Is WordPress Free? We Clear The Confusion

Published on September 6, 2022 by Simon Wright

There’s lots of misunderstanding over whether WordPress is free or not. Many folks may tell you that creating an excellent website for zero dollars is possible. Others will laugh at that notion and say you must spend tens, hundreds, or even thousands of greenbacks to get a site online.

However, fear not, as this article will clear things up once and for all. We’ll be looking at which elements of WordPress are free and which you might need to pay for. So, let’s plunge right in.

The Evolution of WordPress

One of the fundamental factors in understanding if WordPress is free or not is knowing its history and how it has since evolved.

WordPress is content management system (CMS) software for creating, editing, collaborating, storing, and publishing digital content. It first appeared in 2003 and was aimed specifically at the rapidly expanding blogging community.

Being completely free, WordPress quickly gained traction to become the number one choice for bloggers. Furthermore, being open-source, the software’s code was accessible, allowing developers (and tech-savvy users) to make deep customizations. However, it wasn’t long before people realized its potential outside of blogging, and they quickly began adapting it to other types of websites.

While in the early days, you needed a thorough understanding of coding to customize and adapt WordPress, numerous plugins and themes have since been developed. These are ‘bolt-ons’ that allow you to customize the platform to create almost any kind of website with no coding skills required.

Nowadays, WordPress is no longer just a blogging platform. In fact, the software currently drives over 43% of the websites on the Internet, ranging from simple single product pages through news channels to fancy corporate websites with lots of bells and whistles.

WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com – What’s the Difference?

Confusingly, two organizations offer WordPress – WordPress.org and WordPress.com, and we’ll now tell you about their differences.

  • WordPress.org

WordPress.org is commonly known as self-hosted WordPress. It is the original free, open-source WordPress platform software distributed under what is known as the GNU General Public License, usually abbreviated to GPL.

Under the GPL, you can download, modify, customize, adapt, and use WordPress however you see fit, making it suitable for countless applications.

One crucial thing about WordPress.org is, provided you release it under the GPL, you are also at liberty to sell the code. That means if you are a developer, you can modify the platform’s code – for example, to create a specific type of website – and then sell it commercially.

  • WordPress.com

Conversely, WordPress.com is a commercial hosted service that uses the WordPress.org software as its basis. Along with the software and hosting, you also get a domain name, making it very simple to get a site off the ground.

The downside of WordPress.com is it is not anywhere near as customizable as self-hosted WordPress, and adding features can get expensive.

Can I create a free website using WordPress.com?

The good news is you can use the free plan offered by WordPress.com to create a website for nothing. However, the bad news is that plan has limitations on storage, customizations, etc., making it suitable only for basic sites. Moreover, your domain name will have wordpress.com at the end. That looks awful and can impact how well your page ranks in searches.

To create a site that stands apart from the rest, you must invest in a premium WordPress.com plan. Depending on which you choose, these offer more features, customizations, a domain name, additional themes (which dictate how your site looks), and the ability to add plugins for extra functionality.

Currently, premium WordPress.com plans range from $4 per month for the ‘Personal’ to $45 per month if you want to build an eCommerce store. You can learn more about what each plan offers here.

So, what about creating a free website using WordPress.org?

Concerning WordPress.org, while the software is entirely free, there are some other things that you will need to pay for to get a website onto the www, namely:

The good news is that you can get hosting and a domain name for just a few bucks per month, so launching a website using WordPress.org is within the scope of virtually everyone.

For your site to work, you will also need to give it a theme. Themes are shortcuts to create the look of your website, and there are literally thousands (as opposed to WordPress.com’s hundreds) available from various sources, such as:

Don’t worry if you are on a tight budget, as plenty of free themes are available. However, if you have a few dollars to spare, a premium theme can help your site stand out, as they usually offer more features and customization possibilities than free ones.

Like WordPress.org, you can further extend the functionality of your WordPress.com website using plugins. Again, as with themes, there is a mind-boggling array of free and premium ones available via WordPress, third-party vendors, or directly from developers. However, WordPress.org has the upper hand over WordPress.com here, as you can add plugins to any site, whereas, to add them on WordPress.com, you will need at least the Business plan, which will add $25 per month to your budget. Ouch.

Which is easiest to use – WordPress.com or WordPress.org?

Creating a site using WordPress.com is quick and easy. Being fully hosted, everything is already set up for you, so all you must do is choose the plan and domain name you want and start adding content. Moreover, you won’t ever need to worry about backing up your website or updating the software, as WordPress.com does all of that for you.

On the other hand, using WordPress.org is a little more involved. For example, you must purchase hosting and a domain, link the two, install the WordPress software onto the host, add a theme and any plugins you are using, configure the settings, build the pages and menus, etc. You need to do all that before you can start adding your content. Moreover, you are responsible for implementing backups and software updates.

