Better Craft Blogging PART 2: Choosing a blog platform

Welcome to the Better Craft Blogging Series! Don't forget to check out Part 1: Setting Goals. Get the entire series delivered to your inbox by subscribing!

This week we're discussing blog platforms. Should you start a blog on a free site (which one?!) or a paid site? Do you need web hosting? A developer? What platforms do your favorite sites use? We'll discuss if all!

Better-craft-blogging

There are many different blog platform options available. Before you make any decision you'll need to ask yourself a few quesions.

  • Is your blog just for fun?
  • Are you willing to learn html or CSS?
  • Do you want to spend money?
  • Do you need great customer service?
  • Is owning your own content important to you?
  • Do you want the freedom to put advertisements on your blog?

For your viewing pleasure I've made an oversimplified infographic to help you make your decision about which blogging platform to choose.

Blogging-flowchart

Let's talk platform pros and cons.

Blogger (blogspot.com)

Pros:

  • Free
  • Easy to get started
  • With a little googling you can get a very decent looking blog tailored to your needs

Cons:

  • Google has control of your blog and the ability to block you out if you violate their terms. (I've read more than a few stories of people claiming they didn't violate anything but still lost everything)
  • Difficult to fully customize without a lot of html knowledge.
  • Not as many widgets and pluggins as wordpress.

WordPress.com (not to be confused with wordpress.org)

Pros:

  • Free
  • Relatively easy to set up and get started.
  • Can more easily switch to wordpress.org later, if desired.

Cons:

  • You cannot put ads on the blog
  • WordPress.org sometimes runs ads on your blog. But you don't get the money.

Typepad 

Pros:

  • Great customer service
  • Clean designs and easy setup
  • Ability to have multiple blogs on one account
  • Customizable
  • Unlimited storage
  • No knowledge of HTML or CSS necessary (though you can customize with them)

Cons:

  • Costs money ($8.95/month and up)
  • Open source plugins not available

WordPress.org

Pros:

  • Completely customizable.
  • Hundreds of templates available to suit your needs.
  • Open source software means there are many plugins available.
  • Easily design a high quality blog.
  • Most blog developers and designers work with WordPress.org.
  • No knowledge of HTML or CSS necessary (though it helps).
  • WordPress.org is viewed as more professional than blogger (rightly or not)
  • You own your own content and site.
  • Hire a professional to design a highly professional, beautiful site.

Cons:

  • Must pay for hosting ($6.95/month and up depending on host & needs). The larger your blog is and the more services you want from your web host, the more money it costs. 
  • Premium themes will help you customize WordPress but the themes cost money. Thesis, Genesis and Headway are the most popular. Within these themes, you can purchase "child themes" or templates to further make your design work easier.

Other free options: Jux, Tumblr, Posterous Space, Live Journal, Blog.com 

Examples of blogs on each of these platforms:

WordPress.com blogs:

Blogger blogs:

Typepad blogs:

WordPress.org blogs:

Does that give you a good idea about the differences between the platforms? Now let's hear what some bloggers are saying about them!

Kirsten from kojo Designs recently switched from blogger to wordpress:

Blogger- love the customizability (esp for those like me that have very little HTML knowledge).
WordPress- love the higher traffic, don't love the learning curve at the beginning nor the difficulty of customizing small things.

Kristin from Skirt as Top uses WordPress.com:

When I started my blog, I actually started Blogger, Tumblr, AND WordPress blogs. WordPress is the one I liked best personally – I sort of wanted built in analytics right off the bat and I don't think Blogger offered that at the time. If you're just starting, you don't need to know HTML or CSS to use WP; though i like having the option of editing both of those now.

Amy from Naptime Crafters uses blogger:

I'm on Blogger and intend to stay put  I love how user friendly it is for a beginner and how well it integrates with all things google.

Aimee from byAimee, and Small Anchors uses wordpress.org:

It's like opening a word document, making some changes + hitting save. tremendous community of support. endless plugins. own your content + images. control over customization and functionality. free platform with minimal hosting fees.

Karen from One Girl Circus uses wordpress.org:

There's nothing I don't love about wordpress.

Jessica from Me Sew Crazy uses blogger:

I'm in the blogger bootcamp, and the more I discover, I feel like with a little hacking you can do just about anything you want with Blogger too. That being said, any professional out there will tell you WordPress is the way to go. I think they need to sit down and think about what their long term goal is. If it is simply to blog, and they don't know a lot about html and blogging platforms. Then yes, go with Blogger by all means. But if they are thinking about monetizing in other ways (their own store, classes, etc.) – then WordPress. There is something to be said for taking the bull by the horns and learning the hard program right off the bat. Then 2 years down the line you won't be asking – 'How do I make the switch?'

 

But just know – ALMOST everything you want to do in WordPress, can be accomplished in Blogger. All you need to know is a little html, and the right google word search to find out how to do it.

Melissa from Melly Sews just switched to wordpress.org:

I would still recommend starting with blogger to a newbie, even one that wanted to monetize long term. I just did the switch myself (bought an ebook on how to do it which was very thorough) and it wasn't as big a deal as I thought it would be. Nor as expensive, since I did it myself. All the HTML I learned easily through blogger is coming in handy as I learn to hack CSS. The main things for me behind the switch were the SEO (and I have already seen a unique visitor increase, just since switching Saturday night, and it's not like my content is so much better this week than last, and I'm not even utilizing the SEO tools to their potential) and the fact that technically, google provides the platform for your content and could shut you down at any time. Not that they would necessarily, but I've just gotten to a point where even the slim possibility scares me. That being said, I do miss how easy blogger's interface was to use – I feel like wordpress is much more complicated. I'm also a big fan of using free until you get to the point where paying makes sense, so unless they already had a pretty successful business/audience in place, self-hosted wordpress doesn't make sense to me to start with. And starting at wordpress.com comes with some inherent roadblocks to monetizing that aren't there with blogger, but it would make the switching to self-hosted easier. But then you're back at the user interface not being as easy to use as blogger. Also, the truth of the matter is, not everyone who sets out to have a blog and build a following ends up having the drive and commitment to write great content regularly and build that following. So again, I think blogger trumps in terms of being free to make mistakes without monetary penalty.

