The vast array of blogging platforms available fall into one of two categories: hosted or self-hosted. These could also be described as free or paid. To work out which kind of blog platform is best for you, think about the purpose of your blog. Consider whether the following factors are important to you and why?
- Scope for customization
- SEO functionality
- Setup time
- Choice of URL
Hosted vs. Self-Hosted Blogs
Using a free or hosted blog is primarily considered a suitable option for amateur bloggers. With a free blog, it's possible to sign up, choose a template and start blogging to the world within a few minutes. The features of these blogs can be very limited, including the ability to monetize them, but this is fine for people who are experimenting with blogging or want to keep things simple and begin immediately.
On the other hand, paid or self-hosted blogs are more suited to businesses and professionals, because: there is far more scope for customization - with a self-hosted blog, users can adapt the blog design to match their branding and style. A free blog is easier to identify as such due to their generic blog templates.
You can use your URL - Free blogs normally include the name of the blog platform provider in the blog URL. Not only does this suggest to viewers that it is less professional, but it also severely limits your ability to perform SEO. Search engines look less favorably on free blogs when it comes to rankings, and the blog platform provider controls the SEO, not the blog user.
You can monetize your blog - As a self-hosted blog user, you can place adverts on your page that are typically not allowed when using free versions. What's more, many free versions place their adverts within your content as a condition of using their platform, which means that they make advertising revenue from your traffic, not you.
Require more time and technical know-how - Due to the potential for customization and optimization, users of self-hosted blogs are likely to experience a longer set-up time than those using free blogs. The benefits of making your site unique, consistently-branded, relevant and professional-looking, however, are worth the investment of time.
Getting the most from a self-hosted blog may require some understanding of HTML, CSS and how to install and customize specialized plugins. While some learning may be required, your access to these elements is what will allow you to differentiate your blog from off-the-shelf templates provided by free blogs. If you discover that do not have the skills to do this yourself, there are professionals who can take the work off your hands and get the results you desire in a short space of time.
The Top Blogging Platforms
Here is a rundown of some of the top blogging platforms currently in use, with a comparison of cost, popularity, and their features.
Wordpress has set the standard by which all other blogging platforms are measured. It's worth nothing that Wordpress is not only blogging software but is also a content management systems, allowing users to create sophisticated websites, portals and applications. According to BuiltWith's Content Management Usage statistics, 40% of CMS users employ Wordpress.
At the core of its success is its combination of an accessible dashboard for users and sophisticated software for developers. It provides access to thousands of plugins to extend the WordPress software and gives developers the ability to change the software itself. This functionality is reserved for Wordpress.org, which is the self-hosted or paid version, as opposed to Wordpress.com, the hosted or free option.
Wordpress software is open source, but you'll need hosting and a domain. Hosting starts at about $50 per year upwards and you can purchase a domain name from around $10 per year.
Many plugins have free and premium versions, such as Yoast SEO for optimizing your Wordpress blog for SEO.
While installation can be tricky, the popularity of Wordpress is such that many web hosts offer one-click Wordpress installation. Its position as the top blogging platform and CMS mean that there are many helpful resources and tutorials available all over the net.
Being the free version of Wordpress.org, Wordpress.com offers limited customization and fewer templates. Advanced features such as plugins are restricted, and it may place adverts alongside your content.
Despite its limitations in comparison with the paid version, Wordpress.org remains a very powerful blogging platform and content management system and is extremely popular. Free sites can be upgraded and migrated to the paid system if and when users are ready.
Like Wordpress, Joomla is not only a blogging platform but a full content management system. It has been described as more complicated to use than WordPress, but it can be much easier than Drupal.
Joomla can be expensive. The initial month of use is free, but then charges range from $20-$100 per month according to chosen options and upgrades. For this reason, this platform could be considered most suitable for business users who are already generating a profit from their business.
About one out of every 100 content management systems are running Joomla, making it the 4th most popular CMS. It is most popular with business and technology websites.
Another complete content management system, Drupal is an excellent option for blogs associated with businesses. Note, however, that this is an enterprise level content management system, can be highly complex and expensive to maintain.
It does not host blogs for users, so users need to organize their own hosting. It is not generally considered suitable for beginners due to the complexity of using the software, so it's most suited to experienced bloggers with web development skills or those who can employ professionals to help with the technical aspects.
A Drupal implementation can cost anywhere from as little as $10 per month to get the infrastructure to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the business needs. The cost of this platform is driven by the need, typically, for specialist web designers and developers to customize, enhance and maintain the website. As such, costs are often monthly rather than fixed.
Drupal has around 10% of the CMS market share. It is most popular with businesses and large corporations because they have the resources and the need to make the most of Drupal's complexity and flexibility, with its wide range of content options.
Since it was bought by Google, Blogger has given users access to many Google tools which are integrated into the software, including Google toolbar and analytics, Google+ and a mobile app for Android.
Blogger lacks customization, so is more suited to personal blogging and though it is not considered a professional level blog it can be used to create an entire website and can be monetized using Google Adsense.
The software is completely free to use, but users must have 'blogger' or 'blogspot' tagged onto their URL.
Blogger is extremely popular, currently the third most used CMS, partly as a result of how easy it is to set up, create pages and manage them.
Moveable Type offers both free and enterprise level solutions. It's easy to install, especially if users choose to host with Moveable Type too, but it can be tricky, to use. Wordpress is considered easier to work with and there are limited resources for help if things go wrong.
The paid version of Moveable Type requires a license, which can cost between $50 and $1000 depending on how many people will be using the software behind the scenes.
This blogging platform has been popularized by the fact that it is very flexible and customizable, and it is working behind the scenes on Barack Obama’s website.
