Choosing a Blog Platform

Posted By Darren Rowse 15th of February 2006 Blogging Tools and Services 0 Comments

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

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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
Blog software Comparison Chart – a companion chart to the above article
Blog Software Reviews at a Glance – 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.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Comments
  1. Good site I \”Stumbledupon\” it today and gave it a stumble for you.. looking forward to seeing what else you have..later

  2. don’t forget about ning :)

  3. I think that was not present better blog platform than WordPress

  4. Just follow up your instinct and people will believe you.

  5. I just stick to wordpress, its so simple – so visually easy – yet templates that are free can be so professional!

    I love it and will never change my mind!

  6. ing a Blog Platform is a quite interesting post but quite difficult to understand for me .

  7. I like wordpress. It is more friendly with search engines

  8. Hello there..
    I tried both joomla and also mambo..although they seem like twin brothers..Mambo suits me well..
    GONEFISHING

  9. How about blogger.com? And i just want to ask which is better. wordpress or blogger.com?

    Most of your posts are definitely high quality posts.

    Thank you
    Money Making and Blogging Tips
    Charles
    http://www.resourcesandmoney.blogspot.com

  10. quite a thought provoking article,
    darren you are “numero uno” not without reason.
    though i just started blogin on blogger platform and i am an absolute novice and big time idiot when it comes to technical things like html, format ,etc etc but still now i will go for a stand alone one.
    one question though, i recently checked with bigdaddy and the charges for domain names are as low as 10 dollars yearly, well is it just that much or there is more to it? and also at the cost of sounding an idiot , i wanted to ask is stand alone means unique domain name for you? and if lets say i get one say from bigdaddy who is responsible for maintaining it?thats a lots of questions, if you could help. thanks
    http://getrich-moneymanager.blogspot.com/

  11. I am just looking into starting a blog for our site and this has come in very handy. I was unsure before now it make much more sense for us to use a hosted platform to begin with.

  12. As a person who’s tried Blogger, LJ, Diaryland, Vox, Lycos, Jugem, fc2, WordPress and Tumblr, I’d have to say Tumblr is the best.

    I keep both my wordpress and Tumblr because they are very different and I like them both equally but if you want to have ease of use, then Tumblr is your chose. There’s also Posterous now. It’s fairly new and you can’t do anything about customization yet but the idea of blogging from email is very attractive and interesting.

    yours truly,
    love Tumblr and WP.

  13. For commercial perspective, blogging using blogger.com doesn’t really work. For it to be useful it needs to be a seamless extension to a website. For this I always use WordPress, preferably with three introductions to the stories linked from the home page and links to it from the whole site. This, I believe, is the most effective use of blogging from a business perspective.

  14. Thank You! I could highly recommend this blog post my my friends who are newbies in blogging. It’s a well crafted guidelines for them to consider.

  15. I wanna buy my own domain next year because i have mo budget yet. I am using blogsome now for my bloghost. I like wordpress but i have not yet money,

  16. Just follow up your instinct and people will believe you.

  17. for me, wordpress is the best blog platform. Some of my blogs are wordpress.

  18. I don’t quite understand what ing a Blog Platform is…

  19. I think your chart would be more useful if you separated the blog software packages from the blog services. The first choice anyone makes is whether is to whether to have their own server account. Then after that they think about the platform.

  20. Thanks for the long post. I was not sure what blogging platform to use, because I am a newbie I will choose TypePad. Thanks!

  21. thanks for the long post. I was not sure what blogging platform to use, because I am a newbie I will choose

  22. Please keep these excellent posts coming.

  23. I did not read your blog when it first come out. It’s just my 4th month with problogger though :)

    And I wonder — did you start with WP from the beginning?

    The way is looking right now it shows you’ve started blogging for business from the beginning!

  24. what i think, word press is going up, there are many users which are creating accounts in word press, and you will find good themes.

    My site:http://www.beyondweblogs.com is on dotnetblogengine. very good for seo, but there is no so much enhancement as in word press blog platform so i personally believe that word press is better then every other.

    Naveed Razaq | http://www.beyondweblogs.com

  25. I started out with blogger because it is easy and simple to use but now i wish i had used WordPress.

    My blogger blog is losing PR and SERP fast and i am getting less and less traffic.

