10 Considerations Between a Free Blog Service and a Self Hosted One

Every blogger makes this choice whether they know it or not.

[This is part of the Blogging Foundations Starter Kit Series.]

I’ve already listed out a bunch of things to consider when choosing a blogging software and blogging platform but it came to my attention that it might be best to focus in on some of the key considerations between going with a free blogging service and one that is self hosted on your own server.

It’s a decision that every blogger makes, whether they know it or not, as some simply do not know that the other option exists!

But engaging with this question as early as possible will make life easier down the road and perhaps stop a bit of heartache when significant milestones are reached and met in terms of your blogging goals and experience.

So let’s jump right in! Here is my list of the top 10 key considerations that I have used to counsel and provide wisdom for those engaging with this decision:

1. Money

Gotta spend money to make...

The most obvious factor is money. The free solutions that exist out there are just that, free, and won’t cost you anything! This is great if you don’t have money or you’re not willing to spot the coin just yet to see if it’ll be worth it long-term.

In fact, if you simply can’t afford a self-hosted solution, which will cost you some green, then you don’t really need to consider any of the next 9 items! That was easy.

But, if you’re on the fence, you may want to consider the spending of a small amount of capital a significant investment in the future, especially if you’re interested in making a few dollars in the long-run. So continue reading if you find yourself in that place.

[And I'd imagine that if you're here, especially you TentBloggers, that you're interested in making a few dollars by being a Digital Tentmaker!]

2. Technical Requirements

One of the nice things about a free blogging service is that you don’t have to manage anything as it relates to the technical parts of a blog. These things would include the following:

  • Web hosting and servers
  • Domain name registration, URL management
  • Blog software setup
  • Database setup, management
  • Software updates and maintenance
  • Down time, up time, bandwidth controls
  • File management
  • And more…

On a free blogging service most, if not all, of these things are handled for you!

Now, please note that many of the above things can be managed on a self hosted solution as well if their control panel is robust enough.

Don’t let the above list scare you, but if you go self-hosted you’re going to be responsible for more than just logging in and writing content! And, if you so choose, you could be responsible for all of those things (if that’s the way you tick).

The bottom line here is to do your research when it comes to the technical requirements that will be your responsibility.

Your blog is a creative expression of you!

3. Design

Although more than a few of the free blogging platforms allow you to change some of the styles (colors, themes, etc.) you will ultimately be handcuffed to their system and unable to have complete freedom with the design if you go with a free software solution.

For some of you this is not that big of a deal since the available looks, styles, and themes are more than enough for you and it may have never mattered that much anyways.

But, for many of you, controlling the design, layout, and styles is crucial for your blogging experience because the content is only a part of what it means to blog and express yourself (I totally agree with this, by the way). You need to be able to add your style, your character, your design to the blog and not feel limited or tied down.

As a result, you most likely will be looking into using a self hosted solution!

4. Features, Code, Functionality

I HEART jQUERY

This is very similar to the Design consideration above and almost for the same reasons. Free blogging services will typically disallow many neat features and functionalities that are available to self hosted blog systems.

For some of you this isn’t a big deal either since you just need to be able to type in content and hit the ‘Publish’ button. The neat Twitter widget? No big deal you say. The custom javascript effect that you saw on so-and-so’s blog? Eh, don’t need it you answer. Well great! You have your solution – go with a free software service.

But, if you like to tinker around with features that may not be allowed on a free service, like to experiment with small bits of code to add neat features, or are even a software developer, then the answer is obvious: You’ll be needing a self-hosted solution to give you complete development freedom to add those neat features that will engage your audience better.

Coupled with design freedom, a self hosted solution is killer.

5. SEO, URLs, Domains

Your blog is competing for attention. Why set yourself back already?

Most free blogging solutions will force you to have either a sub-domain off of their main site or a sub-folder (typically the former).

What this means is that your neat, creative, and unique domain name is now longer, harder to remember, and a bit more confusing to the end user. For example, what could have been:

www.theBestBlogEver.com tweet

Now becomes something like:

www.theBestBlogEver.blogspot.com tweet

or

www.theBestBlogEver.wordpress.com tweet

Both add a significant amount of characters!

