Blogging has become more common place. Anyone, and I mean anyone can create a blog and get started. The challenge now is standing out from the crowd and appealing to a larger audience. The blog community is saturated because we all think we have a blog that is new and that offers something unique and different.
People ask me how I managed to break myself through and start working for Irish Tech News and the answer is a combination of right time right place and hard work. I spent months blogging to nobody really, just doing it for myself before people started reading.
If you are just starting out as a blogger then keep in mind that it is going to be tough, you are trying to break through in an area where so many others can and are doing their own blogs. Don’t panic if your first blog, second blog or third blog fails. I had around 20 different blogs over the years before I finally made one of them work and I made it work because I stopped thinking of it as a blog and started thinking of it as a job.
So with this in mind, there are two routes you can go, free hosting where you get a blog for nothing or you can pay for your hosting and domain. The question is, what should you be using?
From a business standpoint, the value of a website is like asking the value of a phone number. Websites are now an important channel of contact between businesses and customers. Do you want one so that people can get in contact and do business with you? Of course you want a site. However as business owners will tell you (especially smaller owners), the idea of starting and creating a website can be nauseating.
So we know websites are important to a business, then we have a personal website or a blog and we can safely say that is also important because you created it, it is all your hard work. With this in mind, do you really not want to pay for any of it? Is it really not that important?
Blogging is hard work and you have to put a lot in to get something back out of it. What is wrong with free hosting then? Quite simply, you don’t get the necessary level of customisation and insight that you need as a brand or as a person trying to grow an online presence when your site is hosted by someone else.
However, when you have a self-hosted site on a platform such as WordPress.org, then you have complete control over what you want to use and how you want to use it. Some of the drawbacks of hosting for free on a platform like Blogger or WordPress.com are:
It is great having a blog, be it a personal blog or a blog for business. You know what would be even better? Earning a couple of euros from that blog. Ad revenue from a blog is not going to make you a millionaire overnight, it won’t make you enough money to quit your day job but at least the option and the choice to be able to make some money off ads is there on a self-hosted site.
Advertising on WordPress.com is prohibited. You can use WordPress.com’s own advertising programme but only if your website has “moderate to high traffic.” Get your own hosting, use WordPress.org and control advertising the way you want to control it.
No Plugin Control.
People love WordPress for the huge choice of plugins that are on offer. There are thousands of plugins created by developers for pretty much anything and everything you can think of. You can add all kinds of additional functionality to your website, social media sharing buttons, e-commerce platforms and more. However you can only do all of this on WordPress.org.
When you build a website on WordPress.com, a small bundle of plugins are pre-loaded, WordPress themselves say that:
“We include and configure the plugins for you, so you don’t need to worry about them.”
Well that is nice and all but as time goes buy and you see what other websites are doing I can guarantee you are going to see things you want on your own site that are only available via a custom plugin from a developer. If you use a self-hosted site on WordPress.org you gain access to a library of thousands of plugins that you can use.
No in-depth Analytics.
When you sign up to a free WordPress.com website you get access to some very very basic analytics. You basically get access to how many hits on your website and where those hits are coming from online and in the world.
You are unable to use any other form of analytics and I don’t need to tell you the advantage over using something such as Google Analytics to the built in stuff from WordPress. Analytics are important, you need to know how many people are reading your content, where are they coming from and that gives you an idea where to target your audience.
With Google Analytics you see in-depth information, you see pretty much everything. From gender demographics to real time data, bounce rates and pretty much anything and everything you can think of. Oh and you guessed it, this kind of neat feature is only available on a self-hosted website. See a trend here yet?
No Control Over Your Domain.
Believe it or not, anyone who owns your domain can delete or suspend your site at any moment. That includes WordPress.com.
When you sign up to WordPress.com you don’t actually own the domain, sure you registered the domain but you still don’t own it and that can be a big problem. Like any other service, WordPress has terms of service (TOS) and everyone must agree before they set up their own website.
Now lets be honest, who here reads the entire TOS? Exactly. So for all you know, you are violating WordPress.com TOS from the moment you setup your site. Lets say on the off chance WordPress.com catches up with you, they can suspend your site without notice. Their policy states that:
“If a blog has been suspended for violating our terms, its domain/URL and content will not be returned.”
If you own your domain, pay for your hosting then you don’t have to worry about anyone coming along and spoiling the party.
Now, with all this in mind there is actually a benefit to free hosting and here is where I think it fits in and how you should be using it.
Should I Be Using Free Hosting At All??
There is no denying that it is incredibly satisfying to build a website from scratch and not have to spend a penny on it. There are plenty of free hosting blog options out there such as Medium, Blogger and WordPress.com.
When you are starting a blog, I would suggest you start with free hosting and the only service I would recommend would be WordPress.com. Start out with that and live with the negatives and restrictions before you start looking at switching to self-hosting websites.
The reason for this is down to my own personal experiences with starting blogs. As I mention near the start of this article, I have had countless blogs in the past and they all failed up to 60 Second Social. That website survived because I stopped thinking about it as a blog and stopped thinking about blogging as a hobby and started thinking about it as a job.
That mindset along with lucky timing is how I got the opportunity to join Irish Tech News. If you want to make a success of your blog you are going to need to pay for your hosting and domain at some point. That is just the way it is, and even when you do that there are still no guarantees that you will make it a success after that.
People now make the mistake of thinking that once they start to blog everyone stops to listen and that is simply not the case. Start out with free hosting and make sure you have the commitment before paying money to use a self hosting alternative.
If you sign up to WordPress.com then you can move everything over to WordPress.org hassle free when you decide you want to pay. Good luck with your blogs and hopefully this will help people who may be asking themselves, “Should I be paying for hosting or is free just fine for me?”
For people using Blogger, this is what Amy Schmittauer of savvysexysocial.com has to say on it.