There’s a common belief among professionals who work with WordPress that having a self-hosted WordPress themes website is much better than “owning” a site at WordPress.com.
(First, why the quotation marks above? Well, the fact is that you will never actually own your site at WordPress.com. You’re just leasing it. I know that the official material says otherwise, but the truth is, WordPress.com can shut you down completely at any moment and there’s no legal action you can take to undo it.)
So, is the aforementioned belief actually accurate? In other words, is WordPress.org better than WordPress.com?
(Sorry, I know that a kitten dies every time someone answers a question with “it depends.”)
Let’s start with the reasons why the .org is better than the .com:
1. You get to control everything
Quite simply, WordPress.com allows you to do almost nothing when it comes to modifying the site that they say you own.
First of all, forget about any sort of source code modifications to the core or any other element of your site. With self-hosted WordPress themes, you can do anything. This isn’t very surprising, but I needed to include it in order to keep the message complete.
2. You can work with any design
When it comes to themes, there’s a set of 150+ themes available for WordPress.com sites, this includes both free and premium ones. However, once you make up your mind you can’t even adjust it through a child theme or any other type of modifications (even replacing the graphic files with your own).
You can still tweak the CSS a little, but there’s a price tag on this feature, so it’s not enabled by default (and not for every theme).
In short, with the .org, you can take any design, turn it into a theme, and install on your site. The .com doesn’t even get close to this, which hugely limits the graphical appearance of your site (and its functionality as well – you can’t get a theme framework, for example).
3. You can install and tweak any plugin you wish
The fact that there is no plugin installation for the Basic package at WordPress.com was quite surprising for me. Yes, you really can’t install any third-party plugins on your WordPress.com site if your budget is $0.
In short, whatever plugin you see in the official directory at WordPress.org, you can’t have on your site at WordPress.com.
(Okay, WordPress.com comes with a set of already integrated plugin-like functionalities; more on this in a minute. And you can also sign up to WordPress.com Enterprise, which will give you access to a set of optional plugins, which is cool…but the price tag starts at $500 a month.)
4. You can work with your own domain
Yes, I know that WordPress.com allows you to launch your site on a custom self-owned domain too, but the kicker is that you have to pay for such a possibility. And I don’t mean the price of the domain itself. Actually, you have to (1) pay for the domain and then (2) pay WordPress.com to assign it to your site. The current price tag on this is $13 per year.
With self-hosted WordPress themes you can, again, do pretty much whatever you wish. You can hook up any domain and even create other sites available through subdomains under the main one (something you can’t do on the .com).
5. No one can shut you down
This is by far the most significant reason for self-hosted WordPress themes on this list (at least in my opinion).
Quite simply, when you have complete control over the software and hardware that runs your site, no one can pull the plug on your online presence.
If your site is available through WordPress.com, however, then they can make you go bye-bye with just one click (even if you’re mapping it through a custom domain).
And just to make things clear, I’m not talking about having any sort of “naughty” content on your site. I’m talking about situations where your site is your business and it means your livelihood. In such a case, you absolutely need to be sure that the building where your business is based, won’t be demolished over night, so to speak.
6. It’s easier to sell a self-hosted WordPress themes website
Let’s stay on the topic of business for a while. For many people, websites = businesses. And businesses like to change hands at some times. Basically, if you have the complete ownership of your site, with no middlemen and no other people reaching out for their cut, selling such a site is much much easier.
7. You can’t have your own ads on WordPress.com
You just can’t. There’s no official solution around this. The only way you can monetize a WordPress.com site is through disguised affiliate links or direct “hire me” pages.
I’m probably getting ahead of myself because right now it seems like working with a WordPress.com site is pointless. This isn’t the case though. Here are the reasons why the .com is better than the .org:
1. Gives you a much easier start
As far as we like to think that WordPress as a platform is easy to use, it isn’t. At least not for a first-time site owner.
I bet that 9 out of 10 times a normal human being will find it much more straightforward to launch a site on the .com than self-hosting it.
In short, the launch process of a WordPress.com site is as follows:
- Sign up for a new account, at which step you get to pick your username, password, and the address of your new blog.
- Select the package you’re interested in (usually Basic) and activate your blog.
- Select a theme.
- Publish your first post.
The process for a self-hosted WordPress themes website is just way longer and requires the person executing it to be fluent with other tools (like domain registration, FTP tools, file editors).
(This is actually something that we understand here at ThemeFuse and that is why now, you can take advantage of our new “get started quickly” package.)
2. You don’t have to worry about the updates
When it comes to updates, everything happens in the background with no supervision required on your part.
I know that the .org version presents very clear update notifications, but you still have to carry them out on your own, and during the update process a lot of things can happen, including your site crashing completely.
3. You don’t have to worry about maintenance
You know, things like clearing your plugins, erasing the cache, backing up, checking the .htaccess entries, making sure that your theme is up-to-date with modern HTML and SEO standards and so on.
I know that this doesn’t take that much time, but it can still matter to a beginner.
4. You don’t need to worry about server compatibility
Just as a reminder, if you want to install WordPress on your server, you need it to: support PHP (version 5.2.4 or greater) and provide a MySQL database (full access; version 5.0 or greater).
On top of that, even if a server has all of the above parameters, some environments are just not optimized to run a self-hosted WordPress themes. This is just one of the reasons why specialized WordPress hosting companies are killing it in 2013.
As you would imagine, the servers at WordPress.com are as optimized as they can possibly be.
5. You get a lot of integrated functionality
Actually, you might call this functionality plugins, in some way. For instance, some of the things you’re getting include: spam blocking through Akismet, Google Sitemaps support, caching, Carousel slideshows, some social media buttons, stats, etc.
Although you can’t uninstall any of those (nor install new ones), you have to admit that for a beginner, having a specific starter package already available right from the get-go is a very good idea.
And again, those integrated plugins are always specifically optimized to work with WordPress.com so you don’t have to worry about any performance or security issues.
6. You get a handful of predefined post styles
This is also possible with WordPress.org (depending on your theme), but on the .com, every new blog/site owner gets access to pre-formatted templates for text posts, photos, videos, quotes and link posts.
The idea is great because it lets everyone publish a great looking entry regardless of their level of WordPress-expertise.
So who’s the winner?
As you can see, there are 7 things on the list for the .org and 6 on the list for the .com. Personally, I think that both ways of having a WordPress site are great, and the deciding factors are always your goals and your main idea for the site, so there’s no clear winner (surprise, surprise). But what’s your verdict?
p.s. Here is a nice visual representation for the WP.org vs WP.com from our friends at startbloggingonline: startbloggingonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/wporg-wpcom.jpg