WordPress.org vs WordPress.com – Which One Should I Use?

by on July 31, 2008 · 212 comments

Continuing our series Why Use WordPress for your small business website, this week we’ll explore the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, and help you choose which one to use for your small business web site.

WordPress.org vs WordPress.com

WordPress.org

WordPress.org Banner

WordPress is open source blogging software, and WordPress.org is where you can go to download it. WordPress.org offers free downloads of WordPress files, themes and plug-ins, and includes step-by-step instructions for installing and configuring WordPress on your own hosting provider.

WordPress.org Pros:

The advantage of this approach is that you can install any of the WordPress templates or plug-ins available, and customize your site so that it doesn’t look like just another me-too blog.

  • You have complete control over the look and feel of your site
  • You can install any WordPress plug-in to extend the functionality of your site (believe me, this is a very powerful and inexpensive way to add functionality to your website)

WordPress.org Cons:

In order to do use WordPress this way, you’ll need a few things:

  • A hosting provider that allows you to have MySQL databases and FTP access. You can find good hosting for about $6.95/month at Bluehost and other hosting providers.
  • Knowledge of how to use FTP to transfer files, create a MySQL database, and edit configuration files. Note: many hosting providers now have a one-click WordPress installation that handles this for you.
  • You need to manage your own backups. (However, there are free plugins to automate this easily.)

If this approach sounds like a lot of work to you hang on – as you’ll see below many of the hosting providers have automated most of this to make it easier for you.

WordPress.com

WordPress.com banner

WordPress.com provides a quick and easy way to get a blog online. You can go sign up and create a WordPress blog immediately, for free. This is a multi-user version of WordPress that hosts thousands of blogs.

WordPress.com Pros:

  • Easiest way to get started
  • Pick from list of available themes
  • Hosting is free (there is a $15/year charge to use your own domain name)

WordPress.com Cons:

The downside is that you cannot upload your own themes and plug-ins, and according to their FAQ you cannot use it to post Adsense ads or affiliate links. They also say that they may occasionally show Google text ads on your site.

  • Must choose only from their list of themes available, and you cannot customize them directly
  • Cannot install plug-ins to extend the functionality of your site
  • Sometimes they show ads on your site

In the past, I’ve bumped into some of those limitations when trying to customize the look and feel of a blog, and when trying to install some of the neat plug-ins available. I think WordPress.com is a great way to start a hobby or special interest blog, but for small businesses it is very important to have control over the look of their website, so it doesn’t look like a generic blog.

The Third Alternative – Hosting Provider Easy Install Scripts

There is another alternative; many hosting providers such as Bluehost offer one-step installations of WordPress, eliminating the need to create the WordPress database and configuration files.

This makes it easier to get going quickly, and still gives you the ability to customize things later on. This is the approach that I recommend for most small business owners. It gives you the best balance between simplicity of installation and customization later on.

Here is an example of a real business using WordPress for their web site, Sunnyvale Chiropractor Remington Chiropractic. You’ll notice that the site doesn’t look like a blog, and there is no easy way to tell it is running on WordPress. It has a very basic design, based on a modified WordPress template. Because it is based on WordPress, the content can be easily updated and changed.

Sunnyvale Chiropractor Remington Chiropractic web site

Here’s another example WordPress site that doesn’t look like a blog – SCORE Clinic, a Chiropractor in San Jose.

What about you? Do you have a website or blog already? If not, are you going to go with WordPress.com or self host your own WordPress?

Note: I’ve had quite a few questions in the comments where people ask: “can I use a .com domain name if I do not use WordPress.com?” The answer is YES. Just because you are using WordPress from WordPress.org (also called “self hosted WordPress”) doesn’t mean you can’t use a .com domain.

You can use any domain you want. Just sign up with a hosting provider (BlueHost is my recommendation) and you can use any .com domain name for your website.

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Article by »

Don is an entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley. He founded Expand2Web and is the publisher of the Expand2Web Blog, the SmallBiz WordPress Theme and the GetFiveStars Customer Feedback and Reviews service.

Don has written 278 articles on Expand2Web

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{ 212 comments… read them below or add one }

MimiSpeike January 25, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I’m a graphic artist, working on a novel which I eventually want to promote on my own blog/site. I will want to be able to work up a design which may push the limits. In a publishing program such as InDesign I can do anything I want to. I want a website that can also accommodate any vision I come up with. Would this be wordpress.org, or something else?