What does this mean to your Search Engine Optimization (your ability to be found via search engines)? It has been noted by many that it makes it harder to find, especially as it relates to the particular keywords that you’re trying to capture, manage, and control.

What does this mean in layman’s terms? It’s worse for your SEO than if you had gone self hosted and ultimately impacts some other significant elements of your growing success (see #7).

Finally, it’s just not as pretty, which impacts your Brand (see #9).

6. FTP Access, Apps, Sites, and Email

Going self hosted not only provides you the freedom to design and develop your blog more creatively but it also gives you access to your server and hosting so that you create other neat things that may ultimately compliment your blog in ways that a free service could never do.

For example, there are a lot of neat web services and applications out there that you may want to setup as well that might increase engagement, readership, and response. Since you already have a server and host for your blog you can easily add these other applications at no additional cost.

Another benefit is hosting your own files, which may be extremely large in size. You wouldn’t be able to do this if you had a free service since they have bandwidth and usage caps typically (or at least caps on the size of your uploads).

Your ability to have smaller complimentary properties that can help increase traffic to your main blog is now a real possibility. Don’t think for a second that the reasons I have the following domains for personal branding isn’t for increased traffic to my blogs (http://john.do, http://john.ly, http://johnsaddington.com, http://johnthe.com, etc.)!

Since I have a self hosted installation for my blog I also can create these other small sites too.

Finally, you will also have the opportunity to have your own branded email account! Instead of a @Yahoo.com or @Gmail.com or @AOL.com (God forbid…) you can have your own email address! This is so sexy! This, of course, relates to your brand and legitimacy as a blogger (see #9).

7. Advertising

You want to make money, right?

This might just be the king of all reasons for a TentBlogger, and anyone who’s interested in making a few dollars via their blogging efforts.

You have limited freedom to create advertising and sponsorship opportunities when you are using a free blogging service. In fact, many of the free blogging platforms use you for their revenue generation! How does that feel?

There are a few platforms, like Blogger, that allow you to put your own Google Adsense advertising in the blog but not with the freedom and flexibility that’s going to provide high conversions In fact, it just makes your blog look ugly.

Way to go.

If advertising and sponsorship opportunities are in your future, then going a self hosted route is almost a no-brainer.

8. Terms of Service

This might not be a big issue for most blog platforms but it has definitely screwed up a lot of people’s lives historically. In other words, it only matters once you break the “law” and then you care about it.

What am I talking about? It’s simple: A free blogging service has their own legal requirements and terms of service that you must abide by to keep your blog up and running smoothly. What does this do practically? It may, in fact, limit the type of content that you can publish if it’s outside the boundaries of their TOS.

Most people don’t have a problem with this but there are enough stories out there where a large scale blogging provider considered some legitimate blogs as “splogs” (SPAM blogs) and wiped all their content. A blogger wakes up one morning to find their blog gone.

Now that’s a sad story.

But, if you had a self hosted solution you have the freedom to blog about whatever you’d like. Sure, you still have to abide by the TOS of your hosting provider but it’s much more freedom than 2 layers of TOS, right?

9. Your Brand, Legitimized

These look familiar...

This really is what is ultimately impacted when you review all of the other 9 considerations because they all impact how you develop your personal brand and the brand of your blog.

If you’re rocking a standard template and theme on a subdomain on a free service that looks like 1,000,000 other blogs out there then your brand is going to be quite weak.

But, if you’re on a self hosted solution you’ll be able design around who you are (and don’t forget that you’re unique; there’s only one of you ever in the history of the world!) and also add all those neat features that speak better about how you personally engage with your audience.

Also, since most free services thrive on leveraging your traffic to promote their service, their will ultimately be a little brand confusion for the end user. Just imagine if everything you blogged had  little tag that said: “Powered by Google’s Blogspot Blogging Software” or another such phrase? That takes away from your overall brand and messaging!

Finally, what it also does is prove, to some extent, that you’re completely serious about this blogging “thing” and by spending a little bit of money on a self hosted solution sets you apart in a big way. It legitimizes you in a way as a blogger and is the next step to taking over the blogging world!

