This topic is a common one that new people to WordPress like to ask. When people hear about WordPress, they do not know if they should use the free version or paid. The free version can be found at wordpress.com. The paid version can be found at wordpress.org. Just to preface, .org offers the files for free but you have to pay for your own domain and web hosting, which I will discuss later. Since I like WordPress a lot, I wanted to give my input about the two and some pros and cons to help you decide which might be a better fit for you.
The Free Version of WordPress
What Makes the Free Version of WordPress 100% Free?
This free version of WordPress allows you to get used to using and becoming familiar with a WordPress website without having any technical knowledge. This is great for beginners who want a basic website to post some of their stuff on without caring about things like SEO or making money through advertising. This version is the one that you would start with just to get an idea of how to run a really basic website. You can focus on the content and just blog instead of worrying about anything else. If you take a look at what the free version of WordPress offers, you will see that it has the bare minimum needed to get a website up.
I will talk about the different things that you get with a free WordPress website and you can decide if you want to play with the free version first or go straight for the paid version.
Free Subdomain and Web Hosting
The nice thing about getting the free version is that you will be provided with both a subdomain and hosting. So whatever name you come up with, it will end up being name.wordpress.com. So you do not need to go to a domain registrar like GoDaddy and purchase a domain from them because WordPress will provide one for you.
Also, you are set for web hosting because WordPress will provide that for you too. You do not have to purchase web hosting from somewhere else and have to point your domain name servers over to your web hosting. Fiddling with DNS (domain name server) records can be tricky for some so if you do not feel like doing that, then you can just use WordPress for free.
WordPress.com Offers Several Plans to Help You Choose What You Want
There are a lot of different pricing plans depending on how many features you want. However, I am only talking about the free version of WordPress at wordpress.com in this article. If you really like the free version and want to upgrade to a paid plan and stay with the WordPress hosting, then you have different plans that offer more at the higher tier plans. My suggestion though is that you eventually move on wordpress.org and use your own domain and web hosting. I only mention the other pricing plans because they are listed alongside the free version.
No FTP or Database Access: Admin Access Only
Unfortunately, when I looked at what the free version offers, you do get what you pay for. Or, in this case, what you do not pay for. Any changes that you want to make are limited to the admin because you do not get either FTP or database access with the free version. For your first WordPress website where you are just tinkering to get a feel of how it works, this is perfectly fine. You actually do not need FTP or database access anyway. Many people run WordPress websites off their own domains with their own hosting and never use FTP or databases.
Good for Beginners Who Are Not Technical
As mentioned earlier, the free version is good for those starting out and do not want to deal with technical issues just yet. You should focus on just being able to create posts and pages, how to use categories and tags, how to create menus, and use the Gutenberg block editor. There is a lot to do and learn without having to deal with all that technical stuff.
Good For Short-Term Blogging and Experimenting
If you are just getting into blogging for the first time and not sure how long you will commit to it, then the free version of WordPress is good enough for you. You can try WordPress out and not have the commitment of paying for a domain or web hosting. Experimenting is great because you can test out WordPress and not be worried about making a mistake or ruining something. Since you do not have to pay for anything, then you can tinker away and learn as much as you can. If you ever want to grow and get into blogging more seriously, then you will need to export your content and start on a real domain.
Migrating to Your Own Domain and Web Hosting in the Future
When you are done testing out WordPress and want something of your own, you should export your content and migrate it over to your own domain. Once you have become familiar with WordPress, you can move on over to wordpress.org and start the next chapter of your blogging journey there. Spending time getting used to the free version of WordPress will make your experience with a paid version much better. You will be able to use the paid version of WordPress already knowing where things are and what to do because you already did those things on the free version.
The “Paid” Version of WordPress
What Makes This Version of WordPress “Paid”?
I put paid in quotes because the WordPress files themselves are free to download from wordpress.org. The domain and the web hosting though are up to you to set up. So those two things are paid but actually do not cost much at all. If you go to GoDaddy, registering a domain costs about $30/year. If you add on web hosting, which can run from about $5-$10/month for smaller hobby websites, this is what you are looking at for total yearly costs.
