So you want to start a blog. You’ve decided on a topic and defined your audience. You are now at the point where you could actually set up a blog. Well, almost. There is actually one more decision you need to make: How are you going to host your site?
In my mind, there are basically two options, although each of these options can be broken down a bit further:
WordPress vs. Everyone Else
By ‘everyone else’ I mean any free blogging site that does not use WordPress. There is a long list of free blogging sites out there. Here are just a few of the most popular ones:
These sites have their own blogging software, as opposed to using WordPress.
What is WordPress?
WordPress is what is known as a Content Management System (CMS). Wikipedia defines a CMS as “a computer application that allows publishing, editing, and modifying content, organizing, deleting as well as maintenance from a central interface.” In a nutshell, all of the web pages, blog posts, images, etc., that you will create for your site can be ‘managed’ by WordPress.
All but one of the free blogging sites that I know of use either their own proprietary CMS or one of the other CMS’s that are available other than WordPress.
There are two WordPress sites that you should know about: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. WordPress.com is the one free blogging site that I know of that uses WordPress.
WordPress.org is the site that distributes (freely) and supports the WordPress software. This is what a self-hosted WordPress site would use. WordPress.org also hosts a ton of plugins and themes to add to the core software.
A couple of interesting facts about WordPress. According to WordPress.com (at the time of this writing), WordPress is used for 23% of all the websites on the entire internet. Also, according to BuiltWith.com (again at the time of this writing), WordPress accounts for about 48% of all the CMS’s that are used throughout the entire internet. I think those are pretty impressive stats.
The benefits of a self-hosted WordPress Site
- Large development and support community
- Tens of thousands of free themes (literally)
- Thousands of free plugins to expand the functionality – There are also plenty of paid plugins as well
- Multi-user – You can create several login accounts for anyone you wish to give access to
- Built in commenting and moderation system
- eCommerce ready
- Free and customize-able eCommerce plugins
The drawbacks of a self-hosted WordPress Site
- Needs to be kept updated
- Not all plugins are updated by developers and can become incompatible with WordPress after a time
- There are some low-quality themes and plugins out there – These can sometimes conflict with each other and cause errors on your site
- Tech support can be tricky on a self-hosted site – WordPress.org supports the core software, the theme developer supports the theme, and the plugin developer supports the plugin
- Managing a self-hosted site can be a bit of a time suck preventing you from creating content
- Although it doesn’t need to be, a self-hosted site can get expensive if you start paying for custom themes and plugins and other development
What about ‘everyone else’?
Well, ‘everyone else’ is quite a huge category. I know, I have a knack for stating the obvious. I am not going to go into all of the pros and cons of each of the free blogging sites. I have, however, done some research into several of them, and have found that they share a lot of the same pros and cons as compared with WordPress.
Note that I will be using the term ‘free’ in quotes. These sites are free to get started with but do have charges for add on’s that you have to be aware of, so I use the term ‘free’ quite loosely.
The benefits of going with a ‘free’ site
- Ease of design – Drag and drop capabilities
- eCommerce ready
- A good set of built-in tools/plugins/extensions that actually work
- Very easy back end maintenance (if any at all)
- Very simple to use
- 24/7 Tech support
Many of the ‘free’ blogging sites, especially the newer ones, have implemented drag and drop design capabilities, making it very easy to layout your site’s pages. This is helpful because you don’t need any coding or programming skills in order to make your site look good.
eCommerce capability is usually available on these sites as well, although many of them will charge you for it and may take a percentage of your sales.
Generally speaking, the additional utilities/tools/plugins/extensions (they all have their own terminology) all work very well with their sites. That’s usually because they develop them themselves and don’t allow third party development.
These ‘free’ sites are usually not very complicated and are quite simple to use. If you do have problems, there is generally pretty good technical support.
The drawbacks of using a ‘free’ site.
- Costs for adding in features (free might not mean free)
- Utilities/tools/plugins/extensions may end up costing you some money
- Limited number of themes to choose from
- Limited or no access to HTML or CSS for theme customization
- Limited or no eCommerce options
- Limited eCommerce customization
- There may be eCommerce transaction fees
- Cannot set up local copy for testing
- There may not be comment moderation
- Difficult or nonexistent data portability
- You do not own the blog
- Your domain name will be a subdomain of the host.
As you can see, there are several drawbacks to using a ‘free’ site. There are four of these that stand out the most to me. The first being that the site might not end up being free after you add features that you might want.
The second thing is the lack of a real domain name. Your web address will be yoursite.wix.com or yoursite.blogger.com. There is nothing really wrong with this unless you are really trying to brand or market your business. The lack of a real domain name looks unprofessional and it will be harder for potential customers to take you seriously.
The third being that you do not own the blog. The website belongs to the hosting company. That company can shut your blog down for whatever reason they want.
This leads to the fourth, and I think possibly the most important thing; difficult or nonexistent data portability. What this means is that if you ever do decide to move your content to a self-hosted website with a real domain name, where you are not at the mercy of another company’s whims, then it will be very difficult to get your content (data) exported to your new website. It can be done, but it will be difficult.
Once you do finally get your content exported, you have to be very careful about how you set up your new website. You will want to make sure you keep the same structure so that you don’t mess up your search engine rankings.
You also need to be careful you don’t lose subscribers or followers due to significant downtime, or domain name changes, which can cause a lot of confusion.
What about WordPress.com?
In my opinion, WordPress.com is sort of the middle ground between both worlds; it is both free and uses WordPress. It is limited in that it doesn’t have access to nearly as many themes and plugins as a self-hosted site, but it will be much easier to move to a self-hosted site if you should need to someday.
As with the other ‘free’ sites, there are additional costs for additional features, like a real domain name, eCommerce, more storage space, etc.
WordPress.com will also take care of any software maintenance and upgrades that need to happen. They also have tech support.
Choose what is right for you
Personally, I would recommend choosing either WordPress.com or a self-hosted WordPress site.
WordPress.com is a great choice if:
- Cost is a big issue
- You just want to start writing without many technical things to deal with
A self-hosted WordPress Site is the way to go if:
- You don’t mind doing some technical stuff
- You want more customization options
- You want to add E-commerce
- You want total control of your website
If you don’t mind a little extra cost, you can have a self-hosted WordPress site and hire a WordPress maintenance company to handle a lot of the tech stuff such as backups, plugin compatibility, and security. This still leaves you in total control of your site but frees you to manage your business.
The self-hosted WordPress option
With the self-hosted WordPress option, you still have to purchase a hosting plan from a web hosting company. WordPress.org officially recommends choosing one of the following:
Wrapping up (finally)
I realize that this is a longer than normal post for me, but this is a really important decision and I want to make sure that you have the facts you need to make a good one. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to which way to set up your blog. Choose whichever way will allow you to get to your goal the fastest, get your blog set up, and get writing!
If you are thinking about starting a blog, which way are you leaning? Wordpress.com, Self-Hosted, or one of the ‘free’ sites? Why did you make that decision? Do you have any further questions? Let me know in the comments below.