WordPress can be a little bit confusing if you’re new to the platform.
And the one thing that confuses people more than anything else is the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org (also known as “self-hosted”).
While both platforms allow you to create websites and blogs, WordPress.com and WordPress.org are actually very different platforms.
In this post, I’m going to discuss the differences between WordPress.com websites and self-hosted WordPress websites.
Click the links below to navigate through this post:
- What actually is WordPress?!
- What is WordPress.com?
- What is WordPress.org?
- Ease of use
- Statistics and Analytics
- Is it worth upgrading your WordPress.com account?
- Can you move from WordPress.com to a self-hosted WordPress website?
What actually is WordPress?!
Ok, let’s start at the very beginning. What is WordPress?
Well, WordPress is a content management system (CMS). It is an open-source platform which means it is openly shared and anyone can use it.
While WordPress is perhaps best known for being a blogging platform, it is actually so much more than just that. Using WordPress you can create complex websites with additional functionality. Through WordPress, you can start an online shop, sell digital courses, and yes, of course, run a blog!
What is WordPress.com?
WordPress.com is essentially a hosting service provided by WordPress. It uses a modified version of the WordPress CMS.
WordPress.com websites run on WordPress.com servers which means you don’t need to sort out the web hosting (i.e. the space online where your website lives) yourself.
What is WordPress.org?
WordPress.org is the website you go to if you want to download the WordPress CMS. It’s completely free to download, but once you have downloaded it you need to upload it to a web host and create a database to run it off.
WordPress.org websites are more often referred to as self-hosted WordPress websites because you are responsible for hosting the website.
Now let’s compare the WordPress.com to WordPress.org so you can see what the difference is between them…
The basic version of WordPress.com is free for life, and this is why it’s a great platform to start off with if you are new to the world of websites!
However, to unlock additional features, you need to upgrade to a paid plan. WordPress.com has three paid plans; Personal (£3 per month), Premium (£7 per month) and Business (£20 per month). For more information, check out this page.
If you want a custom domain (i.e. www.my-website.com instead of www.my-website.wordpress.com) you will also need to purchase this. This can be purchased through WordPress.com itself or from a different domain registrar.
The WordPress platform itself is completely free to download from WordPress.org. However, in order to get your website up and running, you need to purchase a domain (if you don’t already own one) and hosting.
Hosting is the space online where your website files live. You don’t need to purchase this when you set up a WordPress.com website as your hosting is included. You can pay for your hosting either monthly or annually.
Ease of use
Even as someone who is obsessed with the self-hosted version of WordPress, I have to admit that WordPress.com is an easier platform to get started with.
The interface is simple to use and you don’t have to worry about dealing with the more technical aspects of running a website such as hosting, updates and backups. WordPress.com takes care of everything for you.
Self-hosted WordPress websites come with a bit of a learning curve. You need to have a basic understanding of things like hosting and domains. Although, you can hire a web developer, like me, to handle all of that for you.
Fortunately, there are lots of websites out there (like mine!) that are full of tutorials to help you out at any stage in your WordPress journey.
If you would like to try out WordPress.org before you invest in a domain and hosting, I recommend using a free tool called Local by Flywheel to set up a local WordPress website.
When you set up a WordPress.com website, you don’t technically “own” the website. It belongs to WordPress. This means if you violate their terms your website could be removed. Or, if WordPress.com decided to close down one day, your website would disappear with it.
If you purchase a domain to use with a WordPress.com website then you will own this. So if you decided to move to a different platform you could take this with you.
When you set up a self-hosted WordPress website, that website belongs to you. You have control over everything and you can do whatever you like with it. Although, saying that, make sure you don’t do anything that violates your host’s terms as they could revoke your hosting!
If WordPress decided to close down, your website would still exist. Of course, you wouldn’t be able to update to a new version of WordPress but at least you would have access to your website files to move your content elsewhere.
The layout and appearance of your WordPress website is called a “theme”.
WordPress.com is quite restrictive when it comes to themes. Unless you upgrade to the Premium or Business plans you can only choose from a selection of free themes and you will only be able to make minimal customisations to these themes.
If you upgrade to the Premium or Business plans you will have more choice when it comes to themes because as well as the free themes you will also have access to a number of “premium” themes.
However, if you wanted to upload your own theme, or build your own, you would need to upgrade to the Business plan.
Self-hosted WordPress websites have a lot more flexibility when it comes to themes. Not only can you choose from a selection of free themes, you can also upload themes you have found or purchased from elsewhere. Once these themes are installed you can easily customise them using the Customiser page, or by editing the code directly (if you feel confident enough!).
And, as you will have access to your website files, you can even build your own themes!
