When I talk with people interested to create a new website or blog, I always suggest a WordPress-powered site. While many people have heard of WordPress, few are able to describe what it is and most are confused by the fact that they have two options: WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
What is WordPress?
WordPress is software that allows you to create, organize, edit, and display content on a website. In tech jargon, its referred to as a Content Management System (CMS). Other CMS options in wide use today include Joomla, Drupal, and Blogger. WordPress is by far the most prevalent CMS in use today, powering more than 70 million sites worldwide.
One reason for the platform’s popularity is that it makes it easy to build and maintain your site. It’s possible to create a WordPress-powered website without any knowledge or understanding of computer code or programming languages. That said, to fully customize even a WordPress-powered site, some coding is required — but WordPress(.org) provides some shortcuts.
WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org
There are two ways you can create a WordPress-powered site: 1) go to WordPress.com and create a totally free site hosted by WordPress on its web servers; or 2) go to WordPress.org to download the free WordPress software to install and use on your own server or a web hosting service of your choice.
web server: the hardware (the physical components) that makes the content on a website available to anyone who visits a particular website on the internet. The web server “serves up” the website content to anyone visiting the website.
web hosting: a service offered by a company that either rents out bandwidth on its web servers (shared hosting) or leases servers it manages (dedicated hosting). To oversimplify, think of it as renting some space for all your content to hangout in cyberspace. Many website operators– especially small sites or those without technical know-how –find that utilizing a hosting service is both easier and cheaper than purchasing, configuring, and maintaining their own servers. Hosts often provide additional services including technical support. Hosting fees are assessed on monthly, annual, or a multi-year basis. Examples of web hosting providers include BlueHost, HostGator, DreamHost, GoDaddy, and A Small Orange.
To summarize, if you create a site using WordPress.com, your website resides on the WordPress servers and they handle most of the technical aspects of your sites’ maintenance and security. The other option is to visit WordPress.org to download the WordPress software and use it to power a website you secure hosting for.
How do I know which to chose?
You may be thinking, “If WordPress.com will do all the work for me–and for free–why would I want to pay a some other company to host my website?” Good question. The answer depends largely upon how you plan to use your site.
Let’s start with a few additional details about WordPress.com:
- Since WordPress is hosting your website for free, it can post ads on your site. If you’d like to prevent ads from appearing on your site, you can pay an upgrade fee of $30/year for an ad-free site.
- When you create a site on WordPress.com, your website address will appear as a subdomain of wordpress.com. In other words, your website domain will be www.MyWebsiteName.wordpress.com. For $18/year, WordPress.com will allow you to customize your website address to reflect a domain of your choosing (e.g., MyWebsiteName.com or MyWebsiteName.org).
- If you intend to upload videos to your site, you’ll need purchase another upgrade that costs $60/year.
As you can see, your “free” site can easily run you over $100/year by adding just a few premium services. To be fair, this is still a reasonable cost and WordPress.com provides tremendous value and support through its hosted websites. If the technical aspects of creating or maintaining your site scare you, opting for a WordPress.com site enhanced with these (and other) premium services may be your best option.
A few key reasons to choose WordPress.org:
- E-commerce is generally disallowed on WordPress.com. There are ways to create simple “purchase” or “donate” buttons on a WordPress.com site, but you cannot utilize a shopping cart or integrate e-commerce services. If you intend to use your website for selling products or services, or fundraising for a nonprofit, you are better off electing to use WordPress.org and secure your own web hosting.
- If you want full control of your website; if you want to be able to customize specific elements of its look and feel– either yourself or with the help of a web designer or programmer–you’ll need to use WordPress.org.
- You’ll have access to 27,000+ plugins developed for WordPress. A plugin is software that can “plug-in” to WordPress to add a specific enhancement to your website. Plugins allow you to add new design elements or functionality to your website with minimal (if any) knowledge of programming or coding. Many are free or very low-cost.
If you need e-commerce on your site or want full control over its look and feel, then your best option is to use WordPress.org to get the WordPress software to install on a web hosting service of your choosing. Web hosting for a simple site can be had for less than $100/year. Even with some additional security enhancements and other add-on features you can keep your costs below $200/year.
Where can I learn more?
WordPress provides a lot of great information on its sites, here are a few places to start:
- WordPress.com Store: learn more about the premium features available for websites created on WordPress.com
- WordPress.com and WordPress.org: straight from the source; how WordPress explains the difference between the two
- WordPress.org Plugin Directory: explore the 27,000+ plugins listed in the directory
- WordPress Stats: statistics related to WordPress use (both self-hosted and via WordPress.com) worldwide
If you’re thinking about securing web hosting, do your homework before making your purchase. The cheapest option is not always your best option. There are BIG differences in the quality and timeliness of customer support provided by various hosts. A simple internet search will yield a number of reviews of available hosting options and pricing. Just keep in mind that the value of these reviews declines rapidly over time, so look for the most recent articles you can find (ideally content posted within 1-3 months, and no more than 6 months).
Still confused about which option is best for you? Already have a WordPress.com site that you’d like to move to a new web host? Whatever your question or experience, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.