Blogging can be hugely beneficial for your business - but it takes time, money and creativity. You wouldn’t get married after one Tinder date, so why would you commit to a blogging platform without weighing up all the options?
Recently I gave a run-down of the main steps involved in starting a business blog. This week I’m going to show you the pros and cons of each blogging platform. A blogging platform is the software or service you will use to publish your blog, and it’s one of the biggest decisions you will make about your digital presence.
As discussed last week, there are two main types of blogging platform - hosted and self hosted. A hosted blog is owned by the blogging website you sign up to - they control the data, security, maintenance, everything. They also own your content. In contrast, a self hosted blog is when you download blogging software and install it on your own website (so you pay for domain registration and hosting). It’s a bit like renting a house from a landlord vs owning one.
While there are hundreds of blogging platforms to choose from I’ve chosen the top 8 in terms of popularity, functionality and appearance. Hopefully this will give you some insights and help with your decision!
Hosted Blogging Platforms
Maybe you want to dip your toes in the blogging ocean before committing. Or maybe you just want beautiful content to share on your social media, and you aren’t too fussed about SEO. These platforms offer an easy entrance to blogging. Some will let you download your content if you decide to switch to a self-hosted platform later.
I’m sure you’ve heard of WordPress, the goliath of all blogging platforms. WordPress actually comes in two varieties; hosted and self-hosted. WordPress.com is the free hosted version.
WordPress.com basically does all the hard work for you, so you can start blogging straight away. The team at WordPress.com will host your blog, maintain the software, manage all security concerns and you’ll never have to touch a piece of code.
Of course there’s no such thing as a free lunch. In exchange for this convenience there are disadvantages. WordPress.com will place their own ads on your blog - if you don’t want them to do this, you’ll have to pay a fee. You’re not allowed to use plugins either, which can severely limit the functionality of your blog. Design themes are limited unless you pay for a premium package.
In short, you’ll have to spend a fair amount to get an attractive and useful blog - despite the fact that WordPress.com is marketed as free. As far as hosted blogs go there are better options (although the self-hosted version of WordPress is excellent, as you will read further down).
Pros: Easy and low maintenance. Ready-made community of users to tap into.
Cons: At least 50% less features than WordPress.org. Charges extra fees for ad-free page, custom designs and plugins.
Cost: Free for up to 3GB of space. Many extra fees for customisation.
Launched in 1999 (yikes!) Blogger is the great grandfather of all blogging platforms. While it once dominated the blogosphere, let’s just say it hasn’t aged well. Blogger is owned by Google and you will need a Gmail account to sign up.
It has a few benefits - it’s beginner friendly and simple to use, so you can start publishing straight away with no fuss. It’s legitimately free too, and offers easy integration with AdSense so you can place your own ads on the site and possibly make money (unlike WordPress.com, which populates your blog with its own ads).
Unfortunately, with Blogger’s gradual decrease in popularity Google have stopped putting any development effort into it. This is a bad sign and poses a serious risk for users. With hosted blog platforms you don’t actually have ownership of your content, so if Google decides to pull the plug all your hard work could be wasted.
Furthermore, its features are starting to look outdated compared to those of WordPress, and it’s home to large hordes of spammers.
Pros: Easy to monetise with AdSense. Simple, intuitive interface.
Cons: Appearance not very customisable. Outdated features. Doubtful longevity.
Launched in 2004, SquareSpace has grown a strong reputation as a blog platform and website builder. It employs a drag and drop approach to web design, and can produce visually beautiful layouts with little effort. You can make lots of changes to the design without needing to touch any code.
There are only a handful of design templates to choose from (about 20) but they’re all carefully built to reflect the high standards of SquareSpace. Basically, if you want a gorgeous and functional business blog SquareSpace makes it easy - although you might notice other people’s sites look a lot like your own.
As a big bonus they offer 24/7 customer support, and promise to reply to any question within 1 hour via email.
Pros: Easy setup. Intuitive user interface. Beautiful design. 24/7 customer support.
Cons: No free options.
Cost: Business package starts at $18 per month.
Medium is fairly new on the scene, but it’s already having a big impact on the blogosphere.
Medium describes itself as “a place where everyone has a story to share and the best ones are delivered right to you.” To achieve this it creates a feed of recent blogs, using an algorithm to push the best ones to the top. This makes for a very enjoyable reader experience; with interesting new content always rising on your feed.
Medium is a very community focused site - almost a hybrid between a blog publisher and a social media platform. You build a network of connections and your followers get alerts when you publish, resulting in a kind of build-in content promotion for your business.
Medium also offers an attractive, minimalistic design, and a very straight-forward publishing process. It integrates easily with Twitter and Facebook. If you’re looking for a hosted blogging platform Medium has a lot to offer - particularly for those who enjoy an active, social approach.
Pros: Easy social sharing. Develop a community of followers. Quality content is favoured. Beautiful design.
