Confusingly, WordPress comes in two versions – free, and paid-for. Even more confusing – the paid-for edition has a number of different levels, including a free level, supported by adverts. All of these things are called ‘WordPress’ and work in very similar ways, but there are important differences. Let’s find out what they are.
How can I tell which version of WordPress I’m using?
If you’re paying a yearly fee to wordpress.com (or its parent company, Automattic) then you’re obviously on the paid-for version of WordPress, which is wordpress.com. If you’re not paying anything to WordPress then you’re probably on the free version, which is wordpress.org. (The exception is if you’re on the free tier of wordpress.com, in which case you won’t be paying but your site will have adverts on it that you don’t control and your domain will end with wordpress.com, so that’s pretty easy to spot).
A way to find out for sure is to go to your login page. Before you sign in there should be a blue W logo on the page. Hover over that logo (or click on it) and see where it links to. It will be either wordpress.com or wordpress.org – this will show you which version you are using.
WordPress.com vs WordPress.org
Both versions can produce similar websites, and for the user, they look pretty much the same. In fact, to the administrator they also look quite similar and work in similar ways, but there are differences worth knowing.
WordPress.com: it’s all done for you, at a cost
On wordpress.com, everything is taken care of for you. WordPress hosts the website for you, provides a domain name, and makes sure everything is up to date. You are not going to make any big mistakes with this way of publishing a website – it’s very reliable and robust. It is also secure, as the latest security updates will be automatically applied to your account.
But like many reliable things, it’s boring, and costly. There are a number of tiers to pay, and at the lower tiers you only get limited control of your website. The more you pay, the more you can change. So if you want a visual theme that is different to everyone else’s, bad luck. You’ll have to pay extra for that, or just suck up all the free themes that you see all over the place.
Also, if your website is likely to grow bigger, there may come a time when wordpress.com isn’t enough for it. Once you need to upgrade your project, you might find that wordpress.com isn’t flexible enough for you. Luckily it isn’t too hard to export your data, but if you are expecting to do this any time soon, maybe you should consider starting with something a bit more substantial in the first place.
GOOD: Easy, reliable, secure
BAD: Costs money, inflexible, limited choices
WordPress.org – lots mores choice and power, if you know how to use it wisely
WordPress.org is the name of the website you go to to download WordPress. That’s right, they literally give this software away for free. It’s a pretty sweet deal. For the princely sum of zero, you can get all the features that on wordpress.com might cost you to £240+VAT per year.
So why doesn’t everyone just do this? It’s not quite that simple. You need hosting, and that will cost you something. There are plenty of companies selling WordPress hosting, some for quite low prices. Then you need to know how to set up WordPress, and make it do the things you want. That’s a big subject, but luckily it is a very well documented one. There is absolutely loads of help on the internet about how to use WordPress, which is one of the main attractions for many people. Because WordPress is so widely used, it is easy to find answers to problems, either through advice online or by getting extra software to improve your site. Some of these themes and plugins are free, many are not.
And with this power, comes responsibility – if you mess up your website, you’ll have to fix it yourself. There’s no direct support for WordPress.org. Adding software that you downloaded from some random site on the web is a good way to mess up your server if you don’t know how to do it properly.
GOOD: Cheap, powerful, lots of opportunities to expand and develop your website
BAD: Needs some technical skill, risk of security or technical problems if you don’t know how to do it