Destri from The Mother Huddle uses wordpress.org:

I started out on WordPress, and I tell anyone that asks to start there with a premium theme. It costs a little money up front, but so worth it. I have Thesis for TMH, and though I love it (you can SEO the crap out of everything) you really need to have a developer. You can change quite a few things on your own with just the click of a mouse, like 3 column to 2 column, template width – you can even use hex#'s for colors throughout the theme. But for any heavy lifting, a developer is the way to go. I used blogger for my family blog and just wasn't a fan.

And what do I think?

I started this blog 5 years ago. I didn't know anything about blogging but looked at blogs I loved and many of them were on typepad at the time. I opened a wordpress.com and a blogger account and found it wasn't simple to make a clean white design. If I had taken a few hours I know I probably could have changed them both to suit my needs but I was a newbie so I went with typepad because it was easy. Super easy. I love the interface and how easy it is to plug in your own widgets and html. I'm slowly getting into customizing the CSS but that isn't necessary at all. Would I do it over again here if I had to? I might, actually. I think it is great for SEO and the customer service is unbeatable. Whenever I have a question they respond in a very timely maner. I've never had any service interuptions. 

Other selling points? Photos are easy to edit or resize right in typepad. It is easy to add tags or rename photos and links for better SEO without messing with the HTML. Yes, I'm pleased with typepad. For the amount of service the price is definitely right! As the blog grows I won't have to pay more money to get more space. I can also add more blogs for free.

HOWEVER, my two newer sites are both on WordPress.org. I first opened my Go To Patterns on WordPress.org because that's a no brainer for a store. I use Genesis (a premium theme) with a child theme for the store. This way I can just plug in my products so easily. I have never customized the CSS or HTML on the site any further. I might, at some point but right now I have no need. I was overwhelmed by the interface at first, but only because it was new. Now I see how it is pretty easy to understand. Formatting the font is the only thing I wish was easier. You can't just increase font size with the click of a button.

When I started Go To Sew I debated heavily about whether to use typepad or wordpress.org. I can add new blogs to my typepad account for free. That's huge. By all accounts I should have done that. However, I discovered I loved the theme I used. It would have taken more time and work for me to create that from scratch in typepad so I paid $39 for my child theme and saved myself a week of work. That money was worth it for me. I use the same hosting service as my pattern shop so there was no additional cost for hosting. For now, I'm pleased with my decision!

So you want to switch to wordpress.org.

What now?

Do it yourself! If you have the time to read this book or this one and do the leg work yourself you can do it on the cheap!

Hire someone to move you. I've never switched a blog to wordpress but I've used byAimee for a couple other jobs and she does great design work. Her team knows what they are doing.

What's the one thing everyone agrees on?

Buy your URL now. It makes it easier for people to remember your URL and it might not be available later. Come back for PART 3: Naming Your Blog for more URL details!

Part 1: Before You Start Blogging

Was this helpful? What do you think about all the blog platforms?

Comments

  1. says

    This is a really great post, Andrea! It was really interesting to see what everyone had to say about the different platforms. I’ve not had any problems with blogger and love that it’s free and pretty low maintenance, but I can definitely see the perks of wordpress. I will pin this, though, for future use!

  2. says

    What a fantastic resource! One thing that I don’t quite understand about WordPress.org is how the hosting works. Is that through WordPress? Or somewhere else?

  3. says

    WordPress is beginning to get into hosting themselves but their prices are rather steep. I use hostgator.com for my hosting. If you want simple, you can go to a host (host gator, blue host, godaddy) and buy your domain name (if you don't have one) right from them, sign up for hosting and do a one click wordpress.org installation. I know developers don't recommend one click installation if you want to do much customization but I did it with my most recent site. I don't plan to do a lot of customizing down the road so hopefully I won't regret that. But wordpress does give you step by step instructions for installing the lengthier way so I don't think it would be that difficult. 
    I'll be writing more about all this next week for the series. Let me know if you have more questions! I'd love to answer them!

  4. says

    Hi there…this post was great, it just helped me understand a few things better. I just started blogging, and have a self hosted site, mainly because my husband does web hosting for a few local businesses so he just set me up that way. But my web knowledge is still really limited. One of the questions I have is how to comment on blogs hosted by blogger, but still link back to my site. There is a wordpress.com option listed, but I don’t see how to do it for wordpress.org. I am in love with this online sewing community, and just want to connect! (you know, since my real-life friends are like…you sew? why? ha)

  5. says

    This was very helpful & got some wheels turning in my mind.
    I’ve been blogging for over seven years on Blogger.
    I love my blog. I’ve managed to do pretty much anything I want to do with it over the years, and I like the design & layout, and composing & posting, too.
    But I feel like it should be so much further along that it is.
    I see all of these new blogs (many of them don’t even use original content, and some of them aren’t all that inspiring or great at all) and they have all these followers & what not!
    I’m curious if that is what missing for me in blogger.. chances to expand.
    http://ourfunwithfive.blogspot.com/