There are two different ways you can do WordPress: having a plan with WordPress.com (and they host your blog) or being self-hosted and using the WordPress.org software. What’s the difference, and which is better? Let’s chat about that.
Note that your domain name is unrelated to this; hosting is about the servers where your blog lives. My URL is mentalhealthathome.org, but my blog is hosted on WordPress.com.
If you have a free, personal, premium, business, or pro plan, that’s through WordPress.com. WordPress.com provides the blogging framework as well as hosting. That means that your blog lives on their servers, and they also take care of updates, backups, security, and other behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts. They put your site together all in one piece, and you can only do so much to change it.
If you want to be able to do more to customize your site, you need to pay for a higher-level plan. With a premium plan, you can use CSS (cascading style sheets) to customize your design. Business and Pro plan blogs have some differences behind the scenes, although I’m not sure entirely what those differences are. I do know the comment form is somehow different. With the business or pro plan, you still can’t change your site’s code, but you can use plugins (although there are some that WordPress.com won’t allow you to install).
Self-hosted (using WordPress.org)
Self-hosted means that your site doesn’t live on WordPress.com’s servers; instead, you find your own place to host it. Examples include Lyrical Host and Bluehost. You then use the software available through WordPress.org to build your site.
WordPress.com and .org use the same basic framework, but .com assembles it for you, whereas with .org, it’s up to you and your host to put your site together as you see fit. You can change the code, you can install plugins… really, you can do whatever you want. You can also break it as much as you want, and that’s your problem to ask your host for help with; the Happiness Engineers only serve as tech support for blogs hosted on WordPress.com. I’m sure different hosts vary widely in how helpful they are, and the amount of support you have available will depend on your hosting plan.
Jetpack and WordPress.com interactivity
Jetpack is a plugin that comes built into WordPress.com sites. It does a variety of different things, one of which is facilitating your interactions with other WordPress sites.
My knowledge of this is limited, because I’ve always been with WordPress.com, and Jetpack is part of the package deal. But my impression is that the interactivity with people that you get in the WordPress Reader all comes down to Jetpack. For sites that are self-hosted, depending on how they’ve got their site set up, you may not be able to interact with them the way you do other blogs. For example, there may not be the option to like or comment within the WP Reader.
My friends Caz at Invisibly Me and Ami at Undercover Superhero are both self-hosted, but their sites handle comments differently. When Ami responds to a comment that I leave, I get a notification within WordPress, and I can see her response without my Reader notifications list. WordPress doesn’t notify me of responses from Caz. To see her responses, I have to either go visit her site to check, or I have to subscribe by email to the comments on her post, which would email me about every comment left by anyone.
Issues within WordPress.com
If a site isn’t recognizing you as being logged in to WordPress.com, one potential issue is your browser settings. You need to have third-party cookies and cross-site tracking enabled.
I’ve also noticed lately that some sites won’t recognize me as logged in when I first open a page, but they will recognize me after I refresh the page.
Blogs on the WordPress.com business plan don’t have the little button in the bottom right corner that lets you follow the blog or view it in the Reader. I have no idea why this is.
Pros and Cons
There is no right or wrong way to do it; what’s right for you comes down to what your individual preferences and needs are.
One big benefit of WordPress.com is that you can be sure that the behind-the-scenes technical stuff (security, backups) won’t be an issue for you at all; they will deal with that.
If you want a free plan, I would guess that WordPress.com is a lot more reliable than any of the various other sites that offer free WordPress hosting. I would also guess that if you’re not technically adept, the chances of you completely breaking your site are high if you’ve got free hosting where no one is going to help you with anything.
Bugs aside, if you like the WordPress Reader following/liking/commenting experience, at least that’s something that’s built into WordPress.com and you don’t have to fight with getting Jetpack working the way you want it to.
The major downside is limited customizability. There’s greater customizability with the WP.com business or plan, but that’s also pricey. Even with that, you don’t have the same level of customizability as a self-hosted blog.
It’s hard for me to speak to this, because I’ve never gone self-hosted. It sounds like one of the biggest pros is customizability. You can change your site’s code, use CSS, and install whatever plugins you want.
The cost can vary quite a bit depending on your host. For example, Lyrical Host is about $200 US per year, but other sites have cheap plans for only a few dollars a month. What you pay depends on how much you want your host to do for you, and that will impact how much you’ll have to be responsible for yourself.
A downside is that WordPress.com connectivity can be problematic. Also, the flip side of customizability is breakability. I would guess that the more you’re prepared to pay for a hosting plan, the more likely they are to help fix things that you’ve broken.
What I’m considering
I’ve been with WordPress.com since I started, first with the free plan, then the personal plan, and now the business plan. The business plan made sense when I was trying to monetize my site, but I’m not really doing that anymore, so it’s probably not worth the money I’m spending. I like being able to use plugins, though, primarily for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes; it really does make a big difference in the search engine traffic you can bring to your site. (Since originally writing this, WordPress has created the pro plan, which is cheaper).
