New website owners often confuse WordPress.com with WordPress.org. However, as the more grizzled internet veterans will tell you, these are two different platforms, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
The most striking difference between the two is this: WordPress.com is “hosted” while WordPress.org is “self-hosted.” The goal of this article is to help you understand what both these terms mean and how they can affect your website.
What Does It Mean If A Website Is “Hosted?”
A host is, for all intents and purposes, your virtual landlord. In our case, WordPress is our host. It owns and operates a number of special computers called “servers.” These servers store or “host” your website for a fee. In this sense, you can simply imagine your website as the tenant; WordPress as the landlord or host; and the servers as the area you are leasing.
As already mentioned, WordPress.com is a “hosted” website. By using WordPress.com, you are building a website using the proprietary software and storage space provided by the company. The most obvious advantage to using WordPress.com is that you no longer have to worry about the more technical aspects of your website, such as updating your software or backing up your data. WordPress.com will do all that for you. This is a huge advantage for users who have limited technical knowledge or those who don’t have a ton of time to build their website. Moreover, the service is free as long as you don’t need more than 3 GB of space.
With that said, however, there are also some major downsides to using WordPress.com, the most apparent of which is the need to pay a monthly subscription if you need more storage space. What’s even worse are the numerous restrictions for both functionality and design. For example, WordPress.com does not allow custom themes. Although premium plans will allow some degree of customization, the options given to you are still severely limited when compared to WordPress.org. The restrictions even apply to plugins and other tools.
Finally, you can get locked out of your own website if WordPress.com suddenly decides that you’re violating their terms and conditions.
On the other hand, WordPress.org is an open source website platform which allows you to “self-host” your own website. Since it is open source, WordPress.org is completely free to use. There are no subscriptions or monthly payments of any sort. To start a website on WordPress.org, all you need to do is a get your own web host and domain name.
The best thing about WordPress.org is that it allows you to completely customize your website. In other words, unlike WordPress.com, you can install customized themes and plugins, essentially empowering you to do almost anything online with the proper set of skills. Customized tools for tracking and analytics will also become available. These tools allow you to better analyze the amount and nature of the traffic flowing into your website.
All this freedom makes website building extremely flexible. WordPress.org can be used to create websites as complex as online stores or as simple as personal blogs. The only real limits are your imagination and technical know-how.
Moreover, having full control ensures that you won’t have to worry about being locked out of your own website. Though it is, of course, a different story if you’re doing something illegal.
Nevertheless, there are still downsides to using WordPress.org. For example, like any other website, you’ll still need a web host. This web host will essentially be a third-party which rents out space on its servers for a monthly fee of $3 to $10. Though this may seem relatively cheap, keep in mind that the traffic to your website increases, so will the costs of web hosting. Another downside is that you’ll have to manually install updates and backup your data. Updates, however, can be installed with one click and backups can be automated through a variety of plugins.
As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages for both options. WordPress.com is more expensive and only allows limited customization. However, it’s much easier to set up and maintain. In contrast, WordPress.org requires some degree of technical skill to set up and maintain but is more affordable and allows full customization.
Ultimately, the best option will depend on your needs and skills. If you’re going to take up blogging as a hobby, then WordPress.com will probably be your best choice. But if you want to set up an online store, membership site or some other commercial venture, then you’ll probably want to try WordPress.org.