Self-hosted WordPress.org vs WordPress.com (Free). Which one to pick? When you first start waging the best options to build a site or blog, you will be confused by the various options available.
Hopefully, you will realize that WordPress is an excellent solution. WordPress is an open-source content management system. It is software anyone can download and use for free.
Table of Contents
What Is WordPress?
WordPress is a simple software or a tool that helps you create a website or a blog and manage its content without having any coding skills or technical knowledge (for more info check WordPress faq).
From the admin dashboard, you can almost manage everything on your website, including your pages, posts, comments, media files, users, etc.
WordPress is an open-source content management system (CMS) licensed under GPLv2, which guarantees you the freedom to use the software in any possible way you can think of.
What is more, WordPress comes with an elegant feature: It supports themes and plugins.
A WordPress theme is a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog. These files are called template files. A theme modifies the way the site is displayed without modifying the underlying software.
Plugins are ways to extend and add to the functionality that already exists in WordPress. The core of WordPress is designed to be lean and lightweight to maximize flexibility and minimize code bloat. Plugins then offer custom functions and features so that each user can tailor their site to their specific needs.
So basically, you can use WordPress to create your website, and if it lacks a feature that you need, you can easily add it by installing a plugin that you can download from the WordPress Plugin Directory or third-party sources.
With the thousands of plugins in the WP directory alone, it’s tough not to find what you are looking for.
In 2003, two developers Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little created WordPress by forking B2/Cafelog, an open-source blogging system. Don’t bother looking for B2/Cafelog. It was discontinued a long time ago. In the same way, WooCommerce started by forking Jigoshop.
Then, many developers jumped on board and started contributing to the project. A year later, WordPress 1.0 was born. Year after year, WordPress continued to evolve as new features were introduced and slowly gained popularity and community endorsement.
Fast forward to the current day, WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) in the world.
Who Uses WordPress?
The beauty of WordPress is that almost anyone can find it useful for their business. It’s not one of those CMSs that have a narrow user base or tied to a specific market like, for instance, Magento, which is used solely as an eCommerce platform.
From regular bloggers to developers, small businesses, news outlets, and even well-established companies such as Sony Music or BBC America. Everyone seems to like WordPress!
Is WordPress Really Free?
The word “free” tends to mean something without cost or payment, but when it comes to WordPress or open-source software, in general, it has little to do with money.
In fact, thousands of WordPress products are being sold every day while WordPress is still free.
WordPress is free in a way that you can do pretty much anything with it. You can run it, modify it or even redistribute your own copy of it for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.
If you are a developer and want to modify the source code, it’s important to know that WordPress is free, but it is not copyright-free. It’s licensed under GPL, giving you the copyright to only the modifications you made to the source code, not the entire source code. Also, any derivative work like a theme or plugin will automatically inherit the GPL license, so anyone is free to use it in any way, just like WordPress.
Theme and plugin developers can still license their products differently, but the PHP code should be licensed like WordPress. If you came across a plugin or a theme with its PHP code encrypted or hidden somehow, you should stay away from using it.
WordPress.org vs WordPress.com
If you Google the term “WordPress,” the first two websites that will come up in the results are WordPress.org and WordPress.com. But aren’t these the same?
The guy behind WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, wanted to turn WordPress into a profitable business, so he created WordPress.com to offer services similar to what Squarespace or Wix offer.
WordPress.com is running a modified version of the same WordPress that can be downloaded from WordPress.org. Still, they offer the whole package as a service, including hosting and domain registration with a limited set of themes and plugins.
So, WordPress.org maintains the self-hosted version of WordPress while WordPress.com is the hosted version.
WordPress.org is the center of the WordPress community. It is the version of WordPress that you have to host yourself. This means that if you use WordPress.org, you have to find an affordable WordPress hosting provider to host your blog.
If you host your own WordPress site, you will need to do maintenance and updates when new releases are out. Also, it is essential to secure it from hacking. If you have a spam problem, you will need to install some plugins or find another proper solution. WordPress sites are a favorite target of spammers and hackers.
If there are any sorts of problems with your server, you’ll need to be able to handle that. WordPress.com is a commercial website where you can host a free site with some limitations or pay for upgrades.
It runs on the same software offered at WordPress.org. But, WordPress.com saves you troubles of maintaining and installing on the server. It is the safest way to go, as there are many mechanisms in place to make sure that you don’t accidentally break it or prevent it from working the way it was intended to.
This means that it is nearly impossible for a beginner to screw up something. It also means that you cannot really make use of some of the more advanced and fun features of WordPress.
In return for the free hosting and maintenance, your site will be striked with restrictions and advertising. You can pay yearly to have these removed.
- You can use custom, free, commercial themes and you can modify or do anything you want with your site.
- You can upload any free, custom or paid plugins.
- You need to pay for hosting and domain registration fee.
- You can put your own ads or choose which one to put.
- You can sell ads space on your site and keep all earnings.
- You need to keep site updated, make backups, stop spam, optimize site etc.
- Number of visitors to your site depend on various factors.
