This is part of a series on how to start a blog. This post deals with choosing a platform and blog host. T. Also see Part 1 – Choosing a Blog Name, Part 3 – The Basics of Blog Design, Part 4 – Creating Great Blog Content, and Part 5 – Promoting Your Blog.
Now that you’ve got your name all set, you need a place to put your blog – a hosting provider or platform. Below are a couple of options to consider when choosing a blog host.
When doing anything web-related, the first name most people think of is Google. Google provides a free, very comprehensive blogging platform known as Blogger. Any blog with a url like blogname.blogspot.com is a Blogger hosted blog, but there are some other blogs using the Blogger Platform (Tartelette comes to mind) that use their own URL’s and link structures, which I would recommend for reasons I’ll get into in a minute.
The other major blogging platform is WordPress (which, full disclosure, this site uses). Wordpress comes in two flavors – WordPress.com and WordPress.org. Wordpress.com is similar to Blogger, in that your default domain is blogname.wordpress.com, your blog is run by Automattic (the company that owns wordpress.com), so you don’t have total control, and there are some limitations on what you can put on your page (wordpress.com doesn’t allow for scripts to run, and doesn’t allow you to place ads on your site in the free version. The other flavor of wordpress is wordpress.org – WordPress.org provides a free, open source blogging platform software, but you need to host it on your own (or a shared) server that you pay for separately. When you use a wordpress installation from wordpress.org, you have total control over your blog’s content – everything except the hosting.
Which to choose?
Blogger is comprehensive, and if you have or are a talented web designer, you can really customize it. However, there are a couple of disadvantages to Blogger – one, your site is run by Google, and if they decided to shut down the blogger service (it’s happened before – remember google reader?) you’d be SOL. Second, Blogger doesn’t give you the same kind of control that WordPress (which I’ll get into below) does. Finally, I personally don’t find Blogger to be as user-friendly as WordPress. When I started TDF (then Savour Fare) in 2009, my only coding experience was a little bit of html knowledge. I found wordpress.com to be very simple to navigate. I’ve started several Blogger blogs over the years, and they never look or function quite how I want them to. There are lots of very professional, very successful blogs that operate on the Blogger platform, and you may find it suits your needs.
Personally, I will always recommend WordPress.org with a separate hosting provider as your ultimate hosting solution.
This is for several reasons:
- As I mentioned, I find the wordpress interface to be very intuitive and easy to navigate.
- Using WordPress.org gives you total control over your site – I have my site on a shared hosting space, but I can go in at any time and copy or move files from the server where my host stores them to my computer, to another host. I have backups emailed to me regularly, and if my hosting provider goes out of business, I can easily move my blog to another provider.
- WordPress software is constantly adapting. Wordpress is what most of the big bloggers use, and where the users are, so go the coders. There are thousands of coders writing bits of code for wordpress installations called plugins. You can find plugins to add almost any functionality to your wordpress site that you can imagine – and it saves you from having to write those bits of code. I have plugins that back up my database, that add coding to my recipes to make them printable and searchable, that make my site run faster, that guard it against hackers, that switches my theme to make my site more mobile-friendly when someone accesses it from a mobile device. I had to know next-to-no code to add all this functionality to my site, because there are so many coders out there working to create it for me. And if a plugin doesn’t work the way I want it to, or is incompatible with an updated version of wordpress, I can simply find another that does the same thing.
- WordPress is infinitely customizable. Apart from the plugins I mentioned above, I can really go in and tweak my website however I want. I can switch themes, and change the layout or the format within my theme. I can add fonts, and images, and extra widgets and colors. As I said, I was a coding newbie when I began this site, but over the years, I’ve picked up quite a bit (googling “How to add analytics to your blog header” or whatever it is you want to do frequently helps.) If I hired someone who actually knew what they were doing, I’d have even more options.
But I don’t want to commit the time and money to paying for hosting – I’m just starting this gig.
If you’re blogging just as a hobby, choosing Blogger as your blog host is probably fine (though you may still like wordpress better.) If you are blogging as a hobby but you might want it to be more, I’d start at wordpress.com, because a) you will become familiar with the wordpress interface and 2) if you do decide to migrate to wordpress, the migration will be simple and painless (really!) because the database structure for wordpress.com and self-hosted wordpress is the same – it’s a simple matter of exporting and importing.
