How do you get a blog? Where do I get a blog? These are some of the questions I get every day from readers looking to experience the exciting (and if you are lucky, profitable) world of blogging. Blogging used to be something that only the most hardened geek would get involved in but nowadays, everyone from stay at home moms to massive corporations are using blogs as a means to communicate with the world.
How do you get a blog?
I have heard this question many times from friends, family and via contacts from this website, How do you get a blog? A simple question with what you think would be a simple answer, but in actuality, the process can be quite overwhelming for those with little to no experience.
Today, I'm going to attempt to alleviate these stresses and guide you through the process of selecting a blog platform and getting up and running.
First, it's important to note that the definition of blogs has changed drastically over the years. Originally, the term "web log" (which was later shortened to blog) meant an online journal of sorts, like your diary except public. Today, however, things are much different. Today, blogs are used as sources for news, information, research and more. They don't just apply to personal websites anymore. Companies have blogs which they use to share their articles and photographers have blogs to share their photos. This site is a blog.
Blogs are everywhere. So, how do you get a blog?
Well, you start by figuring out the answers to a number of questions. The first of which is...
What will I blog about?
The first step to answering the question "how do you get a blog?" is to start by deciding what it is you want to blog about. Perhaps you have a hobby you'd like to share with the rest of the web, such as photography, art, short stories, recipes or something of the sort. Maybe you'd like to incorporate the ability to sell your crafts (or inventions) through your blog or perhaps you'd simply like to use one as a catalyst to entrepreneurship. Either way, it's important to have an idea as to why you want a blog and what you will blog about.
Answering these questions is of paramount importance when searching for the right platform.
Let's assume for a moment that you are interested in blogging and sharing huge amounts of pictures. In this case, you'd most likely want to explore a platform that puts emphasis on photo publishing and provides the necessary tools to allow you to share your pictures on your website quickly without slowing things down. Most hosted blog platforms (we'll explain what these are a few paragraphs down) perform some form of caching (a fancy word for pre-loading) that allows your site to be served up to the reader quickly with minimal load time.
Why is this important? Slow sites account for a huge percentage of lost traffic. People who are surfing the web typically have very little patience for slow sites and if you want to establish any kind of active readership, you'll want yours to load as fast as possible.
Once you've ascertained what you want to blog about, you'll be able to make a more educated decision as to what platform to use. So, before you move to the next question, grab a pen (or keyboard) and plan out what you want to blog about.
Hosted or Not?
Now that you know what you will write about, you need to understand the difference between a hosted solution and a self-hosted solution.
A hosted solutions or SaaS (which stands for software as a service) simply means that you sign up for your blog for either free or a small monthly fee and can be up and running within minutes. Your website is served up by servers that are owned by the company you signed up for your blog with.
The advantages; you typically get a fast loading site with little to no downtime that is supported by someone else and is updated as necessary and protected from possible security threats. The disadvantages; it can be difficult to migrate off of a hosted solution and sometimes those who are technical and want to dig deep into the code of their sites find these services limiting.
When I used the phrase Self Hosted Solution, I am referring to a piece of software that must be downloaded from the internet, installed on a hosting provider and managed entirely by you. In some instances, people may choose self-hosted solutions in order to have more control over every aspect of their blog. Those who are technically minded usually prefer self-hosted solutions should they plan to alter code or make significant changes to the sites structure on a regular basis.
Of course, even with a self-hosted solution, you can often find hosting providers (such as WP Engine for WordPress - read our WP Engine review for more info) that will provide incredible speeds, daily backups and excellent support for a reasonable fee.
Blog platforms that are classified as self-hosted solutions include WordPress.org and Serendipity, amongst others.
What you choose with regards to going hosted or self-hosted really depends on what type of user you are. If you want ultimate control and are able to fix issues on your own, perhaps self-hosted is the best choice. If you want it to "just work" then hosted is likely right for you. Either way, you need to consider your options and make a choice one way or the other. Personally, I'm a code guy so I went with self-hosted but for most people who are looking to start a blog, I usually point to solutions like Squarespace, because they look good, are fast and "just work".
Where do I get a blog?
If you've done any research of your own, you've more than likely come across the two most common blog platforms, WordPress and Blogger, but are they the right ones for you? Not necessarily. They are certainly the most used blog platforms in the world but not because they are the best. Here, I'm going to make some recommendations as to which platforms I think suit specific needs the best in hopes of providing you with a base to start from.
Let's start with the obvious ones first.
WordPress is, without a doubt, the largest blog platform in the world and is certainly a good option to consider if you want to get into blogging. There are some caveats, however, that often are not considered when choosing WordPress.
Who's it suited for?