I never checked it out, but I heard good things about DreamWeaver at one time. I’m willing to purchase whatever application best serves my juice-this-sucker-up anything-goes style.

What advice do you have for me?

Thanks, Mimi ‘screwball’ Speike

Reply

Don Campbell January 25, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Hi MikeSpeike – I admire your “push the limits” attitude!

I’ve used Dreamweaver to build websites, and it is a great tool. But I prefer using a tool like WordPress now because you still have quite a bit of design flexibility, and it handles the content management as well.

Just like anything, it takes a learning curve if you want to do super advanced design things with it, but that’s true of any platform. At least you already have the design skills, and that will help you out a lot.

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Monique February 20, 2013 at 8:23 am

I definitely agree with using WordPress.org. I like to have full control to the design. I actually like to use Headway Themes to create the design of the website. It’s a one time download, and it allows you to work with blocks instead of entirely code to created the templates to how your website looks. It’s good for less code-experienced website users and allows you to “juice up” your website style as you please. (You can still do custom CSS code in it too.)

That’s just my little input. I use Headway Themes for my company and often design client websites with it too. It smoothly works with Wordpress & all its plugins.

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kajal January 26, 2013 at 10:35 am

very helpful content……..
I want to make blog by installing bluehost, but little more confusion. Plz resolve my querry,i will be very thankfull to you……..

1. Can i changed already Installed Host or downloaded blog from one PC to my leptop ?

2. what happen in case of formating my PC ……. does i completely lost my installed Host or Downloaded wordpress ?

3. Can i reinstall same web host in case of formating PC ?

plz be needful …. thank you so much for this artical.

Reply

Don Campbell January 27, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Hi kajal,
I don’t quite understand your questions, but I’ll do my best here. You don’t run the blog off of your PC or Laptop. It lives on your hosting server. If you want to move from one host to another, you can backup your blog files and database, then download them and upload them to your new hosting provider.

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Tribikram February 7, 2013 at 4:15 am

Hello Don,
This article is very helpful for the starters, absolutely no doubt in it. Just got some queries while g0ing through your article. It is mentioned in the article that WordPress.com does not allow any ads and I guess affiliate links also, does it mean that WordPress.org is much more potential in terms of getting more audience and hence traffic, revenue and referrals?people who are new at this blogging world, and who want to take this blogging very seriously and passionately (from start) and also willing to have some income gradually , if work gets appreciated, and have success then better to choose WordPress.org over the other one?In a sentence when you are aiming to connect with a huge community to give your massage to share your thoughts with people from your field or other field very effectively, is it recommended to go for WordPress.org?Please reply.Looking forward to learn the basics of good blogging. Thanks in advance.

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james February 20, 2013 at 10:36 pm

cheers Don. Very helpful article.

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Elizabeth March 6, 2013 at 6:29 am

I currently use Bluehost for my hosting and WordPress for my web site. I not want to add a blog. How do I add a Blog when I already have WordPress installed and working as my web site? Do I just download WP again? What will happen to my web site if I do that. I’m afraid of over-writing my site!

Reply

Don Campbell August 21, 2013 at 9:00 am

Hi Elizabeth,
If you are using WordPress then you already have a blog. It’s just a matter of finding the link to the blog posts. What is the URL of your website? I may be able to find it for you.

Reply

michelle lopez March 6, 2013 at 7:01 am

Extremely helpful article! I am just starting my blog, set it up on wordpress.com but after just one day of using, I am already encountering some limitations in terms of themes and customization. Went with wordpress.com because I thought wordpress.org would be too challenging for me. But after reading your article, went to BlueHost and I think I found the solution I needed to get me comfortable with wordpress.org. Thanks again!!

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ucuz uçak bileti March 14, 2013 at 3:38 am

very nice article, thank you…

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novolinetricks.info March 18, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Hi there would you mind letting me know which web host you’re using? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different
internet browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most.
Can you recommend a good web hosting provider at a fair price?
Kudos, I appreciate it!

Reply

Angela Brock-Bokern March 24, 2013 at 10:42 am

Hello,
Great info! I tried to subscribe to your ebook, but the form did not complete the action. I wanted to let you know that there appears to be a break in the link. Thank you.

