Even seasoned WordPress users sometimes get confused about the different versions. Here’s my comparison to help you. There are links at the bottom of the page to the official WordPress explanations.

This table is best viewed on a computer/laptop.

WordPress.com

WordPress.org

Number of sites
you can create
  • Unlimited up to storage limit on each account (which is very large)
  • Depends on your chosen hosting package, higher limits may incur more costs
Software (CMS)
cost
  • Free
  • Free
Hosting cost
  • Free
  • You pay a monthly fee through the host you choose
Domain name
included
  • Free ‘mysite.wordpress.com’ address but no ‘www’ address
  • You can transfer your own domain if you have one You can normally buy a domain name (typically on an annual contract)
  • You must have a domain name or your site will not work publically
  • May be included with hosting package
  • You can transfer your own domain if you have one
  • You can normally buy a domain name (typically on an annual contract)
Free themes
included
  • Yes (over 250 at September 2014)
  • Yes, you can download from a wide range of suppliers
Paid themes
available
  • Yes, from a set list (over 100 at September 2014)
  • Yes, you can download from a wide range of suppliers
Themes can be
customised for free
  • Lots of customisation possible (some) depending on the theme:
  • add pages, posts
  • add images and graphics
  • customise menus
  • add header image
  • add widgets
  • embed HTML and iFrame content
  • change background colour or use a background image
  • some theme colour schemes (usually no more than three set colour schemes, further modification requires the CSS upgrade)
  • You can do everything you can do on WordPress.com plus you have access to the CSS Editor for free, so if you have CSS coding skills you can customise anything in the theme (if you are not confident in CSS this is best avoided though)
Plugins can be
installed to increase functionality
  • No, plugins can’t be installed though some plugin functionality is already built in
  • Around 30,000 plugins available: hug range of functionality possible but you have to install (which is easy) and manage updates, settings and possible conflicts
HTML changes
  • Yes
  • Yes
CSS
changes
  • Requires paid upgrade
  • Yes, no additional cost
Add JavaScript
content
  • Not allowed as can introduce malware
  • Yes

Add video and sound
  • You can embed from eg YouTube or Spotify but hosting your own video and sound files requires a paid upgrade
  • Yes (but you may have some restrictions from your host)
Analytics
included
  • Yes, a basic stats package is included
  • You cannot add other analytics facilities
  • You cannot connect to Google Analytics
  • Yes, a basic stats package is included in JetPack
  • You can add other analytics plugins and connect to Google Analytics
Installation
  • Nothing to install, all hosted in the cloud, empty site can be created in about two minutes
  • ‘Five minute installations’, exact procedure depends on hosting company, however many other set up tasks to be completed too
  • New versions of themes and plugins have to be updated (check changes in case they cause conflicts)
  • New versions of WordPress since V4.0 (Sept 2014) should update automatically
Search engine
registration
  • If you are using a domain name this must be registered with Google and Bing/Yahoo
  • Otherwise automatic, and an XML sitemap is created automatically
  • Your domain name must be registered with Google and Bing/Yahoo
  • An XML sitemap should be created automatically but many people advise using an XML sitemap plug in
Anti-spam
protection
  • Built in and free
  • Handled by some free and freemium plugins
Caching (to
improve site speed)
  • Built in and free
  • Install a caching plugin
Backups
  • Backed up automatically by WordPress
  • Install a backup plugin and backup manually or set up to back up automatically
Security
  • Handled by WordPress automatically
  • Install security plugin(s), regularly check performance reports to make sure your site is safe
Multiple users
  • You can set different user roles: contributor, editor, administrator etc, however most user roles can only edit posts not pages
  • You can set different user roles as WordPress.com and also use plugins to tailor user roles more precisely
Support
  • Extensive support information on website pages
  • Forums where you can ask a question and other users or WordPress staff will answer
  • No phone or live chat support
  • As WordPress.com
Paid advertising
allowed
  • You cannot accept payment for ads (breach of terms of service)
  • WordPress reserves the right to run ads on your site but if they appear at all they are very small and discrete (max one per page or post)
  • You can stop these ads with a paid upgrade ($30 per year at September 2014)
  • Yes, you can accept payments for ads
  • WordPress will not run ads on your site
Suitable for
personal blogs and sites
  • Yes and generally superior to other well-known blogging platforms like Blogger and Tumblr (which really are just for blogging, not creating websites too)
  • Yes (may be overkill for some people though)
Suitable for
community organisations
  • Yes. Many will even be satisfied with the mysite.wordpress.com URL and won’t need to buy a ‘www’ domain name, so the whole website and hosting can be entirely free
  • Yes. If you want enhanced functionality like BuddyPress (WordPress’s own social media plugin) or member directories and volunteer management facilities, WordPress.org is the correct place to be
Suitable for
charities
  • Yes, small and maybe medium charities
  • Yes: WordPress.org offers some plugins that are particularly geared towards charities, donations and volunteer management
Suitable for
business users
  • Freelancers and many small businesses with lower web skills/little time to manage a website will find WordPress.com suitable
  • There are many specific business themes for eg cafés/restaurants, small hotels, portfolio themes (eg for designers, photographers) and general business themes
  • Not suitable if you wish to (a) take paid ads, (b) sell pages or other space on your site, (c) need e-commerce facilities
  • WordPress.com does have paid upgrade versions (Business and VIP)
    with fewer restrictions and extra facilities like e-commerce but WordPress still looks after the site hosting and server-side maintenance
  • Yes: wide range of plugins (free, freemium and/or paid) cover eg: appointment setting, newsletter creation, CRM,invoicing, e-commerce. There’s not much you can’t do.

Compare the costs

See my Why you should consider WordPress page to see how much, if anything, you might have to pay to use WordPress.

Read more on WordPress

Contact me

Contact me if you need help with setting up or developing your WordPress website, or WordPress training

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