This blogging platform is notable for its advanced search capability, website tracking, and enhanced comments functionality.
The software is free to use, and BlogEngine hosting can be purchased for less than $5 per month.
The platform is relatively new, so it's harder to find support and people in the know, but improvements are continuous and wide-ranging.
It's early days for Ghost compared to Wordpress. John O'Nolan founded the project, the former deputy lead for the WordPress User Interface team as a result of his frustration with WordPress' complexity when used only as a blog.
The Ghost self-hosted blogging platform uses open-source software to provide an attractive blogging experience and a fully customizable design.
Focusing on blogging, it provides a very fast and streamlined experience for bloggers and readers. It is inherently simpler and quicker to blog with Ghost than with Wordpress. Its SEO functionality is incorporated into the site, so there's no need for a separate plugin, and analytics is also integrated.
Ghost.org also handles for hosting side of things for you, so you needn't perform a different sign up with a hosting service and transfer files.
While users can build a business around a ghost blog and scale it as the firm grows, it is not optimized for e-commerce.
Despite what might be considered a lack of themes and templates, it is still more flexible than blogging platforms like Tumblr, Medium and Quora in terms of editing markdown, changing layouts and content types.
$5 - $10 per month
Relatively new, work is ongoing on customizable plugins.
Some users have said that it can be difficult to install, however, and its relative newness means that support is not so widely available as with a more established site like Wordpress.
By upgrading from Ghost to Ghost Pro, users will benefit from installation, updates, and tech maintenance being carried out on their behalf. Also, site usage and associated costs are determined by actual hits, not by bandwidth.
Ghost Pro costs $29 per month.
Again, this site is relatively new in the blogging space, but with the backing of ex-Wordpress deputy lead John O'Nolan, the platform has firm supporters and a growing following.
tumblr.com is a microblogging and social networking site, appropriate for simple, fast-paced, short form content. The software is extremely fast to use but inflexible. Posters also lose the rights to their content, since anything published on the platform technically belongs to Tumblr.
According to Statistica, at the beginning of 2016 Tumblr had more than 275 million blogs.
Tumblr is a top site for millennials (people currently aged 18-34) particularly popular with artists and professionals who benefit from short messages and a visual medium. Users of Tumblr find that they have access to a ready-made audience. These blogs, however, can neither be customized nor scaled as a business grows.
Quora is not just a blog, but a question and answer site. It's a good place to demonstrate subject authority and connect with people seeking solutions.
As with Tumblr, posting on Quora does not come with access to customization and all content created technically belongs to Quora.
Driven by members of the team behind Facebook, Quora comes with solid backing, innovative ideas, and expertise. According to Alexa, the site had around 145 million visitors in March 2016. Anyone blogging via Quora has access to a vast audience looking for answers from experts and business owners.
This platform was developed by the makers of Twitter and the founder of Blogger. It combines a blog with social networking in that it contains content curated by editors, shared by users, and ranked and linked by popularity and similarity. While it has become known for celebrity posts, professional standard journalism and high-quality, polished and thoughtful posts, its owners are keen to shake things up, reintroducing spontaneity to the site with shorter, more off-the-cuff posting.
As with Quora and Tumblr, Medium affords users access to an audience, making it easier for blogs to develop a following.
The editing platform is thoughtfully designed, but the blog itself has limited customization and users do not own their platform.
This platform has the capacity to allow users to create genuinely striking websites, from galleries and artist portfolios to online stores. It's possible to achieve beautiful designs using a modern template and the drag-and-drop system. It is also possible to use more than one template at once on your website.
The Style Editor allows users to personalize colors, layouts, and even fonts, of which there are a great many to choose as your starting point. The site also offers a logo creation facility to personalize your brand.
Blog posts made using Squarespace can be scheduled using their software, and there are advanced options for SEO, analytics, comment management and e-commerce.
Squarespace takes care of hosting, and customer service is 24/7, which might be particularly useful for those going it alone regarding web design and customization.
There is a 14-day free trial, after which users can choose from $8/month for what they call a 'simple' website, which offers 20 pages, 2 contributors, the ability to receive donations and sell one product. with a 3% transaction fee. or the $18/month business option, which allows users unlimited pages and contributors, the ability to sell 25 products with a 2% transaction fee, professional email, $100 of Google Adsense credit and access to the develop platform.
Squarespace is the site creation and blogging platform of choice for over a million users across hundreds of industries. It's attractive, customizable templates for galleries and portfolios make it a very compelling option for artists and visual creators, but the site is flexible enough to accommodate all kinds of businesses and individuals.
The number of customizations makes it more tricky to handle than free blogging platforms, but it places a lot of power in the hands of its users.
Designed with new businesses in mind, this blogging and website creation platform allows users to create attractive websites that work across devices with incredible ease. Establishing and organizing a beautiful personal or business website is made very easy with a simple drag and drop system and can include the ability to create an online store.
Weebly might be said to lack customization compared to other sites, but it specializes in clean, minimal designs. It can be quick to produce good results, and websites are easy to maintain.
Users of Weebly choose from 4 price tiers: free, starter ($7/month), pro ($11/month) and business ($23/month).
Starter affords users simple e-commerce, better storage, customization, and analytics. An upgrade to Pro allows access to advanced site features and more powerful e-commerce for visitors. The business-level upgrade unlocks full e-commerce functionality.
Weebly sites are visited by more than 30 million people around the world. Though it has some creative limitations, its tools are minimal and very east to use, making this site a good fit for users who are new to having a website and want to do it all themselves.
Choosing a blogging platform can seem like a difficulty task and this is simply due to the number of options available. Which is a great problem to have for a blogger. One suggestion I'd give is setup a few of the free platforms to get a taste of the various platforms and see what works for you. Good luck!