There are quite a few differences between the two but the biggest difference is in the hosting. You can either host your website independently with WordPress.org through a hosting company like GoDaddy or WPEngine or you can get WordPress.com to host it for you.
Before I go into that I am going to cover what I mean when I talk about themes. You can install a theme (or template) which controls the design and layout of your website. These come in many styles and flavours from free off-the-shelf WordPress themes to custom designed themes that are unique to you. A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed including your standard pages, blog and even your online shop. A custom theme can go a bit further and even change the presentation of the material on your website.
Here are the comparisions between the two platforms.
They host your website for you, so you don’t have to worry about paying separately for a hosting platform. You don’t need to download any software and you don’t need to worry about doing platform updates. You can install social media sharing. Everything is done for you.
You are limited to the theme templates that they have available, so you cannot create custom designed websites. You are limited to what you can upload, so it is ideal for a basic blog but if you wanted to install plugins to have a webshop or different content types like online courses you can’t do that.
With the basic setup you have a WordPress.com domain e.g. tracey.wordpress.com but you can update to the premium plan for about £4.00 per month and have a custom domain, e.g. tracey.com.
With the premium plan you can upload video and then get access to premium themes, some of which you can customise to a certain extent. You can also sell things with a basic PayPal button but it is far from a webshop.
WordPress.com Business Plan
This is a kind of hybrid between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. It comes at a cost of £240.00 per year.
Again they host your website for you and you get all of the feaures of the standard WordPress.com site but you can upload a cutom theme and upload the majority of plugins too, although there are exceptions. There are some limitations in terms of customisation but it is a pretty great option for many businesses.
This is a completely self-hosted WordPress site. You buy the domain of your choice and hosting and get a developer like me to set up your website for you on your chosen hosting platform. You can even do it all yourself as many hosts come with a one-click install solution. There are no limitations on the domain name that you can have or which provider you choose to host your site (although there are some recommended hosting providers as not all are good).
You are probably looking for a custom design for your business with some custom content options like online courses, a large webshop or events booking. Every bit of the site can be customised exactly the way you want it and there are no limits. You do need to take care of your website and implement updates (just a click of a button) as they become available.
A self-hosted website definitely gives you more control and flexibility, it is possible to edit the code behind the site and have access to all of your files and your database. The majority of websites on the WordPress site showcase are the self-hosted version of WordPress, many with unique functionality or a custom-made design.
I generally provide bespoke websites by way of WordPress.org as there are no limitations, you can see my portfolio here »