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Blogging Platform Options: Free vs. Hosted. Which Is Right For You?

Blog Circuit BoardWhen deciding which blogging platform you’re going to use, one of the first questions you’re faced with is whether to host it yourself or go with a “free” version that is hosted on another social blogging site. In an earlier post I outlined five important blogging platform questions  that you can use to determine what kind of platform functionality you need. Within those, there are often a range of free (or low-cost) and self-hosted blogging platforms to choose from. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option, each important to understand before you jump in with both feet.

Some blogging platforms come in both free and hosted versions, so you really have to know which will benefit you the most. I’ll tackle some of the pros and cons for each one by one, to give you a broader perspective of each option and how it might impact you and your blogging abilities.

The Cost of Blogging

There is always a cost associated with blogging. Whether it’s time, energy, effort or money out of your pocket. Most amateur bloggers will immediately look to the lowest cost option for blogging without other considerations. While it certainly is a factor, it should not be the only one.

Free Blogging Platforms
The most obvious benefit of this is that it’s, well, um, free! Or a very low cost. With this you get access to the blogging software with just about zero technical set up. It’s plug and play. Since your blog is on an established URL, it’s likely to be picked up pretty quickly by Google and you can have followers in no time, provided your content is good.

Hosted Blogging Platforms
The big downside here is that while the cost of the hosted platform may not be monetary, there are other costs such as technical set-up time, customization time, and potentially even the cost of hiring a developer to make it look just the way you want.

Technical Set-Up

The amount of technical set-up can be a deal breaker for a lot of online novices with little or no technical know-how. But not all blogging set-up is as difficult as it might appear at first blush.

Free Blogging Platforms
As I mentioned above, free platforms generally require no technical set-up. Other than creating an account, you’re pretty much good to start blogging right away. You’ll have options for customizing your look and feel, most of which can be done fairly easily by anyone, regardless of web prowess.

Hosted Blogging Platforms
Because you have to host these platforms, there is a great deal of set-up and some technical know-how that has to be implemented before you can start blogging. You’ll usually get a good set of instructions, but even to experienced people, these instructions can take a couple read throughs to get it right on the first attempt. I should point out that some web hosting companies actually have plug and play set up for WordPress. It may not be customized, but it takes care of the more complicated install. Once installed, making the site pretty is up to you, and can require some programming, depending on how fancy you want to be.

The Look and Feel

Customizing your blog can be an important part of your brand building. Generally you want a blog that feels like you. Templates can give you a wide range of customizable options, from very little to a whole lot of personalization allowed.

Free Blogging Platforms
With free platforms you’re limited on look and feel of the templates that they offer. Depending on which platform you’re using, you might have a decent selection to choose from. And most allow you to do some customizations. For many bloggers this is likely enough to get them started and be happy with for some time.

Hosted Blogging Platforms
Hosted platforms offer a lot of free and paid templates with a wide range of customizable options. Many are fairly easy; just install and you’re off. The more customizable templates require a bit if work to get the design and layout to look the way you want. With no shortage of templates, however, you’re unlikely to run into other blogs that look similar to yours.

Blog URL

The URL of your blog can make a big difference for your long-term success, depending on what successful blogging means to you. Many people don’t care if their blog is located at thisismyblog.yourblogsite.com or thisismyblog.com. But that difference can make a huge difference down the road.

Free Blogging Platforms
When using a free platform, you’re basically building your blog on someone else’s website. This adds a lot of layers of convenience, but it also causes some loss of control. One big issue is the long-term viability of your blog. If yourblogsite.com (or wherever your blog is set up) ever goes out of business, then you lose your blog, your content, your history and any “value” you have built over years of blogging.

Hosted Blogging Platforms
When you host your blog on your own server, you choose your own domain name, and you only lose it if you decide to stop paying your web host to keep the blog live. And if your web host goes out of business, you take your backup to another web host and import the database to restore your blog 100%. The other great thing is any value you’ve earned stays with your blog.

Search Engine Accessibility

Blogging is all about getting readers and followers. How successful you are as a blogger is generally tied to how many people are out there reading your content. This means you have to get search engines to find and give your content a strong enough value to earn your way into the search results.

Free Blogging Platforms
Free blogging platforms use the power of the existing URL and other bloggers to boost your blog’s relevance in the search results. Because the search engines already frequent that main blog URL, it generally doesn’t take long for them to find your new blog and give it some instant credibility.

Hosted Blogging Platforms
Hosting your blog means you’re starting from scratch with no history, no links, and no authority value. Those are all things that take time to build, and it can be a very long, slow process. As you blog, and interact with other bloggers, you’ll begin to be noticed which will get you indexed by the search engines—but building authority takes time.

Who Owns You?

The ownership issue can be critical for any blogger that wants to feel secure in who has say over what they write, or what happens to their writings should something go horribly wrong. This is can be a critical issue that should not be taken lightly.

Free Blogging Platforms
Unfortunately, while you may own your words, you don’t always get to control them. The platform rules can dictate what you can say, how you say it and what happens if you violate those rules. Many bloggers have been censored and/or have had their accounts removed because they ventured into a realm of opinion that differed from the powers that be. And when your plug gets pulled, you lose all your history, all your value, all your writing. Everything you have written is, ultimately, at the mercy of someone else.

Another downside to free platforms is it can be very difficult to take your writing with you if you desire to switch to another platform. Exporting options are limited and redirecting old pages to your new URL is virtually impossible. So any change you make to your blogging platform will essentially be a whole new start.

Hosted Blogging Platforms
When you host, you are in control. You can say what you want, how you want it and the only worry you might have is commenters who don’t like what you have to say. If you somehow fall outside of acceptable speech or behavior for your web hosts, you can easily take your blog and go somewhere else.

If you ever decide to change URLs, since you own your current URL, you can set up redirects to take your visitors from their old bookmarks to the new location. With these redirects, search engines will also transfer the value of each page of content from the old location to the new one. This gives you ultimate control and ownership.

Weighing these pros and cons of free verses hosted blogging can help you assess your long-term goals and desires. Each of these options have merit in their own right, and you must determine what’s important to you. Weigh these options carefully, looking at both your short and long-term goals. Sometimes more hassle now is better than a bigger hassle later. However, if you’re a small blogger and have no interest in “going big,” the lightweight options may be best for you in the end.

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