Mapping your URL
Even if you do decide to start with a free platform like Blogger or WordPress.com, I’d STRONGLY suggest you map that URL you bought to your blog, so that your domain doesn’t end in blogspot.com or wordpress.com. On Blogger this is free – Google provides instructions here. On WordPress.com, this costs an additional $13 per year, and the instructions for setting it up can be found here. If you map your domain, your blog will have the address yoururl.com instead of yoururl.blogspot.com or yoururl.wordpress.com. That means, if you ever decide to change your platform (by moving to self-hosted wordpress, for example) all of the addresses for your posts and their links can remain the same, which is hugely important for making your site findable on search engines, and for making any links that anyone has made to your blog remain viable. You can just set up a redirect for your URL (so that typing in yoururl.com will send a user to yoururl.blogspot.com) but by taking the extra time to map the domain, you’ll be able to maintain all the addresses for every page on your blog, if you decide to move.
If you do decide you want to go for self-hosted wordpress, you’re going to need a blog host. There are a million hosting companies out there (and you will find a million complains about each one – it kind of goes with the territory). The blog host I’ve been using for several years (and one of the most economical ones for bloggers that are just starting out) is Bluehost. I don’t have 100% uptime, but the downtime is short and typically not at peak hours (like my site will be unavailable from 2:06 to 2:12 am, and since most of my visitors are based in North America, that’s OK.) Bluehost’s plans are affordable and they offer decent support. At some point, I may outgrow Bluehost (though they do offer higher end plans (where you’re sharing server space with fewer sites, or not at all)), but I think it’s a great, affordable blog host for a blogger that is just starting out or just moving to a self-hosted blog.
Once you’ve signed up with a hosting account with your host, you will have to add your purchased domain to your account, and then change the nameservers your domain is pointing to to the host’s nameservers (your hosting company will tell you what nameservers to use, and you can change the name servers at your domain’s registrar). The DNS (domain name server) changes will take up to 24 hours to go into effect, but once they do, you’ll be able to start building your site.
Most hosting companies use cPanel as a control panel, which can look incredibly confusing, but most of the cPanel features never get used. Look for a piece on the cPanel that allows you to install wordpress.org into the public folder of your primary domain – Bluehost makes this process incredibly simple, and you can get wordpress installed (for free) through Mojo Marketplace without leaving your cPanel. You can also download WordPress directly from WordPress.org and then upload it and install it to your site using the file manager feature on cPanel. Once you have set up wordpress, you will rarely have to use your cPanel again – you can make most changes – such as adding plugins or changing your theme – directly from your site’s wordpress dashboard. If you’re migrating an existing wordpress.com blog into your new site, you can do that using the export feature from the wordpress dashboard on your old site and the import feature on your new site.
Of course, if all of this is hopelessly complicated and you’re not interested in learning it at all, there are companies who will set up a blog for you (bluehost offers these services for example). One that I would recommend is my friend Andrew Wilder at Blog Tutor.
To summarize – when it comes time to host your blog, you can use a free option, like Blogger or wordpress.com, but my recommendation is to use a third party host with the wordpress.org software installed on it. If you don’t want to pay for hosting from the start, I’d begin the blog at wordpress.com, since migration to a self-hosted site will be easier later. If you do elect to begin with a free site, take the time to map your URL to your blog, as it will give you more flexibility later. Finally, you have lots of options for hosting companies, but one of the most affordable for beginning bloggers is Bluehost.
Hope this was helpful and not TOO confusing.
Next up: Blog Design (really what elements to include – I’m not a graphic designer).
I’ve been on the three (four if you count Live Journal) major platforms: Typepad, Blogger, and now WordPress. I probably would have stayed on Blogger but when Google+ was getting a big push from the company, all Google profiles were linked and they did something wonky with the commenting feature. After getting frustrated by people repeatedly telling me that they couldn’t comment on my blog because they didn’t have a Google+ account, I switched to WordPress. So far I am generally happy with it (I do self-hosted via Bluehost), but I do feel like I’m getting a lot more spam these days.