The next time my plan is up for renewal, I’m thinking of going self-hosted, with a hosting provider that takes care of a lot of the nuts and bolts that I don’t want to have to deal with myself. One issue of concern is the WordPress.com interactivity, because that’s really important to me. I like that I’m able to interact with Ami’s blog the same way I can with WP.com blogs, and I wouldn’t want to lose that part of the blogging experience (although I don’t actually know how much difference the choice of host makes in that)
I know it would involve a learning curve having to get used to something different, and it’s hard to know how different it would actually be. That’s the main factor that held me back when my WP.com plan last came up for renewal a few months ago.
For people who want the classic experience
I don’t think that things like the classic editor plugin and the classic widgets exist because WordPress.com wanted you to pay for the business or pro plan to get them; I think that they exist because people who code use WordPress.org, and they build plugins so they can have the experience they want to have.
If you want access to these classic experience kinds of plugins, I’m inclined to think that you’re better off going self-hosted than upgrading to an expensive WordPress.com plan. Whether you want the extra fuss of being responsible for your own site is another question, though.
WordPress gives their take on .com vs. .org here. There’s also a Learn WordPress tutorial on the topic.
So now it’s over to you. If your blog is self-hosted, what has that experience been like for you? Was there a lot of fuss and bother involved, or was it pretty smooth sailing? And if you’re on WordPress.com, have you ever thought about going self-hosted? Did you even know it was an option?
The blogging toolbox series has tips to support you in your blogging journey. It includes these posts:
35 thoughts on “WordPress.com vs. Self-Hosted (WordPress.org)”
🙂 Ashley, I believe that you would be way better off using the self-hosted version of WordPress because you would be able to tailor it to your needs; for example:
• You can choose any plugin or widget.
• You can use any theme that you desire.
• You are the boss of monetizing your blog (And, you do not have to qualify for WordAds when you are on the self-hosted version of WordPress).
Another important factor is that you would be saving way more money by utilizing the self-hosted version of WordPress.
If I had money to burn, I would be on Ghost instead of WordPress (Ghost is more orientated towards personal blogging).
Yes, I most likely will switch to self-hosted when my current plan runs out.
I had never heard of Ghost before.
🙂 Ghost has been around since 2013.
By the way, do let your viewing audience know when you have finally switched over to the self-hosted version of WordPress.
I definitely will.
Jonathan Becjett who follows me has experience with Ghost if you want to hit him up. He’ll be happy to give you laymens terms explanations even tho he’s in a techie.
I’m good with WordPress. I definitely wouldn’t want to leave the community.
Taking the leap to self-hosted is a bit nerve-wracking, as it moving provider once you’re self hosted. I think with the breakability point, it’s good to pick a provider that offers 24/7 support. I’ve got a post drafted that I probably should have posted before now but that covers some of what you have here and weighing up the benefits to see whether it’s worth doing.
You do get more customisability, which is what I like. But I’m still constrained by my theme. I paid for it, but I can’t get it how I want it because, well, I can’t edit a whole theme with my limited knowledge. I can do basic CSS and that’s pretty useful so you can change font face and sizes within your blog posts.
The links I included in my coming-soon post are for two providers I’ve used and would recommend. I won’t drop anything here but let me know if you want the information. The prices, at least in the UK compared to other providers, are pretty decent. They’re definitely cheaper than WP plans. I’ve never used a WP plan but I can’t see how they’re worth the cost.
That’s a good point about the constraints of the theme. I wish I was knowledgeable enough to actually know how to do more, but I most definitely am not.
Looking forward to your post!
For some reason, Caz… I cannot comment on your WordPress posts via the Reader. I’ve tried twice and am subscribed. Just a heads up!
I have always noticed wordpress.org but it never occurred to me to click on it and explore further. I had no idea it’s the same under the same parent as wordpress.com. Thank you for the insight– It does make sense after reading this article.
It took me quite a while to figure out what the distinction was. I kept coming across search results in Google and thinking hmm, my site doesn’t let me do that…
I fully admire people who choose the “org” option. I thought about it, but didn’t like the learning curve. I don’t code, mostly because when I took computers in school, it was the Apple2e. I took a course a few years ago, but I’m good with leaving the nuts and bolts to other people. Though the theme constraints are sometimes frustrating 💖
.Org gives you more options, but from what Caz mentioned in her comment, if you don’t code, you’re still constrained by whatever theme you end up choosing.
I tend to stick with what’s easy in terms of not having time to fiddle with the tech side. I was on the free version for over ten years before so switched to Premium.
But I considered looking at self hosting in the future…
Having access to plugins makes a big difference in what you can do with your site. WordPress.com is an expensive way to do it, but low-fiddling is a good thing.
Sigh..I have no idea what a SEO plugin is (yet!)..I need to do some reading. Thanks for talking about these topics that are new to some of us.
Plugins are like little within-Wordpress apps, and SEO (search engine optimization) plugins give you suggestions and let you tweak things to make your posts more appealing to search engines.
