This post talks readers through some of the issues that they need to think through regarding choosing a blog platform.
Update: please check out our more up to date post – How to Start a Blog for advice on blogging platforms and much more.
- ‘Which Blog Platform Should I use?’
- ‘Should I use a free Blogger.com blog or get my own hosted blog on my own Domain? Which Blog Platform is best?’
- ‘What are the Pros and Cons of going with Typepad instead of WordPress as a blog platform?’
- ‘Should I start out on a free Blogging Platform and Upgrade later?’
These are just some of the typical questions that I get asked each day from bloggers starting out and attempting to make a decision on which blogging platform or tool they should choose.
I’m not going to tell you which blog platform you should use because, as you will see, there are good reasons for choosing most of the available platforms depending upon the goals of your blog.
In fact as I look at some of the most successful blogs there are examples of most of the platforms mentioned in this post – that’s the great thing about blogging, success is not reliant upon the tool you use – it’s about how you use it!
What follows is my attempt to flesh out some of the factors a new bloggers might like to consider in deciding on a blog platform. It is probably impacted by own experience of blogging over the last three years and the preferences I’ve accumulated in this time. I invite readers to add to this post in comments below with their own ideas and experiences so we can have a more balanced and useful collection of tips for readers considering such a choice.
Some Questions to Ponder Before Deciding on a Blog Platform
As with making any important decision it is worthwhile to take your time with this decision. There are MANY competing blog platforms on the market (check out the results of a poll I did on the platforms ProBlogger readers use to see just some of them). While you can change your blog platform at a later time (many of them have ways of importing and exporting your content later) there are usually some costs associated with such transfers (and I’m not just talking money – ie changing from a free hosted blog service to a self hosted one means changing your domain which has implications on Search Engine traffic etc). I guess all I’m saying is that it’s best not to rush into the first option you find – take your time, do your research and you might find a blog platform that will last you for a long time. Start by answering some of the following questions and you’ll have every chance of getting on the right track:
What are Your Goals – Probably the most important thing to do when starting the process of choosing a blog platform is to consider your aspirations for your blog. Of course complete first timers might struggle a little with seeing the future of their blogging, but to the best of your ability attempt to answer some of these questions:
- Is blogging something I see myself doing long term?
- What will the main purpose of my blog be?
- Is my blogging more of a hobby or does it have some professional application?
- Do I foresee putting ads on my blog?
Of course there are many other questions you’ll want to ask (I’ve written a series of posts on thinking through blog strategy here) but the answers to these sorts of questions are worth keeping mind as you research blog platforms as some platforms are much more suited to the hobby blogger and others to more professional blogging applications.
A Note about WordPress.com – if you’re going to use WordPress.com (note again, it’s different to wordpress.org) you need to know that at the point of writing this they don’t allow you to monetize your blog. If your goal is to make money, don’t choose WP.com. They do allow some of their bigger blogs to run advertising and affiliate programs but not smaller blogs. They say they may allow this in the future, but there are no guarantees and you should probably consider another option.
What is Your Budget? – As with most things in life, blog platforms come with a variety of price points ranging from free through to more expensive options. There are three main things that you might pay for:
- The blog platform itself
- Hosting for your blog
- Domain Name
Different blogging platforms offer different levels of service. Some like Blogger.com and WordPress.com offer both the platform, domain name and hosting for free. Others like WordPress.org (note this is different to WordPress.com) offer the platform for free but you then need to find and pay for your own hosting and domain name. Others still, like MovableType charge for a license for the platform (depending how many blogs you have and whether they will have a commercial, personal, educational or not-for-profit use – they do also have a free version) and then you need to arrange and pay for your own domain name and hosting.
Other costs you might like to factor in at an early stage include:
- design – all platforms come with free templates (some more professional looking than others) but if you want a more individual look you’ll either need to have some design skills, know someone who does or be willing to pay for a design.
