What? Are they not the same?
The differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org are as stark as the differences between The Republic of Korea and The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (commonly known as South Korea and North Korea respectively). While that may be some hyperbole, hopefully, this blog will demonstrate the vast differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
For the sake of simplicity, WordPress.com will be referred to as “.com” and WordPress.org will be referred to as “.org”. Now, both .org and .com initially appear as free but in reality, neither are. However, the free services of .org are much more extensive than those offered by .com. Let us begin by looking at the pricing of the two different sites.
On .org, costs will be incurred when buying a domain name, setting up and maintaining hosting, accessing pre-made themes, using some plugins, as well as any additional developer or security fees. The free offer of .com includes 3GB of storage space but all the aforementioned features will still have to be purchased. There is the additional indirect cost of having to display WordPress.com ads on your websites for no monetary benefit.
There are however paid plans provided by .com. They are the Personal Plan at £36 ($48) annually, the Premium Plan £84 ($113) annually, the Business Plan at £240 ($322) annually, and the eCommerce Plan at £432 ($580). None of these plans offers anything that is impossible on .org. The unlimited email support offered by all plans and the live chat support available to owners of the Premium, Business, and eCommerce Plans is the only real aspects of this paid service that would not be available through .org. The support that .com offers is highly regarded by customers, but as you will see throughout this blog, it is about all that .com can claim they do better than .org and this comes at a hefty price.
There are some crucial features on .org that can never be replicated for free on .com. If you want an eCommerce or membership style site, these features are available on eCommerce Plan and Business Plan respectively. This means that what can be achieved through plug-ins on .org can only be achieved by paying for the top .com plans.
In terms of plug-ins, .org is the clear winner. The open-source nature of .org has encouraged thousands to create specific plug-ins to meet specific needs. See our previous blog on our top 5 most essential plug-ins. As well as this, existing plugins can be customised and moulded by one who has the skills. On .com however, there is no free access to plug-ins with them instead offering plug-in-like systems. These can not be modified and can be quite limited in reach. To access plug-ins on .com, you must have at least a Business Plan, costing £240 a year.
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
SEO is an incredibly important aspect of every website so if you are unfamiliar with the process, see our earlier blog. Presuming you have a good grasp on SEO, let us take our focus back to the .com vs .org dynamic. On .org, there are extensive SEO features as well as access to third party SEO plug-ins such as Yoast SEO. These ensure your website is as optimal as possible in terms of SEO and continues to be into the future. The in-built SEO features of .com are much weaker and the lack of customisation the site provides will likely damage your SEO further. Only with the Business Plan at £240 per annum can you install some plugins to try and improve your SEO.
.org allows you to sell as many ads on your website as you desire. If you want to cram your website with ads or completely leave ads from your website, .org gives you the freedom to do either. Additionally, you will receive 100% of the ad revenue as .org takes no cut. This is in stark contrast to .com who does not allow low or medium traffic websites to independently sell ad space. Only when a site becomes high traffic will .com offer you the choice to start selling ads on your website and sharing the revenue with them.
So just to be clear, they will not let you sell ad space until you are a large enough site and if you decide to host ads, they will take a noticeable cut. The benefit of a paid plan here is that you are allowed to sell ads before becoming a high traffic website (.com will of course still take their share).
On .com sites, you are forced to display “powered by WordPress.com” as well as ads of their choosing from which you will see no revenue. The Personal and Premium Plans (£36 and £84 annually respectively) allows you to remove their ads from your site. Only with the Business and eCommerce Plans (£240 and £432 annually respectively) will you be able to remove the powered by WordPress.com link.
.org provides access to countless themes from free default themes to 3rd party designed themes, .org enables you to find the perfect theme for your site. If you can not find one that is quite right, the open-source nature of .org allows you to modify and customise any part you would like. Unsurprisingly, .com is very limited in terms of what pre-existing themes you can choose from and these can not be modified very easily. Users of the Premium Plan at £84 a year will gain the ability to customise aspects of the themes. Only those with an eCommerce Plan at £432 can import 3rd party themes.
How has this happened?
This situation of .com vs .org seems needlessly complicated and nonsensical. How and why do two such different services have such similar names? Let me bring you up to speed with the histories of these two sites.
.org was developed in 2003 by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little. What began as a program made primarily for bloggers, its open-source nature eventually led the site to become the most popular content management system on the web. Matt Mullenweg would go on to use his fortune to establish the WordPress Foundation. The not-for-profit foundation aims to ensure WordPress.org is a “free… (and) stable platform for web publishing for generations to come.”
.com came onto the market in 2005, 2 years after the launch of .org, owned by a company called Automattic. Automattic also makes some of the most well-known .org plug-ins such as WooCommerce and VaultPress as well as owning social media network Tumblr. Weird how there are two ts in Automattic right? Well here is the big twist moment of this blog; the MATT in AutoMATTic refers to none other than Matt Mullenweg, one of the founders of WordPress.org.
WordPress.org and WordPress.com are both primarily owned and founded by the same guy.
As shown, they should be seen as very different and separate entities. However, the common histories and the fact they have the same owner and founder creates an intertwined and complex relationship. They probably should have just used more distinct names for their different sites, unless… this confusion is not accidental (please don’t sue me).
In almost every case, you are better off going for a WordPress.org site rather than a WordPress.com site. In terms of features, value for money, and potential for a great website, .org is the king. Anyone who knows anything about web development and web design will take you much more seriously if you have a .org site. The only benefit of the .com site is its competent customer support features. However, countless agencies would be able to provide you with better service at a better price, while being able to utilise the superior .org to make your website.