Reply

Don Campbell August 21, 2013 at 9:01 am

Hi Angela,
Thanks for letting me know. I had a few other people experience this but it is all fixed now. Fortunately it was just a temporary thing instead of a big thing I needed to fix!

Reply

TheBoyWonder April 28, 2013 at 11:01 am

Can you still not post affiliate links if using wordpress.com in 2013?

Reply

Don Campbell August 21, 2013 at 9:02 am

That’s correct.

Except now WordPress.com does offer a paid plan where their advertisements are removed and you can post affiliate links. But it is a paid plan just like getting your own host.

Reply

Michael Murphy May 29, 2013 at 11:53 am

Thank you Don for a very insightful article that anticipated and answered my questions before I even realized I needed to ask them!

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Mitchell Webster May 30, 2013 at 6:10 am

Good Morning Don,
I am a Smithsonian Artist, and am looking at your theme for my real website. I have had a WP.com blog for nearly 5 years now. Heritage Basket Studio & Chair Caning. However with this “real” website (I have the domain name and web hosting) all of the subscribers have begged me to keep my WP.com blog, my question is.
Can I transfer my WP.com Blog into my Smallbiz theme, and still use it the way I do, will I have to get a domain for it? Like WP.com offers for 18.00 yr. Everyone wants the current blog intact and to continue as is.
Should I just link from the real website to the WP.com blog? I will be of course having the real blog with your theme in WP.org. Just need to clear this up then I can move forward with the website, which will be as you might guess on Basketry/Seat Weaving/ Chair Caning, and I would like to have the e~commerce plug in so that I can offer a line of my baskets for sale on the website.

Reply

Don Campbell August 21, 2013 at 9:20 am

Hi Mitchell,
That’s certainly a good option. If you already have a lot of traffic and followers on your blog, it may be a lot of work to move it over. So in that case you can just set up a new website and link back and forth between it and the blog.

Reply

Hari Prasad Chaudhary May 30, 2013 at 10:56 pm

Its Nice Article.

Reply

gil July 25, 2013 at 12:58 am

Good article. I find it funny how some people commenting here are supposedly asking for your advice but are really trying to plug their own site here.

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Karan February 4, 2014 at 7:05 pm

gil- I assumed that when asking a question about my blog, the person would want to know what it was..as it might help them understand my question. Some of us complete novices just don’t know and apparently don’t know there is blog etiquette :/ For example, people belittle me for having wordpress.com and trying to make money…they say things like, “Why would you think you can make money on a free host?” Well because until recently (even after countless hours of research), I didn’t know that there were different “types” of wordpress. If you don’t know what to research (or key words), you don’t necessarily know that the info your finding isn’t as helpful as you thought! I’ve established ok traffic and want to use ads and offer downloads (that I create), but I already have a domain name. If I switch, I have to change domain names? Even though it’s still wordpress? If I switch can I use google adsense? offer downloads, sell amazon ext.? I am ok with the look and feel of my blog, it’s the being able to use it to make an income that I’m having trouble. I already switched from blogspot to wordpress ( not knowing there were different types).

Reply

Shannon July 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Hi Don,
Quick question…I’m just starting up a website to showcase my photography and maybe be able to sell items online eventually. I have a hosting company already and have established a domain that I’ve secured already. But the web development is a bit clunky. I’d like to use Wordpress.org to do the development. Since I’ve already established a domain (shannonamberg.com), how do I get started in using Wordpress to develop? It seems like the steps outlined on Wordpress.org for starting up require you to specify a domain…since I’ve already established one through a different host, how does that affect my using Wordpress to get started and develop the site? Do I have to ‘migrate’ anything over or is that just related to switching hosting companies? Also, is it easier to use a hosting company that does all the complicated Wordpress maintenance for you (backing up the site, database stuff, etc.)? I’m thinking I may have to switch hosting companies to one that supports Wordpress or (ugh) secure a new domain name (which I don’t want to do, I like mine!). You can see by my questions that I’m quite the web development novice!

Reply

Don Campbell August 21, 2013 at 8:41 am

Hi Shannon,
These are good questions. Your domain is separate from your web hosting. So there is no problem using your domain on a new server.

