The bottom line:
Blogs on WordPress.org, are self-hosted, meaning that you purchase server space through a web host. Think of it like paying office rent for your little piece of the Internet. You will also need to purchase a domain name (i.e., yourblogname.com)—which in this analogy, is kind of like purchasing rights to a street address for your office space.
You can read more about web hosts here. The WordPress platform software is free for self-hosted, WordPress.org users.
How is that different on WordPress.com?
Blogs on WordPress.com are fully hosted by the parent company of WordPress.com, Automattic. While you don’t have to worry about hosting, WordPress.com sites cannot use one of our themes or be customized with CSS without purchasing a significant upgrade.
We have had a few instances of our customers using one of our themes for WordPress.com on the Business Plan, but please note our themes were specifically designed for WordPress.org, NOT WordPress.com.
If you’re on WordPress now, but not sure if it’s .com or .org, the easiest way to tell is whether you are paying for server hosting every year (note: this is NOT the same as a domain name!). If you are paying for hosting, you’re on .org.
Is that really it? Are there any other differences?
Yes, one big one: Control. Blogging on WordPress.org gives you full control over how your site looks and feels. Whether you work with a designer on a custom design, or purchase one of our themes, neither are as flexible (or even possible) on a WordPress.com site. WordPress.org gives you total flexibility and control to customize your site to your exact specifications; it also gives shops like ours the ability to bring you beautiful, easy to use themes that are built with style and lifestyle bloggers in mind.
Important for many bloggers is the opportunity to monetize their sites. WordPress.com has limitations on how you can use ad code and affiliate links on sites hosted by them, making WordPress.org the clear choice for many who are trying to turn their blog into a business. Read more about this here.
Here is more information on the differences between WordPress.org and WordPress.com