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The $64,000 Question: WordPress.com or WordPress.org?

If you’ve been using WordPress.com for very long, you’ve likely run into some variation of the grand “com v. org”…

WP ButtonsIf you’ve been using WordPress.com for very long, you’ve likely run into some variation of the grand “com v. org” debate. And it’s possible that any explanation you received raised more questions than it answered. So, what’s the deal with the two WordPresses? What are the advantages of one over the other?

To explain this clearly, it helps if we go into a bit of history, so gather round children, and I shall tell you the tale of WordPress.

WordPress and WordPress.com: A Brief History

WordPress is an open source content management system. That is, it is software that anyone can download and use for free to build a website without having to code that website by hand. “Open source” means that the code behind the software is openly shared and available to anyone to work with, so WordPress is developed, supported, and maintained by the community at large, and not by any one company.

A couple of years after WordPress came on the scene, Matt Mullenweg (the founding developer of WordPress) noticed that a lot of people were saying “I really love WordPress, but I don’t want to bother with keeping my WordPress site updated myself, or worry about backups or security. I wish all that was managed for me, so I could just focus on blogging.”

To meet this demand, Matt created WordPress.com, which is a managed, shared hosting platform that uses WordPress, and that handles all of the updates, backups, and security for its users. Unlike WordPress itself, WordPress.com is a company with employees whose job it is to develop, maintain, and support the WordPress.com platform.

With WordPress.com, you can start as many WordPress blogs and websites as you like, and they’re all hosted and supported for free by the team here at WordPress.com.

WordPress Today

So now that you know the history of the two flavors of WordPress, let’s get into how the experience of having a self-hosted WordPress site differs from having a WordPress.com site.

Photo courtesy: Rachel Hinman

Photo courtesy: Rachel Hinman

Having a blog or website here on WordPress.com is a bit like renting an apartment in a complex. You don’t have to worry about the pipes freezing in winter, you don’t have to mow the backyard, and you don’t have to fix the dishwasher if it breaks — all of that is your landlord’s job.

But on the other hand, you can’t install skylights, knock down a wall to combine two rooms, or rent out your spare bedroom without the landlord’s permission.

Similarly, here at WordPress.com, we support your site, and we take care of all the updates, the backups, and the security. But since all of our users share this platform, we don’t permit you to use plugins (since they can introduce security risks) or outside themes, and there are a few Terms of Service that we require our bloggers to follow to keep WordPress.com nice for everybody.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user rik

Photo courtesy: rik

When you move to a self-hosted WordPress site, it’s like buying your own house: you can knock down the walls or build an extension, you can rent out your garage for practice space to a local band, you can keep a lion in the backyard. But if your heat goes out in the middle of winter, you have to fix it (or hire someone who can).

If you self-host, you can install all the plugins you want, but if one of them breaks your site, you have to figure out how to fix it (luckily, WordPress.org has a great support forum with many knowledgeable and helpful volunteers). You’re also responsible for performing routine updates and backing up your content, but the only rules you’re bound by are your own.

Rent or Buy?

There are a lot of rumors flying around about how WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress differ. One of the most prevalent is that self-hosted WordPress is for “professional” bloggers or for people who want to have a business website. That’s not true — you can have a perfectly professional blog or website on WordPress.com and a lot of big companies host their sites here.

But there are some reasons why self-hosted WordPress might be a better fit. Maybe you want to build your own theme from scratch, or there’s some functionality you need for your site that isn’t available on WordPress.com, such as discussion forums.

*Update:  WordPress.com now has eCommerce features with the Business upgrade!

Or maybe you want to build an ecommerce site with shopping cart checkout. While you are welcome to sell your own work on WordPress.com and install a PayPal button, a self-hosted WordPress site is a much better fit for storefront-type sites that are primarily for selling.*

Essentially, if there’s something specific that you really want to do with your website that you have found you cannot do here at WordPress.com, then it’s time to look into whether you could do it with a self-hosted WordPress site. (If you aren’t sure if you can do something here, though, don’t assume you can’t — go ahead and ask us!)

