You have an idea. You have a .blog domain. You even have a few blog posts written and ready to go. But what will you use to publish them? Registering your domain is is an important step — but it’s not the only step. Choosing which blogging platform to use is the second most important decision you’ll make.
Your “platform” is the software or service you use to publish your content online. In the early days of blogging — and website-building in general — most sites were hard-coded: every page had its own HTML file, and the HTML had to be changed manually for any new content or updates. Later, people created content management systems like Joomla and WordPress to automate much of the behind-the-scenes part of website-building and simplify the process of publishing on the web. Today, knowing how to code is no longer a prerequisite to blogging. Instead, with online services and software, it’s possible to sign up for an account and create a blog — sometimes even within minutes. The software does the heavy lifting, taking care of the bulk of the code required to create a website online. With that out of the way, all that’s left is to write and create your content with the tools your platform offers.
There are quite a few blogging services and platforms around today. While so many choices means there’s definitely a blogging platform that will fit your needs, it can be difficult to know where to start. Ask yourself these questions to decide which option is best for you:
What’s my budget?
Blogging platforms and software can range from absolutely free — like the open source project, WordPress.org — to paid models with dozens of custom features and services. When considering blogging platforms, keep your budget in mind and think about what you’re willing and able to invest.
If you’re just getting started, a free service like Blogger, Tumblr, or WordPress.com is a great option; you can get a simple site up fast, and focus on your content immediately. However, if you’d like a little more control over how your site looks and what it does, you may want to consider software that you can install on your own hosting provider — rather than hosting all of your content with the service itself — like WordPress.org.
Keep in mind: if you decide to self-host your content, there may be some additional costs, like monthly hosting fees and labor costs if you decide to hire a designer or developer to take your site to another level.
What’s the support like?
Free products and open source software are great resources for your site, but each one will have a different level of support available. If you set up your own hosting to install the open source WordPress software, your primary resource for assistance will be the volunteers at the WordPress.org support forums.
While many forums and online resources are filled with just as many experts as a business with a fully-fledged support team, some people prefer the security of a dedicated support team. If you’re new to building websites and would like a more hands-on approach to creating your site, a managed hosting plan may be up your alley. Managed hosting is when your hosting provider installs the platform for you, takes care of any needed updates or backups, but also allows for more flexibility than most free blogging platforms. A brief Google search — i.e. for “managed WordPress hosting” or “managed hosting for blogs” — will uncover companies and services in your area, using different platforms at a different budget levels. Managed hosting means you’ll more than likely have direct access to a support team who can help with any questions.
How flexible is the software?
All blogging platforms will allow you to create a blog feed where you can publish your posts and share new content with your audience. However, there are a variety of other features you may want. Keep your site goals in mind when picking a platform so you’re sure it can accommodate your needs.
For example, is your blog a standalone, or will it be part of a larger website? Do you want to tie it in with your other social media platforms? Will you be selling anything or do you need a way to collect email addresses from visitors for your newsletter?
With a list of features in mind, that will help you wade through all of the options out there to ensure that you don’t begin building your site on a platform only to find out later that it won’t work for you.
How much control do I need?
For the vast majority of new bloggers, an out-of-the-box blogging platform is all they need. However, if you’re a company that needs specific, additional features on your site — a search option if you’re a real estate agent, or a secure contact form if you’re a doctor — you may need some custom features.
Using an open source software like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla gives you the freedom to edit and adjust the code as needed. With shared hosting providers, like Tumblr or WordPress.com, there’s often a limit to how much custom code you can add (shared hosts need these limits to ensure the security of other bloggers on their platform). Generally speaking, self-hosting your site, through providers like Bluehost, A Small Orange, or SiteGround will allow this type of customization.
Can I change my mind later on?
Over time, the purpose and needs of your site might change. If you decide to switch to a different domain, different hosting provider, or even a different blogging platform, it’s helpful to know in advance what your options are. Many people keep their blogs in the same place for years and years, but others may need to shake things up.
Before settling on a platform, do a quick search to see if there any importers and exporters that exist, or if the platform offers any information on moving your content. While many platforms have a way for you to take your work with you, some don’t. Knowing that you can package up your content and bring it with you anywhere keeps you empowered and in control of your site.
There are many platforms out there — but don’t let analysis paralysis stop you! A little advance planning will equip you to make an informed choice that will carry you through the early days of your blog to decades into the future.