- Do whatever you want.
- You manage or provide it.
- SSL security
- FTP access
- You are limited to free themes that are available in WordPress theme repository and you cannot modify CSS or codes in theme.
- You are not allowed to upload any custom, free or paid plugins but there are lot of built in plugin features.
- Up to 3GB of storage space is free. You have to pay domain registration fee if you want custom domain name and not sub domain.
- Blog will display ads for log out users and there is nothing you can do.
- You are not allowed to sell ads on your site unleas you receive at least 25 000 pageviews per month. Then you can apply for Ad Control.
- No need to worry about that.
- You may get extra traffic to your site if your post gets featured.
- WordPress TOS limitations
- They provide it.
Which To Choose?
If you are creating a website for business, it is recommended to use WordPress.org as that will make it possible to retain flexibility, custom themes, extra plugins, etc.
Of course, you can always export your site from WordPress.com, but you’ll then have a whole list of things to handle before being up and running on your own self-hosted installation.
WordPress.com is great if you want to keep an online journal or for small clubs and the like. But the initially free option of WordPress.com could actually result in higher costs down the road.
After you start piling on extra fees for a custom domain, ad removal, extra storage space (you only get 3GBs to start), plus the ability to use custom CSS in your blog design, you really aren’t saving much, if any, money on WordPress.com, and you have to deal with its limitations.
In battle WordPress.org vs WordPress.com, I would definitely recommend going for WordPress.org.
Why Is WordPress So Popular?
At the time of this writing, WordPress is sitting at the No. 1 spot as the most popular CMS in the world.
Puts You Completely In Charge
We live in a world where data is precious. If you spend months or years on a website creating content and building an audience, you need to make sure that you own everything on it, and you can do whatever you want with it.
When you use a service like Squarespace or Wix, you are not the true owner of your website (from a technical perspective), and your whole website is at the mercy of the company policies and terms.
What if the next morning you wake up and realize your website has gone forever or that your account has been suspended permanently? Of course, a reputable company like Squarespace or Wix won’t do something like this without a valid reason. But they still have the power to do it anyway, aren’t they?
When you use a self-hosted solution like WordPress, you are the captain of your website, and you can do whatever the heck you want with it, even to scam people or spread viruses and malware.
Of course, you still have to obey the rules of your host, but usually, these rules are less restrictive, and you still have the option to host WordPress on your own server if you have the resources to do it and can’t find a host that meets your needs.
Easy To Install & Use
It doesn’t take much effort and time and learn how to install WordPress and use it properly.
Maybe you won’t learn everything about WordPress overnight, but you need an hour or two to get started, even if you are an absolute beginner, and you can learn new tricks along the way.
When you compare WordPress with Wix or Squarespace, the latter will feel a lot easier to use because, let’s be honest, these website builders were built specifically for non-technical people and with ease-of-use in mind. Their very user-friendly, drag & drop WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get) editors make building pages a piece of cake.
Wix or Squarespace website builders may sound attractive at first, but sooner than you think, you will find that your customization options are minimal. This is where WordPress comes in handy. It makes your options limitless!
There are many moving parts that affect your ranking when it comes to SEO, and counting on WordPress alone to do all the SEO work for you is not possible. WordPress is only responsible for the way your content is presented.
You still need to optimize your content and do other SEO things like keyword research and link building. WordPress is not SEO-friendly. At least not out of the box. If you want to rank number one for competitive keywords on Google just because you are using WordPress, I am sorry to disappoint you. That will not happen.
WordPress is famous for being good for SEO because of the many SEO features already built-in it like pretty URLs, crawlable and searchable content, etc.
However, when it comes to SEO, WordPress truly shines when you choose an SEO-friendly theme, use an SEO plugin like Yoast SEO and do proper SEO on your content.
WordPress is not just a blogging platform. It used to be, but now it’s not. You can pretty much use it for anything.
WordPress, out of the box, is a simple blog. But with the use of a plugin or two and a few tweaks here and there, you can transform it into an e-store, a job portal, or even a social network.
With the power of plugins, you can leverage WordPress to have the most advanced technologies a website can have, like advanced filters, real-time tracking, 3D rendering, etc.
Also, you don’t have to be a developer to get your WordPress website up and running. There is almost a plugin for anything. You need to find the one that gets the job done.
WordPress can also be extended using themes, but themes are best used to change the look and feel of WordPress. A plugin should handle anything that alters the functionality of WordPress and the way it works.
The performance, security level, and content management that WordPress offers out of the box are enough for most small businesses or startups. But if these aren’t enough, they can be tailored to match any business needs.
WordPress has proven to be, when properly configured and with the right infrastructure, highly scalable.
It can handle tens of thousands of requests at a time and deliver millions of monthly page views. But like any other CMS or framework, it can handle as much traffic as the hardware that runs it can support.
WordPress’s appearance is handled by themes, from top to bottom. In fact, the final HTML code the browser will receive is put together by the theme. This gives WordPress themes the power to completely change the appearance of any page on your website from header to footer, colors, and typography.
