When DIY Blogging isn’t for You: 5 Alternatives to Self-Hosted WordPress

Posted By Darren Rowse 1st of March 2018 Blogging Tools and Services

Here on ProBlogger, we’ve always recommended self-hosted WordPress (aka WordPress.org) as the very best platform for blogging.

And with good reason.

Many of the world’s largest blogs and websites run on self-hosted WordPress. Thousands of plugins and themes are available – many for free, although there are lots of premium options too.

And a self-hosted blog gives you full control and plenty of flexibility when you find the best blog hosting for you.

But for some bloggers, self-hosted WordPress might not be the best choice.

You may just want a blog you can use as a personal diary or writing outlet. You may not have the budget for buying domain names and hosting. Even if you do, the thought of settin them up and installing WordPress may seem overwhelming.

Sound like you? Then you may want to look at other options.

(That being said, if you want to build a profitable blog then choose the self-hosted option so you don’t have to migrate everything down the track.)

Which Hosted Platform Should You Choose?

Although there are other platforms that you can install on your own website (where you pay for a hosting account through sites such as Bluehost, Siteground and WPEngine), in this article we’ll be looking at hosted blogging platforms.

With hosted blogging platforms, the company hosts your site on their servers – just as Facebook and Twitter let you set up pages and accounts on their sites. And if you want a custom domain name, you can register it through them too.

Which means you can get all the advice, help and support you need from one place–the blogging platform company.

The five platforms we’re covering in today’s post are:

  • WordPress.com (where the basic plan is free)
  • Blogger (where the basic plan is free)
  • Wix (where the basic plan is free)
  • Weebly (where the basic plan is free)
  • SquareSpace (where the basic plan is not free. Instead it’s $16/month or $144/year).

But before we start, keep in mind that your site could disappear from any of these platforms if:

  • your blog violates the company’s rules
  • the company goes bust
  • The company has a major problem or outage.

You are essentially building an asset on rented land – you don’t own your blog, which is why I recommend a self-hosted blog if you want to build a blogging business.

WordPress.com: What to Expect

Find it at: WordPress.com

WordPress.com is a good choice if you’re thinking of upgrading to WordPress.org (self-hosted WordPress) in the future. It functions like a cut-down version of the self-hosted WordPress, and you can transfer your blog from one to the other. Here are WordPress’ instructions on how to do it.

WordPress launched in 2003, and the company is not only well established but also well regarded in the blogging world.

What You Get With the Basic WordPress Plan (Free)

  • A free domain name (of the format yourname.wordpress.com).
  • 3GB of storage space. (You can upgrade to a paid plan for more.)
  • A selection of free themes (sometimes called “templates” or “layouts”) for your website. And you can switch themes at any time without losing your content – even if you’ve been blogging for months.
  • “Jetpack Essential Features”, which offers features such as SEO optimisation, site statistics, anti-spam and more.

Limitations on the Basic WordPress Plan

  • You won’t have a custom domain name (i.e. one without “wordpress.com” at the end). To get one you need to upgrade to a “personal” plan, which is currently $48/year.
  • Your blog will show WordPress’ branding and ads. To remove them you need to once again upgrade to a “personal” plan, which is currently $48/year.
  • You can’t run your own ads. To use ads from the ‘WordAds’ program you need to upgrade to a “premium” plan, which is currently $94/year.
  • You can’t install plugins or upload custom themes. To do that you need to upgrade to a “business” plan, which is currently $300/year.

Here are the different WordPress plans and their features.

Blogger / BlogSpot: What to Expect

Find it at: Blogger.com

If you want to set up a simple blog quickly, Blogger might be the best choice. It has limited features (which can be a drawback), but it can also be helpful if you don’t want to be overwhelmed by choices.

They offer only a free, basic plan: you can’t upgrade to anything fancier. Again, this could be a drawback or an advantage depending on your blogging needs.

Blogger (aka BlogSpot) is one of the longest-running major blog platforms. It’s been around since 1999, and was acquired by Google in 2003. If you already have a Google account, you simply log in with that and create your blog.

What You Get With Blogger (Free)

  • A free domain name (of the format yourname.blogspot.com).
  • The ability to run ads (and it’s easy to use GoogleAds on your blog).
  • Posts and pages no larger than 1MB, with images uploaded to Google Drive (15GB limit).
  • A number of free themes to choose from, as well as the ability to buy and upload premium themes. You can switch to a different theme at any time.

Limitations on Blogger

  • You can’t install plugins, so there’s no way to extend the functionality of Blogger.
  • If you want to add a custom domain name, Blogger won’t charge you. But you’ll need to buy it from a domain registrar and do a bit of technical setup.


Wix: What to Expect

Find it at: Wix.com

Wix has a simple drag-and-drop interface so you can easily design your pages. If you find WordPress and Blogger daunting or confusing, Wix could be what you’re looking for. It’s designed to create websites rather than blogs specifically, so it’s not so blog-focused as WordPress and Blogger.

Wix was founded in 2006, and acquired DeviantArt (a popular online community for artists) in February 2017.

What You Get With the Wix Basic Plan (Free)

  • A free domain name (of the format yourname.wix.com).
  • 500MB of storage space. (You can upgrade to a paid plan for more.)
  • Thousands of fully customisable templates (the equivalent of WordPress’ “themes”). Or you can begin with a blank slate.
  • A beginner-friendly interface where you can drag and drop different elements onto your pages.

