The difference is the host. With WordPress.org – you host your own website;
with WordPress.com – they host it for you.
WordPress.org also means YOU are hosting your website (not WordPress) which gives you more control over your design, SEO, and overall website. While wordpress.com makes it easy to throw up a website (or blog) with minimal technical knowledge, you will eventually want to do things you can only do with wordpress.org. You will save a LOT of time starting with the .org version, even if it means hiring a freelance developer (for around $100) to install your WordPress, theme, then have the developer send you your new WordPress login information.
I also want to start by saying Matt Cutts from Google recommends WordPress and you will notice in that video he is using WordPress plugins (only accessible to WordPress.org users), so this should tell you something off the bat. While WordPress.com claims to have good SEO, they’re bias since the .com version makes them more money when people buy a domain. I have a lot of WordPress SEO guides on my site but this is what you should know to get started.
- Minimal cost/time investment
- Minimal coding knowledge needed
- But… no access to plugins (like Yoast) which are a key part of both optimizing and designing your WordPress website
- No access to rich snippet plugins which add “extra information” to snippets about reviews, recipe info, etc… so you can drive additional traffic to your site
- No access to Google Search Console, also a key part of optimizing your site
- www.example.wordpress.com format is bad for SEO, and even though you can register a domain with wordpress.com (eg. www.example.com), hosting your own website gives you more control
- If you do choose .wordpress.com and eventually want to switch, you need to purchase a site redirect for a yearly fee but will lose about 10-15% of your”link juice” when making the switch
- WordPress.com themes are not all SEO-friendly especially when compared to StudioPress themes which are recommended by top WordPress people like Joost D Valk (Yoast) and Google’s Matt Cutts
- WordPress branding and advertising makes your site not look like a real business, which Google will recognize
- WordPress.com is still good for SEO since all themes come with anXML Sitemap, automatic backups, and you can still create good content around keywords (the heart of SEO), but wordpress.org is definitely better
- Full ownership of your website
- Access to SEO-friendly WordPress themes (eg. StudioPress)
- Access to Yoast’s WordPress SEO Plugin to help with better SEO settings and content optimization including the ability to write keyword-rich snippets (SEO titles and meta descriptions)
- Access to speed optimization plugins like W3 Total Cache which can shave seconds off your load time (website speed is a ranking factor in Google)
- Access to rich snippet plugins to enhance snippets with review stars, recipe info, and other data types
- Access to Google Search Console to identify broken links, submit your sitemap to Google, check for mobile and security errors, learn what keywords you rank for, and tons of other methods for improving SEO
- More design options can make your website more user-friendly and improve content, the main SEO factor
- All serious SEOs and web designers use wordpress.org (eg. Yoast + Matt Cutts)