- blog tools/metrics – there are any number of tools you can pay for to help you in your blogging. These might include stats packages (again you can get free ones but can also pay for more features), offline blog posting tools etc. If you’re a beginner you might not need any of these – but down the track you might find them useful.
How Technologically able are you? – This is a crucial factor to consider when choosing a blog platform. If you’ve never had any experience in creating a blog or website before and are not a technologically minded person then there are some blog platforms and set ups that will be much more suited to your needs than if you know a few of the basics, or at least are willing to learn them.
The other option of course is to find someone who is a techie to help you out (either paid or as a friend). One of the great things about blogging and most of the platforms out there is that there is a wonderful communal knowledge out there and many forums dedicated to helping people get the most out of their chosen platforms.
What Blog Platforms are Others Using? – While I am always advising bloggers to make their blog their own – when it comes to choosing a platform it might be worth finding out what others are into. Over the last few years different platforms have come and gone and I suspect they will in the years ahead also. My recent poll on the topic might be helpful to get a handle on recent trends – but as this post gets a little older you might like to do some research of your own.
Hosted vs Stand Alone Blogging Platforms
With the above questions in mind it’s time to consider your options and ask yourself one of the key questions that you’ll ask in this process.
Will you go with a Hosted Platform or a Stand Alone Platform?
I’ve already mentioned above when talking about budgets that there are a few options with what platforms offer but there are two main camps of blog platforms (and a few that offer a combination of the two – just to make things confusing).
Hosted Blog Platforms
This is the type of blog that many bloggers start out with, simply because they are easy and usually quite cheap (if not free). Probably the most popular of these systems is Blogger.com – but there are others like WordPress.com and MSN Spaces. TypePad also runs hosted blogs – although have the option to go with a type of standalone option also through remote hosting..
These systems are ‘hosted’ blog platforms because they ‘host’ your blog on their own domain. After what is usually a pretty easy set up process they will give you a web address (URL) that will usually be some combination of their own URL and the name of your blog. For example a popular WordPress.com blog is AtariBoy – who’s web address is www.atariboy.wordpress.com. You can see the structure of that address has two elements, his blog’s name first and then the wordpress.com extension. This means that this blog is being ‘hosted’ by WordPress as opposed to the blogger having to organize and pay for that himself.
Pros and Cons of Hosted Blog Platforms
- Cheap or Free to run – most hosted options are free (of the four I mentioned above, only TypePad charges).
- Relatively easy to set up – most of these types of blogs can be set up with a basic default template within minutes. The set up is usually just a matter of filling in a few fields with your options and choosing a template design.They are ideal if you know nothing or very little about the technological side of blogging.
- Simple to Run – Once you’re through the easy set up process hosted blogs are usually pretty simple to run. You will obviously need to learn some basics, but these days most blog platforms come with very user friendly features. Posting is as simple as filling in a few fields and hitting publish.
- Updated Automatically – if the blog platform updates it will automatically do so for you. Instead of having to upload new software onto a server, these updates happen much more seamlessly.
- Indexed in Search Engines Quickly – one of the advantages of many hosted blog platforms is that they are put onto domains that have good page ranks already. While your blog won’t be indexed in search engines when you start, most bloggers notice that their blogs get picked up and ranked pretty quickly. In the long run they probably don’t rank much higher than other blogs on stand alone hosting – but they are a quick way to get into SE’s.
- Less Configurable – My first blog was on a Blogger.com blog – the reason I moved from it within months was that it was so limited in terms of features and ability to design a professional running blog. Of course this was 3 years ago and Blogger.com has improved significantly – but one of the biggest frustrations with hosted blog owners are their limited options for customization. This does vary from platform to platform within the hosted options. For example WordPress.com has quite limited design options (for instance you can’t ad ads to templates making it a poor choice to make money with), Blogger.com doesn’t give the option for categories and TypePad has different options depending upon which level you buy in at.
- Default Design Limitations – While this can be true for standalone blogging systems also I find that many hosted blogs end up looking very similar to one another. This is because the default templates get used over and over again and if you’re a beginner they can be difficult to adapt. For instance with Blogger.com to make changes (and you can make your blog look quite unique) you need to know CSS and HTML to edit your templates (something you need to know with other platforms also it’s worth mentioning).
