The Difference between, Premium, and Self Hosted

The difference between free, premium, and "self hosted" WordPress
  • with a custom domain.
  • Premium
  • / self-hosted

What the hell is the difference between all these??

The WordPress differences are confusing.

It’s all because there’s a and a and they look the same except for the end of the URL. They have the same fucking name! So I totally get why you’re confused. Who wouldn’t be?

A lot of people think that as soon as they buy a custom URL ( instead of, they’re on “self hosted” WordPress. Or, other people think that when they buy “Premium” they’re on self-hosted. But they’re not. and (“self hosted”) are not the same. I’ll do my best to highlight the differences for you.

First, let’s talk about the difference between a domain name and hosting.

This might seem off-topic, but I promise, it helps in understanding the difference.

There are two parts to a website:

  1. The URL you type in the address bar to visit your site. This is your domain name.
  2. The place where all your blog posts, images, comments, and files are stored. This is your hosting.

These are two different products.

This might be lame, but I like to compare them to a house.

  1. You have a mailbox with an address on it. This is where you tell people how to get to your house.
  2. You have a physical house that has all your stuff in it (furniture, personal items, etc.). This is your physical home.

You can move to a different address but still keep all your stuff. You move your furniture, curtains, bed, personal items, etc. to a new address. Your address changes, but the stuff you’re storing doesn’t.

And this might be a stretch of the imagination, but technically you could paint over your mailbox and put a new address on there. Your house hasn’t moved, but the address on your mailbox changes. (Yeah, yeah, this is a stretch, but bear with me.)

Everything you put on your blog gets stored somewhere. This is hosting.

  • You publish a blog post. That text gets saved somewhere.
  • You upload an image. That image gets saved somewhere.
  • Someone posts a comment. That comment gets saved somewhere.

Everything related to your website needs a home—a place to live. This is web hosting. All your data is stored on a server (big computer) somewhere.

The domain name is LITERALLY just what shows up in the address bar.

That site URL, like, is connected to the server all your data is stored. You type in that URL, it runs around to the server where all your blog stuff lives, and displays that page.

Your content doesn’t live inside that URL. That URL is just set up to display your content (which lives somewhere else) when it’s accessed. You can remove or change that URL without affecting your content at all, since they’re two separate things.

  • Hosting is the storage space.
  • A domain name is just a string of letters that appears in the address bar.

Okay, let’s talk about WordPress.

WordPress is just a series of website files. It’s a bunch of code and when executed, it creates a “platform” or “content management system” (CMS). You can think of it like an application you can install on your computer (Photoshop, Word, etc.), but it’s an application you can install on your web host. You add those files, and it creates a whole new system for you to login, build a blog, etc. is the raw, unmodified WordPress platform.

I think it helps to talk about (or “self-hosted”) first. is the complete, unmodified version of the WordPress platform. The file you can download from is the raw files that make up this platform (a bunch of PHP (code) files).

These files need a place to live (storage, remember?). That’s why when you use self-hosted WordPress, you have to rent web hosting from a company. This web hosting gives you a place to store those WordPress files (and then also store the posts, images, and other things you upload into WordPress).

Like, let’s say you want to buy Photoshop. Photoshop is a programme, right? Well in order to run that programme, you need a computer, because that programme needs a place to actually store itself and then run.

  • WordPress is like Photoshop
  • Web hosting is like a computer

Then once you have web hosting, you need to buy a custom URL too so people know where to access the place you’re storing WordPress.

The actual WordPress files (like the application) are free. But getting a place to install those files is not free. Hosting is kind of like renting a locker to store all your stuff. It has a monthly (or yearly) fee. is a modified, restricted version of the WordPress platform.

So if is the unmodified, complete version of WordPress, then is the modified and restricted version. still uses the WordPress platform, but they’ve modified it and put up restrictions.

  • You can’t add plugins.
  • You can’t add themes.
  • You can’t edit the code.
  • …and so on…

Why don’t you need web hosting?

When you use, you don’t have to go out and rent hosting space because Automattic (the company behind hosts your site for free on their servers. They give you a piece of server space already. The hosting is already taken care of.

