Huh? Isn’t WordPress, well, WordPress??
If you’re confused about the difference, you’re not alone. In fact, when I launched my first and second blog, I went about it the same way I always do when looking at something new. I Googled “WordPress blog,” signed up for a WordPress.com account and played with several themes before I settled on the ones I wanted for each blog.
Not even a few days later, I realised that because I wanted to be able to really customise my chosen theme and not have it looking just fresh off the press, I needed more control over my site.
Apparently, I needed a “WordPress.org blog” for that. Which means, I should have downloaded the free, open-source WordPress web software and using a third-party hosting service (like Bluehost) or a dedicated WordPress hosting service (like WPEngine) to get my site online.
WordPress.com, on the other hand, took care of all that for me so I didn’t have to go looking for means to host or serve up files.
The problem is, when I handed over that responsibility, I also lost control: my WordPress.com site would show ads unless I paid a yearly fee and I had to follow the set theme.
Even more confusing, when working on the blog, the Dashboard (that’s the place where you edit your blog from the back end) looks almost exactly the same no matter which one I used. That’s because WordPress.com runs on the same WordPress software as a self-hosted site. Which means that the user experience while navigating the backend of the blog isn’t that different.
So, we’re right back where we started. Should I go for a free WordPress.com blog or a self-hosted WordPress site? You can make a quick decision once you answer the following questions:
- How much freedom do I want to have over how my site looks?
- How much behind-the-scenes technical work do I want to do or am capable of doing?
- Will I be monetising my blog?
- What is my spending budget?
How much freedom do I want to have over how my site looks?
If you’re okay with an “fresh out of the press” theme or you’re willing to pay extra to be able to customise some features (like fonts and background colours), then WordPress.com might work for you..
But if you’re looking at those themes and thinking, “but I really want my social icons in a different place and I’d like my sidebar to the left and a special footer that displays a video,” you’ll want to go with a self-hosted WordPress blog so you can access your site’s layout and HTML.
2. How much behind-the-scenes technical work do I want to do or am capable of doing?
Whilst WordPress.com is always updating and adding new features, you will have more control on a self-hosted site. Through WordPress.org, you’ll have access to plugins that can add features like interactive bookable calendars, social media sharing options, and RSS feeds, to name just a few.
Your options for customisations are quite limitless. All you’ll really need to do is access your site’s code and make the necessary changes there.
A word of caution though. I found after my first two attempts that if you really want your site to look a certain way before you can even start creating content (yes, I’m a recovering perfectionist), you’ll probably want to learn some basic HTML, CSS and PHP. The last thing you want to do is kill your site or get frustrated because you’re spending more time learning code than actually creating content.
3. Will I be monetising my blog?
“Oh wow, I have so many people following my post…sharing my blog…liking my ideas! Maybe I can make a little cash with ads!” Yeah…but no. Not if you’re on a WordPress.com site. They’re already giving you a lot for free so of course you can only sell ads in WordPress-approved ways. On a self-hosted site, however, you can do pretty much anything you want (as long as they’re legal, of course).
Lastly and possibly more importantly in terms of monetising, eCommerce is more established and flexible with a self-hosted site. Yes, even with WordPress.com’s innovations.
4. What is my spending budget?
Self-hosting is an upfront cost that ranges from a few pounds a month to closer to hundreds per year. A WordPress.com blog is free, initially. But when you start adding extra features, things can get quite pricey. And trust me, if you want to showcase your brand and monetise your blog, you will want those extra features.
In conclusion, WordPress.com is a valuable tool for users who don’t need to customise or make money off of their site. What’s that? You want to create a personal blog to show your kids’ antics to family who live in a different country? WordPress.com all the way.
You want to be a full-time blogger earn at least $9,000 per month a la Suzi of Start a Mom Blog fame? Get a self-hosted site through WordPress.org. It will provide the most flexibility, freedom, and opportunity for growth.
And now that you’ve chosen your platform, go create that content! 🙂