The hosted WordPress.com solution is suited to anyone who is willing to take the time to learn to use WordPress and isn't interested in earning revenue from their site. Good uses might be: personal blogs that showcase family pictures, journals and the like.
The self-hosted solution is best suited to those who either have or know someone who has a reasonably good knowledge of WordPress (or PHP programming language) and is interested in a blog platform that provides unmatched control and flexibility and has the potential to incorporate advertising, if desired. Good uses might be: news blogs, sports fan blogs, subject matter expert blogs, online stores, realty websites, law offices, small businesses, etc. For those who want to be have thousands of theme options and tons of flexibility for expansion, WordPress (hosted or otherwise) is a good choice.
- There are hundreds of thousands of people using WordPress as their platform of choice (including this site!). For this reason, finding someone who can support you or help you get things going is relatively easy.
- Thousands of themes to choose from. Themes, for those unaware, are looks that you can use as starting points to build your site off of. Here are some examples of Responsive WordPress themes to give you an idea of what I mean.
- There's a plugin for pretty much everything. Plugins are add-on programs that help extend the functionality of your site by adding features like social bookmarking icons, newsletter subscription forms, etc.
- Hosted or Not. With WordPress you can choose to go with their hosted solution which you can learn about on WordPress.com or their self-hosted solution, which you setup, host yourself, configure yourself and are wholly responsible for. You can learn about it at WordPress.org
- If you go with the hosted solution, you can kiss making money goodbye as they do not allow advertising other than their own (which they earn from) on WordPress.com sites. Unless you pay for a VIP solution which is quite costly and, quite frankly, not worth it in my view. You also get no support (well, no fast support) unless you have a paid upgrade with them (see here) and even then, the support is slow tedious with back and forth emails.
- If you go with the self-hosted solution and you have issues, you are pretty much pooched unless you know someone who can provide support to you and at this point, you are relying on someone who does not work for or with the WordPress organization directly, so you have to ensure you trust them and their skill set.
- Since there are so many plugins, they are not vetted in any way meaning that installing a plugin can potentially break your site but can also cause security issues. The same applies for themes. You also will need someone to assist you in updating your site and keeping it current.
Now, having said that, I think WordPress is a great platform but I've been using it for years and feel comfortable with it. It takes some learning and there's definitely a curve but once you get past it and figure out how to circumvent issues, it's a good choice. The negatives aren't meant to say it's a bad platform but more to highlight the possible issues you COULD encounter so you are aware in advance. There are millions of people using WordPress successfully, but there are also millions who should be using something else. Keep that in mind. Click here for Self-hosted WordPress, or here for Hosted WordPress.
Blogger is Google's baby and is one of the oldest blogging platforms out there. It's sufficient for those looking for a simplistic platform to quickly publish content. While it's been revamped a number of times over the years and has certainly improved, it's not one that I would ever personally recommend. I find blogger to be too dumbed down and old school and to be honest, quite limiting in a number of aspects. Still, a lot of people continue to use Blogger and it's still amazingly popular, I assume because it's a Google product.
Who is it suited for?
Blogger is really suited to those who aren't too concerned about the look and flexibility of their blog but more about just getting started.Blogger is quite limiting in it's capabilities but it does a good job for personal sites and family blogs. There are, however, limits to the size that it grows before you lose the ability to add more content (see here for more info) so if you upload lots of pictures, you'll want to avoid Blogger. Good uses might be: personal blogs that showcase family pictures (see limits note above), personal journals and the like.
- Since Blogger is a Google product, it is also widely believed that Blogger sites perform reasonably well on Google as a result of this (we're referring to rankings or SEO here).
- Quick and easy to setup with minimal effort required.
- It's a Google product and offers some integrations with Google products.
- As mentioned above, Blogger has limits on the number of images (1GB), the size of images (250kb), the size of posts and the size of pages. Here is a full list of Blogger limits.
- There are a few sites that provide themes for use with Blogger but most of them are not optimized well or if they are, contain tons of links back to their publishers and end up serving no use other than to help them. For the most part, there are very few good themes for Blogger / or the ones that are good are only available for a fee.
- Customization is extremely limited. Google likes to play safe so you won't be able to do anywhere near as much as you could with a different platform (like WordPress, etc)
So in a nutshell, Blogger has its uses but its popularity is declining year over year and I wouldn't recommend it for anything other than minimal use. Click here to visit Blogger.
Tumblr is a great platform that is used by millions of people. The purpose to it is to get your content out there with the least effort possible. You can share text, photos, chats, links, videos, audio and quotes with the click of a button and there are plenty of great themes (both free and premium) to choose from. The interface is intended to be as minimal as possible (and it is) but it also suits most people just fine.
