Budding bloggers 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 best established choices, but new platforms are popping up daily.
Sites such as Medium, Svbtle, and Quora Blogs all run their own content publishing platforms. Social media networks such as LinkedIn’s Publishing Platform and Facebook’s Instant Articles also want you to publish your content on their platforms.
There are also big commercial brands such as Squarespace, Wix and Weebly who have large marketing budgets and are doing a lot of advertising.
Who’s the best?
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 a hosted, closed and commercial platform or a self-hosted and open platform.
Let’s take a look at details on the differences between the different options.
Hosted platforms: Easy to use, all-inclusive with all the basics
A popular way for beginners is to open an account with a hosted platform. This can be anything from creating your blog on Tumblr and Blogger, to taking advantage of the network effect on LinkedIn and Medium (Medium founder Ev Williams goes as far as calling it a network, not a publishing tool), to using a commercial platform such as Squarespace.
Some of the advantages of a hosted platform are:
- You get your web space and can start your site within minutes
- All-inclusive so you don’t need to worry about a hosting server, software updates or security maintenance
- Simple and easy to use with all the basic features included
- Some of them (such as Medium, LinkedIn and Tumblr) have a community so you might get visitors straight away without doing too much marketing
Hosted platforms can be a great way to get you introduced to publishing online and they are a fine place to start for any beginner. Due to their nature (all-inclusive and simple to use for anyone) hosted platforms are limited when considering flexibility and extensibility of a website. This can become a problem. Let’s look deeper into this.
Hosted platforms are closed and limited in flexibility
Depending on your ambitions, working on hosted platforms will eventually lead to issues that will limit the potential and opportunities you have with your website. You may not worry about these issues in the early days, but on your way to building an online presence you will outgrow the hosted platform.
Back in 1990’s when I created my first website (about my favorite band Metallica) I used one of the hosted platforms. It seemed like a good choice to start with as I was a complete beginner and I didn’t need to invest any money, but I was thinking 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, how I could present my content and they even put banner advertisement on my site.
I had to leave the host and get my domain name and web space, which allowed me more flexibility and allowed me to continue growing my site. It’s foolish to rely 100% on third-party platforms for these reasons:
- They have restrictions on what you can and cannot do with design, content, presentation, customization and other aspects of running a site
- It happens quiet regularly that platforms change, adapt their positioning and disrupt their users
- Some platforms stop to exist. Some get taken over, get neglected and shut down (remember Posterous?)
- Some shut down without providing an export option or without giving enough notice so you risk content and data loss
- Some don’t allow you to monetize your site. Some force advertising banners on your content
- You are handing over the control and licensing of your site and content to a third-party that can profit from it. Your work can be used by the corporation without your permission, without notification and without compensation
- Free domain like yourname.blogspot.com doesn’t help with SEO, traffic and brand building
- Some commercial platforms can be expensive to run your site on
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. Hosted platforms are not a bad starting point for someone to get introduced to blogging, but they are not a long term solution for most. Let’s look at how self-hosted platform differ to hosted platforms.
Self-hosting is open & empowering: Full control and ownership
So how do you get the full control and ownership? 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 will be able to decide how you want to run your site. Self-hosting is considered a preferable method for these reasons:
- Having full control over your work means having freedom to set your own rules and limits
- You can completely decide the look, feel and functionality of your site
- You can decide what to post, in what format, what words to use and which images and videos 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
Hosted platforms can supplement rather than replace your site – use them to drive traffic
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 urge you to start a site and experience all the benefits of blogging no matter what platform you end up choosing.
Self-hosted and open platforms may be the best and recommended long-term choice, but don’t neglect the hosted and closed platforms. 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.
Medium, Quora, LinkedIn, Tumblr may not be the best choices for you to have your main website on, but they can certainly be used to drive traffic back to yourself. These platforms can be a great supplement to your blog, rather than a replacement. They are tools for you to reach your audience, introduce them to the work that you are doing and get them to visit your mothership.
Explore these sites and see which one makes sense for you to try and take advantage of in order to drive traffic to your hub. Learn about the type of person they are visited by. LinkedIn is full of professional and career minded people so career advice and similar educational content could work best there. Medium is popular with the tech crowd so any startup experience and insights could work. Tumblr is popular with younger people so GIF’s and more entertaining content could work best.
Which of these matches your audience the best? Go there. Start posting, start networking and explore the opportunities. See the results that you get in order to have a complete picture of how a platform can help you.
WordPress.org is the most popular open-sourced and self-hosted publishing platform. It’s used by 25% of the web! Let’s take a more detailed look.
WordPress.org: 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.
Should a business publish content and run a blog?
So now that we have the overview of all the content publish platforms you have access to, let’s look at the question if a company should publish content in the first place. 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 who 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:
How can a blog work together with a company website?
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 (such as 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 along 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 (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 offer a better user experience? Answers to integration questions like these might show you what your best option is. Self-hosted and open-sourced WordPress is your best bet.