Your Perfect Fit: Choosing a Blog Platform
April 24th, 2011
Choosing a blog platform is a big decision, but it doesn’t have to keep you awake at night. Whether you’re just starting out, or thinking of switching platforms, you’ve come to the right place.
For this week in the Better Blogging series, I’m comparing four blog platforms — Blogger, Tumblr, WordPress.com, and WordPress.org — and going over how to choose the right one for you.
When starting out, choosing a blog platform will be one of the first things you decide. It will determine quite a few things:
- How your blog is structured
- How — and to what extent — you’ll need to manage your blog
- How you’ll design your blog
- How much money you’ll shell out
As you can see, it’s a big decision! You should take your time to decide on a platform, although in the excitement of starting a new blog it may be tempting to rush into it — do you research. It can cost you time and money to switch later on.
What’s your budget?
Blog platforms come in at a variety of price points, and some may even incur additional costs. You should consider the price of the following:
- The blog platform itself
- Your domain name
- Hosting for the blog
- Blog add-ons
Hosted options like Blogger, WordPress.com, and Tumblr offer the platform, the domain, and the hosting for free. WordPress.org offers the platform for free, but you must pay for a domain name and hosting.
As for design and blog add-on costs, they really depend on what you want. All of the blog platforms discussed here include free beginner templates, and all can be customized to some point. Blog add-ons like additional storage (Blogger and WordPress.com offer these) will cost extra as well, so keep your goals in mind.
How tech savvy are you?
This is a biggie. If you’ve never had experience with creating a website or blog before, you may opt for something a bit more hands-off. Blogger, Tumblr, WordPress.com, and WordPress.org all offer beautiful themes and easy set-up. I’d have to say that WordPress.org is the most difficult of the four to start with, but it’s still not too tough overall. You could always hire someone or enlist the help of a tech-savvy friend.
WordPress.org may seem intimidating for many beginners, but most hosting services will assist with your WordPress install, many even have one-button installs. One thing to remember with WordPress.org is that there is a vibrant and helpful community of users out there, and resources are easy to come across via Google and the WordPress Codex — you’re not alone!
What are your goals?
Probably the most important aspect to consider: Nailing down your goals before you even build your blog is key. Even if you don’t plan on building anything more than a personal fashion blog, it’s best to consider how you’ll grow, and what your needs will be as time goes on. Here are a few basic questions to ask yourself:
- Will I want to place ads on my blog?
- Will this be a hobby or will I steer it towards a more professional application? Will I be doing this longterm?
- What will the main purpose of my blog be?
Of course, we can’t always predict what you’ll do or how your blog will end up, but it’s always a good idea to have some sort of strategy — it can save a lot of time and can steer you in the right direction.
Many bloggers start out with a hosted blog platform, because it’s easy and usually free. In the fashion blogging world, I’ve found Blogger and Tumblr to be the most popular amongst hosted platforms, followed by WordPress.com.
So why are they called hosted platforms? Well, it’s their domain and you’re hosting your blog on their servers. It’s usually a very easy set-up process and you’re on your way to bloggy goodness. With these options you’re required to use a URL with their domain name in it, like searchanddresscue.blogspot.com, unless you want to buy your own domain.
- It’s free: The hosted options I talk about here are free, and you’d only run into extra charges if you buy add-on storage or your own domain name.
- Easy to set up & run: These sites can have your blog up and running in a matter of minutes and often have easy-to-use interfaces and features.
- Automatic updates: You don’t have to worry about uploading new software onto a server or face update complications.
- Indexed by search engines quickly: Since your blog is now part of an established domain (blogspot.com, tumblr.com) it will be picked up by search engines quickly, but your content will be the determining factor of where it is ranked!
- Upgrading to a self-hosted platform like WordPress can be tricky.
- Generic URL: With hosted options, if you don’t buy your own domain you’re stuck with ______.wordpress.com, for example. Many times a unique domain is seen as memorable and more professional, but to each his/her own!
- Far less control: With hosted options you’re stuck within that platform’s box. You’re at the mercy of their servers, you don’t technically own the domain, and customization options are often far more limited.
- Design Limitations: This ties in with the above point, but it deserves its own bullet! Hosted blogs can sometimes look very similar to others, and don’t always offer full control of your design like WordPress.org.
Your other option is choosing the self-hosted route for your blog: Your own domain and your choice of hosting. WordPress.org is a powerful self-hosted platform that allows for simple posting and full customization — I’ve powered my blogs on WordPress.org for over three years now, and wouldn’t ever go back.
- Full design control: If you can dream it, you can usually do it with WordPress.org. I’ve even built non-blog sites with WordPress — it’s that flexible.
- Plugins: If you don’t think WordPress.org does it, there’s probably a plugin for it. If you want your blog to do something, there’s probably a plugin for it.
- Free software: Although you have to buy your own domain and hosting with WordPress.org, the platform software is free.
- Domain: Having your own domain name is a huge plus. It’s memorable, professional, and easy to brand.
- Full control of your content: Although you own your content on hosted platforms, when you self-host you literally own and control your content. You have access to everything on your server, you can manage your files/photos on your server, and pretty much do whatever you want.
- Set-up: Set-up can be complicated for some people depending on your level of tech savvy. WordPress.org is notoriously easy to plug-and-play with most hosting services, but it can still be intimidating. I recommend Media Temple hosting for ease-of-use — installing WordPress is a breeze and the interface is amazing.
- Cost: While WordPress.org is free, there are other costs involved with self-hosting, and it all depends on where you buy your domain and hosting. I believe that you get what you pay for when it comes to BOTH of those things. You need to consider a dependable host and domain registrar! The base Media Temple hosting package is $20/month, but you get an amazing interface, service, and uptime among other things. I buy almost all of my domains from domainmonster.com. It’s cheap and their service is tops.
- Updates: With WordPress.org, you must install your updates as they’re released. I don’t know if I’d really consider this a con though, as the process is completed at the click of a button within the dashboard.
- Hosting issues: Depending on your hosting provider, you can run into issues. Again, that’s why I believe you get what you pay for. Although you can really run into this wherever you go — anyone remember the great Tumblr outages? When you’re self-hosted, always remember to back up frequently!
I created a handy-dandy chart for easy comparison between Blogger, Tumblr, WordPress.com, and WordPress.org.
* No Adsense, Yahoo, Chitika, TextLinkAds. High traffic blogs (25,000 pageviews/month) sometimes allowed ads. No sponsored/paid posts, or certain affiliate links. See WordPress.com’s full restrictions on advertising.
** Can purchase an SMS upgrade for WordPress.com for posting, moderating comments and more.
*** Picasa offers 5 GB to 16 TB of space to Blogger users for purchase. Certain things don’t count towards your 1 GB limit, more info.
**** See Space Upgrade for more info on upgrading to more than 3 GB of space.
***** Every host is different. Examples: $20/month package at Media Temple includes 100 GB of space.
Tools & Resources
- WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org: WordPress’s own comparison.
- WordPress.com’s advertising policy
- WordPress.com’s premium features list and pricing
- WordPress.com support
- WordPress.org support
- Tumblr help center
- Blogger help