It happens quite regularly that I get questions about which platform to choose when starting a site. I know there are many platforms out there and new places are popping up almost daily. For example Medium, Branch, Svbtle and Quora Blogs are running their own publishing platforms. This is on top of the very popular platforms like WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr.
I understand that for newbies this might be a bit of a complicated decision to make and people do get stuck at this point or they make a decision that they later regret. In some cases it is not easy to amend this decision at a later stage so a lot of initial effort is wasted when wanting to move your existing content to a platform that fits you better. Let’s take a look at the different platform options you have when starting your blogging adventure.
What platform should I choose?
A popular way for beginners is to open an account with hosting platforms like Blogger and Tumblr. You get your space and can start within minutes. They are a great way to get introduced to publishing online and are a fine place to start. They are simple to use, have all the basic features and usually have some kind of a community so you might be getting visitors straight away without doing too much marketing. Depending on ambitions you have, working on these platforms will eventually lead to issues that will limit your potential:
- When using a free host you don’t own the site, the host does
- You have less control in terms of look, feel, functionality and monetization
- Free domain like yourname.blogspot.com doesn’t help with SEO, traffic and brand building
You may not mind these issues at first, but on your way to building a personal online presence or building a business site you will find the host limiting you and you may outgrow it. Back in 1990′s when I created my first website about my favourite 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 webspace, which allowed me more flexibility and allowed me to grow my site.
It is about control and ownership
For me it has always been a very simple question to answer though. It is about control and ownership for me. On some of these blogging sites your work is placed on someone else’s platform and you help build their audience which then they monetize through your work and your content. It might be your work, but someone else actually has the full control and ownership of it.
I have tried to compare the different platforms earlier on this site and I have explained what the pros and cons there are. See for example more about Blogger, more about Tumblr and also more on the different versions of WordPress. Pros and cons of the different platforms definitely help newbies decide where to start their first site, but deeper you get into blogging and more experienced you get the more you will appreciate the control and ownership aspects of your own work.
Having full control over your work means having freedom. 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 write, what words to use and which images to use. That you decide if you want to monetize your site and how you want to monetize your content. Nobody places any rules or restrictions on your work, there are no risks in getting your site shut down because of external decisions, and nobody but yourself can use your content to promote a service or a product, or to make money.
Many writers end up abandoning their free sites or try to move to self-hosted WordPress. You don’t want to make that same mistake and make yourself build your site from scratch one more time. The thing is that when you do start on a free platform, it can be complicated to take all that content, comments, traffic and links you have built and move it to a new place. That is why it is important to consider the objectives of your site before starting.
Consider your ambitions and long term plans. Figure out what you want to accomplish by having a site. What do you want to say on it? Whom do you plan to address in your content? If it is something that you just want to explore and have no ambitions or dreams about, free host can be a good option. If you have ambitions about building a name and creating new opportunities for yourself, go for a site on your own domain name and hosting. It will make your life easier and you will not need to worry about anything in terms of control, or look and feel, losing any of the authority and readership that you may have built.
Changes to platforms are frequent
It happens quiet regularly that platforms change and disrupt their users. Some cease to exist, 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 (see how Tumblr recently redesigned to look even more like Twitter and less like a platform, disappointing some of their users who do some written content). There are many of these cases and many more will come when the control is out of your hands.
So how do you get the full control and ownership you may be asking. The best way is not to rely on any platform to host your content on. Go for an open-source platform like WordPress.org and self-host your site on your own domain name and your own hosting space. 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.
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, 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.