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WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org – major differences, and...which one to pick?

WordPress is a simple solution, meant to help anyone make a unique, highly customizable website. But for all of the simplicity in offers – the naming of the WordPress solutions can get a little bit confusing.

When we talk about WordPress, we always mention its excellent blogging tools, thousands of helpful plugins, and an excellent selection of templates. But even then, we could be talking about either of the two options.

There's WordPress.org – a highly customizable website generator platform, letting you build whatever kind of website, anywhere that you want.

And then, there's WordPress.com – a simple solution, allowing anyone to make a website with WordPress, and massively reducing the amount of work and skill required.

What's the difference between the two? Which one should you choose? That's what we're going to talk about here.

The difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org

There are three distinct differences between WordPress.com vs WordPress.org: the way your website is hosted, the amount of editing you can do, and the features that you get.

Understanding that is going to be they key in knowing which option is better for you.

Understanding WordPress.org

WordPress.org gives all the freedom in your hands – opening up all the possibilities, but leaving you to deal with all sorts of technical challenges.

wordpress org homepage

WordPress.org is a free, open-source content management system (CMS for short). You can use it as you please – with all the templates, and all the plugins available to use. However, you will need to find a way to host your website. That means you'll need to find a web hosting provider, and purchase a premium plan.

To sell online, for example, you'll need to pick a hosting plan that is capable of handling additional eCommerce software (like WooCommerce) – and then also download and manage the platform all by yourself.

Overall, the experience of editing the site is going to be a little bit complicated. So, if you're a complete beginner using WordPress.org, prepare to go through a bunch of tutorials just to get started. If you're looking for more details, read our in-depth WordPress review.

Understanding WordPress.com

Meanwhile, WordPress.com is a fully functioning website-building service, using WordPress.org as its base platform. Ran by the same people who made the .org version, WordPress.com heavily simplifies the entire process. Helpful setup guides and an all-inclusive interface lets even the least experienced people make a personal or business website.

wordpress com homepage

The platform hosts your website on its own servers. However, as it's a product, it's going to cost money and come with several limitations.

There is a free plan – but it's going to be very limited, laden with WordPress.com ads, and limiting you to a .wordpress.com subdomain on all of your sites.

But even the premium plans are limited. Starting at $4.00, and going all the way to $45 a month, some of the premium plans are still more limited than a stock WordPress.org installation.

You only get access to all the plugins and all the themes with the Business plan, which costs $25 a month. Making money from your website through ads is only possible on the $8 Premium plan or higher.

Selling online is possible only with the $45/month plan – but there, you'll get everything set up and prepared, unlike in the WordPress.org version.

There are certain things you get – and certain things you give away. It's a very beginner-friendly experience, that will ask you to open up your wallet.

WordPress.com (Free)WordPress.com (Paid)WordPress.org
Type of serviceFree SubscriptionPaid SubscriptionSoftware
Price$0$4.00 to $45 a monthVaries heavily on the services you use
Ease of UseVery simple to set upVery easy to set upRequires a bit of work
Custom themesNo options – only a few stock themesAvailable on $8/month plan or higherAll the first and third-party options are fully available
eCommerceNoneYes – on the $45/month planYes – by setting up various third-party solutions
PluginsNoneYes – on the $25/month plan and higherPossible
Backend code editingNoneYes – on the $25/month plan and higher Possible
Custom URLNonePossiblePossible
WordPress adsYesNo – on the $4/month plan and higherNo
Customer SupportEmail supportEmail and live chat supportNo

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org – pros and cons

As you've probably gathered already, despite similar naming, this WordPress.org vs WordPress.com comparison looks at two rather different options.

So, let's compare the general pros and cons of both options and see what's what.



Pricing – two very different approaches

At first glance, it may seem like both versions of WordPress can be used without paying a penny. But really – things aren’t as simple as they seem.

You’d have to lighten your wallet with both .com & .org to make something significant – here's what I mean, in detail for both.

WordPress.com pricing

The managed WordPress.com version offers a free option, and four paid picks spanning between 4 and 45 bucks per month.

Here’s a neat little table with a couple of lines explaining each of the plans:

FreeHosted on WordPress' own subdomain. WordPress.com ads visible. 3GB of storage
Personal ($4/month)Free domain for a year, no WordPress.com ads, unlimited email support and storage, as well as the ability to collect payments
Premium ($8/month)Live chat support, ad revenue, premium themes, and Google Analytics integration now available
Business ($25/month)Plugins, advanced SEO tools, database access, and automated backups now available
eCommerce ($45/month)eCommerce functionality, integration with top shipping carriers, and premium design for online stores

Is that expensive? Well – it depends. Comparing it to many website builders out there, WordPress is priced rather fairly. A plan with custom domain functionality and premium themes will usually set you back around $10-15 a month. Here, WordPress.com has two plans below that.

However, it's a shame that plugins and advanced SEO tools are behind such a massive paywall. $25 a month should also get you features like eCommerce – but WordPress is hiding those even up higher, at the $45 a month eCommerce plan.

Overall, the pricing is fair for smaller websites: and a little bit hefty going up.

