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…
- What is WordPress? What is WordPress.com?
- What is Web Hosting?
- What is Managed WordPress Hosting?
- Why Choose WordPress.com Over Other Managed WP Hosting?
- 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.
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.
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,
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!