WordPress.com vs. Self-Hosted WordPress – Which Is For You?

When I first decided to use WordPress a few years back, I was a bit confused by the fact that there seemed to be two versions. I had built websites from scratch since the early 90’s but this was my first foray into the world of open source content management systems. And before I had even started – before I even had a particularly good understanding of what WordPress actually was – I had to make a choice.

I wasn’t able to find a very good comparison between WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress. WordPress.com has since done an article comparing the two options but, reading it now I don’t know it would have done me much good at the time. So I thought I would take this opportunity to give you my opinion on the differences between WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress, so you can make a more informed decision as to which option to take.

What Is The Difference?

In my opinion, the main issue when deciding whether to choose WordPress.com or self-hosted WordPress is having a true understanding of the structural difference.

The best analogy I can think of to make clear the differences between WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress is that of computers. Self-hosted WordPress is the equivalent of buying your own PC. It is yours to do with as you wish – you can add components, install software, browse the internet unrestricted – the world is your oyster. Meanwhile, WordPress.com is the equivalent of using a library computer. You’re operating within a controlled environment. You do not have the same freedom as you would have with your own PC.

That, in a nutshell, is the main difference. WordPress.com is restricted – self-hosted WordPress is not.

So Why Bother With WordPress.com?

If you are happy to work within the restrictions, you can have a site up and running at no cost – the same cannot be said for self-hosted WordPress. But that’s not all – WordPress.com offers some additional features that do not come as standard with self-hosted WordPress. For someone who only has a very casual or tentative interest in web publishing, WordPress is a great starting ground. Sign up, log in, and get posting.

But in my humble opinion, WordPress.com is not a viable long-term solution for most people looking to take anything more than a casual interest in blogging.

I have had some of my clients setup a WordPress.com site and play around as an introduction to using the administrator interface. It seems a bit easier for someone learn if they don’t have a fear lurking that they could possible take down their entire website. ~ Geek Guy

Pros and Cons

At this stage it would be pertinent to take a closer look at how WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress differ. First of all, it is important to note that on a macro level, they are one and the same. They are based upon the same piece of software. But whilst self-hosted WordPress just hands over the keys and lets you drive, WordPress.com packages the software up in a somewhat restrictive way, then gives you control of what is left.

Here is a rundown of what WordPress.com has to offer over self-hosted WordPress, straight out of the box:

  • Free hosting (up to 3gb)
  • Automatic backups
  • Automatic upgrades
And here are some of the restrictions of the WordPress.com platform:
  • No custom themes or plugins
  • No PHP/CSS customization
  • Monetization (through advertising, affiliate links, etc) is not allowed
  • WordPress.com will run their own advertising on your site
  • No custom analytics

Here is a rundown of what self-hosted WordPress has to offer over WordPress.com:

  • Unrestricted theme and plugin uploads
  • Complete control over your site
And the downsides of self-hosted WordPress:
  • You will need to pay for a domain and hosting

Myths Dispelled

There seem to be certain false preconceptions about both WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress, and I would like to take this opportunity to dispel them.

1. WordPress.com is a Non-Profit

WordPress.com is a commercial enterprise like any other. They offer a free service in the hope that you will eventually pay for premium features.

You could spend $17 on domain mapping, $20 on extra hosting, $30 on basic design customization, and $30 to remove advertisements. Before you know it you’ve forked out close to $100, and you’ve just done a bad job of emulating a self-hosted WordPress installation that would have cost you about $70 (for a year).

2. Using Self-Hosted WordPress Requires Mad Skills

You do not need to be a technical genius to use self-hosted WordPress. Here’s what the two interfaces look like:

WordPress Website

WordPress Website


In what way is self-hosted WordPress supposed to be more complicated?

The fact is, it is barely any more difficult to set up a self-hosted WordPress site than it is one on WordPress.com. Buy a domain and hosting, install WordPress with the one click install process found on any reputable hosting provider. Yes, one could argue that WordPress.com is more straightforward for the completely uninitiated, but the gap is not nearly as wide as some make it out to be.

3. Self-Hosted WordPress Costs Money

Self-hosted WordPress is open source and completely free. It is the domain name and hosting that costs you money. That’s $10 for the domain for a year from GoDaddy, and $5 per month for hosting from BlueHost or HostGator. So an outlay of around $70 for a year. Even if blogging is just a hobby, that’s one of the cheapest hobbies I can think of.

Which Is For You?

I am clearly an proponent of self-hosted WordPress, but that does not mean I have anything against WordPress.com. I just feel that there is a far better solution for the vast majority of people.

And of course, we are huge fans of custom themes and plugins here at Tummel.Me – which are not allowed by WordPress.com. If you are new to the world of WordPress, you probably do not yet understand the sheer scope of what you would be missing out on by going with WordPress.com.

But ultimately it is up to you. If you want a simple, free and limited service to build your own basic blog, WordPress.com is arguably the best service of its type. You get free hosting, free backups, and a user-friendly interface with which you can start blogging in minutes. But if you want to unleash the full power of WordPress, there really is only one option and when you’re ready to unleash that power get in touch with us.

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WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com

  1. Dori June 29, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    Great summary of a topic that isn’t well explained anywhere, and downright confusing.  When I first got online, I actually created an entire site on wordpress.com before I understood the difference.  It was a small price to pay for the lesson, and certainly solidified the difference for me!

    I always say that if there is any chance that you are going to want to make money with your website – at anytime in the future – go for self-hosted WordPress.  You’ll be glad you did later, and so will the people you hire to support you in creating your business!

    • gsibert July 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

      Hi Dori, Just put the name with the name 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!!

  2. Larry James November 15, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    You have explained the differences very nicely. I have never published blog on wordpress.org but I have had clients ask me to implement functions on their wordpress.org site that I was unable to do because of the limitations of the service. I agree with you that anyone that is serious about doing business on line should definitely use the self hosted wordpress.com.

    • gsibert November 20, 2012 at 7:40 am #

      Actually Larry, it’s the other way around. WordPress.org is the self hosted version.

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