WordPress.org pricing

You can get the .org — also called the self-hosted — version of WordPress without paying a single penny. After all, the software is free!

But you probably already know the world's universal truth: "if you want the good stuff, you need to pay for it".

If you were to launch a full-fledged website, you’d have to get a web server and a domain name at the very least. Depending on your demands for the website, you might spend anywhere from one to a few hundred bucks a month.

What do I mean with that? I can explain – in table from! Here are some of the combinations you can pull off:

000webhost + DomainFree hosting platform allows you to connect a custom domain, making this option cost $10-15 a year ($1 a month). Sadly, all the free web hosting platforms are slow, have limited storage, are covered with the host's ads, and are generally unsafe. Not recommended.
Hostinger + DomainA super cheap premium host, Hostinger will charge you around $35 a year for a 12-month plan. With a domain, you will pay around $45-50 a year (around $4 a month). A good option for a basic website.
Bluehost + DomainA WordPress-centered provider. Depending on how many sites and visitors you're planning to have, you'll have to pay anywhere between $60 and $250 a year ($5-20 a month).
WPEngine + DomainA professional WordPress host for big projects and businesses. Plans range between $300 and $3,000 a year ($25-250 a month).

See what I mean?

Technically, you can get WordPress.org for free – but in terms of features, it will be just the same (or even worse) than WordPress.com's free version.

And generally speaking, I can't really recommend free versions of either platform to anyone.

No custom domains, limited functionality, and features as well as incredibly small resources make free options not viable for serious websites. Looking to learn and test the platform? It's perfect. For anything else? It's abysmal.

I recommend using a budget hosting provider for WordPress.org – options like Hostinger (read more about it in our Hostinger review here) or Bluehost (learn more about it in our Bluehost review). They offer very competitive pricing, including a free domain for a year, and will help you fast and secure business websites. There you'll also find plans for selling online at under $8 a month.

For WordPress.com, it all depends on your preferences. Bloggers looking to make a simple website will certainly appreciate the cheap $4 Personal plan. Those looking to make a customized personal website will also appreciate the $8 Premium plan.

For everything else, the plugins, the business features, and the selling online, WordPress.com is seriously expensive. But if you have little experience, little time, and big goals – WordPress.com will still be an easier option to use than WordPress.org, no matter how much cheaper the latter might be.

Setting up WordPress.com and WordPress.org

In this part of the WordPress.com vs WordPress.org comparison, it's time for me to put on some work shoes and hit the field.

Let's test how easy it is to set up a website using both of the platforms.

Getting started with WordPress.com

Creating a website with WordPress.com is a walk in the park.

All I had to do was just click on the ‘Start Your Website’ button at the homepage – and follow a super simple setup process.

wordpress com login

After the personal details were in, I was asked to connect an already existing domain name or register one.

wordpress com domain

Now – WordPress.com isn't exactly subtle in this attempts to lure you into using its premium plans. You can easily sign up for a paid plan: but if you want to just use the plan with the .wordpress.com subdomain and test the platform, just click "Continue with a free site" and march forward.

Here’s the dashboard I was greeted with after completing the setup process:

wordpress com startup screen

This is the mission control center, where from I could add content to my website, change its appearance, see the stats, and so on.

Getting started with WordPress.org

Now, setting up the self-hosted version of WordPress was indeed a little bit trickier.

Things are nowhere as simple as typing an email and picking a username/password. However, considering to how everything looked like back in the day – the process now is as simple as it can probably be.

In order to make WordPress.org work, you need to provide two things – hosting and domain.

Depending on the host that you choose, your method of installing WordPress is also going to vary. For instance, on WordPress-only platforms like WPEngine, the setup process is as simple as clicking one button. There, WordPress has been added automatically, so you don't need to do much.

WPEngine control panel for wordpress

On more universal hosting providers, such as Hostinger, you'll need to download WordPress yourself.

Luckily, it's all quite simple: just locate a feature allowing you to install software, often called "Apps", or "Auto Installer".

hosting management screen

From there, thanks to WordPress' massive popularity, installing ant setting WordPress should be a piece of cake – just assign it to your domain, create login data for the backend, and you're good to go.

wordpress download icon on hosting

Once you're done installing, you can access and edit WordPress via your hosting account: or just type in yoursitedomain.com/wp-admin to reach the dashboard.

This is how the dashboard looks like.

wordpress org dashboard

Now, you'll notice that they are a little bit different. The .org dashboard isn't quite as extensive. There are no built-in stats (you'll need to set it up yourself through plugins and integrations), and the setup guide isn't nearly as extensive.

But in order to really compare the experience of the two, we need to go deeper.

Using WordPress.com and WordPress.org

Using both of these platforms is rather simple: however, WordPress.com offers a much more guided experience, better-suited for beginners.

Everything required to set up your site will be nicely put together into bite-sized guides.

wordpress com setup guide

Meanwhile. the .org version does a pretty weak replica of that, offering very little help for beginner users – instead, just spitballing ideas of what someone could do.

wordpress org start guide

As you'll come to find, this is a start of a pretty prevalent trend.

Customization – both simple, one simpler

There are two aspects to personalizing a WordPress site.