Cons: Limited customisation tools.
Self-Hosted Blogging Platforms
If you’re serious about running a sustainable, SEO generating business blog, you should consider using a self-hosted platform. If your business already has a website you can install the blogging software on this. Otherwise you’ll need to create a site; which involves the extra costs of buying a domain name and paying a web hosting server. It takes a little technical know-how but the SEO results are worth it!
Note: The costs in this section are for the blogging software only.
WordPress.org is by far the most popular website building and content management system on the internet. Don’t get it confused with WordPress.com! WordPress.org offers self-hosted, open source software. Nearly a quarter of all blogs and websites use WordPress; this is a testament to it’s great features and power.
WordPress blogs are highly customisable, with over 44,000 plugins available. You can install subscribe boxes, user polls, scroll triggered boxes, advanced analytics tools, social media buttons, and so much more. WordPress also boasts a huge number of design themes (some are free and some you pay for). Here’s 30 of the best business/corporate themes to get you started.
However, because WordPress is an open source project pretty much anyone can contribute to this list of themes and plugins. You might trawl through a lot of substandard tools and themes before you find high quality ones. If you have the budget, opt for the premium ranges (as an added bonus these often come with instructional documentation).
Because WordPress is used by so many people there’s a great amount of community support available. Answers to almost any problem can be found on forums. The website WPBeginner has some great tutorials. Whatever kind of blog you want to create, WordPress.org is a solid choice.
Pros: Highly customisable. Thousands of features and add-ons. Widely compatible with different web host providers.
Cons: The various expenses (premium themes, security) can add up.
Cost: Free, unless you buy premium extras.
Started in 2013, Ghost is slowly acquiring a loyal fanbase. Unlike WordPress (which can be used to publish all kinds of websites) Ghost is designed specifically for blogging. It’s designed for people who are sick of wading through complex navigation, and instead offers a simple and intuitive user interface.
Because Ghost is powered by a modern technology stack known as Node.js, it’s extremely fast and responsive - even when dealing with heavy data loads. Some tests have shown it to be 1900% faster than WordPress! High speed is a great bonus because it tends to improve your SEO rankings and user engagement.
Most of the Ghost themes have a clean, minimalist feel to them. You can achieve a fair amount of customisation with Ghost but you will need some coding and technical ability. Because the platform is still in development so you can expect the features to expand in the future - some believe it will rival WordPress one day. They also offer a hosted version called Ghost(Pro).
Pros: Simple interface and easy publishing. Focused on blogging. Two-pane screen (preview while you edit). Fast!
Cons: Slightly difficult to install.
Software Cost: Free (hosted blog option for $19 per month).
Launched in 2001, Movable Type was one of the earliest self-hosted blogging platforms. It still has a small base of loyal users. Like WordPress it has all the features of a full content management system, and can be used to create whole websites. It’s relatively easy to install and start using, and offers a modest range of themes and plugins - although significantly less than WordPress.
Because its popularity has declined you won’t find a community as strong as those on WordPress and Ghost, and there are less tutorials to help you through any difficulties that come up. Unless you have coding ability or someone to help with customisation, you might struggle with this platform.
Pros: Handles multiple blogs well.
Cons: Limited range of themes. Lack of support and tutorials.
Cost: Free but need to purchase license for commercial use ($50 upwards).
ExpressionEngine belongs to EllisLab, and has teams of professionals devoted to solving any technical problems that pop up. When you sign up you’re given access to 24/7 professional support, which is excellent if you need help building your site. This could be seen as an advantage over WordPress (where you’re drawing on communities and forums for support instead). They also have comprehensive documentation to help you get started.
ExpressionEngine is not just a blogging tool, but a complete content management system. It doesn’t have a dedicated field for your blog posts; instead you have a range of custom fields for whatever type of content you want to enter. This may be overwhelming for a new blogger but it does offer a high degree of customisation.
Pros: 24/7 professional support. Highly customisable. Good for SEO.
Cons: Learning curve for beginners. Not many user designed templates.
Cost: $299 for platform. Add customer support for $49 per month.
I get it - there’s so much info to digest here! By now you might be suffering from analysis paralysis. While I suggest you read up on all your options (and much of it is down to personal taste) here are my own recommendations:
- If you’re serious about generating long-term SEO for your business website, I’d definitely recommend self hosting and using WordPress (tried and true) or Ghost (powerful and fast).
- If you simply want to publish content and share it on social media, try Medium or SquareSpace. Check out other blogs on these platforms first to see which design appeals to you. They’re both easy to use but Medium leans more towards community blogging and social sharing.
Hopefully you found this guide useful! Of course, once your blog is up and running you’ll be curious to see the results. Who is reading your blog? What are the peak viewing times? Which content is resonating with your audience? In a few weeks I’m going to help you answer these questions, by delving into the mysterious world of blog analytics. Stay tuned!
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