A guide to choose your blogging platform

choose your blogging platform
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series A Beginners Guide to Blog

Choosing a platform for your blog may look like a simple enough task, but that can be deceiving.

You will be amazed at the high level decisions and nuances in those decisions once you start going through the process of blog setup. It is best to come here prepared.

There are two primary things you have to start with when selecting a platform:

  • 1

    Choose your own domain

    This is the URL that you enter in the browser (e.g. technosanct.com, technosanct.blogspot.com). The first one looks more professional, doesn't it?

  • 2

    Choose your hosting

    This is the "computer" that will provide you space, bandwidth, CPU to run your website

 

What are your options for choosing a domain and hosting?

Let me divide the available options for people with different budgets. Creating a blog is akin to making an investment. You are going to spend hundreds and thousands of hours to write, design, and put together content. So, think hard about the long term feasibility of an option. 

I strongly recommend you start with the Smart option – you will see why.

 

1. For the cash constrained

Money is precious to all of us, and more precious to most of us. Splurging money on blogging without having a clear idea on the returns is not a comfortable thing to do. You would want a annual budget to work with – even with the most passionate of your blog topics.

You have to balance between the “best of the best” vs. the cost while trying to decide the platform.

The cheapest option is generally not the best option, but I do understand the “newbie apprehension”. You do not want to start spending money before you know the initial and ongoing costs. So how does it look if you can do something for free?

Here are some great blog platforms that are free for life:

 

Create a blog on wordpress.com

You high quality hosting from WordPress.com, and get a domain ending with wordpress.com – e.g. technosanct.wordpress.com.
You will not have complete control on your site/blog – you will not be able to add more plugins, add any themes, or try to mess up your WordPress installation.

wordpress.com

You could also map the blog to a custom domain (e.g. use http://technosanct.com instead of technosanct.wordpress.com). That will cost money  – $13/domain/year + your domain registration/renewal charges. Alternatively you could also pick the up the domain through WordPress.com itself at $18/domain/year.

Overall this is a good option to start free and you will get enough exposure on what to expect from WordPress. My suggestion is not to buy space or domain from wordpress.com while starting up. You can also extract all your posts here and drop them into your own WordPress sites with minimum fuss.

 

Use tumblr.com.

tumblrYou get a free host from Tumblr, and a free domain name (e.g. technosanct.tumblr.com). You can map this blog to your own domain name for free. Tumblr allows you to display ads, and 

Tumblr looks and feels better than Blogger, and you are entertained and inspired enough by other Tumblrs to write more than a few posts.

What you will miss is a solid blogging interface, help with optimizing pages for search engines, and layout that is considered flexible for the written word.

Tumblr blogs do not look like professional blogs and are not considered for serious blogging. But they can be a good platform if you have some photos/images to show off.

 

Create a blog on Blogger!

create a blog on blogger

Yes, the good old Blogger is still relevant. Blogger gives you a really fast host, and a strong backing of the domain that is liked by search engines. It also enables you to map a custom domain for free, and also allows you to display ads on your blog.

Blogger offers more than a few customizations for the blog. There are a few professionally made templates for the platform, but that needs a lot of searching around. Blogger themes is not a thriving market, and at the end of the day you will still be constrained by the underlying platform. 

 

If I had really no money today, I would go with Blogger simply because it allows me to display ads and make some money that can be reinvested in a WordPress site!

 

2. For the smart spender [recommended]

Smart spenders invest in self-hosted WordPress. Self-hosted gives you the same power of WordPress behind WordPress.com, with the difference being that you will search for your own host.

wordpress.org

Self-hosting is not something to be afraid of. In fact, you are going to accomplish most of the things here with just a few clicks. This is the recommended option for getting started with your own blog.

You will find more details about this option later.