First is the visual aspect. Stuff like site layout and color schemes.

The second is your content: text, images, posts, and pages.

This is where WordPress.com and WordPress.org are virtually identical. It's not like some of the best website builders available today, where everything can be accessed from one interface. Here, everything's separated.

For instance, you get to use the Site Customizer to set up some of the basic stuff about your website. That being said, you can't do much: apart from editing some color schemes, menus, or site names.

wordpress site customizer

To do real editing, you need to edit each page individually. Here is where you can see the WordPress.com block editor ("Everything's a block!" they say)

The editor lets you place various types of elements on the page. You can't place them just anywhere – they have to adapt to a pretty strict grid system. However, as limiting as it is, it's a great way to avoid accidentally messing up your site because you dragged something on something else.

wordpress site block editor

The same block editor is prevalent when editing blog posts as well. You get a bunch of elements, and get to use them to build your content.

wordpress blog block editor

The real difference between editing WordPress.com and WordPress.org comes in subtle website editing and management.

For example, just look at the Posts screen.

On WordPress.org, you're getting a fairly barebones list of options.

wordpress org post list

Meanwhile, WordPress.com offers a much more user-friendly experience, letting to see and do a lot more.

wordpress com post list

WordPress.com did all in its power to keep things simple. Meanwhile, WordPress.org gives a blank canvas for you to pain however you wish – with unmatched coding freedom and excellent plugins.

How's that for a transition?

Plugins – paying for your freedom

WordPress is famous for its incredible template libraries: and plugins are available on both WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

However, despite WordPress.com happily showing you all the plugins right on its dashboard...

wordpress com plugins

They will only be available on Business plan and up – meaning you'll need to pay at least $25 a month to get them on WordPress.com.

Meanwhile, on WordPress.org, the world is your oyster: you get to download and manage plugins however you see fit. Some of them will include premium options, so you might still have to pay – but that's true for WordPress.com plugins, too.

wordpress org plugins

WordPress.com tries to make sure that you use its in-house functionality before you find the need to dive into the plugins. Really, everything is there: tools for building a site, editing content, and seeing how it performs.

WordPress.org, however, lets you loose in Wild West of plugins. And overall, they're excellent – helping you deal with SEO, sell online, editing your website, and manage your business all the more efficiently.

There are just a couple of things to be concerned about.

Plugins take up valuable server resources, so use them sparingly to keep your site fast. Also, some plugins won't be fully updated – causing additional issues to your site. Make sure to do your research before downloading!

Templates – great options, more limitations

WordPress.com includes around 100 templates to choose from: from them, 60 are free, and others are paid, costing $50-70 a piece.

wordpress com theme list

Starting with WordPress.com, there are more than 110 free themes you can pick-and-play with. Plus, there are also 80+ premium themes on show, which you can use after upgrading to a paid plan.

Overall, the themes were fairly good. Nothing to blow you socks off – but even the free themes looked functional and modern enough.

wordpress com theme

However, this library is quite heavily curated. WordPress has massive community, making thousands of themes. You can see a lot of more of them with the Premium ($8 a month) plan or higher.

This gives you access to a massive library of themes – something WordPress.org offers right from the very start.

On top of offering a much bigger, less-curated selection of themes.

wordpress org themes

It also gives you access to their source code, allowing to edit them as you please.

Plus, you can also take advantage of third-party markets, including a lot of excellent premium themes, built for specific purposes, including plenty of demo sites and pre-made elements.

wordpress third party themes

Of course, as it is with WordPress.org, not everything is going to work smoothly or work at all.

WordPress.com guarantees full satisfaction and a curated experience. WordPress.org puts all the decision-making and risk-taking into your own capable hands.

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org – which one to choose?

Step by step, we've arrive at the conclusion. Let's take a look at some of the key things we learned on this WordPress.com vs WordPress.org comparison.

  • Which one’s easier to use?

Certainly WordPress.com, if you’re looking to build a simple, no-hassle website – without worrying about hosting, security, or maintenance.

  • Which is the best if you’re looking to make a website for free?

Honestly, there's no clear answer here. The self-hosted WordPress.org gives you more room for customizability, plus custom themes and plugins. However, free hosting is a massive security risk and has ridiculously tight resource limits. WordPress.com — while limited, is much more beginner-friendly and offers a simple, secure way to make a regular personal blog.

  • Which is better to use for an online store?

WordPress.org wins this one. The eCommerce-capable plan on WordPress.com costs $45 a month. For this price, you can purchase an excellent WordPress.org hosting provider, set up a custom website, and still have money left over for snacks. However, WordPress.org will be more complicated – so, it's all down to you.

  • Which is more customizable?

WordPress.org gives you all the freedom right out of the box. WordPress.com asks you to pay for it – so, the .org version has this one in the bag.

Choose WordPress.com if you're looking to build a simple blog, portfolio, or a hobby site. It's free and cheap plans are excellent value, and also easy to use. Choose WordPress.org if you're ready to take your time to make a serious business website and save some money in the process.

More WordPress.org comparisons for you to check out

WordPress.com vs WordPress.org – FAQs

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