Budding bloggers often wonder what the best place to start a blog is. “What platform should I use?”, is one of the most frequently asked question. Google’s Blogger (some call it Blogspot), WordPress and Tumblr are three of the most popular and best established choices. New platforms are popping up almost daily such as Medium, Branch, Svbtle and Quora Blogs who all run their own content publishing platforms. Which platform to use depends really on what your plans are for the blog, and what wants and needs you may have for it. The biggest choice to make is between hosted and self-hosted platforms. For me the self-hosted platforms are a clear winner. In this post I’ll also look into how a business should approach this question and how a blog can work together with an official website of a company. Keep reading.
First a look at the hosted platforms
A popular way for beginners is to open an account with hosted platforms like Blogger and Tumblr. Some of the advantages are:
- You get your free web space and can start within minutes
- A great way to get introduced to publishing online and are a fine place to start
- Simple to use
- Have all the basic features
- Have some kind of a community so you might be getting visitors straight away without doing too much marketing
- You don’t need to do any server, software or security maintenance
Depending on ambitions you have, working on these platforms will eventually lead to issues that will limit your potential. You may not mind these issues at first, but on your way to building a personal online presence you will find the host limiting you and you may outgrow it. Back in 1990’s when I created my first website about my favorite band Metallica I used one of the free hosts available. It seemed like a good choice to start with as I didn’t need to invest anything, but I was thinking too short term. My site turned out very popular, but the free host limited my growth as I didn’t have a domain name, had restrictions on what I could post and they even put a fixed banner on my site. I had to leave the free host and get my own domain name and web space, which allowed me more flexibility and allowed me to grow my site. It is foolish to rely 100% on third-party platforms for these reasons:
- It happens quiet regularly that platforms change and disrupt their users
- Some platforms cease to exist
- Some shut down without providing an export option or without giving enough notice
- Some get taken over and start getting neglected and shut down (remember Posterous?)
- Some force advertising banners on your content
- Some change and adapt their positioning
- You risk content and data loss
- Your work can be used by the corporation without your permission, without notification and without compensation
- Your site only exists as long as the third-party allows
There are many of these cases and many more will come when the control is out of your hands. Imagine from one day to another all your work could vanish.
Self-hosting is empowering: Full control and ownership
So how do you get the full control and ownership you may be asking. The best way is not to rely on any hosted platform but to self-host your content. Go for an open-source platform like WordPress.org and self-host your site on your own domain name and your own hosting space. Self-hosting platforms are more author centric and more robust. Then and only then you would have the full flexibility, control and ownership. You will be the boss and you will be able to completely decide how you want to run your site. Self-hosting is considered a preferable method for these reasons:
- When using a free host you don’t own the site, the host does
- You are handing over the control and licensing of your site and content to a third-party that can profit from it
- You have less configuration options and less control in terms of look, feel and functionality
- Terms and conditions of the service may not allow or may restrict ways you can monetize
- Free domain like yourname.blogspot.com doesn’t help with SEO, traffic and brand building
- Having full control over your work means having freedom to set your own rules and limits
- Freedom in the sense that you can decide the look and feel of your site
- Freedom in the sense that you can decide what to post, in what format, what words to use and which images to use
- You decide if you want to monetize your site and how you want to monetize your content
- Nobody is monitoring you and nobody places any rules or restrictions on your work
- There are no risks in getting your site shut down because of external decisions
- Nobody but yourself can use your content to promote a service or a product, or to make money
- Your content is yours. You own it, not a corporation
- You own your site and your domain name for as long as you continue renewing it and you can move between providers as much as you wish
- It is a permanent home that always works and that you can depend on
WordPress – a fully flexible self-hosted blogging platform
First to clarify the difference between the two WordPress versions as it may confuse some beginners. There are two WordPress versions, WordPress.org which is the home of the software, and WordPress.com which is the hosted site. The difference is like owning or renting a house. I recommended you to use the self-hosted WordPress.org where you own your house (own your blog). For the full comparison between WordPress.com and WordPress.org see here.