I personally like BlueHost for WordPress sites because they make it easy to install. Since you mentioned backups, I would use their “Site Backup Pro” service which is about $20/year because it backs up all your WordPress files, database, etc.

In terms of migrating your content, what is that stored in now? That might be the hard part. If it is in WordPress, you can easily export it and import it to the new site. If they are just HTML pages, you will have to copy and paste your content over to the new website, unless your current system has an export capability.

I hope this answers your questions – if not, let me know.

Reply

Griselda Mussett August 20, 2013 at 9:23 am

Hi, thanks for this. V illuminating.
Can I change from .com to .org? Transfer the site over? Or must I start again?

Reply

Don Campbell August 21, 2013 at 8:43 am

Hi Griselda,
You can export your content from WordPress.com, and then import it into your new WordPress.org site. That way you don’t lose your content. Another one of the great things about WordPress :)

Reply

Annie August 21, 2013 at 8:17 am

Hi, I recently stared up a small blog using Wordpress.com (only because I wasn’t aware of the.org). Now that I see there are a lot of limitations in terms of getting the look I want, is it possible to transfer my domain and start using wordpress.org? Or would I have to get a new domain? Also is there a way to just transfer everything I’ve ever posted from wordpress.com to wordpress.org? I just don’t want to loose all the people who follow my blog…

Reply

Don Campbell August 21, 2013 at 8:46 am

Hi Annie,
Yes, you can use the same domain and point it to your new host when it is ready. Fortunately WordPress has the ability to export your content, and then import it into a new site if you want.

I would set up the new site first, then transfer the content over and then the domain name. This way you don’t disrupt your current site.

In terms of blog followers, once you have moved to the new site and pointed the domain over, it will be transparent to them since they will still type in the same domain name to get to your site.

When you say “blog followers” is that what you mean, or are they following you via some other service in WordPress or an email list?

Reply

Nina August 27, 2013 at 10:02 am

Hello, Don! Tahnk you so much for this article, it answered all my questions. I’m trying to decide which blogging plataform to use, because I want my blog to grow into a website and I want it to look professional and serious, but nobody seemed to get what I was looking for. Now, I’m confident about WordPress.org! So, thank you soooo much! :D

xo from Brazil

Reply

Don Campbell December 4, 2013 at 11:46 am

My pleasure Nina!

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Evelyn Jagpat September 8, 2013 at 8:24 am

Hi Don,
I loved the article and I certainly like the flexibility and control Wordpress.org offers for small business owners. I have one company with 2 separate divisions. Therefore, I would want customers to be able to go to the main website and then link to either division’s website. (Can I do this with Wordpress?) And have it where they can go directly to the division’s website using its unique URL. Does Wordpress offer this ability? Should I be considering the Wordpress multisite option for this? Can Bluehost support multisite on WP?

Could you explain a bit about the multisite option? For example, if my main company’s URL is cats.org
And one division is dogs.org
Can I just type http://www.dogs.org to get to that site or do I do a sub domain or subdirectory thing where I have to type http://www.dogs/cats.org?

What about for a responsive design? Which plugin is best for this capability?

Thanks so much, Don and have a great day!
Cheers.
Eve

Reply

Don Campbell December 4, 2013 at 11:44 am

Hi Eve,
Great questions – you probably want to set up two different websites since they have completely different domains. You don’t need WP Multisite to do this (although you can do it that way).

Just use BlueHost to set up multiple domains (see this article) and you can have multiple websites on the same BlueHost account.

As for your responsive design question – that is best handled in your WordPress Theme. Many WordPress themes are responsive. If not, the free WordPress JetPack has a mobile option that you can use.

Good luck to you!

Reply

Peggy Pearl-Kirkby September 17, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Hi Don

Although my ‘net presence history since 1996 had been as web sites rather than blogs (my first was a “made from HTML scratch” personal website) right up until about 2011, there came just too many changes with the site editors (limitations and then unwanted changeovers to those horrid ‘drag and drop’ editors…shudder…with “no tweaking allowed”). After a lot of “Googling”, I decided to give WordPress.com a try.