- Less Control – Another common complaint I hear regularly from hosted blog owners is that they are frustrated by not having ultimate control over their blog. While they do own the content, the URL is not technically their own and they are somewhat at the mercy of their platform in terms of whether their blog is working or not. For example there have been times in the last few months when TypePad bloggers have been frustrated by their blogs being down for periods of time (something Blogger.com struggles with from time to time also). To be fair on TypePad – they did compensate their bloggers for this down time.
- Generic URL – having your own URL can give a sense of professionalism and memorability to a blog that hosted options might well go without. While there are some very successful blogs on hosted platforms some bloggers believe that having your own URL is much more professional if you are using your blog in a professional way.
- Upgrading to Standalone can be Tricky – Probably the question worth asking before you go with a hosted option is what you’ll do if your blog gets big or you get the blogging bug in a way that won’t let you go? One of the issues of starting out with a hosted platform is that if there comes a day when you want to go with a standalone one that you have some work cut out for you in retaining any traffic that you’ve built up. I’m not saying it’s impossible to do (I’ve done it myself) but there are implications of changing domains later in terms of taking regular readers with you, having to climb the search engine rankings all over again and redirecting traffic from one blog to another.
Who would use Hosted Blog Platforms?
If you just want a blog and don’t care much about having your own unique domain, are not too interested in tweaking your blog or getting all the latest and greatest features then hosted options are a completely valid choice. In fact it’s worth keeping in mind that while some may scoff at hosted blog platforms and say that serious bloggers don’t use them – there are some popular bloggers who use them very successfully. For example one of my daily reads is Robert Scoble has a WordPress.com blog, Post Secret is on a Blogspot blog (blogger.com) and Hack MSN Spaces is obviously an MSN spaces blog (all of these and others are highly ranked blogs in the Top 500 at Feedster).
Stand Alone Blog Platforms
The other type of blog platform is that which is hosted under your own steam on your own domain/URL. This is what I do with all of my blogs these days (apart from one or two which I started just to see how the hosted platforms work). So you’ll see that ProBlogger is hosted at ProBlogger.net and is powered by WordPress.org. I also use MovableType, for a number of my blogs. Other Stand alone blog platforms that many use include PMachine, Greymatter, B2Evolution, TextPattern and Expression Engine (to name just a few).
Pros and Cons of Stand Alone Blog Platforms
- Full Control of Design – Depending upon your ability with web design standalone blogs generally are very adaptable. I am not strong in this area personally but am constantly amazed by some of my colleague’s abilities to create incredibly diverse and clever designs. Of course those bloggers with little ability in this area may either need to use default templates (with the same limitations as default templates of hosted blogs) or get others to help with this.
- Adaptability – One of the things I enjoy about WordPress here at ProBlogger is the vast array of developers who are coming up with all manner of ‘plugins’ which extend the ability of the basic WP installation. Similarly many of the other standalone platforms have communities of developers producing similar arrays of plugins (check out the plugins that ProBlogger readers use here for some examples of what is being developed).
- Free Platforms – while you end up paying for your domain name and hosting systems like these are usually free to run. Some do have license fees if you’re having multiple blogs or using them for commercial purposes – but many are open source.
- URL – Having your own domain name is great for many reasons. For one it’s easier to remember, secondly it’s more professional and hirdly it is more easily brand-able.
- Complicated Set Up – once again this depends upon your technical abilities and web savvy but when you move into stand alone platforms the complexity of set up tends to increase. It often involves arranging hosting, setting up databases and then downloading the platform onto you own computer and then uploading it via ftp onto your web hosting server. There are good tutorials around for most of the platforms to help with this process but for many it is a daunting thing. Once again it’s not my strength so I generally get by blogs set up and designed by a professional designer (although recently have been learning to do it a little more myself). NB: one way around this is to find a web host that will install your blog platform for you. This is becoming increasingly popular. Some platforms even recommend hosts that will do it for you (eg see MT’s recommendations and WP’s recommendations).