 

3. For the comfortably well off (a.k.a “I want the very best, duh!”)

Managed WordPress sites deliver maximum value for those who want to focus on their blogging alone, and do not worry about the rest. The provider will worry about keeping your blog in supreme condition, keep it updated and provide the best performing platform for your blog. You will just focus on adding content, and making sure the users continue to love your blog.

My best recommendation for managed content is WP Engine.

wpengine

 

I tried WP Engine for free for the 60 days, and I was blown away. WP Engine hosts your blog on WordPress, and they make it blazing fast. If you are looking at just creating content for your website, without worrying about hosting, optimizing the site, updating WordPress and so on – this is the option to choose. Their plans start at $29/month.

So why did I move out? Well, as the title of this website says, I am a technologist. I missed out the “down and dirty” part of managing WordPress. Ha, I know you did not believe me. It was just the money – I could not afford it 🙂

You will not need WP Engine when you are getting started. But if you absolutely know you are blogging about a topic that attracts visitors in thousands, then you may want to consider something that as scalable and requires lesser maintenance.

 

Free is not free

free is not freeBy this time you may be wondering why choose a blogging platform that costs money when you can do the blogging for free. Well, I cannot blame you. 

I started technosanct.com on Blogger (where it exists to this day). I even had a post explaining why I continued Blogger even though my blog contains references to Drupal, WordPress and other platforms considered far more powerful than Blogger. 

After about 2 months of endless tuning to get the blog look & feel right, I got frustrated enough to move to WordPress. The problem on Blogger was multi-fold:

  • As I put together new content, I got some pretty good ideas on how to make content more appealing, link content and grow my blog. Blogger does not scale well beyond the basics
  • I could not understand why some of my posts were not shown as relevant to the content within the search engines. I could not find much help with search engine optimization techniques on Blogger
  • With as few as 40 posts I was finding it difficult to link posts, and feature ever-green posts
  • I had ideas on creating my own digital product, and it was not a pleasant experience to create “locked” content and membership sites with Blogger

My advice – yes, certainly start with free platforms if you cannot afford a few dollars. But do not continue on them for a long time. Find some ways to earn money, reinvest, or invest from your own money. Remember to treat this like a business opportunity even if you are blogging about your passionate of the topics.

I also found out the hard way that I am not serious until I spend some money!

Money spent = big motivator to get it back from my blog

 

More about recommended blogging platform

By now you have seen what I recommend for your blog. 

  • choose your own domain
  • use self-hosted WordPress

This is the comparatively easy to maintain, and you have all the power you need for today and for the foreseeable future. Find out more about why I recommend this option.

 

Why choose domain?

A domain represents a brand. It represents your identity, and carries your voice online.

You do not want that voice to be usurped by others. After your 50,000th post at Blogspot (mysuperdomain.blogspot.com), you do not want to see someone else capitalizing your hard work through an independent domain (mysuperdomain.com).

Choose a “.com”, or a “.net”, or both to represent your brand.  That will get you all the respect your brand deserves from people and search engines.

There are hundreds of other “top level domains” made available now. Unless you are going after a highly sought after brand word, you do not need to “reserve” or “buy” other top level domains. That can even come later 🙂

Domains are cheap and cost anywhere between $1 to $10, do not pay more than $15. You would have to pay money on a yearly basis for retaining domains, but you have an opportunity to transfer them from one seller to another.

 

Get your own domain

Getting a domain is really easy. You just go to one of the domain name providers, choose your domain, pay the domain fee for one year (or more), and you are set.

You will be emailed your invoice, and domain name details. You will set up your domain to point to your host later.

My top 2 choices for domain name registration are below.

1. GoDaddy

Go Daddy Web Hosting WordPress

GoDaddy is known for quirky ads, and for reliability. Look for deals on the domain names – they often have those, and snatch them up at prices starting from $1 per year.

DoDaddy is not the place where you want to renew after an year – they often charge more than competition for renewals.