How to Learn More About WordPress

If you’re interested in self-hosted WordPress but you’re not sure you have the technical chops to host your own site, there are lots of ways to learn more about it. The WordPress.org support forums (the primary source of support for self-hosted WordPress users) are full of good advice from active volunteers, and the WordPress Codex has documentation on how to get started.

Many cities have monthly WordPress meetups where users at all experience levels come together to talk about how they’re using WordPress, share tips and tricks, and help each other with their sites.

Session at WordCamp San Francisco. Photo courtesy Ma.tt

Session at WordCamp San Francisco. Photo courtesy: Ma.tt

Cities with big WordPress communities also host a yearly WordCamp, which is a one to three day event with sessions on all things WordPress. WordCamps have talks for everyone from rank beginners to power users, so if there’s one near you, go!

Finally, the best way to see what a self-hosted WordPress site is like is to just go ahead and get some affordable monthly hosting, install WordPress, and play around with it. You might fall in love, or you might decide it’s more than you want to bother with, but in the meantime, you can continue to host your active site here at WordPress.com — no harm, no foul.

If you do decide you want to move your site, WordPress makes it a snap to move all of your content without losing your traffic. You can even move your followers! Stay tuned for an upcoming post that will guide you through how to move your site from WordPress.com to your own hosting.

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  1. Want to turn into wordpress.org but find the installation difficult as I know zip about hosts and SEO and whatnot… my blog is getting too big I think for a wordpress.com blog… (www.ireland-ms.com)

  2. I just started researching this very $64,000 question! NOW, I am going to read because I *assume* all my answers are here. Thank you – for reading my mind! :)

    1. I have used Justhost for several years and have been happy, before I have bought hosting that was lacking in some ways or got hacked a lot etc. Justhost have so far had Great support, and very fast, the few times I have needed them, and wordpress installs with a few clicks, lthey call it one click install, I think most hosting providers use basically the same, a control panel called Cpanel, all You have to do is set a username and password for yourself to log if , the rest of the install it does For you just the one click and supply username / password
      Very Simple, and easy to do. and they offer unlimited bandwidth, e mail accounts, domain names (many websites one the one hosting account) and just a Lot of great stuff.

      I have been happy there for about 7 or 8 years now. I have used , purchased hosting at several others before as well but I like justhost best of all.

      Right now for some time now I have noticed they are down to $2.95 a month too! it saysd for new customers, but I asked a while back and they gave me that deal! so I paid mine up for 2 years in advance:-)
      I won’t leave a working link so you can copy and past the in your browser and go to it or read reviews on Google etc. it is at justhost.com

  3. All the questions that were swirling around in my head this morning…you just answered them! Thank you so much for this informative article. It never occurred to me to fiddle around with self-hosting FIRST–I was trying to make an all or nothing decision without enough information!

  4. Great explanation. I’ve been debating this for years, but have decided to stay at .com because I simply don’t have the time for a lot of blog maintenance. I think .org makes much more sense for freelancers or full-time bloggers who have the extra time to devote to all the bells and whistles of self-hosting.

  5. I have been debating with the idea of moving to WP.org for some time. I have my own WP.com domain and if I make the move I’ll be using guided transfer.
    My problem is firstly I’m unsure how to unlock and transfer my own domain and don’t want a new one and second I don’t want to lose any of my followers or my stats. Third there are too many hosts to choose from and all with mixed reviews. How do I know which to choose?

  6. Very good post… I have written about and answered this same question to thousands of users. In fact, I did a workshop that basically revolved around this.

    I think where the biggest confusion started and still is when we say: WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org

    I think it would help a lot to change that to:

    WordPress.com vs. Self-hosted WordPress

    That way we can get people thinking a bit more clearly from the very start…cheers!

