As a person who has set foot on this big and exciting world of blogging – a land filled with countless opportunities, choosing the right tools is of monumental importance.

Now I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about these awesome blogging/content publishing platforms – WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, etc.

If you’ve decided to go with WordPress – your job is 50% complete. You’ve chosen the best content publishing platform on Earth. Launched in 2003, WordPress has emerged to the number one CMS, used in over 22% of the top 10 million websites in the Internet.

But did you know WordPress comes in two variants?

On one hand you have WordPress.com – the commercial version of WordPress backed by Automattic.

And on the other, you have WordPress.org – the house of the open-source software.

WordPress.com is a service that hosts WordPress blogs. It is one hundred percent free. For life.

WordPress.org is the self-hosted variant of WordPress. You need to download and install he software in your own server. This will cost you like 3-4 dollars a month, which cumulates to 40-50 dollars annually.

At first it seems that WordPress.com is the best choice – mainly because it’s free. That’s true, but it comes with a few strings attached.

If you’re in it for the long run, it’s best that you make yourself aware of the pros of cons of both WordPress.com and the self-hosted platform. With this knowledge you’ll be able to make an informed decision in your blogging endeavors.

Let’s start comparing!

Hosting

wordpress.com vs wordpress.org hosting

Like I told you, WordPress.com is hosted in WordPress’ own ginormous network which is powered by EdgeCast. If we’re talking numbers, well, the WordPress.com grid powers over a million blogs serving 14 billion pageviews each month. More than half a billion (54.4 million to be precise) comments are generated every 30 days – that’s roughly 21 comments per second! Yikes!

Check out some mind-blowing stats here. When you choose WordPress.com, your blog will be hosted in this very network. Neat, right?

WordPress.org, aka the ‘self-hosted’ platform, will give you just the software. You’re going to have to choose your own hosting server and setup your blog and manage everything else. Of course, most hosting companies give you a one click installation solution for WordPress – so yeah, that’s easy too.

Storage and bandwidth

Shared hosting companies charge you around 5 bucks a month with unlimited space and bandwidth. WordPress.com on the other hand gives you 10 GB of bandwidth and 3 GB of space to store your stuff.

Verdict:

  • WordPress.com if you’re low on cash or just getting started with blogging
  • WordPress.org if you wanna get your hands dirty (you’ll know what I’m talking about in a few minutes)

Custom domains and sub-domains

If you’re hosting a company website or starting a project then you’re going to need a proper domain name. There’s just no way around it. When you’re on WordPress.com, each site, i.e. each domain will cost you $18 annually. But you cannot create additional sub-domains or have multiple WordPress installations. Also .com domains from an ICANN certified registrar would cost around $12 a year (sometimes less).

Multiple WordPress installations

Most company blogs use (a) www.companyname.com/blog while some may use (b) blog.companyname.com. Either of these cases can be fulfilled by WordPress.com with the single domain option.

But when you want more than one WordPress installation, on the same domain (using either option (a) or (b)), WordPress.org would be cheaper. Your shared host usually allows you to have multiple MySQL databases which is all you need to setup a discrete WordPress installation.

Verdict:

  • WordPress.com when you want to host a single blog
  • WordPress.org if you want multiple blogs

Advertisements

Did you ever stop to think how WordPress.com can afford to host millions of free blogs? Kudos if you did!

They do this by displaying ads on the free blogs, from time to time. The amount is restricted – it’s not an ad-bait. Probably one of the most important factors for a new blog. Do you want your visitors to see ads when they visit your site?

And you won’t earn any money from those ads.

Monetization

WordPress.org on the other hand does not have any ads.

You can choose to keep your blog clean as a whistle or turn it into an ad-bait like an online Viagra store.

Moderation is the key! In either case, your pockets will get heavier.

Verdict:

  • WordPress.com if you don’t mind infrequent, unobtrusive ads on your blog
  • WordPress.org if you want complete control over your site

Reliability, up-time and security

Once you realize the enormousness of the WordPress.com grid, there is not a spectacle of doubt, that a blog hosted on WordPress.com is way more reliable than almost all shared/dedicated/managed hosts.

However, weighing the other factors like customization and total cost, many would prefer to use self hosted WordPress. Increased reliability in such services is directly proportional to the cost. In other words:

“Want your site to be 99.999*% secure? Pay $29.99 a month!”

WordPress.com blogs are generally more secure than self-hosted blogs since you don’t get FTP/file access in the former. A major source of exploits stem from insufficient file and directory permission, insecure SQL credentials and the use of admin as a username. All of this and a ton of other factors are taken care of, when you’re in WordPress.com. In WordPress.org, you’re on your own, bub. Thankfully Sucuri has got your back!

Verdict:

  • WordPress.com if you don’t like the hassle of hosting your site
  • WordPress.org if your priority is flexibility

Customization – themes, plugins and more

This is the biggest deciding factor between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. Let’s start with Customization. On WordPress.com you have the basic customization features like overall site color, taglines, widgets etc. You can buy additional customization packs like Custom CSS and Custom Fonts, but nothing beats WordPress.org in this respect.

Winner: WordPress.org since it offers way more flexibility, for free.

Themes

Yes, you have access to multiple (free & premium) themes here – but only the ones present in the WordPress.com store.  The biggest advantage lies in the fact that each of these themes have been carefully tested – “quality control” if you will – by WordPress.com experts.

