Which one should you choose?
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Welcome to the Wonderful World of Website Design!
If you’ve been thinking about building a website for your business (or a hobby that you’d like to turn into a business), you’re probably wondering which service to choose. And with so many options, it’s no wonder people have a hard time deciding.
This can be quite overwhelming, especially if you’re not particularly “techy.” Should you just go with SquareSpace, Wix, Weebly, or another “easy-to-use” website builder? If you want my honest opinion, nope. Not if you have a business or are planning to develop one.
So what’s the alternative?
WordPress. But it can be really confusing, to be fair. Even deciding which WordPress to choose can be a headache. That’s why I wrote this article comparing WordPress.com and WordPress.org, so you can make an informed decision and choose the right one for your goals & needs.
What is WordPress?
We may as well start here. According to WordPress.org itself, “WordPress is open source software you can use to create a beautiful website, blog, or app.”
What does open source mean?
“Open source” is simply what we call software whose original source code is freely available for anyone to redistribute and modify.
Is it free?
The simple answer is, yes. WordPress is free to use and build a website with, but it’s not a website builder like the others I mentioned. It’s actually a content management system (CMS), though it does offer an incredible amount of themes & plugins (on WordPress.org) to help you design & develop your website. Let’s dig in a little deeper.
WordPress.com VS WordPress.org: Major Differences
(The link above is an affiliate link, which means I will get a small commission if you click on it & buy hosting.)
The major difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is where your website is hosted. So let’s clarify.
If you go through WordPress.com, your website will be hosted by WordPress.com, which makes many things much easier for you, but you sacrifice a lot of freedom for such ease. I’ll cover this in more detail in the coming sections.
On the other hand, WordPress.org (aka “the real WordPress”) requires a third party web host, like SiteGround, to house your website. It’s more work for you, but the trade off is total freedom and you actually own your website. (Disclaimer: if you buy hosting through one of the SiteGround links, I will receive a small commission. You can read why I highly recommend it here. Thanks for your support!)
At this time, WordPress.org powers approximately 35% of the internet, including a plethora of the most well-known corporate websites, as well as various large “website as a service” implementations such as WordPress.com itself, d6Collab, & Edublogs to name a few!
First, let’s take a look at WordPress.com. You can get a free plan, but they are restrictive. Because your site is being hosted for free, it will be built on a subdomain (i.e. yoursite.wordpress.com).
It will also have WordPress.com ads plastered all over it, which isn’t very professional looking. Additionally, the limited storage space can be problematic. These issues can be solved by getting a paid account; however, they are still limited in other significant ways.
Now, let’s examine WordPress.org. As I’ve said, the software is free to install on any web host that offers it, but you do have to pay for the web host. Most charge you annually, but some will let you go month to month.
If you’re not overly excited about researching web hosts for some reason (can’t imagine why), do us both a favor and check out SiteGround. I became an affiliate for them about a year ago after using their service to host d6Collab for three years because I’ve genuinely never had a better web host in 18 years of web development. (You can read my recommendation here if you like.)
The other expense to consider is your domain name, as you have to register it once a year. The estimated cost of self-hosting with WordPress.org is about $40-$100 per year, depending on which hosting provider you choose. (Higher traffic sites are more expensive to host.)
If you have a business website, chances are, you’re going to want to monetize it at some point. Something to consider about WordPress.com is that you cannot run ads on your site or monetize it in any way. You can, however, apply for advertising with revenue sharing once your website is getting at least 25,000 page views each month.
With WordPress.org, you can monetize your website in any way you wish, including running ads, selling services &/or products, monthly or annual subscriptions to premium content, etc. You can even create your own webstore with shippable goods. And the best part is, you keep 100% of the revenue!
WordPress.com offers limited customization options. For instance, you must use a theme from the WordPress repository and you can’t customize it. You also can’t upload custom themes or any plugins at all. Instead, there are built-in features that act like plugins, but you can’t choose or control them.
