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We're frequently asked about the difference between the self-hosted WordPress vs. WordPress.com. Why should you pay for self-hosted WordPress if WordPress.com offers WordPress for free? Once you understand the basic difference between the two platforms, you'll see why one is better for a business website or a blog than the other.

Owning a House vs. Renting an Apartment

This analogy works well for non-technical users, in my experience, so I wanted to share it with you to help you understand the difference between WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com.

Renting an Apartment: WordPress.com

WordPress.com User Interface

When you rent an apartment there are a lot of things you can and can't do. For example, you can paint the walls, hang shelves and pictures on the walls, you can put in your furniture and make that space yours.

But, there a lot of things you can't do with a rented apartment. For example, you can't break down walls, you might not be able to have pets, you can't add another room or any other major structural changes.

That's really how you should see WordPress.com. It's a commercial service by Automattic, a company that was founded by Matt Mullenweg (a co-creator of self-hosted WordPress and is in charge of it right now).

WordPress.com offers a free option for you to create a blog, which is limited to a set of sub-domains (e.i. myblog.home.blog). If you decide to have a custom domain (e.i. myblog.com), you'll need to upgrade to a paid plan. Also, if you buy your domain from a third-party registrar (e.i. GoDaddy, ProjectArmy, Namecheap, etc.), you will have to pay domain mapping fee in addition to your paid plan upgrade.

Since WordPress.com is a network platform (a building) all these WordPress.com websites/blogs are apartments inside this large building. In order to provide privacy and security for each website, WordPress.com places enormous restrictions on each website.

Some restrictions on the free plan include:

  • No custom themes allowed, must use their own themes (limited)
  • You have very little control over the design of your website
  • No custom plugins are allowed, you're limited to basic functionality
  • Your blog will have ads you have no control over
  • Limited control of content and no FTP access
  • No 3rd party advertising is allowed (e.i. Google Ads/Adsense)
  • No affiliate links are allowed
  • You can't track your traffic with Google Analytics
  • You can't have a custom domain

The paid plans begin to ease these restrictions, in one way or another. Each upgrade allows a set of functionality. But you have to be on a more expensive plan, like the Business plan, to get a decent amount of control over your website. That's just the nature of their business model.

These restrictions aren't a problem if you're just getting started and want something free. If you want a simple blog, WordPress.com is a good choice. If you want to monetize your blog or you're a business owner and need a website to generate leads and sales, don't you dare to get yourself an apartment and wonder why you're not getting the results (profit!) you need - get yourself a house (next).

Owning a House: Self-hosted WordPress

Self-hosted WordPress User Interface
Self-hosted WordPress User Interface

The good news is, you don't need to take out a mortgage to own a self-hosted WordPress website and/or blog. When you own a house, you have full control over what happens to your house. 

If you decide that the wall in the kitchen must go - get rid of it. If you want to own and breed tigers, go ahead and do it. There's no one stopping you, for the most part. 

When you own a house, you can do whatever you want to make it your own in every way possible. That's exactly what you can do with a self-hosted WordPress website. 

With a self-hosted WordPress website you can:

  • Upload your own custom theme and modify it as much as you like
  • Upload free and premium plugins as needed
  • No ads included
  • You can run third-party advertising (e.i. Google Ads/Adsense)
  • Include affiliate links in your content
  • You have FULL control over your content
  • You can track traffic with Google Analytics or any other 3rd party tracking platform

What a lot of people do is start with a WordPress.com blog, but quickly realize limitations. That's when they have to invest more money to convert the WordPress.com blog to a self-hosted WordPress.

Keep in mind, as with a house you are responsible for maintaining your self-hosted WordPress website. This includes making sure all plugins, theme, and core are upgraded to the latest versions, fix issues when they arise, etc. 

There's a tremendous online community of service providers that can help you with WordPress issues, it's easy to find help and even get some free help through WordPress.org community forum. We offer free WordPress support on Twitter, you can tweet or DM us @wpmedic.

You can also find tutorials, guides, and videos about everything related to WordPress. You simply need to Google it. That's the beauty of WordPress being the #1 website platform on the web. A good hosting provider can also provide additional WordPress support as needed.

The Cost of a Self-hosted WordPress

At this point, you may realize how important it is for you to build a blog or business website using self-hosted WordPress - NOT WordPress.com

With WordPress.com, you have a nice pricing page that lays out what your options are. With a self-hosted WordPress, it's a little bit more segmented and might not be as clear to some. So let's break it down a bit.

  • Required: You will need a custom domain, most .COM domains run around $12/year. Different domains (.co.uk, .eu, .ca, .org, etc.) will have a different cost.
    • Some hosting providers may include a free domain when you purchase hosting, either the first year free or free while subscription is active.
  • Required: You will need hosting compatible with WordPress:
    • Option 1: Shared hosting is the cheapest - $3 - $10/month usually paid annually (best for beginners)
    • Option 2: WordPress managed hosting - $10 - $25+/month either monthly or annually
  • Optional: Premium theme - prices range $40 - 100 one time fee
    • You can always use a free theme
  • Optional: Premium plugins - prices range $5 - 150 one time fee usually, some require subscriptions
    • You can always find a free plugin in most cases
  • Optional: WordPress help and support - prices vary (hourly, per task, monthly subscriptions, etc.)
    • For example,  we charge $25 per small task. Usually, that's 90% of the work our customers need to get done.

Please note, a good hosting provider will include a free SSL certificate so your website is accessible through HTTPS. Some hosts charge for SSL certificates, so be wary of that and ask upfront.

For example, if you were to get started with a self-hosted WordPress website with us at ProjectArmy your first payment could be as low as $17. That's $12 for a .COM domain, which is paid annually; and $5 for the first month of hosting. Then, starting the following month, it would be $5/mo.

This is just an example scenario if you were to sign up with us.

Tips to Buy Hosting

  • Almost all hosting providers will show a monthly price on their pricing page, but that may be tied to a long term contract. For example, the monthly price will say $2/mo but you will have to sign up for a 3-year term ($2 x 36 months = $72).
  • Many hosting providers will give you a new customer discount, and when renewal time rolls around the price might double or triple. Pay attention to the fine print.
  • Shared hosting providers don't include backups of individual websites. If something happens to your website, you might lose it. Set up your own backups to Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.
  • Many hosts don't include malware clean up after a hack. They will either upsell SiteLock service or a similar third-party provider.
  • Remember, you get what you pay for. Multi-year deals on hosting are offered cheap because that locks customers in, prevents them from leaving early if the service is bad. Deals that are too good to be true usually end up with bad service, be it frequent downtimes or technical support being useless (we help a lot of people at @wpmedic because their hosting support couldn't help).
  • If you can, sign up for monthly hosting and then upgrade to a longer-term if service is good to get a discount. Remember, everyone offers 30 days money-back guarantee. So you do have time to leave if it's bad from the start.

If you have any questions and you're our customer, feel free to comment below or reach out to your dedicated support team. If you're not a customer, you can get help on Twitter @wpmedic be it a question or a problem with your WordPress.