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Most bloggers I work with know the difference between WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress, but occasionally, I receive emails where potential customers are unclear about what they have. You also see several sites talk about “WordPress.com versus WordPress.org” which can be confusing to the novice blogger.
What is WordPress?
WordPress is a content management system (CMS), meaning that it is a website creation tool that allows you to put in pages, posts, images, videos, etc. It is by far the most powerful blogging CMS, as over 20% of websites on the Internet use WordPress.
WordPress is online, open-source CMS written in PHP. Open-source means the software is free and easily available online; it can be modified and redistributed. As a result, WordPress has a large community of developers contributing to its development to make it better. People can’t sell you WordPress.
What is WordPress.com?
WordPress.com is a hosting company, created by Matt Mullenweg through his company Automattic, that provides free and premium options. With WordPress.com, your site will be free forever with a yourdomain.wordpress.com domain, but you can also pay to upgrade your site.
When you use WordPress.com for your hosting needs, you do not need to “install” WordPress. It is all managed for you. WordPress.com handles updates and site security.
Along with providing the convenience of a WordPress environment, WordPress.com comes with limitations. You can pay for upgrades, but the biggest limitations lifestyle bloggers face with WordPress.com include the following:
- Limited to WordPress.com themes only: You cannot modify the PHP of their themes or upload your own.
- No custom plugins such as Yoast SEO or WP Recipe Maker
- Limited Storage Space (you need to pay for more space)
- No FTP Access to Files
- Limited control of your content, you have to pay to remove ads
- Can’t use third-party advertising solutions such as Mediavine, RewardStyle, Google Adsense, or Amazon.
- Can’t track stats with Google Analytics
My personal recommendation is that WordPress.com is best for beginners who want to get more familiar with the WordPress CMS system without the cost. If you are relying on advertising opportunities to monetize your website, then WordPress.com is not the right platform for your business.
What is self-hosted WordPress?
With self-hosted WordPress, you are leasing server space from a provider such as SiteGround, Bluehost, or GoDaddy (my recommendation is for SiteGround). You will then install WordPress, the CMS system, onto the server space you are leasing. Most companies have a one-click install feature that will help you set this up.
Self-hosting WordPress can cost you anywhere from $3.95/month to $100/month. Most bloggers use shared WordPress hosting for $3.95/month. As your blog grows, you would need to scale up your account. SiteGround makes it particularly easy to do this. Most managed WordPress hosting costs around $100/month. You can read about the different types of self-hosted WordPress here.
Self-hosted WordPress gives you full control over your site. You can install whatever themes and plugins you want to install.
WordPress.org also includes extensive documentation and a community forum where you can ask questions if you get stuck or help someone else. It’s also the site to go to if you would like to get involved and join many other volunteers in contributing to the WordPress core code, mobile apps, translations, and accessibility.
The downside with self-hosted WordPress is that it is easy to get off track. You can find some article on how to do something, and it leads you down a rabbit hole. If you are looking for theme development tips, refer to the Codex. For WordPress blogging best practices, check out my WordPress section. All of the posts aim to allow bloggers to become more comfortable with the dashboard.