And on the free plan, they also give you a free subdomain, like

Buying a custom domain on doesn’t change anything.

Some people think that when they remove the from their URL, they’re no longer on “free” because they’ve paid for a custom URL.


When you buy a custom URL, yes, you remove the Instead of you get, and that’s pretty cool. But nothing about the platform changes. You’re LITERALLY only changing the URL in the address bar.

  • You still can’t add plugins.
  • You still can’t add themes.
  • You still can’t edit the code.
  • …and so on…

But what about “Premium”? Does that change anything? has three plans: Free, Premium, and Business. Some people think that upgrading to Premium will give them the self-hosted WordPress people keep talking about.


With Premium, you get the following extra features:

  • A custom domain name is included.
  • They let you add some custom CSS code to the site.
  • You can store videos.
  • You get more storage space (13GB instead of 3GB).
  • They won’t show ads on your blog.
  • You get email support with Automattic.

Guess what’s missing?

  • You still can’t add plugins.
  • You still can’t add themes.
  • You still can’t edit server-side code.

You don’t get the unlimited, unmodified, raw WordPress platform. You get the same modified, restricted version that uses, but with a few extra perks.

You’re still on the servers.

Platform comparison

Free Premium Self-Hosted
Price Free $99 per year Varies (from $50/year to $300+/year)
Need to buy web hosting No No Yes
Can add custom CSS code No Yes Yes
Can use plugins No No Yes
Can use custom/premium themes No No Yes
Overall difficulty with set up/maintenance Easy Easy A bit more complicated
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  1. I already know the difference between and but not when you add the custom domain and premium into the equation. This is really helpful to me, since I’m considering getting my own domain. Thanks, Ashley!

  2. Very informative, as usual! My university uses to have students make blogs or portfolios for certain classes, and I always have to put a huge emphasis on getting my students to sign up at rather than

    The really interesting here, I think, is that Premium could actually be more expensive than self-hosted.

  3. Hello Ashley! lovely post. You have justified the differences very well. I would like to know your thoughts about Cloudways WordPress hosting platform.

  4. *slow clap* This is awesome and I wish I had this post several weeks ago when I was diving into the self-hosted insanity. I have a followup question that I’ve been wondering about- not sure if you’ll know the answer. Now that I’ve switched to self-hosted, is there any reason to keep my premium wordpress account? Or should I go and cancel the premium?

  5. I wish I had found a post like this when I first learned about wordpress, nowadays I know the difference, but when i first decided to host my site and blog on wordpress I was so confused about the terms. I totally believed I had the right wordpress when I paid for premium and had my own domain until my designer told me I needed to self host and I realized I wasn’t and then had to switch to self hosted. It’s easier to start at the right spot immediately. Great post and I think you explained the difference very clearly!

  6. When I decided to give the “blogging thing” a try – I didn’t realize that I was entering a whole new world with a whole new language. Thanks for the explanation. I suspected a log of what you said but I wasn’t sure. You cleared it up nicely for me!!!

  7. Passing this along to my cousin who is just starting out with WordPress. This is such an easy post to understand, thanks!!

  8. I’m using and I don’t have so much Features, Restricted into circle and beginning to learn how to use the site within that circle.

  9. Thanks Ashley, this cleared some things up for me. It was never an issue for me until I tried to host multiple websites. I always just figured each domain name came with a free WordPress site…wrong! I can see how this could be very confusing for someone just starting out…

  10. This definitely helped. Thank you for sharing.
    Also, if I just change my URL, that is say buy a domain. Do I have to worry about the Alexa or Google ranking? DO I need to change the meta data tag?

    1. If you change your URL you’ll need to set up a 301 redirect from the old one to the new one.

  11. Oh wow, your content is phenomenal. Thank you for being so relatable and breaking down each component of WordPress with your analogies.

  12. Great article. I’m a techie and have used self hosting for 20 years. I recently switched to premium. I got tired of updating plugins and themes and fixing plugins that didn’t play with each other. I pay $99 a year and have WordPress do that. I just have fun creating content.

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