When you start looking into how to start a blog, you're going to hear about WordPress. As the world's most widely used blogging platform, WordPress is what most bloggers will recommend to you. But when you start to look into it, you'll discover that there are actually two types of WordPress to choose from, and they're not quite the same.
In this post I'll explain the differences between the two different types of WordPress, and the pros and cons of each one. If you want the quick answer so that you can start blogging as soon as possible, I recommend you use the self-hosted WordPress.org software to run your blog. If you want to get started right now, download my free ebook, Launch Your WordPress Blog in a Weekend.
The Two Types of WordPress
The two types of WordPress that you'll find online are:
- WordPress.org – the self-hosted software that you can install and run on a web hosting server. WordPress is an open source software projected founded in 2003 by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little.
- WordPress.com – the “software as a service” (SaaS) version of WordPress that you can sign up for and use without your own hosting server. WordPress.com is a a commercial service offering free and paid plans, and is run by Automattic, a company founded by Matt Mullenweg in 2005. WordPress.com uses the WordPress software, albeit a heavily modified and optimized version to host millions of blogs.
Both types of WordPress have a lot in common:
- An easy user interface for writing blog posts and pages with text, images, embedded videos, and more.
- The ability to organize your blog posts with categories and tags.
- Reader comments.
- Integration with social networks like Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
But despite all those similarities, there are some fundamental differences between the two platforms. One way to think of the differences between the two is that WordPress.org is like buying the ingredients to cook your own meal, whereas WordPress.com is like eating a meal in a restaurant.
Much like buying your own ingredients for cooking, WordPress.org gives you complete freedom to setup a blog the way you want it. You just need to source the right ingredients and do the cooking, or pay someone to do it for you exactly how you want it done. With a broad community of designers and developers behind it, you can use WordPress.org to run a small personal blog, an online community, an ecommerce store, and much more.
WordPress.com is more like a restaurant. You can choose from a menu, and they might even let you substitute a few things in your meal, but for the most part you are limited to what the restaurant offers. You can still build a great blog on WordPress.com, but you don't have the complete freedom that WordPress.org provides.
That's the basic analogy anyway. Let's take a closer look at what each platform offers you as a blogger.
Self-Hosted WordPress with WordPress.org
When I started blogging in 2006, the WordPress.org software (which I'll just call WordPress from now on) was at version 2.0.4. Today, WordPress is at version 4.8.3. My very first blog, which is still running today, has been upgraded about 255 times since I first installed it. I've also moved the site from the first web hosting server that it was running on to at least 3-4 other servers over the years.
The reason I share those little tid-bits is to highlight one of the important considerations for self-hosting WordPress. You need to set up and maintain the WordPress software yourself, or pay someone to do it for you. When I started we had to download the WordPress files, use an FTP client to upload them to a web hosting server, set up a database manually, and then run through an installation script to get WordPress running.
These days almost every web hosting offers an easy “one-click” installation of WordPress that removes all that work from the initial setup. There are also “managed WordPress” web hosts who do some of the ongoing maintenance for you. But for the most part, you are responsible for the technical side of running your blog. This is the price you pay for the freedom that comes with running a self-hosted WordPress blog.
To set up a WordPress blog you need:
- A domain name, e.g. leftbrainblogging.com.
- A web hosting server. I use SiteGround for my hosting, and there are many others to choose from.
And that's it! Each of those costs a little money to buy. A domain is anywhere from a few dollars upwards, depending on the type of domain you choose. A basic .com domain is going to cost you around $10-15 per year. Web hosting starts at around $5/mth for a small blog that doesn't need a lot of server resources and bandwidth, and can grow to several hundreds of dollars per month if your blog one day attracts millions of visitors each month.
To make your blog look and function the way you want it to, you can install WordPress themes and plugins.
- Themes are the visual design of the blog, controlling things such as the layout of the page, the fonts, colours, and so on. Themes can be free, and there are also paid themes (also know as “premium” themes). I use StudioPress themes for most of my sites. This blog uses a StudioPress theme called Monochrome Pro.