Limitations of the Wix Basic Plan

  • Your storage space is quite limited: 500MB. While it will be enough for many types of website or blog, videos and images will use it up quickly. To get 3GB of space you’ll need to upgrade to a “combo” plan, which is currently $120/year.
  • You’ll also need to upgrade to add a domain name. The cheapest way to do this is with a “connect domain” plan for $60/year. (And then you’ll need to buy your domain separately.)
  • Unless you upgrade, Wix’s ads will appear on your site. And the cheapest “no ads” plan is the “combo” plan at $120/year.
  • You can’t use custom templates – you can only choose something from Wix’s options. And once you’ve created your site you can’t switch to a new template. Instead you need to create an entirely new site and transfer your content over.

Weebly: What to Expect

Find it at: Weebly.com

Like Wix, Weebly has a drag-and-drop interface with lots of flexibility to help you design your website. Also like Wix (and Blogger), you can’t use third-party plugins to extend your site’s functionality.

But unlike Wix, Weebly lets you use third-party themes (templates) that you can change at any time – even once you’ve created your website. So if you have trouble committing to a design, or you want to try out lots of options before you making your final choice, Weebly might well be a better choice than Wix.

Weebly was founded in 2006, and launched in 2007.

What You Get With the Weebly Basic Plan (Free)

  • A free domain name (of the format yourname.weebly.com).
  • 500MB of storage space (but you can get more by upgrading to a paid plan).
  • A number of free themes to choose from, with the option of  buying a premium one.

Limitations of the Weebly Basic Plan

  • Your storage space is quite limited: 500MB. Again, while it will be enough for many types of website or blog, videos and images will use it up quickly. You can get unlimited storage by upgrading to a “starter” plan for $60/year.
  • You also need to upgrade if you want to add a domain name. (You only need to upgrade to the “starter” plan to do this.)
  • Unless you pay to upgrade, Weebly’s ads will appear on your site. (Again, you only need to upgrade to the “starter” plan to remove the ads.)

SquareSpace: What to Expect

Find it at: SquareSpace.com

SquareSpace is the only platform on our list that doesn’t have a free plan. Their cheapest is the “Personal” plan at $144/year.

That might put you off immediately. But SquareSpace could still be a good option, so don’t rule it out. (They have a 14-day free trial, so you can try before you commit.)

Like Wix and Weebly, SquareSpace has a drag-and-drop content editor that’s easy to use. If you don’t feel confident with the technology of blogging, it may be a good option for you. While you’re limited to their templates (which can only be customised to a certain degree), SquareSpace’s templates look very professional and slick.

What You Get With the SquareSpace “Personal” Plan ($144/year)

Limitations of the SquareSpace “Personal” Plan

  • There’s no integrated e-commerce at the “personal” level. If you want to sell products through your site you need to upgrade to the “Business” plan, which is currently  $216/year).
  • If you want to change the CSS code or javascript for your site, you’ll also need to upgrade to a “Business” plan.

So Which Blog Platform Should You Go For?

When it comes to blogging there’s no one-size-fits-all. And  if you’ve ruled out self-hosted WordPress as an option, any of these platforms could be a good fit for you.

If you want to set up a simple website quickly with a drag-and-drop interface that lets you position different elements on your page, Weebly is probably your best option. It’s cheaper than Wix if you need more than the 500MB storage space. And  you can change themes at any time. (Still, if you love a particular Wix template it might be worth going with Wix.)

If your focus is on the blog itself, and you’re happy to spend time getting to grips with the interface, Blogger is a simple and straightforward option. And even though it’s free, it still has a lot of features.

If you plan on switching to self-hosted WordPress in the future, opting for WordPress.com now will make the transition much smoother in terms of both moving your content over and your own learning curve.

SquareSpace is widely recognised as having great designs. But that comes at a cost, as there’s no free option. But if you need a premium plan regardless, you might want to go with SquareSpace for its quality designs.

Ultimately, what matters more than your choice of platform is getting your blog online. You could spend months researching and trying different platforms without ever having a live blog.

Blogs can (and do) succeed on a variety of different platforms. If self-hosted WordPress isn’t for you, then any of these options could serve you well. Try a couple that seem promising, and then pick your favourite and stick with it.

I’ll give the last word to Paul Cunningham from Left Brain Blogging, who wrote a great reply to a blogger struggling to choose a platform in our ProBlogger Community group on Facebook last year (emphasis mine):

I know you’ve been struggling with these platform questions for a while so I’m going to give you straight advice. My main concern is that you’ll get so stuck on this decision that it’s going to delay the real progress you’re trying to make.

Go sign up for a free SquareSpace trial. Mess around with the interface and make a few dummy posts or pages. Do stuff you’d normally do, like add an image, or set up a sidebar. Spend an hour on it.

If you like it more than WordPress, then use it. Otherwise use WordPress. Your choice of platform has to be something you’re willing to use and that doesn’t hold you back with technical limitations.

But here’s the bottom line. WordPress is successful for a reason. Whether you like the interface or not, there’s no denying the benefits of going with the mature, large community, feature rich, and deeply customizable platform in WordPress.

What blogging platform do you use?

Photo credit: Christian Stahl

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