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New to Blogging? Free vs. Paid Blog Hosting & Platforms

A couple friends asked for blogging advice recently, so I thought I’d share some basics about blogging platforms for those new to blogging, and how to decide between free vs. paid hosting.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not a blogging expert. It’s taken me over three years to “get it right” using WordPress, so I disclaim that I don’t have all the answers. The learning curve continues – guess I’m at the “Blogging 201″ level. I try to learn by my mistakes, so I’ll share my blogging mistakes with you. As my Mom used to tell me:

“Don’t do as I do. Do as I say do.”

What is a blog?

A blog was originally short notation for a “Web log”, or a personal journal. However, a blog is also a content management system to update a personal or corporate website with new entries that appear in sequence as they are written.

It once cost multiple thousands of dollars to create a content management system, which is essentially a database of articles that are managed through a Web interface. Think of it as a dynamic publishing system that doesn’t require authors to have heavy HTML or coding experience. Planning and integrating a blog into one’s site can still cost a small sum of money, but costs are now much lower. If you’re a beginner, you have two choices:

  1. Hire someone to design and implement a blog on your website.
  2. Sign up for an account on a shared service that offers users to blog for free.

Thus the question…

Paid vs. Free Blog Hosting?

Determine Your Goals, First!

Determine your blogging goals before you decide which platform is right for you.

  • Who? Who are you representing? What is your online identity?
  • What? What subject, service, product and/or passion do you plan to blog about?
  • When? How often do you plan to post blog posts?
  • Where? From your computer? Do you want to be able to update your blog from your cell?
  • Why? What’s your purpose and your message?

Multiple answers to each question may require multiple blogs – multiple websites. Don’t mix too many passions on one site, unless it’s an ego site about your exciting life.

You should do fine with a free-hosted blog if you simply want to blog to share opinions and journal about their life, travels and experiences. Those who want to build a business, build an identity and/or make money online should invest in paid hosting with their own domain. Here’s why…

Free Hosting

There are a number of free blog hosting options I’m not going to list. Here are the top 2, in my opinion, for setting up a blog without buying a domain or paying monthly hosting fees:

WordPress.com – Same blogging platform as many people use with paid hosting but with limitations.

Blogger.com – Also known as Blogspot, which was purchased by Google and now knows as Blogger.

PROS: Free! Easy! You don’t have to know HTML.

Text from Blogger’s home page says it all:

BloggerCreate a blog in 3 easy steps:

  1. Create an account
  2. Name your blog
  3. Choose a template

It’s almost magic.

CONS: You don’t have your own domain to brand yourself. Your website address (URL) will be “youraccountname.blogspot.com” or “youraccountname.wordpress.com” rather than “yourdomainname.com.”

You can’t extend the functionality of your blog with plugins.

Leaving comments on a Blogger blog causes “comment dropout” – just made up the term, but it’s like shopping cart dropout. The process takes the user off your site when they leave a comment, and some shy away from this extra step.

If you have been blogging and building “strength” on a Blogger domain, you’ll be starting from scratch for SEO with your new domain. However, you can now import your Blogger posts into WordPress.

MISTAKE: NOT UNDERSTANDING: I started on Blogspot (aka Blogger) right before getting married three years ago. Oh, what a great way to share pre-wedding bliss, bike rides and time with friends. Well…I had little control over the layout – not saying I’m a control freak. But if you’re used to coding, you won’t like Blogger. I didn’t understand enough about blogging to pursue other avenues, so I lost time and energy with my Blogspot adventure.

Paid Hosting for WordPress

WordPress is THE platform of choice for those who want to blog about a product or service and/or want to build a long-term identity online.WordPress.org

Download it from WordPress dot org (not dot com), or find a hosting provider who will set it up for you.

PROS: Enhance your blog with themes (nice designs and layouts) and plugins (tools that “plug in” to enhance functionality).

Put ads on your site and make money with advertising. (I’m at the 101 stage with making money!)

Use your own domain, yourdomainname.com, to create your identity.

Use WordPress as a content management system to update your website without heavy HTML knowledge.

CONS: WordPress’ “visual” editor mode is not perfect; you should understand some HTML.

You can easily make hosting mistakes by not choosing the right hosting provider.

There is a learning curve. It’s not magic.

MISTAKES: BAD HOSING: I used two hosting companies who said they provided WordPress hosting, yet their services were poor… oh so poor that I won’t even link to them. One had only outdated versions of WordPress and didn’t provide support or access to upgrade. The other would not allow direct access to the WordPress database and wouldn’t let me make modifications. They didn’t know how to download my database, so I lost many months of work. (Out of frustration, I just took the sites down.)