    1. Yep, I agree – I always say WordPress.com v self-hosted WordPress myself for exactly that reason, but I think the .com/.org shorthand will persist since so many people say that.

    2. I concur. The .com/.org dichotomy is misleading and confusing. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked by confused new users how they can set up a site on wordpress.org. When I explain to them that you can’t – that you have to download WordPress and install it on your own server – they usually respond with “why do people say you can use either .com or .org then. That’s not what you actually do.”

  7. that’s one very comprehensive write-up. thank you! glad you included companies that run on .com for reference.

  8. Great post, and one I’ll refer back to when the discussion comes up among WordPressers…which it often does. I like the renting aspect now. It was easy to set up, WordPress.com takes care of everything for me now, and all I have to do is write.

  9. After trying out many different platforms over the past four years I have returned to “rent” here on WordPress.com because I believe it allows me to do all the things I need to do to get my message out.

  10. Ah, eurello! – how timely you are, as always … Here I am, sitting on my own domain name which is the current one minus the ‘wordpress’ bit, and wondering if I’m going to get to use it …
    Still, I mustn’t be precipitate, eh? – I’ve only been running my current blog since last month. Much better to try to iron our everything at this level. I believe.
    :-\
    Your post will be read, re-read and then … re-read again! THANK-YOU! :-)

      1. Hang on, hang on … are you saying that I can use my own domain name but stay within WordPress.com and not be forced out into the cold world of WordPress.org?

      2. Give me STRENGTH! – what a complete pillock I am. This must be what 1tess was trying to tell me.
        Sighh …
        Would you be even more accommodating, please, eurello, and inform me of what I do about utilising said long-since-purchased (from my local bloke, not from you lot) domain name?

  11. Thanks for the clarification on this matter. I’ve been considering switching to self hosting for a while now, but after reading this I think I’ll stay with the wordpress.com format for the time being.

  12. Thanks for the differentiation. As a person dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, this helps me. Now, can you answer this question: For someone primarily interested in having a conversation with similar souls, without posting a ‘theme of the day/week,’ which is the best route to go? Dank u wel.

  13. I just moved everything to my wordpress.org site. The last thing I did was pay for the redirect from here.

    It was extremely easy. One click install which actually was 1 click install [I've ran into some that aren't functional right out of the box] and bluehost is fantastic with support.

    Why did I move out? I always intended to do so, it just was sooner than later. I always knew I could pay for my own URL because in the world of the net having a yourname.theirname.com address is fishy to your customers or readers. You can close up shop on a free site much easier than a site that you are paying for. With my own host, they know I am putting my money where my mouth is.

    I found a fantastic theme called Salient from themeforest. I had a friend who wanted her own book cover and other book related graphics store for authors and she was willing to all my custom work in exchange for me handling the store so I created my site. I had to make one call to Bluehost and they had the problem fixed in a snap. But I also had to know if it was my problem or the server’s problem.

    Your own site is not for beginners. If you don’t understand the dashboard on wordpress.com you aren’t ready for wordpress.org.

    But between the two? I’ll take wordpress.org. My site is mine. All mine and I can do things with it that I cannot do on here. And I am not alone. Bluehost is there for me. And I do thank WordPress for that recommendation. They hit that one spot on.

  14. Brilliant, Elizabeth! So few who know what to say and how to say it. Communication at WordPress is definitely looking up!
    I sometimes think I would like to take the content off my current .com and put it all on another, so I can use the current address for a different purpose. Not possible, outside of diy, right?

    1. Well, you can export all of your content from the old site and import it into a new one, but if the name is the only thing you want to change, I’d just register a custom domain for your current blog rather than move all your content.

      1. It depends. If you’re talking about using a custom domain for a different site, staff can just move the domain for you.

        If you’re talking about reusing the .wordpress.com URL, I’d probably just register a domain that’s similar to that URL for the new site. But if you really want to free the .wordpress.com URL up, you can export all of your content from the URL, import it into a different URL, and then delete it from the first, so you have an empty site at that URL and can start over.

