Hosting Your Own Blog 101

People keep asking me questions about hosting their own blog – how does it work, should they use WordPress, should they use Blogger… I’m no expert but I’ve been there and done that so here’s the answer I give them.

If we’re talking about WordPress then it’s important to understand that there’s two different things here that are sometimes confused. One is the software that runs the blogs and the other is the domain that hosts them.

WordPress is free open-source software that runs blogs. You can download this software from wordpress.org and install it on pretty much any webserver i.e. copy it into the directories of a web hosting account. The web server then runs it for you and lets you do all the things you’d expect from a blog (upload stuff, edit stuff, display your blog to visitors etc).

Alternatively you can let someone else do it for you – and that’s what wordpress.com is – a website where you can sign up for your own blog and let someone else worry about the hosting and making sure there aren’t any errors. Note the distinction…  wordpress.org is where you can download the free software, wordpress.com is one place that runs that software to let people write blogs.

wordpress.com runs WordPress software with a couple of restrictions. Some of the restrictions are:

  • a choice of their supplied themes only
  • limited tweakability
  • limited sidebar widgets
  • it costs extra money to point your own domain at your blog
  • no advertising
  • very limited plug-in availability

To expand on some of those restrictions:

  • widgets are mini applets which can appear down the side of your blog. Things like tagclouds, archive lists, blogrolls etc
  • pointing your own domain at your blog allows you to have www.myblog.com instead of myblog.wordpress.com. Note that most people achieve “www.myblog.com” by buying that domain name and pointing it at a hosting account which runs the wordpress.org software. But if you really want to, you can buy the domain name and point it to a blog hosted at wordpress.com. It’ll cost you $15/year and you still have all the other limitations but overall you save money and someone else worries about keeping the blogging software working and up-to-date.
  • Plug-ins are small bits of program that can be added to the WordPress blog software to add new features – some of them are aimed at appearance, some at administration. Pretty much the only ones that wordpress.com supports are for statistics and spam filtering but there are thousands out there which can be added to a self-hosted WordPress blog.

Note the subtle distinction between plugins (which can modify the WordPress blog software to do anything) and widgets (which add some display functionality).

Similar to wordpress.com vs wordpress.org, there’s a distinction with Blogger between the Blogger software and the host that holds it at myblog.blogspot.com. Although one difference here is that the wordpress.org software is open source and freely available or you to install and run on your own server. The Blogger software is not – it’s owned by Google. So if you’re running a Blogger blog then you’ll never have full access to the flexibility that you can get with a wordpress.org blog. But you can point your own www.myblog.com domain at a blog hosted on blogspot.com, just the same as you could with wordpress.com

A WordPress blog hosted at wordpress.com vs a Blogger blog hosted at blogspot.com is really a matter of personal preference. In both cases you’re buying into a community which will get you visitors that you wouldn’t get if you were striking out on your own. However in both cases you’re also limited in what you can do with the blog by virtue of the fact that you’re running on somebody else’s website. The flipside of that is that the search engines will love you more (to start with at least) because wordpress.com and blogspot.com are both well-known domains that the search engines trust.

Note that the restrictions on blogspot.com hosted blogs are different to the restrictions on wordpress.com hosted blogs. If you aren’t keen to self-host but there’s something in the restriction list for one platform that’ll affect you then have a look at the other – you might find you can do what you wanted to do. Advertising is the one that springs to mind: not allowed on wordpress.com, allowed on blogspot.com

If you have plans to do this seriously, or even if you just want to play with it seriously, I’d recommend skipping the hand-holding and restrictions of wordpress.com and going straight to a self-hosted blog using the WordPress software. However to do this you need two expenses – you need to buy a domain and you need to buy web hosting. These will run you about $12/year and $6/month respectively. You may already have one or both of these.

This is what my wife Helen and I have done. We have a hosting account at BlueFur that we pay about $6/month for. The actual domain that points to that is juicybags.ca but if you click on that you’ll see that there’s very little there. We also have two other domain names that we own (one of which you’re looking at right now) . These domain names both point to sub-directories on our BlueFur account. In each of those sub-directories we have the WordPress software installed so if you go to either of those URLs you see one of our blogs. Because we’re running our own copies of the WordPress software, we can do anything we want with it. Helen’s just had her blog completely made-over with a custom theme. Both blogs have a whole stack of plug-ins installed.

Helen’s blog was originally a Blogger blog, mine was originally on wordpress.com. The WordPress software makes simple work of importing an existing blog along with all your posts, comments and categories from either platform. However you’re starting from scratch when it comes to themes, layouts and generally giving your blog your personality. You may consider this an advantage 🙂

It’s hard to argue against the WordPress software if you want absolute control of your blog. You control the software, you can do anything you like with it. You CAN write custom layouts with blogger but you’re not controlling the underlying software so the degree of control you have is less than if you’re running WordPress. The question really is whether you want something that you can’t get from a blogger blog or a wordpress.com blog.

Having said ALL of that, it’s content above all else that makes a blog. There’s plenty of enormously successful and busy blogs out there running on Blogger with a blogspot url and also plenty of self-hosted WordPress blogs that are never updated and never visited!

There’s all manner of other blogging platforms out there and everybody will offer a recommendation and it’s almost always going to be to use the same platform that they use – like asking people what’s the best car to buy.

But there’s nothing wrong with the ‘non WordPress’ platforms – there’s lots of high traffic, high quality stuff on Blogger. One of Helen’s Blogger favourites is www.keeperofthecheerios.com – like many Blogger blogs the only ways you’d know it was on Blogger are the top banner line and the comments page. To the best of my knowledge you’re never going to completely hide the origins of a Blogger blog the way you can with a self-hosted WordPress blog (look at http://blogs.zdnet.com/mobile-gadgeteer/?p=1731 for instance – the only way to know that that’s WordPress is to study the HTML). But for most people, who cares? Blogger doesn’t prevent you from having a stylish blog, it just means your style is going to be different to a WordPress blog.

One of the core differences I see between self-hosted WordPress blogs and Blogger blogs is the use of plug-ins. Stick a couple of plug-ins on a WordPress blog and you can radically change not just the look & feel but also the functionality. THIS I believe is key to the advantage that a sophisticated blog gets with WordPress – plug-ins are effectively changing and extending the WordPress code. Although I should point out that a lot of the WordPress plugins are concerned with improving comment functionality and that’s probably because a self-hosted WordPress blog loses a lot of the sense of community that you get with Blogger or wordpress.com… suddenly you’re just a single blog out there on your own on the internet. Things like Gravatars and CommentLuv help to tie your comments back to the blogs of your visitors – and that sense of community is a big factor in building readership. Not as big a factor as good quality content though!

2 comments to Hosting Your Own Blog 101

  • There’s yet another reason WordPress.com blogs do so well with SEO (so well I wouldn’t leave WP.com unless I HAD to put ads on a blog). Every time someone uses a tag or category on WP.com it counts as a link to the Global Tag Page for all of WordPress.com. That makes each global tag page hugely important in search engines’ eyes. AND it counts as a link from that hugely important page back to your individual blog post.

    I think Sergey and Other Guy have a contract out on Matt Mullenweg’s life. Seriously, you won’t find anything as powerful as that.

    raincoaster’s last blog post..Total Eclipse of the Original

  • Self hosted WP is always my choose.
    It is a total freedom in blogging.
    lol 🙂

    Sage’s last blog post..Web Based Accounting Software