DIFFICULT THEME MANAGEMENT: I am currently using the Shifter theme for this site. It doesn’t allow direct access to theme files, which makes customization very difficult. I paid $199 for it and have felt limited due to the heavy learning curve. It has great potential, however, so stand by…

NO EDITORIAL CALENDAR: When I setup Pixel Position as a blog, I didn’t plan an editorial calendar or schedule time to blog on a regular basis. That changes today! :-)


SUMMARY:

  1. Blogger and WordPress.com free hosting is quick and easy and works well for “weekend” bloggers.
  2. WordPress is a robust blogging platform used by many companies as a content management system for their websites.
  3. You’ll need to buy a domain.
  4. Find reliable paid hosting to “host” your website blog. I recommend HostGator after many mistakes later. (I share a dedicated server with HostGator and have been super impressed with their support.)

HOSTING TIPS: I don’t recommend Windows-based hosting for blogging. You want access to a file called .htaccess, which enables you to setup rules to “redirects” URLs to prevent duplicate content issues. (Don’t think about that part right now.) Windows redirects are tricky. Just make sure your hosting provider offers an Apache server – the best way to go.

You get what you pay for, and you should be expect to pay $7-$15 per month for entry-level hosting plans.

Resources

WordPress For Dummies Book
I would have been a “smartie” to buy this book early on, if it was even in print then.

Choosing a Blog Platform
This is a great article by ProBlogger. It was written in early 2006, but the principles shared remain current. This guy has a plethora of valuable information. You could spend days learning about blogging on his site.

Blogging 101: Which Software do I Choose?
Read this recent article that explains, in more detail, various options for blogging, but they don’t review WordPress.org.


I hope this saves you from making some of my mistakes. Put your energies into developing great blog content.

Feel free to comment below with your experiences with free vs. paid blogging platforms.

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Category: Blogging, Search Engines, WordPress

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10 Responses

  1. Lori says:

    Wow, great round-up, Dana! I wish I had known all this back when I first started blogging. I started with Blogger, as so many did, and then ended up regretting it.

    But…I think I’m about to switch to WordPress. I’m excited, because I’ve wanted to do that for awhile.

  2. Lori, Thanks for stopping by!

    There are many people who are doing well on Blogger, but too many suffer hiccups by starting out on the wrong platform. You run a successful business, so you no longer qualify for “beginner” status! And you have some super high-quality posts on your typepad blog for your personal stuff, so you definitely don’t want to loose those posts. Unfortunately, you’ll loose some of the ranking, so it would be best to get started now with importing to WordPress.

    I look forward to seeing your progress. I’ll be happy to share some tips along the way.

  3. Wild Dingo says:

    hhhmmm….where oh where did you get the HostGator recommendation? hmmmm…. i wonder where? ;)

    I personally hate hosting any of my content on free servers…which is why for years i never blogged. i want complete and utter control over my content. even after I decide to delete it or take it down. free servers like google, and face books out there? they’re not as “free” as you think. you provide the “content” which also serves as page clicks/interest to their audience and increases their ad revenue. ya, you actually WORK for free servers and they actually make money off YOUR content? it’s like writing a book and someone else gets paid… i NEVER understood why in the world people did that. It may have taken me forever to figure out a platform i could code with for a blog but i sure as heck wasn’t going to provide my content someone else would make ad revenue on! (Now, RSS is another story…still in your control…)

    Wild Dingo’s Rockin’ July 4th Holiday Week:

  4. Hey, Julie!

    Boy, we sure have experienced some bad hosting together… Oh, the joys of the learning curve! I started with a Reseller account with HostGator just over a year ago, because an alliance was using them. I left to find PHP5 support for some ecommerce solutions, and wallah… HostGator added PHP5. Now we share a managed dedicated server. Customer Service is not perfect, but any needs really do get solved, as you well know. Glad you’re happy with them, which confirmed they are a great choice for blog hosting.

    You hit on a terrific point I didn’t think about when writing this. Free blog hosting is racking in the money by us directing traffic to their site and to their ads!

    You’ve done a nice job of incorporating affiliate links and AdWords on your site! I just clicked a few, I mean visited, and found out about “Dingo Dog Treats” – caaaching! Curious, is there a way to set a base HREF so the ad links open a new window instead of replacing your browser content? Nice work.

    So nice to have you join the conversation.

  5. Wild Dingo says:

    I haven’t really experimented much with the ad stuff yet. Kind of lucky i was able to implement it at all. but it looks fun to do. I’ve been curious about some of the ads on my site too but i’m barred from clicking on them so i have to open a browswer and type in the URL so i don’t get in google trouble.

    I’m finishing up some web dev work then plan to do some content work for my own personal publishing goals. ad programming will be on list of stuff to do “better” for wild dingo and my other content sites.

    I had been using HostGator for a long time now really liked them and recommended them for any client not using “.net” e-commerce carts. But it doesn’t matter much to me at the moment as I hopefully will be taking a break from web work soon to pursue my other ambitions! :)

    Wild Dingo’s Rockin’ July 4th Holiday Week:

  6. Yes, I thought you were on a break, a busy one it appears! I’ll be happy to help you test out your ads. Just let me know. I’ve been trying to implement mine, but I may have to change themes.

    Look forward to watching those ambitions and dreams grow into reality!

  7. free web site hosting without ads…

    comment1…

  8. thanks for all this information

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