The WordPress theme directory contains a huge collection of themes created by casual coders and professional designers alike.
Free to Use In Any Way
Being an open-source project, WordPress is 100% free to use in any possible way. There are some limitations, but these are not tied to how WordPress can be used, so don’t worry about them.
The same applies to themes and plugins. If you don’t like the theme you are currently using, you can delete it and install another one or copy parts of its code and add them to another one. If you own the website, you also own the WordPress files hosted on it, including the installed themes and plugins.
Low Setup & Maintenance Costs
You don’t need to spend a fortune on hosting to use WordPress. Any cheap shared hosting or virtual server from DigitalOcean will get the job done.
Also, it doesn’t require much effort or time to keep WordPress running. WordPress will notify you whenever an update is available.
If you don’t like the free themes, you can get a beautiful premium theme starting from $30.
Is WordPress Right For You?
This is a tough question to answer, so please take this with a grain of salt. I will try to list the most common reasons that make WordPress a bad choice for your business and looking for alternatives that are needed or at least recommended.
You Can’t Afford Maintenance Cost
WordPress requires to be updated constantly. If you don’t update it for a long period of time, it shouldn’t stop working suddenly, but it might become vulnerable to exploits and attacks.
So you need to keep it up to date, and also, you need to make sure everything is working properly after each update, including your active theme and plugins. And this can quickly become a daunting task.
WordPress Isn’t That Easy To Use
Even though WordPress setup and use need minimal effort and time, for some people, that’s a lot to ask.
Nowadays, many hosting companies will automatically install WordPress for you and give you all the details you need to log into your WordPress dashboard. But that’s only the first step.
You still need to learn how to tweak the settings, add your pages and posts, choose a different theme, and install a few plugins you need.
This learning curve can be frustrating for some people, and that’s why services like Wix, Squarespace, and the hosted version of WordPress exist.
If you think WordPress is not that easy, I totally understand. WordPress can sometimes drive you nuts, especially when your plugin stop working suddenly or when you get a PHP error after an update.
Such issues can take your whole website offline for days or even weeks. If you are not willing to put the required effort and time into learning WordPress and learn how to deal with this kind of problem, it is better to choose some other service.
WordPress Isn’t Flexible Enough
WordPress is flexible, no doubt about that. You can easily extend it using plugins. But is it flexible enough?
Let’s say you want to create an e-commerce website. Well, WordPress offers multiple e-commerce solutions like WooCommerce, which is enough to set up your store and start accepting payments.
But what if you want to sell digital products and subscription-based services? No problem, a plugin like Easy Digital Downloads will get the job done.
That’s cool! Now let’s say you want to create the next Spotify or Youtube. So you did some research and found the perfect plugin that will turn your website into a music store like Spotify or a video sharing website like Youtube. But there is a tiny problem. This plugin doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that Spotify or Youtube has. So what you do?
Let’s assume you hired a WordPress wizard to implement all the features you want. Your developer will use everything WordPress offers to create your website, and he will do it the WordPress way.
Fast forward a few months or maybe years, your website is now ready to go live, and you are happy with it. But it turns out to be very buggy, takes forever to load, and the overall user experience is awful. Ouch!
So what’s the catch here? You expected too much from WordPress. The point I am trying to prove here is that WordPress is a Content Management System, and for this kind of project, you need to use a Framework.
A framework is a library that makes it possible to develop a web application using pre-written code. CodeIgniter, CakePHP, Zend, and Django are some of the well-known examples of web application frameworks.
So if you want your website to be very custom and very flexible, you should use a framework instead of a CMS like WordPress. Also, you have the option to create an entire framework and then use it to create your website if you can’t find one that’s good enough. Maybe this is overkill for individuals and small businesses, but big companies like Google and Microsoft do this all the time.
WordPress Isn’t Fast Enough
WordPress can get bloated and slow as a snail very easily, especially if you install so many plugins. I see people abuse their WordPress websites all the time by installing so many plugins that they don’t even need. After all, most of these plugins are advertised to be “the only plugin you will ever need”!
But let’s say you will install only a couple of plugins that you really need, or let’s even assume you will not install any plugins at all, and you will choose a very lightweight theme. Then how fast will WordPress be?
WordPress, when properly configured, can handle hundreds of thousands of unique visitors per day.
However, a website built using a framework like Laravel will outperform WordPress in terms of speed if both are tested on the same server using a very similar configuration and with no caching.
However, it worth mentioning that Laravel, unlike WordPress, is pretty much useless out of the box and doesn’t do anything except loading the static front page.
WordPress.org Or WordPress.com Summary
When it comes down to cost, freedoms and limitations, and maintenance and development considerations, WordPress.org wins. It may take more time and effort to set up a WordPress site, but you will have full control over the look and feel of your site.
You will be able to use custom themes, customize their look, and upload custom plugins to add more functionality to your site.
If you plan to grow your site and increase traffic, then downloading WordPress from WordPress.org is my recommendation. What is your opinion? Let me know in the comments below.
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