Who is it suited for?
Tumblr is there to share thoughts or collect things you find interesting, so it is most frequently used by people who have a passion for sharing content with others. It's recommended for photographers, those who share videos (or create them), writers, and personal use. Companies sometimes use it as well for quick links that they want to share with the customers. It is not something you would typically use to create a full blown business website, although I have seen it done. You can check out some of the premium Tumblr themes that are available.
- My grandmother could set up and use a Tumblr blog easily.
- The single fastest way to get content up and shared with the least effort possible.
- Fast, hosted solution that doesn't cost a dime.
- Challenging to find ways to earn money from advertising (you can, but it's hard to implement for the average user).
- No plugins or methods to extend it's functionality.
- Limited themes (although the ones that it does have are quite good).
Now for the less obvious choices. Here are some other ones to consider:
Squarespace is a pretty powerful hosted solution that offers pretty much everything the average blogger would need plus a number of extras; such as eCommerce integration, built-in analytics (so you can see who is visiting your site and get details about them) and more. It's also extremely popular with photographers, designers and entrepreneurs due to it's fast speed, excellent caching (there's that word again) and easy to use minimalistic interface.
Who is it suited for?
Bloggers will find pretty much everything they need here; speed, social integration, analytics and if needed, eCommerce. Photographers love it because of the caching and CDN integration (meaning pictures load really fast) and Designers love it because there are a number of beautiful portfolio templates. If you want to run an online shop, the eCommerce component is pretty slick as well. I'd recommend it for designers, photographers, bloggers, sports websites, law offices, small businesses, online stores, etc. If you want more info on Squarespace, read our Squarespace review where we show you the interface and explain everything.
- Slick, clean interface with controls that get out of your way when you need to write but are there when you need them.
- Beautiful look and feel to their templates and themes, it's very, very easy to make an attractive website with Squarespace.
- Fast websites with excellent caching, CDN for pictures and images.
- Integrated analytics and lots of control without being overwhelming.
- You can easily enable and setup advertising and earn money from it with Squarespace.
- Squarespace is hosted so you won't have as high a level of control as you would with a self-hosted solution but they've definitely given you a lot more control than most will likely need.
- Small monthly fee associated with it as it's not a free service but rather a paid one. Costs about the same as it would if you paid hosting fees to host your own site so it's definitely reasonably priced.
- Not as extensive a list of themes and while it certainly has a ton of integrated features, there is no way to add-on extras. You have to submit feature requests.
I'm personally a huge fan of Squarespace and think they've done an excellent job of putting together a great product and doing well for themselves. I've no problem recommending them and would suggest those who are curious either sign up for their 30 day trial (they don't need your credit card for the trial so it's a good way to test it out) or read our Squarespace review.
Serendipity is a self-hosted blog platform. It has been around for a number of years and offers a reasonable amount of themes and plugins to extend it's functionality. It's not as easy to use as some of the other platforms we've listed here but it's definitely packed full of power, if you take the time to learn how to use it.
Who is it suited for?
It's best suited for small businesses, bloggers with a bit of technical know how, those who want a solid blog platform and are familiar with the process of setting one up on a web host (or know someone who is), designers, photographers, lawyers, realtors and the like. Serendipity is quite powerful and offers a lot of flexibility and because it's written in PHP, like WordPress, it can be extended fairly easily.
- Fast, capable, proven platform that's been around for a number of years.
- Strong, but small community that's willing to help those who have questions.
- Flexible and easy to extend with the right skill set.
- Like WordPress, you need to have either knowledge with PHP or someone who does to assist with issues, setting up hosting, etc.
- Not as large a community as WordPress so harder to find support outside of the Serendipity forums.
- Nowhere near as many themes or plugins as WordPress, but the average person wouldn't need thousands of them anyway.
If you are looking to avoid WordPress for whatever reason and want a strong platform and are willing to learn how to maximize it / tweak it as needed, Serendipity is a great option. Click here to visit Serendipity.
Now that you've got a list of platforms to peruse and select from, you'll need to figure out which one best suits your needs. I'm happy to offer basic advice via the comments if you have a question, so please feel free to ask / pose your scenario and I'll respond when I can.
In my next post, we'll discuss what to do with your blog once you have it up and running / have selected a platform. Stay tuned! I will be adding to this list of platforms gradually so be sure to check back once in a while.
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Mike Johnston Author
I am the guy behind CMS Critic and the Co Founder of Website Builders Critic. When not traveling the world attending and covering conferences, I am based out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada where I live with my beautiful wife and kids. Visit me on my wife and my blog, Unicorns in the Mist.