Here is the cost of a domain plus web hosting for a year:
- $30 + $5*12 = $90
- $30 + $10*12 = $150
So we are talking about $90 to $150 a year. Depending on your budget and if you just want to have a place to post stuff online, then you can decide if this is worth the cost or not. You also have the option of using social media to post stuff but if you want your own website, then you should at the very least consider the free version of WordPress.
Download Free WordPress Website Files
Once you download the free WordPress files from wordpress.org, you just extract them and upload them to your server via FTP. There are tutorials online to show you the exact steps but I just wanted to mention this first part because it requires FTP which the free version does not give you access to.
Full Control Over Your Website
The nice part about paying to use WordPress is that you have full control over the entire website. That includes FTP to download and upload files and also the database so that you can edit records directly if you choose to do so. Be very careful, I do not recommend modifying any files or database records unless you are capable of doing so and know what you are doing. The reason why is because if you make a mistake, you can ruin your website. If the change is drastic and severe, it can cause errors that can take your website down. If this happens, then it might be difficult to revert your website back to a working state unless you have a backup. This is why I recommend using the UpDraft plugin to create backups of your website along with other plugins when running a WordPress website.
Having full control over your WordPress website means that you are responsible for anything that happens to it. As the saying goes, “With power comes responsibility”. This is why the free version of WordPress is good for those who do not want to touch anything that can ruin their website. We all have to learn about these things in order to grow not only our website but ourselves too. We cannot be so scared to touch things because we are worried about breaking them. If everyone thought that way, then no one would know how to repair things when they break.
No Need to Migrate Because You Are Already On Your Own Server
The best part about starting out with wordpress.org is that you do not have to export and migrate from wordpress.com at a later date. This saves you time from switching domains and that really helps if you aim to get your SEO up and running and want your pages to rank on Google as soon as possible. If you start out on wordpress.com first instead, then there is no guarantee that if your pages rank on wordpress.com, that they will still rank at the same places when you change domains. Changing domains will disrupt your SEO and your ranking may start shifting around. The amount of shifting in your rankings is unpredictable so it is best if you can afford it, to start on wordpress.org and just skip wordpress.com altogether.
WordPress.org Is Better: Why?
If the $90 to $150 yearly price tag is not an issue for you, then I highly recommend that you go with wordpress.org and get the files from there and start your website on your own domain and hosting. Just a side note, some web hosting plans allow you to install WordPress without the need to even download and upload files via FTP. This saves you time and makes it easier for you as the less steps you need, the less likelihood of errors.
The benefits of paying for WordPress are numerous as you have full control of your website and can do whatever you want with it. You will learn more and grow this way and not waste time with wordpress.com.
This article looked at the differences between the free and “paid” versions of WordPress. The main difference is that the free version is a good playground or sandbox that allows you to test things out without having to do a lot of setup. This is a good learning and testing environment for beginners who have never used WordPress before. The free version comes with a subdomain and web hosting for you at no cost.
However, the downside is that you do not have FTP or database access, which you might need for larger websites that grow in the future. This also means that a migration from the free version might eventually happen as the free version hits its limits. This really depends on what your goals are with the free version of the WordPress. If you want something really simple and small and have no serious plans to expand it in the future, then just stick with the free version of WordPress. Somes of us want more than what the free version offers, then we have to pay for WordPress.
The “paid” version of WordPress has its files available for download and you just pay for the domain and web hosting, which can vary between something like $90 to $150 a year. Paying for WordPress is much better than the free version because you have full control over your website. You also do not need to perform a website migration in the future because you started with the paid version first instead of the free version. With SEO, you can build it sooner on the paid version so this is why I recommend starting on the paid version of WordPress if the yearly price is not an issue for you.
I have written a couple of articles on how to start a WordPress blog and how to maintain it. Take a look at these articles as they can help you learn more about the basics of WordPress and can help you decide if you want to go free or paid from the beginning.