    WordPress is just the best option out there.

    http://onlinemoneyforteens.blogspot.com
    Rory

  26. Why do you think things have always to go that way?

  27. Once things start going right, you could be asked to bring some proof.

  28. Thanks for the tips. After reading your platform suggetions I signed up with WordPress and love it. I have started a blog but I am having difficulty finding good ways to get it known. What are some good ways I can expand my network and get more people to visit my site?

    http://www.precision21.com

    Taylor

  29. I’m also a newbie to blogging. I do have a business and I do want to use a blog to generate traffic and additional income. However, after reading quite a few comments on hosted blogs vs. standalone blogs, I am totally overwhelmed by all the technology and support tools out there.
    While my webmaster was well-intentioned by recommending Blogger, and not realizing how critical a decision it was, I jumped onto Blogger.com. It seemed OK to get things going and, hopefully, increase traffic to my website. Now, I’m “shaking” by some of comments people have shared!
    I see some benefit to hosted blogs and, now, the pitfalls. Although my blog has not been out there very long, it probably isn’t too late to design a standalone platform.
    Where would I find a blog designer and what might I expect to have to pay for it?
    Anyone’s thoughts?
    Joel

  30. at the tender age of 71, just started to blog—chose Blogger.com——was posting my stuff in minutes, and as they say the rest is history—–.http://threescoreplusten.blogspot.com/

  31. I start with blogger.com it easy but you can not modifly myblog easy.Now i want to my own host and own blog.Thank you for article for decision.

  32. Social Bookmarks Demon is enormously powerful, 100% automatic social bookmarking software which will build UNLIMITED number of top quality backlinks, send first-class traffic in minutes, increase your affiliate sales, AdSense income and site revenue as much as never. Social Bookmarks Demon combines features of ALL social bookmarking tools available in the market for price of single tool.

  33. I think your chart would be more useful if you separated the blog software packages from the blog services. The first choice anyone makes is whether is to whether to have their own server account. Then after that they think about the platform.

  34. Thats a useful analysis, still holds true when choosing a blogging platform.. I started with WordPress on a self-hosted option, and am now considering moving to Drupal 6.x.. If any of your readers are interested they can look through my experience of blogging to date which contains lots of tutorials on how to get started, including some of the myths about making money online… hope it’s ok to post a link to the site here or you can click on my name…

    http://technicalarticles.co.uk/index.php/my-top-10-must-read-blogging-articles-for-beginners/

  35. I try both of blogger and wordpress.
    so really there is no comparison between wp and blogger.

    thanks for sharing knowledge about other platforms

  36. OK, it seems the consensus for selecting platforms is to build your own. Do I understand correctly that WordPress is one of the best, BUT you have to pay for it?

    Joel

  37. Joel – wordpress.org is free to download. However there are some costs. For one you need to buy a domain (you can pick these up for less than $10) and then you have to pay for hosting (hosting costs range depending who you go with but at it’s cheapest you can go with a service like GoDaddy for less than $10 a month). GoDaddy (and many other hosts) will also set up a WordPress blog for you automagically.

    The downside with WordPress.org is that you need to configure your blog and know how to upload files to servers etc if you want to change the default look of the blog.

    As a result if you want something more professional looking you either need to learn how to do it or pay someone to set it up for you – again another cost.

    So while WP.org is free to get – there are costs involved.

  38. Traditional media outlets need to embrace blogging and the power of the 2.0 web marketing avenues. It really is the long tail of journalism

  39. That\’s the only reason why people don\’t talk about it.

  40. I am all for stand alone blogs and personally i’m using wordpress hosted on my own hosting service. It’s much more configurable since i am blogging for profit, configuration for posting ads and other widget codes etc is very important to me.

    However, for beginners and people who really don’t even want to learn about html, a hosted solution like wordpress.org or blogger is really the fastest way to start.

  41. I\’ve heard of people talking such a discussion around in the city although.

  42. I don\’t feel like entering in such a consideration.

  43. Hi darren, really good article and important as well. It’s very important to choose right platform in the begining in line with objectives and goals.
    Any wrong decision have long term impact on waste all the efforts. http://www.knowtheworldaround.com

  44. How could we verify the effectiveness of such a possibility?

  45. All the serious bloggers are using stand alone platforms. Many people who use wordpress.com or blogspot.com end up using wordpress.org. It is better to start standalone now that start changing in the future.

  46. I think networks can be great for bloggers wanting to find an income stream for their blogging BUT they have to take into consideration the costs.

  47. I use both. I have my Professional Sales Training Blog “Timeshare Sales And Marketing Techniques” on my website with WordPress.org and my personal blog “In Between The Tapas And Tantrums” with Blogger.com and I find each platform suites each blog for different reasons.

  48. Thinking of upgrading to WP 2.7
    Are there any issues with this in that version.
    Great plugin. Thanks!

  49. think networks can be great for bloggers wanting to find an income stream for their blogging BUT they have to take into consideration the costs.

  50. Hi,

    Thanks for the information. I’m currently on Blogger. I may switch to word press with a custom domain.

    Thanks
    Korikkar