It also gives you the opportunity for that sweet looking email address that is customized as it relates to your blog name (see #6). This, of course, puts you shoulders above other bloggers.

10. Control

I like Tron. Period.

Ultimately the difference is one of control, from every angle imaginable. If you’re interested in controlling your entire blogging experience rather than having someone else manage it than a self-hosted solution is for you!

I’m a control-freak (or so I’m told) and I couldn’t even imagine giving over control to some system or service that ultimately doesn’t have my absolute best interests in mind. And there are simply things that I want to do with my blogs that no free blogging service will allow me to do!

So the choice is clear! I need a self hosted solution!

The Bottom Line:

So what I would recommend for you, the new (or old) blogger is first to consider the financial piece of the equation. If you don’t have the money then go the free route! You can always move and migrate later.

If you’re not sure about this blogging thing in general (but you do have the money to spend) I would still go the free route first to see what it’s all about.

But, if you know that this is something you want to do long-term, care about flexibility and control, and also care about monetizing your blog property (that can eventually help the blog pay for itself), then look into hosting solutions and hosting providers for your new blog!

Good luck!

Finally, do you need another resource? Look into this comprehensive comparison between WordPress.com and WordPress.org!

[This is part of the Blogging Foundations Starter Kit Series.]

  • Kenny

    Nice list that says a lot of the things out loud.

    But basically, doesn’t it boil down to how serious the would-be-blogger is?

    If they are willing to invest any minimal amount of work into the blog, they should be able to make back the $8 in domain registration and $5-10/month most basic entry level hosting packages require via advertising and other revenue strategies?

    In fact, it is rare for me to pull down a domain once I buy it since they all break even or more through the course of the year just by putting up a single page minimum of content and contextual text and display ads.

    But for most new bloggers, I recommend that they open a blogger or wordpress account before they go to sleep tonight. The largest hurdles are not technology, or cost or brand strategy or anything else like it. It is getting over the inertia to just write those first posts and repeat.

    Your point is spot on – they can always convert to a self-hosted blog in the future at anytime….the big blog platforms all have easy import features to do this automatically. Or you can pay someone $20 to do it for you.

    Kenny

    • John Saddington

      Kenny,

      good points, but i strongly disagree. i’ve met people who are more serious about blogging than me who LOVE free blog services.

      Take for instance Lorelle ( http://lorelle.wordpress.com/ ) who is pretty much the godwoman of wordpress blogging. she loves wordpress.com!

      great stuff though.

      • http://www.essistme.com Kenny Jahng

        Point taken, but that was not my overarching point.

        My big point is that I want people to *just do it* and start blogging with a free service immediately. I see many people who get paralyis with analysis about formats, platforms, name or blogs, etc. And it delays their actual start of writing by weeks or months or they just never get around to it in the end. I rather have them just start writing on a freebie platform and get to know what itfeels like writing. They can find their voice only be doing it. And then the decisions to go to a self hosted service can be taken up later….or stay on the free platform like Lorelle…

        I hope this is not the part you are disagreeing with: just start writing and sharing your ideas with the world!

  • http://www.dewittrobinson.com Dewitt Robinson

    Great points John! At some point “the corner” has to be turned if a Tentblogger is taking their efforts seriously. Posterous is great for simplicity, but for reasons 7, 8, and 9 I opted to switch to WordPress.

    I know everyone looks differently at their blog (and they should). However, you’re either skipping through the park or you’re running this race.

    • John Saddington

      couldn’t agree more dewitt. posterous isn’t going to spot you coin (but i love it!).

  • Josue Izaul

    This made me think. I finally got my http://jizaul.com . I decided this will be my purpose-living blog ( a motivation blog, you can say). And keep the posterous as my personal blog, where I do what ever I want and blog about anything. What do you suggest? Get a subdomain from my jizaul.com and run both there? have two seperate self-owned domains? keep it as it is? change the site name for the purposeliving one and keep jizaul.com as my personal ( that make sense right?)

    idk – _-

    • John Saddington

      why have two blogs right now? wouldn’t your efforts be better at focusing all your attention on just one and then, when traffic and viability show themselves, break off?

