WordPress.com vs. a Self-Hosted WordPress Install: What’s Best For You?

The confusion around the differences between WordPress and WordPress.com has been around since the beginning of time. Well, maybe not exactly then, but certainly since 2005 when WordPress.com said “Hello World!” and especially since the introduction of the Jetpack plugin which connects self-hosted WordPress sites to WordPress.com so they can enjoy features available only on WordPress.com.

Confused? Keep reading…

  1. What is WordPress? What is WordPress.com?
  2. What is Web Hosting?
  3. What is Managed WordPress Hosting?
  4. Why Choose WordPress.com Over Other Managed WP Hosting?
  5. In Conclusion

What is WordPress? What is WordPress.com?

Perhaps this mashup of forum replies and numerous support documents helps to explain:

The WordPress open source Content Management System (CMS) software is developed and maintained at WordPress.org. That is where it can be downloaded for free and then installed on 3rd party hosting. That is also the place to find documentation and get support for WordPress installs. Hosting your own WordPress install does require technical knowledge and places more responsibility on you.

WordPress.com is a web hosting provider that uses a customized version of that same WordPress open source software on its platform. On WordPress.com, you do not need to download software or install it and all back-end updates and security are handled directly by WordPress.com support staff. You can instead focus on creating unique content.

Still confused?

You can take an entire workshop on this subject!**

If you’d like to view the video captions, you can enable them (English only) by clicking the “Settings” icon in the lower right corner of the video, next to Full Screen.

What is Web Hosting?

In order to use the WordPress software, you need to download, set it up and run it on a web server owned by a web hosting provider, who stores your website on its servers. You pay them for that space. Additionally, you’ll need to buy a domain name either from your web hosting provider or a Domain Registrar so people can access your site on the interwebs. This is often referred to as “self-hosted” WordPress.

There are numerous hosting providers out there, but the largest in no particular order are SiteGround, WPEngine, NameCheap, GoDaddy and Dreamhost.*

When you set up your WordPress install on the web hosting of your choice, it is then your responsibility to not only write your site content, but also to maintain all aspects of your website as well, from updating software, ensuring security, making backups, etc. If something goes pear-shaped, you have access to your web hosting provider’s support team for help, the large WordPress.org community, as well as videos and tutorials from the many companies that provide WordPress services.

What is Managed WordPress Hosting?

Not everyone has the skill set, time or desire to learn the ins-and-outs of the above and may prefer to pay their web hosting provider extra to manage this for them. Therefore, “Managed WordPress Hosting”.

The managed WordPress hosting space has exploded since my first post on this topic published in 2011. This is due to the tireless efforts of the WordPress.org community of users, designers and developers contributing to its success (and by extension, assuring their own WordPress service company’s success, as well). Many of the same web hosting providers I mentioned above also offer managed WP hosting with varying features, at a higher cost than regular web hosting, of course.

Why Choose WordPress.com Over Other Managed WP Hosting?

WordPress.com is one of many managed WordPress hosting solutions and I’ve written several posts about why WordPress.com is the choice for many site owners, including businesses, looking to concentrate on their content and leave the site security and maintenance to professionals.

But why do I recommend WordPress.com for someone just starting out?

First, WordPress.com is an “all-in-one” solution. WordPress.com provides the WordPress software preinstalled, provides you with a no-cost subdomain (yoursite.wordpress.com), and hosts your site on their servers. WordPress.com wants you to succeed and so provides a ton of free learning resources to help you achieve your goals.

Second, the vast majority of people looking to set up a website do not need access to back-end features of a self-hosted WordPress install. Do you really need access to the SQL database? Do you really need FTP access? Do you really need to access the code of your website template or PHP functions? If any of those had you scratching your head, then it’s probably a good thing that you don’t have access. ☺

So many ways to WordPress and they’re all good!

Lastly, WordPress.com has so many ready-to-use, built-in features that you might not even need plugins to accomplish your goal. But if you do need plugins, or access to any of the back-end features I mentioned above, there’s a plan for that. And if you find that you’ve outgrown what WordPress.com offers, you can export your content and take it with you to a different web hosting provider.

