We have all experienced the tumultuous behavior of social media channels and what happens when they go down. Right? Or get buggy. Given how huge these channels are it is a miracle there are not more glitches where things do not work. When it comes to your business, a social media channel not working can have some negative effects but you will survive as Facebook or Twitter sort things out. But when it is your blog or website the results of a problem with the provider can have huge effects on your bottom line.
A good exmampel is what happened on Tumblr, the very popular and free blogging platform. Tumblr recently down for two days. Apparently the folks at Tumblr were doing some simple scheduled maintenance and well… they had some difficulties. According to founder David Karp as posted on TechCrunch “Some scheduled maintenance yesterday that wasn’t intended to interrupt service went haywire and wound up taking down a critical database cluster. Rebuilding the entire cluster has been a painfully slow and manual process, but we’re almost through. We’ll be posting a recap when we’re back up.”
This is a perfect example of why it is important for people to consider whether or not they want to use free blogging platforms like Tumblr, WordPress.com, Blogger, etc. Free comes with limitations and a big one is that you are dependant on the free service to keep your data safe and always available. If the service goes down due to “unforeseen difficulties” you have to sit back and wait for the company to get it running again. Meanwhile you can hope and pray your content is safe and will be present when they get things up and running again.
So what should you consider when choosing a blogger platform and whether to use a free platform or invest in a self-hosted blog? Here are 5 things to consider:
1. Search Engine Optimization
If you are blogging to draw more search engine traffic to your business website – than you will want to have a self-hosted blog platform incorporated seamlessly as part of your website. WordPress.org is my preference not only for the blog but as the platform for your entire website to be built upon it. It is a free open source platform that you can install on your server (or have a developer install it). WordPress.org is similar to WordPress.com with the main difference being that you install it on your server and therefore control the content. WordPress.org also allows you more flexibility with developing the platform to fit your needs than WordPress.com. WordPress.org is also more flexible and will garner better SEO results than WordPress.com.
2. Safety and security
Are you blogging just for fun, or do you have a business purpose? If your blog is simply for fun than perhaps a free site is ok. You are beholden to the free site’s policies, procedures and such but if the content is not that important this option may work for you. But beware a third party host can change the policies and procedures at anytime, can go out of business and can simply go down for days on end and you are out of luck if these things happen. If being offline is a problem for you (such as you blog is part of your business website) then you will want to look at self-hosted options such as WordPress. I would also recommend you hire a company that specializes in WordPress development and hosting to ensure your website is backed up on an ongoing basis and your website and server are secured.
Do you want to be able to add specific functions to your blog? Invest in customized layout, graphics, etc. All free blogging platforms allow you some ability to add functions such as RSS and social buttons. You can also choose pre-designed templates and do some customization for many free and low cost blogging platforms. But if you want specialized customization you may not be able to get what you want with a third party provider. I would also caution investing large amounts of money in customizing a website/blog that is not on a platform that you control and can switch servers, move around as you like. You will be stuck using the service you are connected to and as your business or blog grows you may find you need something more robust than a free service or low paid blogging platform. I have watched many bloggers who started on free platforms have to move eventually when their reputation grows and their blogging traffic increases and they outgrow their free service. It is painful to leave an investment such as a blog on a free service to move to a blog platform you own that is more robust and will do what you want. It’s important to think about this early on and recognized that you may end up having to move someday if you start out with a free service.
When setting up a blog consider the future. Do you want to be able to grow the features of your site as your blog grows? Are you thinking your blogsite may turn into a business website some day? If the answer is yes, than consider investing now in a self-hosted option. It will save you a lot of headaches down the road when you decide to expand. Sometimes it can be hard to predict the future. I am guessing that Beth Kanter – nonprofit tech extraordinaire did not envision her blog being a central focus of her career when she set up her first nonprofit tech blog on Typepad years ago. Yet her blog is one of the most popular nonprofit tech blogs in the industry today. After 13 years of blogging she ended up making a painful choice to move over to a self-hosted blog. Why did she move? Probably because she wanted more control over the content, control over the customization of the blogsite, control over SEO and control over hosting. She ended up having to leave all her old content behind and simply link it to her new blog. That is a decision I would not want to have to make and it is a decision that can be avoided.
Obviously free is nice. Free is simple and free is well…Cheap. But making a small upfront investment for your blog may be a better option. If you are serious about blogging, the investment may help you to stay committed. If you are starting out and simply playing around than a free platform may be the right choice. It all comes down to what your purpose is and what you hope to get out of blogging.
It’s true that most bloggers start out with a simple idea and kick it around for a bit and most may not go far. For the very new and recreational blogger free is not a bad option and there are many great blogs out there that exist in the free or inexpensive hosted blog world of Tumblr, WordPress.com, Blogger and others. But when you start it is good to sit down and ask yourself some questions about your purpose and what you hope to accomplish.
If you are a business and you plan to blog and have it be part of your website, you should consider building your entire business website on WordPress.org – we build a lot of small nonprofit and small business websites (you can build a simple WordPress.org site for a very small investment to get started) and then you have a blog and business website that are 100% operating seamlessly as one cohesive website/blog. This will help your SEO, that’s how people find you on Google and Bing. The investment for a business to own their blog and their content is important and should seriously be considered.
So which way should you go if you are new to blogging? Free is always a good place to start and it will help you get your feet wet. But step back and consider why you are blogging, what you hope to get out of the blogging experience and what things are important to you long-term.
If you are not sure what to do feel free to contact us and discuss your options with us. We will help you decide what is the best route for you to take depending on your goals today and in the future.