- Cost – While the blog platform itself might be free you need to factor in the ongoing costs of having your own domain name (a yearly fee plus a one off registration fee) and hosting fees (again yearly). There are many great deals out on these so it need not cost the world – although if your blog gets a lot of traffic the costs do go up and you might want to consider going onto a more professional and expensive plan.
- Updates – Most blog platforms go through different and versions over time. Updating from one to another can be complicated if you don’t know what you’re doing.
- Hosting Issues – I mentioned in the cons of the hosted platforms that you have ‘less control’ over your blog and are at the whims of your platform’s hosting being up or down. Of course this is also true for any hosting as from time to time different hosting solutions can have their own problems. Whether you use a hosted solution or a stand alone solution it’s important to back up and be aware that from time to time things do go down. Choose a reputable host if you go the stand alone route to ensure maximum uptime.
Who would use Stand Alone Blog Platforms?
Stand alone blog platforms are ideal if you want a little more control or flexibility with your blogging. They can be configured to look and run very professionally and to be adapted into configurations that are limited only by your imagination. Of course just because you go with a stand alone blog doesn’t ensure you will have the perfect professionally looking blog. In fact if you don’t have the ability to set these blogs up correctly (or know someone who can) standalone blogs can be messy and non-professional looking blogs.
Examples of these types of blogs are many – The vast majority of the top 50 or so blogs at Feedster are stand alone blogs.
A Word About Remote Hosting Options
Some blog platforms allow a combination of hosted and stand alone blogs via remote hosting. TypePad and Blogger.com are two examples of this. They allow you to run your blog on your own domain and hosting but still using their system to publish your blog. I’m not too familiar with how Blogger.com does it but have seen it used effectively with TypePad. The beauty of doing this with TypePad is that if you are a beginner blogger and are not too confident with running your blog it gives you the ability to set up a blog without too much trouble but on your own domain name from the very beginning. This will make swapping platforms later a lot easier.
Summing it all up
This has been a fairly long post and I hope I haven’t lost or bored you along the way but it’s an important topic for new bloggers to think through.
To sum it all up I generally advise this….. If you’re wanting to develop serious blog and have aspirations for it to be used on a professional sort of level (whether as a business or corporate blog, as a blog to build your own profile or a blog to earn income from advertising) I’d recommend you go in the direction of a stand alone blog. Even if you are not highly skilled in this area it’s worth spending a little money to get it set up with a designer or even better still, to learn how to do it yourself.
If you just want a blog for fun and to keep a record of your life for your friends and family and you don’t have the time, money or patience to put into it then a hosted option might work well for you too. They are instant (it’ll take 5-10 minutes to set up) and while they might not have quite the same level of features, in effect they may well suit you every need. Of course many hobbyists also go the stand alone option because tweaking their blog is part of their interest.
Do keep in mind though that as I mentioned above there are no rules. There’s been many successful blogs over the years which have not been on their own domain or hosting!
Further Reading on Choosing a Blog Platform
If you choose to use WordPress.com as a platform you might find Jon Symon’s video series on how to set it up on a domain and hosting worthwhile.
Macworld – The best Blogging Tools for the Mac – features a useful comparative table
Are you using the right blogging tool – Contains a helpful glossary and reviews of a few of the more popular blogging tools
– a companion chart to the above article
– a page that links to a variety of in depth reviews of Blog Software packages at the Performancing Blog
Blog software Smackdown: The big 3 Reviewed – review of Movable Type, WordPress.org and Textpattern
Blogger.com vs WordPress.com – a review of these two hosted options
Blogger.com Review – review of blogger.com
By no means is this post the definitive guide to choosing a blog platform or software. I’m sure there are many experiences that the readers of ProBlogger could bring to this topic and I encourage you to share your own advice in comments below. I’ll update this page with what you teach me as I can.