Self-Hosted (“WordPress.org”) vs. WordPress.com

So you know you’re going to use WordPress, but which version is right for you? It’s important to make the right choice between self-hosted WordPress—often referred to as “WordPress.org”—and WordPress.com.

Most of the information on this site is primarily about self-hosted WordPress.

Self-Hosted WordPress (“WordPress.org”)

Gray WordPress LogoSelf-hosted WordPress is installed on a webhost that you’ll need to purchase. You can download it for free from WordPress.org or use your host’s “one-click installer” (most host’s offer one). If you choose to download WordPress yourself, you’ll need to follow instructions for WordPress’s “famous 5-minute install.”

Once you’ve setup self-hosted WordPress, it’s yours to do with as you please. You can install any of thousands of themes or plugins, write your own custom code, upload as many files as your host will allow, and even modify WordPress itself. (That’s a bad idea, but you’re free to do it! It’s yours!) The tradeoff for this control is that you have to frequently update your themes, plugins, and the WordPress software, and when something breaks you’ll need to find someone to fix it.

Besides this immense flexibility to control exactly how your site looks and functions, you also “own your content,” meaning that it’s on a server you’ve purchased and you can move your site if you choose.

Because of the flexibility and control, self-hosted WordPress is best for most nonprofits, particularly those that have had a website before.

The “core” WordPress software available on WordPress.org is a free open source project contributed to by hundreds of peoples, with themes and plugins available from thousands of other authors (yours truly included!).

If self-hosted WordPress sounds like the right path for your organization, then you’ll need to get your own web host and domain.

Recommended Nonprofit Website Hosting

WordPress.com

Orange WordPress LogoWordPress.com is a commercial service that lets you make a basic WordPress website. The most basic of sites is free, but you’ll have to pay for upgrades like using your own domain, the ability to change colors and CSS on your site, increased storage for uploaded files, and more. If you’re using free WordPress.com, you may occasionally see ads displayed on your site.

WordPress.com is customized from the “core” WordPress software with some advanced features out of the box but limiting you to what it provides. WordPress.com isn’t a good choice if you will need to significantly customize your website. The advantage of WordPress.com? You don’t need your own host or to worry about your site’s updates or security, WordPress.com is ready-to-go out of the box and keeps itself in good shape.

WordPress.com can be a great solution for nonprofits that are just getting started, need to get a small microsite up quickly, or want to try out WordPress before committing.

Try WordPress.com Now for Free

WordPress.com is owned by the company Automattic, founded by one of the two co-founders of the WordPress project.

Using or wanting to try WordPress.com? The WordPress.com Support includes lots of excellent, up-to-date information. Some of it even applies to self-hosted WordPress! If you decide to use WordPress.com, I highly recommend their support and documentation.

Starting on WordPress.com and Moving to Self-Hosted

If you’re not sure about whether to use WordPress yet and just want to try it out, WordPress.com is a good option for you. It’s free for the basics and you can get started even faster than the self-hosted WordPress “5-minute install”.

Should your nonprofit start on WordPress.com, you can eventually move to a self-hosted WordPress site later. However, keep the following in mind:

  • You’ll want to use a theme that’s available on both WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress so you can keep your site’s design.
  • You’ll eventually use the WordPress.com export function and the WordPress Importer plugin to move your content. Beware: sometimes transferring images can be buggy!
  • If you use WordPress.com’s Subscribe via Email feature, you’ll need to make sure to transfer your subscribers to the self-hosted site with the Jetpack plugin.
  • If you used a {yourname}.wordpress.com URL for the first site and are moving to {yourname}.org (or .ngo!), make sure to pay for at least a year of “Site Redirect” so search engines and site visitors know your site has moved.

If you’re worried about handling the move from WordPress.com to your own hosted version of WordPress, I’d strongly recommend you consider the Guided Transfer from WordPress.com. It takes care of nearly the entire migration at a surprisingly low cost compared to paying a consultant to do the work.

Further Reading