 

2. NameCheap

I have used NameCheap before, and recommend them for their inexpensive price and some good support. 

namecheap domain hosting

 

NameCheap also hides your personal information (like email and phone), rather than displaying them in the whois information. The renewal rates are not exorbitant, and you will find good deals from time to time.

You do not really need a lot from the domain name providers. You will be good as long as you are paying the annual fee. Their support is crucial in case where they loose some payment information, or your domain transfer gets bad. Just stay with big names in the industry, and you should be ok.

Once you buy the domain, the information on how to access the domain, and map it to your future host will get into your mail box. That is it for now.

 

Get Hosting

Hosting will supply you with space, CPU and bandwidth. While domain determines your URL, host is where your website is stored.

shared VPS dedicated hosting

As you can imagine, hosting is the most crucial part of your website. Hosting directly influences the space available for your website, and the speed. So, be careful while choosing your hosting provider.

Look for standard hosting features while choosing your hosting provider:

  1. Space available for your website: Typically unlimited, but many come with a upper cap. The cap on space may not be clearly called out. Check with the provider if expect to occupy lot of space (images, videos tend to take up quite a bit of space)
  2. Bandwidth: typically unlimited, but quality can vary. Specifically check for any bandwidth constraints. Every provider out there will advertise the unlimited bandwidth, quality is a more difficult metric. 
  3. CPU: This is the number of CPU cycles that your website can use. No one publishes it, and you can assume it as unlimited with paid hosting.
    Your normal WordPress site should not have any issues, but a few plugins may act up to consume more cycles than necessary. You will not come to know how many cycles your site typically uses unless you get a notification from your hosting provider.
  4. Easy to use control panel: All the options available for controlling your website. For e.g. ability to extract uploaded zip files, ability to install WordPress in one click, etc.

 

Hosting providers offer various types of services at varying budgets.

  • Shared hosting is a term used to signify that the same computer resources fire multiple websites, and is the cheapest hosting option. CPU cycles, space, memory is shared amongst all websites on the same server.
  • Virtual Private Servers (VPS) ear-mark dedicated space and CPU for your own site. They act like your own servers on the internet, but the underlying hardware cater to different websites. VPS is typically more expensive than shared hosting.
    • VPS can be completely managed by you – the provider gives you a box with operating system and basic software. You will install WordPress, any required software, and you will debug any issues with the software. 
    • Managed VPS is where the provider helps you manage VPS
  • Dedicated Servers are the best option that you can get for self-hosting.  You will get your own server on internet, with the specifications to match your budget.

I use shared hosting, but have plans to switch to VPS when the blog pulls in more users. VPS guarantees better performance than shared hosting, and may be required in an year or two of starting your blog. But that comes at more cost. Take a look at a sample pricing chart that outlines shared vs. VPS vs. dedicated hosting here.

Reliable shared hosting starts from $3-$5, and goes upwards. Typically more the money, better is the hosting service. Always read the fine print.

 

Below are my two recommendations for hosting providers:

1. iPage

iPage hosting is what I use for this site. I was looking for a best-value hosting option and glad I found them. Their support is not too technically inclined, but do respond in a timely manner.

ipage logo

I can host unlimited websites with the same account. The websites are agreeably fast, and except for performance issues that dogged me for 2 weeks, I have had no problems in since 2013.

 

2. JustHost

JustHost offers very competitive rates for shared hosting.

justhost logo

What more, you also get domain name free with hosting options with annual payment. I continue to host a few websites with them. I have never been dissatisfied with them, but they do not quite delight customers.

 

There are quite a few experienced bloggers out there who recommend not having your hosting and domain with the same provider. I have a few sites where hosting provider is different from the domain name provider, and few where they are the same – no problems so far.

 

Quick Conclusion

Ok, time to measure your progress if you are following the beginner blogging guide.

You have seen what to blog, and how to set up and get your blog on the web. By now you should have a clear idea about what you need to do, and the best resources available for your budget. You will also have the resources lined up to begin blogging!

Get going with next steps.

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