      • Josue Izaul

        yes, very true. Just thought to have one blog with a serious topic (centered with themes like discovering your purpose,potential, calling, etc.) and the other as my “I fool around,make funny vids, ask questions,vlog a little.”.

        or is it too much?

        • http://stephenbateman.com Stephen Bateman

          I tried it. For me, splitting time between two blogs was an energy zapper. In fact it was so bad that I stopped blogging altogether for 8 months, and am currently in blogging rehab (aka tumblr).

          I’m sure you can do it, but be prepared for the energy required.

          • http://jorgesilvestrini.com Jorge Silvestrini

            Josue, agree with John and Stephen – between everything you do, and I know you do many things, keep one at a time. I’m in the same boat – you know I’ve been struggling about what to write and how to start. I’m decided, I’m going to dive in and swim! So – it’ll take some time – but I’ll just be ONE site, one blog, one everything. Then things will get slowly to their own!

            JS

            • Josue Izaul

              Yeh, Thanks Guys. I will just stick to my .com and do a mix of both and kinda do it informal.

              As it further evolves and begins to shape, like John said, I will “break off”

              Thanks JS and Stephen. :)

              And John

              And Everyone!

              • John Saddington

                :) sure thing josue!

            • John Saddington

              love that idea jorge!

          • http://www.essistme.com Kenny Jahng

            FYI: Setting up and understanding blogging via email can make publishing to multiple blogs that are niche focused can make it much easier in your personal workflow. By setting up easy to remember posting email address for each blog, it might actually be easier to maintain and publish multiple digital properties on the web.

            For tentblogging purposes, it would help focus contextual ad placements on each blog and increase the PPC rates for each. READ=more revenue.

            Kenny Jahng

            • John Saddington

              kenny,

              your strategies for making money are a little sideways for me. READ = don’t fully agree with them.

              there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, just different perhaps.

          • John Saddington

            yeah, i saw that one kind of die…

        • John Saddington

          might be too much, just like stephen is saying. unless you have the time and energy required, it might be best to start small.

  • http://www.randykinnick.wordpress.com Randy Kinnick

    Great stuff, John. I’m excited to finally get my new self-hosted site up and running. I really hope to simply break even after moving toward monetizing. Maybe…if the blog/site grows, I can begin to see additional income generated. That would be awesome!

    • John Saddington

      that would be amazing! why not, right?

    • http://www.essistme.com Kenny Jahng

      You know you can. You know you can. You know you can!

      Just encouraging you, bro. It is in easy reach. Seriously!

      Kenny Jahng

      • John Saddington

        thanks kenny!

  • Josh Fowler

    john,

    I am so new at this, it’s not even funny! I have a wordpress blog, with my own domain. Where do I fall in all of this?

    • John Saddington

      that depends on you josh. you’ve already gone self-hosted, which is great. what are your goals?

      • Josh Fowler

        I don’t really know what goals would be reasonable for me to have, however I have come up with an idea of where I would like this thing to go.

        1.) have 100 readers a day by the end of 30 days.

        2.) Link this to my twitter account (@joshfowler) and facebook. This way I can hit goal #1

        3.) Begin to make extra $$ within 6 moths.

        One note- I loved your post about picking a domain name. I landed on joshblog.cc. Do you like it?

        • http://www.essistme.com Kenny Jahng

          Josh, those are great short term goals. But hitting them won’t come easy or free! First, I recommend you publishing a post a day. This is a hard discipline, but without any content literally, it will probably be hard to get any subscribers. Don’t forget to make subscribing easy as A-B-C. Put the call to action prominently on the page. Next is getting out there and engaging in the communities you will want to influence and interact with. Find 5 other blogs with decent followings and start commenting on at least one blog a a day (5 is easy since there are 5 “workdays” and the 2 days left can be there for you to catch up) in a meaningful way. Converse with the people that are commenting there. Commeting on OTHER blogs ia one of the most efficient ways of getting new traffic to your own, but so many bloggers don’t do this. So they are left blogging in a vacuum. And that is fun. And make sure to leave your blog URL in the sig line and commenting forms whenever possible. That would be my $00.02 on where to begin. Hope these suggestions help!

