, building an online store, or adding a gallery to your site.

WordPress.com comes with some preloaded plugins but many plugins cannot be installed on a WordPress.com website, which limits the range of available options for professional users with specific needs.

The self-hosted version has a long list of premium and free plugins that you can install and use to enhance the capabilities of your site.

Domain Names

When you choose a domain name, it becomes a site’s online identity. As a business owner, you should own your own domain. 

Self-hosted WordPress sites have custom domain names that clearly indicate the site isn’t being hosted on a third-party platform.

But on wordpress.com, unless you’re on a pay for a plan to have a custom domain, a WordPress.com site always comes with the extension “WordPress.com” after your domain name.

With the self-hosted version, you are free to choose the domain name that you want for your business with no other extension required, providing that it is available for purchasing.

Conclusion

I was reading an article that used the analogy of renting a house versus owning a house to think about the differences between the two WordPress.

The .com is like renting a house. You pay your monthly fee. You have limited power and control over what you can and cannot do. If you choose a premium plan, the security and the backups are taken care of. You don’t have to look after any of it.

The .org is like owning your house.  At first, you may have to pay for a theme and perhaps a designer to help build your site and then paying a hosting provider to host your site but once your site is built, the only thing you have to do is renew your domain yearly (like your taxes) and pay for your hosting.  You are in full control. You can do anything you want and you are free to customize or install whatever you want on your site. However, you are the one responsible for the security and the backup of your website regularly.

There is a lot of help online and it is very easy to learn the basics of WordPress if you choose to do it yourself.

After all, when you consider the percentage of websites that run on the WordPress software, it has to be good.