If you’re looking for a flexible blogging solution with lots of different design and functionality options, room to grow and expand your site, self-hosted WordPress is the way to go. WordPress.org is free and allows you complete control and flexibility. I run all my projects on WordPress.org and so do most of the biggest bloggers.
There is a community of thousands of volunteers who create free designs and plugins that allow you to create a site that you want. You completely control everything about it, you can run any ads, you can edit all the files and you can end up create a unique looking design. I use WordPress.org on this blog and most of my other projects. It’s a great piece of software and definitely recommended.
WordPress needs a domain name and a web server space to work. A domain name is the address people will type in their browsers to access your site and a server space is where your content and other files will be hosted. I recommend Bluehost for the easiest setup. It is simple to use, offers a free domain name and an affordable hosting account with unlimited space. WordPress officially recommends it too. Click on the image below to get the process started:
Take a look at the full step-by-step guide on how to install WordPress.
Disclosure: I do earn a commission if you signup to Bluehost using my link at no additional cost to you. Please know that I only recommend products and services that I find helpful and useful. If you do choose to purchase through my affiliate link, thank you for your support!
Should a business run a blog and how can it work together with a company website?
Many companies have heard the buzz about content marketing but don’t have a bigger idea of what they want to use social media and blogging for, or not even what strategy to approach it with or even why they want to get involved. So it is important to dig deeper into the buzz word and figure out what blogging is, realize that it takes a lot of effort and doesn’t give instant results, set the right goals and targets, find correct people that can not only create the strategy but also implement it by using the latest tactics and tools. First thing to discuss is actually what the value is of having a blog and what the difference is between a blog and a website. Here’s my introduction on blogging for businesses:
The next question may be what strategy to use if you have both an official website and a blog for your business? “Should I integrate my blog into my existing website or should I get a new domain name for it?” is a frequently asked question when people who already have a website want to start a blog as well. The choice is between whether to include the blog within the existing website (for example yoursite.com/blog) or to keep it separated and create a new domain name for it (i.e. yourblog.com). It is a very important decision to make and a good question to ask yourself, but there is no right or wrong answer really. It all ultimately depends on what goals you have with the blog and the website and what you want to achieve. Take your time and look a bit deeper into the two options:
Keeping the blog alongside the website on your existing domain name is the most integrated approach. They both will look and feel like one site and in terms of branding it will be the most consistent approach. If your blog is well integrated within the rest of your website, the content would be a good way to attract interest to your products and services. Having a blog that is regularly updated with quality content and that has people sharing the articles via social media can be a very positive influence to your organic search engine rankings and will help your website rank for targeted keywords. This will indirectly help get more attention and visitors to your site and to your products.
Domain name is one of the most powerful factors in getting organic traffic from search engines. If your existing website has no keywords in its domain name (for example if it is companyname.com), it is worth looking into getting a keyword rich and descriptive domain name. This will help establish the site in search engine results for relevant keywords. This way you would have a better chance of ranking for important keywords that you may not be able to with your main website.
Having a stand-alone blog could lead to you building a good informational source of content for your specific topic with a different branding than your main site and more editorial freedom. This could lead to more opportunities for you, like selling advertising. It would be harder to sell ads on your company website, while on a popular blog it is a very natural thing to do.
To help you make a decision it is important to understand how blogging software like WordPress can be integrated into your existing website CMS. How easy is it to integrate them? Can the design be same on both to provide a better user experience? Answers to integration questions like these might show you what your best option is. As seen above self-hosted WordPress is the best choice in these cases.
In general I would say that this is a great time to be a blogger as there are so many platforms out there that help you start, allow you to have a place where to publish your opinion and build an audience of fans from all around the world. It is a great time to become a blogger so I definitely encourage you to start a site and experience all the benefits of blogging no matter what platform you end up choosing. Don’t neglect the other platforms though. They are shiny, they are new. Be aware of the new trends and act when you can to tap into the buzz and popularity of another platform to get the attention and drive some visitors back to yourself. Twitter, Quora, LinkedIn, Tumblr may not be the best choices for you to have your main hub on, but they can certainly be used to drive traffic back to yourself.