In Conclusion

Keep in mind that regardless of which flavor of WordPress you choose, there will be a learning curve involved, but the one for self-hosted WordPress installs is much steeper.

In the past I’ve said,

“…while WordPress.com may not be the right solution for absolutely everyone, it is the best solution for everyone else”

-wpcommaven

and that’s as true today as it was back in 2013.


*Disclaimer: Please note that mentioning these web hosting providers is not an endorsement of them nor of their services. Check out this page if you are looking for a web hosting provider recommended by WordPress.org itself.

**Strangely, you can’t add links in the caption of videos, so if you think you want to take the full workshop I mentioned, go here and sign up.

As always, the information in this post is correct as of publication date. Changes are inevitable.

This post was entirely rewritten from my post “WordPress.com vs. Self-hosting a WordPress Install” which appeared in 2011.

Still confused? Drop your questions in the comments and let’s talk!

Published by JenT

WordPress.com forum volunteer and former moderator (2016-2021) assisting WordPress.com site owners since 2006, one answer at a time. Find me at wpcommaven.com.

7 thoughts on “WordPress.com vs. a Self-Hosted WordPress Install: What’s Best For You?

  1. Good summary.

    I’ve read that I should be able to transfer/convert from .com to self-managed.

    I’m not sure how well it could be done. I’ve read anything from “indistinguishable” to having a fair amount of tweaking to do after the switch.

    Meaning, the content will transfer, but maybe not all the formatting … although, that’s true within.com as well (older posts get messed up when WP makes big changes).

    The only reason (for me) to consider it is to get around the space limitation . . . unless WP gets with the program and provides a way to increase storage without jumping to a more expensive plan that offers no additional benefits (for me).

    1. Thanks. I guess I’ll use the favored “moving from apartment to house” analogy here. All your current furniture and belongings come along, but you might need to rearrange it for the new place and you might need to buy new pieces to decorate or make the new place more livable. That’s it in a nutshell.

      There was a long forum thread from a user who insisted that the only way to properly export and import a site from WordPress.com to WordPress was by using a specific plugin (All-In-One Migration) and I’ve seen that plugin mentioned more than once and now it’s mentioned in the support docs as well. That, of course, requires an upgrade. But for the furniture and belongings themselves, the regular export should do the trick, as long as the old site is online and public.

      Yes, the option of additional storage space is weighing heavily on a lot of people. Before they flipped back to the old upgrade plans, there was no additional storage available other than upgrading one’s current plan. Just like everyone else, I’m anxiously following along.

      1. I’m currently embedding nearly everything, so that saves some space. I also plan to replace videos I’ve uploaded with links to either YouTube or Vimeo. That should free up a GB or two.

      2. That certainly is one way to deal with reducing upload space. As long as it’s being embedded from a solid platform (like YouTube) and as long as they don’t suddenly drop their service or change their ToS (bye-bye Photobucket and tinypic), it’s all good. 😁

  2. I have mine on a hosted service. I absolutely LOVE WordPress. I don’t use WordPress.com because you can’t use Adsense. I need to have a way to monetize my site and also have brands offer monetary reviews.
    Unfortunately having my blog on a shared hosting service with all my plugins bogs the system. You’d think with today’s technology, that wouldn’t be a problem anymore. To be honest, I think it is just their way to get you to purchase a dedicated server.

    Love this post… I agree with everything.
    Who’s better? WordPress.com or Hosted? All depends…

    1. If you have the know-how to keep your own WordPress install running smoothly and securely, then more power to you! However, it’s a misconception that you cannot monetize your WordPress.com website. Each upgrade plan (including free!) offers different monetization options. The only condition that WordPress.com has is that the primary purpose of your site is to create original content and not be used as a gateway to 3rd party sites. So, essentially, if your site is there to primarily run ads and earn ad revenue by sending visitors to 3rd party sites, I agree that a self-hosted WordPress install would be the better choice provided you have the know-how to run it or managed WP hosting is cost-effective for you. Thanks for chiming in here!

      (Edited to add: (including free!)

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