          • John Saddington

            thanks kenny! you are so freaking helpful here… i should hire you to comment.

        • John Saddington

          sheesh. kenny answered all your questions…!

          ;)

  • http://analteredreality.com Kevin

    Based on number 10, what are your thoughts on platforms like EC2 and Rackspace CloudServers?

    • John Saddington

      great places to be, that’s for sure. starting at $11 bucks a month for cloud isn’t bad!

  • http://tinyurl.com/tomjam Tom Jamieson

    Hey John – Great Post! Definitely good information to have and to think about. As I said in a comment on another post, I’m currently in the process of moving from a free WP.com blog to a self-hosted WP blog at tomjamieson.com. #6 and #9 on this list are important to me, so having the information from your other points listed helps greatly. Thanks for sharing.

    • http://www.essistme.com Kenny Jahng

      BTW, whenever writing your URL on a comment or post, include at lease the www. or even the http://www. to increase the chances of having it convert to a live link for both practical click-through traffic as well as SEO purposes assuming the blog allows pass through of Google Juice.

      Kenny Jahng

      • http://tinyurl.com/tomjam Tom Jamieson

        Hey Kenny! Thanks for the tip!

    • John Saddington

      sure thing tom! it’s a process… and there’s no rush!

  • http://sphysick.wordpress.com Suzanne

    Great points – a lot of really good advice. Can I just chime in with one thing though?

    I started my blog on WordPress.com, then wanted things i couldn’t get on the free software (domain, email address, ability to add a better stat tool and design control etc) so went ahead and moved to wordpress.org but am back on wordpress.com now. Why? Traffic. The blog isn’t popular enough to generate it’s own traffic. The community on WordPress, the related posts feature, the ability to get on the front page of wordpress.com all makes it easier to develop a readership before moving to your own domain and your own publicity.

    Of course I fully understand that a lack of traffic has a lot to do with blog content and promotion so a lot of it was probably my laziness but for a new blogger I would actually recommend building an audience with a free software.

    Love what you are doing here John, learning some really great things!

    • http://www.essistme.com Kenny Jahng

      Great point! You might also consider keeping your self-hosted blog alive and cross link well to give it more exposure over time too. Perhaps publish the original posts on the self hosted one and them summaries or blog roundups on the wordpress.com one to keep getting traffic from that community. It would help your long term strategy of going to the other one over time easier if you start to think of easy ways of cross pollination now.

      Another idea is to publish the original posts on the free platform and use the self hosted one for related posts that are easier for you to publish there…like photo posts via email from your cell phone or audio/video diary posts or even if you automate a rss-in process from the wordpress.com posts and append with Facebook commenting or embeded forum feature there, etc to differentiate.

      BTW, what is the URL?

      You might want to also start adding a sig line to your emails and forum/blog comment posts.

      Cheers,

      Kenny Jahng

      • http://sphysick.wordpress.com Suzanne

        Thanks Kenny. I still have the domain and I intend to keep it – it just has a note on it to point people to the wp.com one but I will certainly think about your suggestions

        Domain is http://constantlyseekingsolutions.com
        Active is http://sphysick.wordpress.com

        I do put it in my email and link it to discussion comments. I guess patience really is a virtue!

        • http://www.essistme.com Kenny Jahng

          Just hopped over to your self hosted blog.

          Why not publish a post there explaining why your “moving” your blog?

          I would recommend putting up a subscribe form there for people that want to be notified if and when you return to blogging on that self hosted URL. I recommend Aweber although I believe John likes MailChimp. The point is start a list. That is where the “money” is. You may not want or need to literally monetize it later, but likewise you can certainly look to leveraging it towards your overall objectives later when you want to.

          Kenny Jahng

          p.s. John seems to be editing sig lines here and auto-hyperlinking the name which can be great. Perhaps he might disclose why he is taking that extra step beyond letting people see the actual URL being linked. And/or teach people how to add HTML for linking anchor text keywords in comments here on this site.

