Which is a better option for you? A self-hosted WordPress.ORG site or a free WordPress.COM site? Today we tackle their differences, and help you choose which is right for you and your site.
But first, why WordPress?
WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) in the world, used by 23.3% of the top 10 million websites (as of January 2015). Since it is an open source community project, tens of thousands of people are contributing to it in order to make it into the most user-friendly CMS there is.
So that being said, there’s really only two choices to choose from if you’re looking to start an online presence, either for yourself (in the form of a personal blog) or for your business: WordPress.ORG or WordPress.COM.
We made an infographic to visually highlight the key differences between the two. We discuss these key differences in detail below.
Cost. At first glance, a self-hosted WordPress.ORG site looks expensive. Web hosting companies have annual fees in exchange for the services they render, and even domain names have to be renewed yearly in order to ensure you maintain ownership of your .com (or .net, .org, etc.). WordPress.COM on the other hand, is free to maintain and you have the ability to make paid upgrades as your site grows.
It has been proven on the long run, however, that it is more cost-effective to maintain your own self-hosted WordPress.ORG site than an upgraded WordPress.COM site, because as your site need grows, the latter’s charges and fees also grow along with it. With a self-hosted WordPress.ORG site more or less maintains the level of costs year by year.
Control. With WordPress.COM, you don’t own your site since they host it for free (even though you may have purchased their custom domain upgrade). The probability of WordPress.COM deleting your site might be slim, but be aware that they could, in fact, take down your site for one reason or another, since your database is hosted by them.
WordPress.ORG gives you 100% control over your website, which is how it should be. But remember when the venerable Uncle Ben said these words to Peter Parker (Spiderman, everyone): “With great power comes great responsibility”? Well, that also holds true for websites. Since you have 100% control over it, you may have to get your hands dirty from time to time. Or hire someone (like us!) to do it for you. Maintaining your own website may not easy, but it is definitely so, so rewarding.
Themes. WordPress.COM has thousands of quality themes in their repository, which you could use to dress up your site and make minor tweaks on (changing the header or body font, for instance). For full-on customization though, you can only do it on a self-hosted WordPress.ORG site. Whether it be a premium theme framework or a completely custom-made WordPress theme, making your site stand out in the crowd is made possible with access to your theme folders, so you can make code tweaks as you see fit.
Plugins.The WordPress software is designed to be lean and lightweight. This is where plugins come in. They extend and add to the core functionality of WordPress so that each user can tailor their site to their specific needs. WordPress.COM do not allow uploading of plugins on your site, a self-hosted WordPress.ORG site does. And with the power of plugins, you can do so much more with your website, more than you ever dream possible.
Ads. Simply put, you can earn a lot more with a self-hosted WordPress.ORG site. Advertisers are drawn to popular and well-maintained sites, something you can work on over time using a self-hosted WordPress.ORG site. You will receive full income and will be able to choose which advertisers to appear on your site. Additionally, you can approach advertisers to see if they want to sponsor your site for a fee.
With a WordPress.COM site, you can still monetize your site via WordAds. There is nothing concrete on the WordAds FAQs, but most who applied to WordAds claim that the minimum the required page views per month ranges from 20,000 to 25,000. Should you be accepted into the program, a percentage of your ad revenue goes to WordPress.
It is also important to note in this section that third-party advertising networks like Google AdSense, OpenX, Lijit, BuySellAds, and Vibrant Media are not allowed on WordPress.COM.
To wrap it up, since individual needs differ, there would be times when a free WordPress.com site will be good enough. WordPress.COM is obviously the option with an extremely low barrier to entry, which could be especially enticing to newbies.
But, if from the very start you are already planning to take your site to the next level, whether to make money out of it, or simply grow your audience, you will be quickly stifled by the limitations of WordPress.COM. We would personally go for a self-hosted WordPress site in a heartbeat any day of the week.