- Plugins generally add functionality to your blog. For example, if you want a contact form so that people can get in touch with you, then you would install a plugin such as Contact Form 7 or Gravity Forms.
Hosted WordPress with WordPress.com
To get started with WordPress.com you simply sign up and choose a blog name. No need to purchase web hosting or install the software to run WordPress. That's all taken care of for you, because WordPress.com is a fully hosted service.
When you start a WordPress.com blog you'll be given a domain name of yourblogname.wordpress.com. While there's nothing inherently wrong with that, many bloggers want to brand their blog with their own domain name. WordPress.com offers paid plans that allow custom domains, as well as other features such as email and live chat support, more storage space, design customization, and the ability to run your own ads on your blog.
So even though WordPress.com can be a free option for your choice of blogging platform, if you want to do more with it then you can expect to pay. That said, the pricing is quite good for the features that you get, and you still get the benefit of not having to install and maintain the WordPress software yourself. Automattic just takes care of that for you.
There is a limit to the customization available on WordPress.com. As an example, WordPress.com doesn't allow you to choose a custom permalink structure. Permalinks are the specific URLs for your blog posts. Many bloggers change their permalinks as part of their search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. WordPress.com has a fixed permalink structure that you can't change. It's not fatally harmful to your site, but it's an example of the limits with WordPress.com.
Which WordPress Should You Choose?
As I mentioned earlier, I recommend using self-hosted WordPress for your blog. However, I am not ruling out WordPress.com as being suitable for some situations. So here's a break down of the reasons for choosing WordPress.org compared to WordPress.com.
Choosing Self-Hosted WordPress
Choose a self-hosted blog running WordPress.org if you're willing to invest a little money in a domain name and web hosting plan, and take responsibility for installing and maintaining the WordPress software and plugins.
The advantages of a self-hosted WordPress.org blog are:
- Uses your own domain name, allowing you to establish a strong brand.
- Unlimited customization through the use of free or paid visual themes and plugins.
- Unlimited expansion of your website to include discussion forums, newsletters, ecommerce, and much more.
- Freedom to monetize your website however you wish.
The disadvantages of self-hosted blogs are:
- You are responsible for your own installation, although this is made easier thanks to automatic installation scripts provided by most web hosts.
- You are responsible for ongoing maintenance and upgrades, securing your blog, and backing it up.
- There are some costs involved with buying a domain name and web hosting, but these are affordable for most people when you're just starting out.
Choose a WordPress.com blog if you want a zero-cost option, or you just want to dabble with writing your thoughts online.
The advantages of a WordPress.com hosted blog are:
- Quick and easy to set up, usually within just a few minutes.
- Free, no domain name registration or web hosting fees to get started.
- No ongoing maintenance such as updating software or applying security settings.
The disadvantages of hosted blogs are:
- Can’t use your own domain name unless you pay extra
- Limited customizations without paying extra
- May not be able to add on other website components such as discussion forums or e-commerce
- Difficult and sometimes prohibited to monetize, for example by adding advertising
If you've read this far and you're still not sure that you're ready to commit to a self-hosted WordPress blog, here's something that might help you make a decision.
It's quite possible to start with a free WordPress.com blog, and then add a custom domain by upgrading your WordPress.com plan later when you have settled on a brand and “online voice”. After you've decided that you want to continue blogging but need more freedom and customization, you can migrate your blog from WordPress.com to a self-hosted WordPress.org site. You can handle that migration yourself, or pay someone to do it for you.
But I still recommend starting with a self-hosted WordPress blog right from the start.
Where to Next?
I want to help you get your WordPress blog up and running, fast. No need to waste time trying to work out the technical bits and pieces. You can have a WordPress blog launched in just a few hours work over a weekend.
That's why I'm writing a free ebook, Launch Your WordPress Blog in a Weekend. The ebook is nearly ready, I'm just putting the final touches on it. If you want to be notified when it's released so that you can download your free copy, please join my mailing list here.