If you want to use WordPress to build a self-hosted website or start a blog, you have a choice of two flavours: WordPress.org and WordPress.com.

What are the differences between the two?

WordPress.org provides you with the software you need to start a WordPress powered website or build an app. You’ll need to download the software and either build your site offline or buy a domain name and hosting to build your site online.

WordPress.com, on the other hand, is totally free for the basic package and provides you with everything you need to start a blog – a sub-domain name, hosting and plenty of free and premium themes. You just need a username, an email address and the willingness to learn.

So that’s the basics out of the way, let’s explore some of the other differences between the WordPress.org and WordPress.com.

WordPress is free to use. However, to get more out of your WordPress website or blog, there’s a high chance you’ll need to spend a little money. We’ll get to that later.

Let’s first look at WordPress.org

Screenshot of WordPress.org homepage

The WordPress.org version of WordPress is what’s known as the ‘standalone’ version. It’s available in two ways:

  • A download file from the WordPress.org website.
  • Through your web hosting company.

Downloading the file from WordPress and manually installing it on a server (which is what you have to create a website) is not as easy as you might think.

It’s obviously not impossible but you’ll need to be fairly technical to get it right first time around.

There are a few steps to the process, including creating a database, creating a user and editing a WordPress file called wp-config.php.

There are lots of things that can go wrong, which will cause you stress and frustration. However, I learned about databases and MySQL using this route. So, if you want to do the same thing, I suggest you manually install WordPress at least once.

You’ll find everything you need to know about the process in this tutorial.

From the WordPress.org website:

Things You Need to Know Before Installing WordPress

Install WordPress through your web hosting company

The other way I mentioned is through your web hosting company.

This is the best way for most non-techies to launch a WordPress powered website because the techie things listed above are done for you by auto-installer systems like Softaculous. All you do is click the Install button and follow the on-screen instructions. This is how it looks in one of the hosting companies I use, Vidahost.

Install WordPress screen at Vidahost

(Even those with technical knowledge prefer this way because it’s quick, easy and efficient.)

Okay, so that’s how you get WordPress working, but what are the differences when it comes to everyday use and growing your website or blog?

The main benefits of WordPress.org

The biggest benefit of using the standalone version of WordPress is control.

You can do whatever you want (in accordance with your host’s terms and conditions, of course) and you can install whatever plugins you like.

You can only install plugins on a WordPress.com site if you opt for the Business plan, which comes with a hefty price tag for newbies. This freedom to do whatever you want is why so many people prefer the WordPress.org version.

What else?

  • You can add as many free and premium themes and plugins as you like, and you have full access to the code of each one.
  • If you want to get into creating your own themes or plugins, you can do that and upload them to your site without going through any kind of approval process.
  • You can make money through ad networks like AdSense and keep 100% of the income those ads generate.
  • You can add data tracking software such as Google Analytics.
  • You can create a wide range of websites such as an online store, web directory or membership site.

You can’t do any of these things with the free version of WordPress.com, but you can do some of these things with the paid versions.

The main cons of WordPress.org

The downside? You’ll need to take a more hands-on approach to managing your site. You’ll need hosting, and when problems occur with the hosting or website, you’ll need to deal with them.

Most web hosting companies provide excellent support but sometimes you might have to wait longer for help than you’d like for help. Especially if you’re on shared or cheap hosting.

Managed hosting companies offer a premium service. So you tend to get problems fixed quicker.

You’ll also need to remember to renew your domain name. (Yeah, don’t forget that!) If you think you might, you could set the domain to renew automatically.

Last con – you’ll need to keep WordPress and all the plugins and themes up to date to make your site works at its best and to avoid hacking issues.

Don’t worry too much about this. Just make sure you update stuff as needed. Don’t wait until you have a load of plugins and a couple of themes to update as you might run into issues when you do them en masse.

And always make sure you have a backup and the process of restoring it should everything go wrong.

There are plenty of plugins to choose from that do this job really well.

How much does it cost to create a website with WordPress.org?