  15. Great article. From a designer’s perspective .org would seem fitting but why re-create the wheel unless you are trying to go turbo? The .com is a likely take for the average user.

  16. Great explanation/article! I’ve found myself trying to explain this concept many times only to have this look of confusion staring back at me. I’m going to try the rent vs. buy option next time, it sounds like an concept most people would understand.

    I used the self-hosted option to get started with WordPress many years ago, but decided to transfer to WordPress.com last year as my personal life got a little more hectic. It seemed like I was going in reverse at the time, compared to what other were doing, but like not having to worry about administrative tasks associated with the self-hosted option. Sometimes I do miss having all the different options that were available with self-hosted though.

  17. Reblogged this on Wendomattic and commented:

    This might possibly be one of the best, easiest to understand, and most thorough explanations on the differences between WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress (aka, WordPress.org) that I’ve read.

    One of my fellow Happiness Engineers at Automattic wrote this – check it out!

  18. Hi elizabeth,
    i recently moved to wordpress.com. one of the challenges that i am facing is javascripts. since .com does not offer the option to install plugins, is there any other alternative to use javascripts in wordpress.com websites

  19. I have no major complaints about wp.com. I just don’t like the fact that you can’t really monetize on wp.com. In the future, when I would like to try to make some $ from blogging, that might push me to wp.org. But then you lose the blog-reader, the tagging, the in-house community – and that is one of the best parts of wp.com. If there was a way to combine those things (monetizing and staying in the community), that would be ideal.

  20. Elizabeth – Thank you for your promise to explain more of the differences. I would also find useful an explanation of the differences between “free” and “paid” features. The “free” features are hard to work around. Silent

  21. I switched to a wordpress.org self-hosted site for more options as far as theme, more control, and the option to use affiliate links at some point. I did not, however, move all of my original content, which I think may have been a mistake (though I was worried google wouldn’t appreciate me having content on two .com websites). Silly? Maybe, but well. Very happy with my WordPress.org :)

  22. When I first made my blog not too long ago, I struggled making a .org with Windows 8. It wanted me to download a lot of extra files and it was very confusing! .com was the way to go! Easy to navigate and start out with.

  23. Man, you learn something new every day! Glad I have this information about the site I have been using you made it so I don’t have to do homework on the subject ;) Very informative thank you!

  24. Thanks so much. I’ve been researching this myself for a few days. I was just beginning to lean toward WordPress.org via GoDaddy hosting because I can have all the domains, email, and a website with blog all in one place. But, I’d miss out on the community of WordPress.com.

    I might like to have the site/blog on WordPress.com so I can be in the community, but you can’t have an email address that goes along with the mapped domain. Correct? It seems in order to have an email address that goes with the domain, you must host with a provider like Go Daddy. Someone please let me know if this is not accurate. Thanks!!

  25. Amazing! Is it really possible to move both followers and traffic? Sounds awesome! I’ve been thinking along those lines recently. I just hope I make up my mind soon.
    Thanks for that elaborate and enlightening piece.
    Cheers! :)

  26. I have been one of the folks who have wondered about the difference between WP.com and .org – this post helped tremendously! Thanks for providing great clarity! I’m sticking with my .com site. :)

  27. Great article! Yeah, I think WordPress.com is probably good for the beginners like me, but if traffic and such starts to really come in, I might switch to WordPress.org to be able to have more freedom with a lot less money needed.

  28. Great article.
    I’m too much of a control freak, so I very quickly moved to a self-hosted site. It’s a ton of work, but I love that I can make it completely my own. I still have so much to learn though!

  29. To some extent I regret not starting my serial on wordpress.com vs. a wp install on my own host — largely feel like I’m missing out on organic traffic by not having *.org and *.com talk. Any plans for allowing the *.org to be part of the extended social network community you have at *.com?