Conversely, self-hosting with WordPress.org gives you the freedom to use any theme you want, and you have access to the full WordPress repository of free themes. However, you can also purchase & upload any premium or custom theme you like, and you can customize or modify it any way you want. You can also use any free, premium, or custom plugins you want, making WordPress almost infinitely extensible.
Search engine optimization isn’t just important. It’s absolutely critical to getting your site indexed by search engines and seen by your ideal target market. Since you can’t upload any plugins on WordPress.com, you don’t have much command over how your site is presented online.
I’m starting to feel a little like a broken record now, but because you can upload any plugins you like & have access to some of the best SEO solutions on the internet with WordPress.org, you have incredible control over your SEO. In addition, you can use a theme (like any of mine) that has built-in SEO features for an extra boost!
With WordPress.com, you have access to their built-in stats, but you can’t install any third party analytics, which are more powerful. Are you sensing a pattern here?
Again, WordPress.org gives you more freedom, as you can install Google Analytics & others that allow you to access full insights for your site. This is an invaluable part of any marketing strategy and should be a serious consideration because analytics give you insight into your audience’s likes, dislikes, habits, location, which of your pages get the most traffic & visitor retention, where visitors enter your site from, what device they were on, etc.
WordPress.com doesn’t allow you much latitude with branding. Unless you pay to have them removed, your website will display WordPress’s branding, and ads that you don’t get any revenue from.
I bet you can’t guess what I’m about to say next, though… WordPress.org gives you complete branding freedom on your website! Full stop.
Membership websites are a great way to build a community around your brand, services, &/or products, and they can be an excellent source of recurring revenue on the right platform. The only way to create a membership site on WordPress.com is with a $300 per year business account.
On the other hand, WordPress.org enables you to create a powerful membership website with robust features including multiple membership levels, restricted content, drip content, learning management systems, & more! (All of which, I’ve done on d6Collab!) And if you think back to the “Cost” section of this article, a year of web hosting on almost any other platform is going to cost way less than $300 for most websites.
Similarly, if you want an e-commerce site, you can now create one on WordPress.com if you purchase their e-commerce plan for $45 per month, which is billed annually.
However, as stated in the section above, you’re going to spend way less and have much more control over your site with a third party web host. WordPress.org gives you the ability to create any kind of online store that suits your needs. You can sell digital products &/or physical goods. Moreover, you can accept credit cards, PayPal, bank checks, and even bitcoin if you’re into that sort of thing.
Managing and maintaining your website is made super easy by WordPress.com. You don’t have to worry about anything because they take care of all of your maintenance, including, but not limited to, site optimization, backups, & updates.
With WordPress.org, you are responsible for all of your own maintenance & management. This means, you must keep your site optimized, updated, & backed up. You are also responsible for your own website security, including an anti-spam plugin for your blog.
And the winner is…?
WordPress.org! Are you surprised? In my opinion, WordPress.org is clearly the superior choice for building a business website, or a site that you want to turn into a business.
That doesn’t mean WordPress.com doesn’t have its place, though. I think it’s a great way to start if you’re completely new to having a website, aren’t really trying to sell anything, and just want to get your feet wet before paying for a web host.
All the same, though, if you’re going to spend the money to have your own domain name and to remove their ads, you may as well go all in with WordPress.org and pay for a web host instead. It will save you time, energy, and money in the long run.
Please feel free to reply to this post if you have any questions or comments at all. Let’s talk WordPress!
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If you found this blog post useful, please join me in my facebook group for more Weekly WITT (WordPress Insights, Tips, & Tricks) Live every #WordPressWednesday at noon (EST). Next week, we’ll dive into WordPress security! (There’s also other cool, non-WordPress-related stuff going on in there everyday.)
Additionally, I’m hosting a FREE three-day website design/redesign challenge there the week of March 23rd, so if you need a new WordPress website or to redesign an existing site, don’t miss this opportunity! See you inside!
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Pragmatic dreamer & founder of d6Collab; online business strategist, coach, & mentor; web designer & front-end developer; WordPress expert; & hurricane in general, known as elle. I empower YOU to build, grow, & SCALE your business using the simplest, most effective & aligned methods, so you can create the time & financial freedom you need to change the world!