There are two versions of WordPress to choose from, free and self-hosted. This can be a little confusing if you are new to WordPress but know it is a free, open-source project! It doesn’t seem like it should be so complex.
Both free and self-hosted WordPress options come with unique benefits. However, the right choice will depend on your situation and current needs! By learning about their different strengths, you will be equipped to choose the right version for yourself.
First, I will explain why there are different versions of WordPress and what they mean. Then, we will cover the benefits of each in detail and illuminate why you may want to choose one over the other.
An Introduction to the World of WordPress
So, you’ve finally chosen WordPress as your platform for launching a blog. This was probably already a big decision for you, only to discover there are even more choices ahead of you. To help clarify how this all works together, it’s a good idea to take a look at the differences between WordPress’ multiple websites.
WordPress is an open-source content management system (CMS) for building websites. The code itself is free, however many businesses exist to provide optimized hosting, dedicated support, and special services. These extras can be offered at a price by the businesses that offer them.
WordPress.com is owned by Automattic, a managed hosting service. Among their packages is a free option for basic blogs, alongside paid upgrades and premium services.
WordPress.org is the official community site hosting the core code for WordPress. There is open-source software available for anyone and everyone to use for anything. This version is called self-hosted because you will need your own web hosting.
Both of these options have different strengths. Let’s dig in to learn which will make the most sense for you!
The Differences Between Free vs. Self-Hosted WordPress
Now that you are familiar with how WordPress is made available on these two sites, it’s time to learn the exact differences between them. As you will learn, WordPress itself is a free software, but it still calls for a few additional tools to get up and running.
If you are looking to start a hobby blog or simply want to become familiar with WordPress without worrying about hosting, WordPress.com is a great choice for you.
Starting a blog on WordPress.com means you don’t need to worry about additional hosting or dealing with the code yourself. It is free to get started. The services are self-guided in order to be very user-friendly.
However, you will then be restricted to the themes, plugins, and services provided by Automattic. As soon as you want to use a custom domain, you will need to upgrade your account. If you would like to build an extremely custom site or eventually build an app, it will be very costly or near impossible. In other words, you are locked into Automattic’s services without being able to shop around for the best solution.
To get started with WordPress.com, you will need to choose an available username and sign up for their free plan. If you would like to have a custom domain or dedicated email and live chat support you will need to start with a paid plan for $2.99 USD, which will also remove WordPress.com ads from your site.
Automattic is a long-time successful brand, arguably leading WordPress experts, so if you need hands-off WordPress solution, WordPress.com is a good place to start.
WordPress.org is home to the WordPress core code and community plugins and themes. This is where you can download WordPress to install on your own hosting.
The major benefit of using WordPress.org is having complete control over your site. You have complete freedom to choose where you host your site, which plugins and themes to use, and the ability to customize the core as much as you need.
Of course, this also means you have more personal responsibility for administering your website. However, WordPress is designed to be easy to install and configure. With the right host and a little community help, you can easily set up WordPress and retain your full freedoms without using WordPress.com.
To get started, you will need a hosting account with a trusted provider and a domain name. The costs are extremely variable, but can be as cheap as $2.95 USD per month, all-inclusive, with services such as BlueHost. Many hosting providers offer one-click WordPress installations. If not, you can follow the prompts provided by WordPress itself for installation. You can also find services that help you set up your site for free!
To recap, WordPress.org allows you to own and control your site completely. If you want full access to all available themes, plugins, and customization, you will need to use the WordPress.org version of WordPress.
Which Platform is Right For You?
WordPress is an enterprise-grade software for running a website. As you remember, the code itself is open-source and free. However, it will always cost a little bit of money to run a website with a custom domain.
In other words, WordPress.org makes the WordPress software available for everyone to use. WordPress.com is one of many hosted WordPress options for your website, using the same software.
What makes WordPress.com appealing is their free level, which allows you to learn WordPress without committing to the platform or a long-term hosting plan. That being said, hosting your site on WordPress.com means you don’t have access to much of the WordPress economy that exists outside of their services.
While there is nothing wrong with WordPress.com and their services, if you want to maintain control over your site, self-hosting is the way to go. You will be able to use any theme or plugin available, and even develop your own solutions unique to your website.
Choosing the right WordPress platform is a critical step when launching a new blog. If you learn the unique strengths of free and self-hosted options, you will be able to make the choice that works best for your situation.
In this article, you learned how to tell the difference between your choices:
- WordPress.com is a managed hosting service with a free option for low-level blogging services.
- WordPress.org offers a self-hosted version of the open-source WordPress code, allowing you full control over the details of your project.
What questions do you have about choosing free vs. self-hosted WordPress? Ask away in the comments section below!
Image credit: William White