There’s no chance of malicious code or anything of the sort. Unless, the developer was Sauraon from Lord of The Rings.

Winner: WordPress.org if you’re looking for more options.

Plugins

Strike three! Yeere out!

You cannot install any plugins when hosted in WordPress.com.

WordPress.org allows you to install any and every plugin you want.

Be careful what you wish for, because too many plugins can result in internal conflicts and slow down your site. Installing nulled or pirated plugins (and feeling like a champ) is like inviting all the malicious code for a Sunday barbecue.

Winner: As sure as the sunrise, WordPress.org.

Development

WordPress.org allows you to experiment with custom built themes/plugins and other WordPress customization. It serves as the base for all development activity.

Experience

“Why do we fall, Master Wayne?”

Needless to say, there will be roadblocks along the way, some as serious as landslides.

It’s up to you – and you alone to find another route, or if needed, wipe the dirt and move on. Even if you’ve followed every “golden rule” prescribed by self-appointed WordPress gurus, you may face numerous difficulties when running a self-hosted WordPress site.

Truth be told, the experience you gain from recovering from that downfall, is to say the least – priceless.

Verdict: The quote is from Batman Begins. That’s all I’m going to say!

Affiliate links

WordPress.com dictates strong rules on affiliate links. You can review a movie, book or game and put up an Amazon affiliate link. You can also link to your products on ETSY. But that’s about it.

You cannot put up any other forms of affiliate links like WPEngine referrals (they pay $150 per signup) or eBook sales.

Even if you do not play by the rules, you can:

(a) get a warning or

(b) get your affiliate links frozen or

(c) get your blog shut down!

Verdict:

  • If you plan to make money from this blog, stick to WordPress.org from day one

Your blog can be terminated anytime

WordPress.com blog terminated

The WordPress.com Terms of Service (TOS) very clearly states that they

…may terminate your access to all or any part of the Website at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately.

Although it’s a very unlikely scenario, if your blog is a source of your livelihood, then WordPress.com shouldn’t have that much authority over it.

Verdict:

Premium support

Support comes in various forms.

There’s the WordPress FAQ and forums that are available. That’s falls under community support.

In case of WordPress.com you can buy premium support in the form of direct email or live chat. Check out the WordPress.com Store for further info.

When you’re with WordPress.org, premium support usually entails managed WordPress hosting services like WPEngine or support provider like Plugmatter. Nonetheless, the support staff are skilled and can solve your problem 99% of the time.

Verdict:

  • WordPress.com if you’re willing to spend $299 a year (comes with a lot of awesome stuff)
  • WordPress.org if you’re willing to spend the same and want the comfort of using custom themes and plugins

E-commerce

If you’re looking for a dedicated e-commerce solution, you should consider alternatives like Shopify, PrestaShop and Magneto (no, not the guy who controls metal from the X-Men).

WordPress, nonetheless has excelled in e-commerce thanks to plugins such as WooCommerce and iThemes Exchange.

WordPress.com sadly has e-commerce solutions in their Business Plan which costs $299 a year – that’s around $25 a month. With WordPress.org, you just have to worry about the hosting costs.

Verdict:

  • WordPress.com if budget permits
  • WordPress.org if you want the flexibility

Comparison Table

We’ve compiled a comparison table for your quick  reference. The results mostly lean toward WordPress.org.

COUNT FACTOR WINNER
1 Blog Hosting – Storage and Bandwidth WordPress.org
2 Custom Domains and Sub-Domains WordPress.org
3 Multiple WordPress Installations WordPress.org
4 Advertisements and Monetization WordPress.org
5 Reliability, Uptime and Security WordPress.com
6 Customization WordPress.org
7 Experience WordPress.org
8 Affiliate Links WordPress.org
9 Sudden Blog Termination WordPress.org
10 Tier 1 Support WordPress.com
11 E-Commerce WordPress.org

Score:

  • WordPress.com – 2 out of 11
  • WordPress.org – 9 out of 11

Taking it down a notch

So far, we’ve seen tons of factors with strengths and weakness of both the contenders.

Truth be told – it’s ultimately up to you. You’re the one who is running the site.

As a general rule of thumb, you should consider WordPress.com if you want the hassle-free experience and just want to focus on content. WordPress.org is better suited for folks with thirst for technology.

In the words of founder Matt Mullenweg,

“Hosting your site on WordPress.com is like renting an apartment, as opposed to a self-hosted WordPress blog that you own outright.

With a self-hosted WordPress blog, you can do anything you want. Knock down walls. Redecorate it any way you want. But you’re responsible for the upkeep as well (i.e. security update, backups, feature upgrades).

Whereas with WordPress.com everything is done for you. But you lose some control. Can’t have a yard. Can’t tear down walls, etc.”

Nonetheless, it’s not a one way road.

Meaning, you can always shift from WordPress.com to a self-hosted platform (or from any of the popular blogging networks to WordPress) for that matter. We’ll have a tutorial on that soon.

So, take it easy. After all, you’ve chosen the best CMS in the world!

Posted by Sourav Kundu

Hi there! I'm Sourav. I dig comedy, WordPress, computers and tea - CWCT if you will. I can also write clean, precise copy for your projects. Portfolio is under construction. You can reach me on Twitter @Souravify.