If you’ve been looking into starting a WordPress website, you’ve probably been wondering, “What’s the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?”

This article will provide a look at the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

We’ll also dive deep into how you can build a website using the WordPress content management system and have full control over your web hosting options.

What is WordPress?

Let’s start with the basics. WordPress is the largest content management system, and powers one-third of all global websites.

With WordPress, website owners can build anything from a small personal blog or a more complex blog like the New York Post and even the White House’s website (both run on WordPress).

WordPress includes all of the following benefits:

  • Most popular website platform
  • Easy to download and install
  • Has an intuitive dashboard for quick navigation
  • Includes free templates
  • Easy to customize
  • Offers several WordPress plugins for enhanced website functionality
  • And more!

WordPress can be a little tricky to new website owners, because there are a few different options for building a WordPress website and accessing WordPress information. 

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between WordPress.org (home of the open source content management system), WordPress.com (its for profit, commercial site) and how you can build a fully-functioning, highly-customizable WordPress website by purchasing a shared hosting plan.

What is WordPress.org?

WordPress.org is a great website to bookmark, considering it’s the “home” of the open source content management system.

At WordPress.org, you have full access to and information about themes, plugins, and other website enhancements. This website is ultimately the “source of truth” on WordPress.

With WordPress.org, you can also download the WordPress software and take it to your hosting platform of choice.

But, here is the thing. Pay attention because this is important. 

You don’t have to go to WordPress.org to download the WordPress software. A better and much easier option is to find the hosting company you like (e.g. HostGator), choose the web hosting plan you like the most, and sign up for an account.

Once you sign up for a web hosting platform, the hosting platform will provide you with the option to install WordPress from within the hosting platform itself. Usually, it only takes the click of a button or two, and you’re ready to roll.

Once you have installed the WordPress content management system in your web hosting account, you can pick a theme, upload a third party theme if you want, install any and all of the plugins you want, and you have complete control over your design and coding.

What is WordPress.com?

WordPress.com is the commercial, for-profit website that is powered by a company called Automattic. This platform is hosted for you and works more like a website builder (e.g. HostGator’s website builder, Squarespace, Wix, etc).

WordPress.com is initially simpler for novice website owners to use. The reason? They take care of all the hosting, register your domain for you, and provide built-in plugins. All you have to do to get started is sign up and start building your site.

However, WordPress.com comes with some serious drawbacks. First and foremost, since WordPress.com is hosting your website on their platform, you’ll have the wordpress.com URL attached to your domain name.

For example, when I first started my travel blog, travelwithashley.com, I used WordPress.com. I didn’t need it for more than a journal. As such, my domain name was www.travelwithashley.wordpress.com.

When my blog started to get more traffic, I realized I needed my own domain name, more functionality, advertising opportunities, and better design. As such, I purchased hosting through a web hosting company and transferred my WordPress site to a hosting platform. This move allowed me to have my own domain name (travelwithashley.com), provided access to more travel WordPress themes, and gave me more opportunities to grow my site.

Other drawbacks of hosting your site through WordPress.com are as follows:

  • Your ability to customize your website is extremely limited
  • Very limited on design themes options and the ability to customize them
  • You can’t choose your own hosting company
  • You have limited access to plugins
  • You have very limited eCommerce options

If you’re looking to build a simple blog or quick website that doesn’t need enhanced functionality, then WordPress.com might be a good option for you.

If you need a fully customizable website that’s hosted on a more flexible platform, then you must purchase hosting from a web hosting company and use the full WordPress software.

Key differences between a hosted WordPress.com site and using traditional web hosting

To break it down even further, here is a quick review of the differences between starting your site on WordPress.com and starting your site through a hosting company like HostGator and picking WordPress as your content management system.

Hosting at WordPress.com

  • Offers all the tools you need for a basic WordPress site
  • Works like a website builder
  • Takes care of ongoing site management for you
  • Doesn’t require any coding skills to build a site
  • Provides a basic free account with opportunities to upgrade
  • Convenient and easy for even the most novice website owners to use
  • WordPress.com extension will be in the site name of all free accounts
  • Access to a wide range of gorgeous, premade, free themes
  • No ability to add a third party theme of your choice, unless you upgrade to a paid plan
  • Limited options for themes and plugins

Traditional web hosting for WordPress

  • Freedom to choose from different hosting companies and various hosting plans
  • Users can modify PHP and CSS programming languages
  • Sites are fully customizable
  • Excellent for beginners and experienced web designers
  • User must take care of site maintenance
  • Access to all free and paid WordPress themes
  • Ability to install third party themes
  • Full customization options to themes

Ashley R. Cummings is a professional freelance writer specializing in SaaS, tech, and advertising/marketing. In a previous life, she was a Russian teacher at Brigham Young University, a corporate trainer, and a grad student—all at the same time. When she’s not writing, you can find her traveling the world with her 2 kids and husband, reading poetry or taking a deep dive into the fabulous world of comedy. Connect with her on Twitter at @ashleyrcummings.