          • John Saddington

            honestly kenny, for you, it just looks so spammy at times. you have so many different properties that you’re managing.

            it is just bad form, to be honest.

            when i comment i use one domain, one email, and one name every single time.

            • http://www.essistme.com Kenny Jahng

              Ouch!

              First time being called out as a spammer. Intention in every comment today was to contribute to what I believe is needed in cybersphere – sharing tangible learnings with others, not to spam. Honestly.

              Tried different sig urls to see if you would accept one over the other. Silence is ambiguous at times and since you never mentioned it across all the comments, it was easier to just rotate and see.

              I disagree on the flat out position that that could be bad form, but that is another blog post right there.

              • John Saddington

                oh, don’t hear me wrong on this kenny. i mean, you’ve already helped a dozen+ people with their comments already! dude, i really appreciate that.

                i think i’m just going to have to say that it’s a personal preference thing more than anything else. i have full right to moderate and manage both the functional elements as well as stylistic presentation of comments. my goal is to never “harm” the original comment. i do believe it’s bad form BUT i understand the intrinsic value of it and sure, it gets you more clicks.

                (i’d love to restore links in your sig, just give me one though…)

                here’s a challenge (and suggestion)… since you have so many properties, why not create a strategic landing page that can showcase all of them instead of having multiple links? you could do a bigger and better job than what I do on my personal landing pages.

    • John Saddington

      suzanne,

      yes, that is a HUGE factor, and perhaps you’ll find a point of critical mass where you’ll leave that one and try again!

  • http://tinyurl.com/tomjam Tom Jamieson

    Anyone else love watching the back and forth between John and Kenny? Or am I just sick that way? :)

    • John Saddington

      kenny is a comment monster! he’s also been so helpful already. he’s also been a tentblogger for as long as i’ve known him, so he knows a thing or two!

  • Anne Dye

    I recently moved my blog from WP.COM to my own self hosted (WP.ORG). What would you recommend I do with the WP.COM blog? Is it suppose to be deleted? What would YOU do?

  • http://chewnibblenosh.com/ Christine Carlisle

    I ran across this post after asking the Google gods for help! I see that it hasn’t been commented on in a while, so I’m hoping I’m not too late. :) I currently have a wordpress.com blog and am looking to move to .org very soon, but my main worry is this…I have no programming/design/html/random-computer-brain-talk skills at all. How difficult of a move will this be for me? Once I switch over, what do I do??? Does my current site (theme and all, until I change it) show up at the .org address or is it just a bunch of html mumbo-jumbo until I figure it out? I already own the domain name, I’m just using it with the free site. Help!!! (Thanks!)

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      it all depends on what you’re trying to do on the self-hosted.

  • Rod

    So now, I am thinking. And I think this is the first step.
    Because I think..I am.
    I am a blogger.

    The own your own domain name I think is the best option.
    I thank you for your easy to read, good advice and I will make a blog and a blogger.

  • rod

    ahh..i posted a reply, but something said “as you are a new user..please click on the email to confirm your email address..” what/ where?

    • rod

      oh dear..I didn’t think first.
      It did work.

  • http://ridicuryder.wordpress.com ridicuryder

    We are in Christine Carlisle’s position above, (similar concerns) making the move to self hosted will mean greater flexibility and avoiding possible future constraints. Our content is fictionalized and provocative, it makes sense to have more elbow room on WordPress.org – we already have (and are developing) RidicuRyder.org

    We just began researching copyrighting and this is how we came to your content John, thanks for these details. As we understand things,we would have to move from WordPress.com to WordPress.org to copyright …..is that correct? Our Motorcycle trip has become a serial story where the Fictionalized Characters have taken on a life of their own – difficult to tell where it all will go (in case you ask about goals for Blog).

    Basically we would like as much freedom and control as we continue pursuing things, WordPress.com has been a great launch pad. It would be nice to avoid pitfalls (Christine’s concerns etc.) when doing the eventual conversion from WordPress.com to WordPress.org

    If you decide to “taste” the blog – start in July “Contraption Attachment Disorder” (it is far less confusing when viewed from beginning). Thanks in advance for your time, consideration and advice.

    RidicuRyder