People hear about WordPress and know it's about blogs or web sites but can soon get confused by the fact that there are actually two different approaches in the WordPress community – hosted on the shared environment of wordpress.com and a downloadable solution you can host yourself (which can be found at wordpress.org). To shorten the two options, we often call it the .ORG or the .COM approach. How do you know which one is right for you?
The answers to three simple questions can help you figure out the best approach. Before reading them, say this to yourself multiple times, “I will not lie to myself“. Ready?
1. How much do you know about servers, PHP & MySQL?
If the initials in this question leave you perplexed, then your answer is .COM – go with an approach that lets you forget all about technology and gets you focused on writing your blog posts or creating your web pages with the knowledge that someone else is taking care of the technology challenges for you.
The only reason not to go with .COM, regardless of your answer, may be because you plan to run a business on the site, and for that, you'd likely want greater control over things (including e-commerce infrastructure) than you can get on a hosted .COM approach. So in that case, go with .ORG.
2. How much control over the look & feel and functionality do you need?
You know if you're a person who can pick a templated look and feel and customize it with an image to make it feel like it's your own, or if you won't be satisfied until every aspect of the look, feel, and functionality is perfect. If you're a person who says “it's 80% there, and that's fine” then go with .COM. But if you're in the camp of “I want fine-grain control over every aspect of my site” – then go with .ORG.
3. How much are you intending to invest in this venture?
When you want fine-grain control over every aspect of your site it means you'll be paying a designer to help you create the perfect theme and you'll also be paying for web site hosting. Hosting isn't expensive per se, but it is money (public announcement: never pay less than $8/month for WordPress hosting). So .ORG gives you control, but at a price. On the other hand, if you want a web site up fast – and especially if it's a blog, then you likely want it to be as close to free as possible, right? If so, .COM is great for you.
So, those three questions, and the honest answers to them should help you determine which approach to take.
The Middle Ground
But wait? Are you asking yourself this question: What if I want control and am willing to pay monthly to host it, but I don't want to pay a designer to create the perfect theme? As always, there is indeed a middle ground. Many premium WordPress themes exist that can help you look like a pro, without the accompanying price. You still may need to pay someone to tweak it if you're unhappy, but they're starting from a very different place than a blank screen. You can find premium themes online at marketplaces like themeforest.com, or from businesses who specialize in creating them like woothemes.com, or studiopress.com.