Let’s look at what you need and price each of them up:

  • WordPress software – free
  • YouTube video or tutorial showing you how to install WordPress – free
  • Domain name – around $10 per year but you can pay less or more depending on special offers and the domain extension you choose (we like and use namecheap).
  • Hosting – start small and choose a basic package for around $50 per year (Bluehost is a good place to start, alternatively, try SiteGround)

So, all in all, you’re looking at around $60 to set up a website for a year. Not bad is it?

To get a really nice looking website that provides an awesome user experience, you’ll probably need to spend a bit more than $60.

You’ll need some or all of the following:

  • A premium WordPress theme – anywhere between $35 and $150 depending on your choice (check out our list of premium WordPress theme shops, btw, this site’s built with Kadence)
  • Better hosting – fast-loading pages provide the best user experience. Cheap hosting can work if you use a well-optimised theme and efficient plugins, but you might want to upgrade your hosting if your site starts getting a lot of traffic. Expect to pay anything between $10 – $40 per month.
  • Premium plugins – a lot of decent plugins operate under a freemium license/business model. They give you part of the plugin for free but expect you to pay for premium features. It’s not just fancy shopping carts or e-commerce add-ons either. More down to earth plugins also offer a free and premium version.
  • Tools and resources – depending on what you want to do with your website, you might have to fork out for mailing list software, a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, SEO services and a whole load of other things.

Who should use WordPress.org?

If I said everyone would you hold it against me?

Let’s take a look at WordPress.com

There are two big plus-points to using WordPress.com. The first plus-point is the hosting. It’s free, fast, secure and you don’t have to do any of the heavy-lifting when setting up your site. It’s all done for you.

The second plus-point is you can get a website/blog without spending a penny.

It’s an ideal solution if you just want to test the water to see what goes into creating and publishing content.

I should say at this point that although WordPress.com is free for everyone, the basic package has a lot of limitations. To enable more of the features for creating a better website/blog, you’ll need to spend a little cash.

For example, if you want to upload your own (or somebody else’s) themes and plugins, you’ll need a Business Plan. It’ll set you back $25 per month and you’ll be billed annually ($300) so it’s a large outlay for a newbie but good value for an established site with a fair amount of traffic.

If you’re happy to stay with a fairly basic version, but want to use your own domain instead of the one given to you by WordPress.com, you’ll need to spend $4 per month (again, billed annually at $48).

This option, called Personal, also gives you an additional 3GB of storage and email and live chat support, which you don’t get on the Free plan. You’re left to fend for yourself and ask questions in the dedicated (and useful) forum.

The main benefits of WordPress.com

Let’s take a look at some of the main benefits of using WordPress.com to host your site.

  • Dead easy to set up. All you need is a name for your site and an email address.
  • No fees of any kind for the basic Free plan.
  • Very little downtime.
  • Super-fast servers.
  • No updates to worry about – WordPress takes care of all that stuff.

The main cons of using WordPress.com

  • WordPress.com puts ads on your site which you don’t earn money from and can only remove if you upgrade to a paid plan (Personal – $48 per year).
  • On the Free plan, your web address looks something like this: https://myblog.wordpress.com. In technical terms, this is a subdomain (myblog) of the main domain (wordpress.com). To use your own domain, you’ll need to upgrade. The former is okay if you’re running a personal blog, but it doesn’t look too great if you’re running a business website.
  • You’re limited to a choice of only free themes.
  • You can’t place ads on your site but you can use contextual affiliate links (like Amazon).
  • There’s very little scope for customising your site on the Free plan.
  • WordPress.com could shut down your website at any time if you break the terms of service.

How much does it cost to create a website with WordPress.com?

As we’ve already discussed, the basic plan is free but if you want a bells and whistles site, you’ll need to upgrade to one of the paid plans. Here’s a breakdown of what’s on offer.

WordPress.com plans and pricing
WordPress.com plans and pricing

Which is best for you?

If you just want to test the water and don’t have much spare money, try WordPres.com. You can set up an account for free and experiment with many of WordPress’s features. They are a little different in the two versions, but once you know your way around one version, you should quickly be able to figure out the other.

If you want to take a more hands-on approach to building websites, the standalone version available at WordPress.org or through your hosting company is definitely the one to choose. You will have to pay for a domain and hosting, but the cost is relatively low these days. The standalone version gives you way more choice and lets you take more control over each and every part of your website. Definitely the way to go if you can.