[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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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:
Now becomes something like:
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).
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
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.
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!
[This is part of the Blogging Foundations Starter Kit Series.]