I’ve been pretty well happy with my original WordPress.com blog site(s) but more and more I’ve come to realize that my old knowledge of HTML would no longer suffice to ‘tweak’ its appearance like I originally had been able to do. Before I retired, my boss gave me a crash course in some of the CSS code I was beginning to need to refine the appearance of my WP.com page(s) but it became more and more evident that I was going to need more education here.

So…obviously, I do need to go a bit farther with CSS (signs of the times, I suppose) but now it also occurs to me – in order to do any serious tweaking at all on my current WP.com blog I will have to upgrade to premium svc. BUT I’m still limited on how many and what kind of changes I can make, right? So, after 2 years of WP.com, it just stands to reason that maybe WP.org would be a great change for me. I mean, I retired this year and this will now be a full time endeavor and as Mama always said, “You’re never too old to learn.”….which leads to my question:

I know I’m not the only one who is terrified that WordPress.org is going to do me in rather than my conquering it. So my concern is, am I going to be able to work with WP.org as easily as the .com? I know that there will be much to learn with such a changeover but will what I’ve already learned with WP.com be applicable at all with .org? What I mean is, will I HAVE to become adept immediately at different skills in order to simply create a site/blog if I’m satisfied with the basic templates, et al, or is there more to it than that?

Goodness know I’ll have plenty of time to learn all the in’s and out’s (Good Lord willin’ and the creeks don’t rise!) but during the initial learning phase I’d like to have a presentable site my readers can enjoy.

One more thing: with the WordPress.com site I’ve had the option to “Create another blog”; I actually have three on WP.com now. Will I have this same option with WordPress.org or is this a hosting issue?

Thanks for your time…I know these are a lot of questions and concerns but I do hope you can ease my mind!

Reply

Georhe September 28, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Thank you Don for a very insightful article that anticipated and answered my questions before I even realized I needed to ask them!

Reply

Ashlyn November 28, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Hi Don!

I am soon confused, please help me!!

I started a blog two months ago. Purchased my domain name through go Daddy and my hosting through BlueHost. I downloaded WordPress via BlueHost and I have NO clue if I’m running off a .com or .org wordpress!

I want a custom theme designed for me but designers say it won’t work to upload a theme on a .com blog.

Thank youin advance!

Reply

Don Campbell December 4, 2013 at 11:30 am

Hi Ashlyn,
If you are talking about your http://hereismotherhood.com/ site – that is hosted on BlueHost and you have total control over the site. So any designer should be able to customize the theme, etc.

Reply

matt December 7, 2013 at 2:55 am

I own my own taxi and tour business on Maui. I don’t know much about coding or using plug-ins. I’ve been trying ot build a site on Squarespace.com but I’m hitting walls. I’ve already paid for my domain with GoDaddy and registered it with Squarespace. Should I, can I, switch to wordpress.org and use bluehost? Will I get to bring my .com with me?

Reply

Don Campbell December 7, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Hi Matt,
Yes you can bring your domain with you. But it is usually locked for 60 days after you first register it. After than you can transfer it to another registrar or hosting company.

Reply

Naomi December 12, 2013 at 6:06 am

Currently I have a wordpress.com site. About a year ago I tried to switch it to wordpress.org through host monster and switched back because I felt overwhelmed. I was new to website technology and had no idea what I was doing. Now that I am more familiar I would also like to set up a store/purchase option on our site. But is that possible through wordpress.com? And what happens to the followers from wordpress.com when I switch over? Because blog posts don’t go to wordpress.com dashboard when I post through a wordpress.org site.

Reply

Sandra February 26, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Hi Don,
I would like to rewrite a website from Expression Web (due to lack of support as of this year) using Wordpress.org. How do I go about creating a new site in Wordpress.org without interrupting the old website until the new one is complete? And then how to ‘kill’ the old site and turn on the newly written one?

Reply

Manu March 12, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Hi Don,

I have a little question for y0u, I’m not going to take too much of your time ;) . I tend to start a blog, and I’m pretty sure it will be a WordPress blog. My only doubt is whether to make a free .com blog or to invest a little money and create a .org blog. I would like to start a food blog, and for that reason I must be able to post high-quality pictures. The design of the blog is also important for me. What version do you recommend ?

Thanks for an answer !

Reply

Jaswinder May 20, 2014 at 10:19 am

I just started with wordpress.org and there is lot to lern. I hope I can learn quickly and make a good blog.
I started with my above blog.

Reply

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