I don’t have the skill set right now to consider such a thing, and I don’t think it’s necessary for where I am right now. However, I do want to educate myself on this topic for if the day comes. I hope you keep us posted on what you do. It’s very interesting to learn.
I think there’s a lot to be said for keeping it simple, but it is interesting to know what the options are.
When I signed up for self-hosted, I didn’t know there were free options to blogging. But I do enjoy having the freedom to do anything with my site on my own. At first, it was a nightmare figuring out site speed and themes, though.
I bet. The technical side of blogging is definitely a steep learning curve, even with WordPress.com where they take care of so much for your.
This is for Caz of Invisibly Me… I just want to make you aware that I cannot comment on your posts. No matter of they’re in Reader or here on Ashley’s comments. I would be interested to know if that is a limitation of being self-hosted.
Oh that’s weird.
I was once with Bluehost, and had a WordPress theme, but didn’t understand how so make the Reader play with my self-hosted site.
That’s been my biggest concern with the prospect of going self-hosted. That’s why I’m thinking I’ll go with Lyrical Host, as the Reader seems to get along just fine with Ami’s Lyrical Host site, although I know she had some hiccups when she was first getting it set up.
If you know that it works, it’s probably just a matter of taking one’s time to get everything squared away. Now I am interested in checking it out. If for nothing but curiosity’s sake.
Latin and Greek to me.
But you made it in a simple language, I could understand better.
Thank you Ashley
I am not self-hosted and here are the reasons I haven’t done that.
A) Not techie enough. I know a fair amount about ‘how computer stuff works’, but nowhere near enough to design and host my own blog (even with a helper). At the end of the day, even with places like you’re considering using, it comes down to you having to be willing to step up and fix stuff yourself. I don’t have the patience at this time to do that. I have the “Personal” plan on WP, which costs around $8 (or so) a year. I’m not very satisfied with WP ‘engineers’ though, but you have made very valid points about the work they do behind the scenes that makes things run better (theoretically). Now if they’d just learn the difference between ‘improvements’ and “fixing unbroken stuff that is working just fine’, it would all be a grand experience.
Also I learned (again) this weekend that it’s still the work of the user to be proactive and learn about the “improvements” as they arise. They don’t make a lot of sense to me, these latest ones, but I guess they do to someone.
Lastly, “newer’ doesn’t always mean ‘better’. Block editing is for the damned birds. I do not know who decided it would be easier and perhaps it is easier for those behind the curtain. Still I’ve yet to meet anyone who has adapted to the blocks and likes it.
I actually prefer blocks because you can do more with them, but they definitely make basic writing more work. It does seem like they’re moving away from a focus on blogging and more towards a focus on website creation.
It’s still blurry in my mind how much of the more minor breaking of unbroken things is being driven by the crappiness engineers and how much is coming from the WordPress.org developers. On the Github repository for the WordPress block editor project, they’ve got 754 open bug reports right now (https://github.com/WordPress/gutenberg/issues?q=is%3Aissue+is%3Aopen+label%3A%22%5BType%5D+Bug%22), which would affect everyone, whether they’re self-hosted or with the crappiness engineers.
good to know, Ashley. a few years ago I took an online class about blogging via the public library & switched to .org using Siteground — ugh! was nightmare, with taking forever to load up pages & not being on the wp reader, which is where most my readers come from… after about a week I went back to .com & have been happy camper ever since. but I don’t need my site to do much, am not selling things, am just trying to gather following for when I publish my books (& at that point I can decide if I want to switch). I pay wp minimum $5/month so I don’t have wp ads on my site scaring people off. I’ve had pretty good success with wp’s ‘happiness team’ helping out when needed
That WordPress Reader piece is so important. If my blog wasn’t connecting to the Reader properly, I’d lost a very large chunk of my readers.
& between all the bits of money for themes & I forget what all else that I might have to spend on self-hosting, I wonder if it’s that cost effective anyway, not to mention time lost
another thing, when I’ve researched .com vs .org, most everyone compares only the freebie wp version against .org, not the paid plans
tho still scratching my head over what’s up with having to sign in over & over when I comment even here. I asked wp about it & they didn’t have an answer, just said my site was fine, etc
just wondering — you said you get more SEO stuff paying — like what? with ‘personal plan’, I get jetpack
One issue with logging in could be browser settings. Third party cookies need to be enabled for sites to recognize that you’re logged in to WordPress.
With the .com business plan, I can install plugins. I use Yoast, which is an SEO plugin. It lets me enter a “meta description”, which helps search engines know what the post is about. It also gives me feedback on things like the length of my titles, whether I’m using enough headings, whether I’m under- or over-using my chosen keyword, and various other things. I noticed a big jump in my traffic from Google once I started using it.
I firmly believed you needed to be a tech-wizard when going self-hosted, but nope I’m still at the same point I was before transferring – ain’t got a bloody clue! LH’s tech team help with everything, and they always make sure you are happy and satisfied before they close the support ticket. Plus, they break everything down so it’s easy to read and simple to understand, so you can learn along the way too if you wanted to 🙂