Let’s start by comparing the two. WordPress.com is a hosted service, which means that you create a blog on WordPress’s servers. It’s fast and easy to set up a new blog and WordPress.com offers attractive templates plus much more including backups, stats and security. You can even get a custom domain, which means you can change the URL of your WordPress blog from, say ‘blogname.wordpress.com’ to ‘blogname.com’. This gives you a more memorable URL to share as you promote your blog as well as helping you to brand your site. WordPress.com is free unless you buy any of the optional additional services they offer.
The alternative is WordPress.org. With WordPress.org you’ll need to buy your own web hosting and install the WordPress software on your web host’s server. This is more difficult than setting up WordPress.com, but there are plenty of online WordPress tutorials to help you or you can pay a web designer or freelancer to do it for you if you prefer. WordPress.org itself is free of charge as it’s open source software, although you may choose to buy some premium (ie paid) plugins.
So why would you choose the extra work of WordPress.org when you can set up a blog in seconds with WordPress.com? Well, with WordPress.org it’s your site so you can make your own rules. With WordPress.com you need to stick to WordPress.com’s terms of service. If you break these then you could lose your blog.
If you’re blogging to promote your business then having a WordPress.com blog could give the wrong impression, too. If your clients know that it’s cheap and quick to set up a self-hosted blog then it could look unprofessional to use a hosted blog such as WordPress.com, especially if you haven’t set up a custom domain. If you already have a business website then it’s usually easy to add a blog to it, so it’s worth discussing this with your web designer before you create a blog at WordPress.com.
On the other hand, if you’re just starting out in the wonderful world of blogging, then a WordPress.com blog could be a great choice. You can export your blog’s content from a hosted WordPress site to a self-hosted WordPress site later on if you need to, so this doesn’t need to be a one-off decision.
There are many other advantages to having a self-hosted blog, too. There’s a huge choice of themes and plugins which means you can choose almost any feature you want for your site from design features such as fonts, colors and layouts to functional features such as shopping carts and email sign-up boxes. So there’s plenty of room for your blog to grow, for example if you’d like to sell advertising or information products in future.
New bloggers often get confused about the difference between the two types of WordPress, so I hope that’s helped clear up any confusion!