Plugins are pieces of software that can be added to your WordPress to enhance it’s existing features or add new functionality.
Unfortunately, the only way you can install plugins on a WordPress.com website is if you upgrade to the Business plan. Not being able to install plugins will is really limiting and you will miss out on a lot of the amazing features of WordPress.
One of the best features of self-hosted WordPress websites is the ability to install plugins freely.
You name it, there’s a plugin that can do it! In fact, there are over 50,000 plugins available for you to use to add additional functionality to your website. Just remember not to overuse them!
Statistics and Analytics
Another downside of WordPress.com is that you can’t make use of analytics tools such as Google Analytics unless you upgrade to the Business plan. You only have access to WordPress Stats which is not as accurate as other analytics tools.
If you are a blogger and you are planning on working with brands, some brands will require evidence of your statistics and they may not accept WordPress Stats as evidence due to their inaccuracies.
As a self-hosted WordPress user, you can install a variety of analytics tools including the very powerful Google Analytics.
If you like the WordPress Stats feature that is built into WordPress.com and you want this on your self-hosted WordPress website, you can install the Jetpack plugin and activate the Site Stats setting.
As your website is hosted on WordPress’s own servers, you don’t need to worry about backing up your content as WordPress will handle that for you.
WordPress will also take care of any updates and they will help to keep your website optimised.
If you own a self-hosted WordPress website then you are responsible for making backups of your website. The easiest way to backup your website is using a plugin such as UpdraftPlus.
Although your host might make backups on your website, I don’t recommend relying on these. In some cases, your host might charge you to obtain your backups should you need them.
You are also responsible for keeping your WordPress installation, plugins and themes up-to-date which is very important in terms of security.
WordPress.com have their own advertising program called WordAds. You can use WordAds to display adverts on your website to make a small amount of money.
Unfortunate the only way to get access to WordAds is if you upgrade to the Premium or Business plans, or if you are on the Free or Personal plan but you have enough traffic to meet the requirements (I think this around 25,000 page views per month, but don’t quote me on it!).
If you would like to use third-party advertising platforms such as Google AdSense then you would need to upgrade to the Business plan.
Alternatively can also make money through affiliate links, although there are some restrictions, and through sponsored content.
If you own a self-hosted WordPress website then you are freely allowed to sell advertising space on your website. There are many advertising platforms out there but one of the more popular ones is Google AdSense which works on a pay-per-click basis.
You can also make money through affiliate links and sponsored content. As you own the website there are no restrictions in place.
When it comes to setting up a shop and selling goods and services through WordPress.com, your options are very limited.
If you upgrade to the Premium or Business plan, you will have access to Simple Payments. Simple Payments is a relatively new addition to WordPress.com that allows you to accept payments via PayPal by adding a PayPal button to your website. If you are on the free or Personal plan you will not have access to this.
If you would like to open a proper online shop, with features such as stock management and customer accounts, you would need to move to a self-hosted WordPress website or use a different e-commerce platform like Shopify.
If your website runs on WordPress.org then you can easily integrate a shop into your website if you wish. There are a few different e-commerce plugins that you can use to create your shop but I personally recommend WooCommerce.
You have limited support when it comes to optimising your WordPress.com website for search engines as you cannot utilise SEO plugins. To be able to use such plugins you would need to upgrade to the Business plan.
As you can freely use plugins on a self-hosted WordPress website, you can install SEO plugins to help you to optimise your website and its content. My favourite SEO plugin is Yoast SEO.
Is it worth upgrading your WordPress.com account?
If you are considering upgrading your WordPress.com account then I recommend looking at the pros and cons of moving to a self-hosted WordPress, and to work out which is better value for money.
Let’s do the maths.
The WordPress.com business plan is currently £20 a month, so for a whole year that’s £240.
However, if you were to go self-hosted, you could purchase a domain for less than £10 a year, and sharing hosting from Namecheap (affiliate link) for as little as £25 a year. So in total, that would set you back around £35 a year, and you would get pretty much all of the benefits that you get from the WordPress.com business plan.
Sure, a self-hosted WordPress website requires a little more work, but I know I’d rather spend £35 a year than £240 on my website!
Can you move from WordPress.com to a self-hosted WordPress website?
You sure can!
If you are interested in moving from WordPress.com to a self-hosted WordPress website and you want to make the move yourself, I have a tutorial for you that will walk you through the entire process. If you already own a domain that you would like to keep and use on your self-hosted WordPress then you can do this. However, if you don’t already own a domain then you will need to purchase one.
However, if the idea of moving makes you feel uneasy, I can move your website for you. For more information, click the link below:
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