However, there are ways of making site creation on WordPress.org easier. For example:

  • Companies like WP Bolt offer WordPress-specific hosting with single-click software installation. Such companies usually also install core WordPress updates automatically.
  • Some companies offer both hosting and domain names. This can make linking the two more straightforward.
  • You can use plugins to help automate backups. Furthermore, some hosting companies offer backups.
  • Use drag-and-drop page builders and editors to assist with site, content, and even theme creation. Popular examples include Elementor, Beaver Builder, and Divi.

Which should you choose – WordPress.com or WordPress.org?

When choosing between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, there are some key questions you must ask yourself:

  • How much technical expertise do you have?

If you are not tech-savvy, setting up a site using WordPress.com will be much easier than with WordPress.org, even if you must invest in a premium plan to add plugins. Moreover, should you opt for WordPress.org and have no technical knowledge, you may have to pay a coding specialist to create your site or fix things should they go wrong.

  • How simple will the site be?

If you are looking for a basic one-page site or blog, the free or Personal WordPress.com plans may be the easiest option. However, if you want more freedom with the design, WordPress.org would be the one to choose, and it is unlikely to cost any more overall than the WordPress.com Personal plan.

  • How much money are you happy to invest in your new site?

If you are building a basic site and aren’t overly worried about the domain having a wordpress.com extension, the free WordPress.com plan may suffice. However, suppose you are looking for something much fancier, with many customizations and functionality. In that case, you will need to compare the price of WordPress.com’s premium plans with the cost of adding premium themes and plugins to WordPress.org.

  • How many features and customizations do you need?

A massive range of plugins and themes is available for WordPress.org. Furthermore, if you like getting your hands dirty, you can modify the platform’s code yourself. Conversely, WordPress.com does not have such an extensive range of plugins and themes, plus you cannot change the code.

  • Do you plan on selling the site to a third party or managing it on their behalf?

If you are developing sites to sell commercially, WordPress.org is much more versatile and customizable than WordPress.com. Just be sure to follow the rules regarding the GPL.

  • How concerned are you about security and where your data is stored?

With WordPress.com, your data is always stored on WordPress.com’s servers. Therefore, attacks on other people’s sites stored there can potentially spill over to yours. Conversely, with WordPress.org, you can choose where to keep everything, meaning you can opt for shared or cloud hosting. You can even put it on your own servers, although that is expensive.

Only when you have answered those questions will you be able to decide whether WordPress.com or .org is best for you.

Either way, unless you are building an elementary site, you’ll likely need to invest money to get the features and look you want. This is where things become a balancing act, as you must compare the cost of the WordPress.com plans with the cost of premium plugins and themes for WordPress.org.

Key Differences Between WordPress.com and WordPress.org

For your reference and to help you decide, here’s a table showing the key differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org:

WordPress.com WordPress.org
Cost Free plan available, but with limited features. Premium plans cost from $4 to $59 monthly. Software is free, but at a minimum, you need to add hosting and a domain (starting from a few Dollars per month.)
Customization Possibilities Limited range of plugins and themes. Moreover, a more expensive plan is needed to add them. The core code is not accessible. Virtually limitless possibilities due to the range of available plugins and themes, plus the core code is accessible.
Support Varies depending on the plan purchased and is limited to email and live chat. A massive following means getting answers to problems is easy via forums, groups, YouTube, tutorials, etc.
Themes Over a hundred themes (free and premium) are available. Hundreds of themes (free and premium) are available. Furthermore, you can also create your own.
Plugins You can only add plugins if you purchase one of the more expensive plans. Thousands of plugins (free and premium) are available.
SEO Tools Advanced SEO tools only provided with more expensive plans Free SEO plugins are available, e.g., Yoast.
Backups and Updates Done by WordPress.com (except third-party plugins, if used) Your responsibility. However, some hosting providers will do core updates and/or backups, or you can use plugins to automate the process.
Security The user has no control over where the data is stored. The user has complete control over where the data is stored (depending on the hosting arrangements.)
Email accounts Requires a separate paid product called ‘Professional Email.’ Depending on your hosting company, you can create as many email accounts as you wish.
Migration It is possible to migrate websites from WordPress.org to WordPress.com. However, depending on plugin and theme availability, some functionality may be lost. Sites from WordPress.com can be migrated to WordPress.org relatively easily with little or no loss of functionality.

Some Final Words

As the old adage goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Sadly, this applies to the WordPress world also.

In fact, the only completely ‘free lunch’ available is with WordPress.com, but that is so basic that its range of applications is limited. As such, if you are looking to build a decent website that people will want to visit, you will have to pay for it. That is where you need to do your homework to see whether WordPress.com will work well for you or whether its .org counterpart would be better.

However, there’s a good reason why WordPress.org powers around 43% of websites – it’s so customizable that you can do virtually anything with it. Moreover, a vast range of plugins, themes, and a massive support network means you don’t need coding know-how to create a crowd-pleasing website or eCommerce store. But, of course, you’ll need hosting, and WP Bolt offers solutions to suit all budgets.

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