Last time we began the discussion of blogging software, focusing on ways you can build and maintain your blog for free using services like WordPress.com, Blogger.com, or Blogher.com. The key with free blogging software is knowing what you're getting.
Here are some explanations these companies have provided outlining the features they offer:
(all free) http://www.blogger.com/features
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But as anyone who has experienced "buyer's remorse" would know, equally important is knowing what you're NOT getting with these services. Since we all tend to be rather shy about broadcasting our deficiencies, I'll respectfully let you in on some of the downsides. These services do come with some caveats, namely, that you have to abide by their Terms of Service, the details of ownership can be somewhat nebulous, you have limited control over the look and functionality of your blog, a free service (because it's hosted separately) will limit the SEO value of your blog and you cannot, as of this writing, place ads on your blog.
For those who want design control, functionality control, clear ownership of content and want to be able to generate advertising revenue -- installing your own blog is probably the ticket. If that's you, let's talk about the two other options for how to build your blog — paid upgrades and downloadable version.
What ponying up will get you
Most blogging software have more or less the same features. Google owned Blogger really surpasses in terms of what it offers for free, but if you throw a little coin into the game you can get everything you need. The two options when you're considering upgrading from free are:
These two paid options give you more control over your blog, your brand, and your content. Here is a chart showing who offers each option from least control to greatest:
|Free Software Download
Free Software Free Hosting
With a completely free tool like WordPress.com, WordPress owns the server, provides you the software to build your blog and hosts it for you, all for free. They can generate advertising revenue off of the blog you build but as of this writing you cannot. Note also that this version most likely means your Web site and your blog (if you have both) are completely separate hurting your SEO and possibly weakening your brand with very different designs.
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Paid Software Free Hosting
Here again, the software and hosting are both provided by a company like WordPress but you can get more by paying a one time or periodic fee. For example on WordPress you can pay to use your own non-WordPress domain, to get extra hosting space, to customize the blog's design, to upload & store video, or to turn off advertising on your blog. Note that as of this writing WordPress still does not let you post your own ads or upload a completely custom theme even if you pay for an upgrade. Also note that Google-owned Blogger, although far less popular, lets you do all of these things for free.
One other note on either free or paid software hosted by the blogging company, if you ever decide to move your blog beware. The process of moving the content itself could be a little challenging but more of a concern is your links. Each post you create will have it's own "permalink" or a permanent link that people can share, bookmark etc. If you move your blog it may be difficult or impossible to re-create the same structure on your new blog as you had on your old blog, meaning all of your links will no longer work.
Free Software Download Paid Hosting (by your hosting company)
This is the most flexible option. You get a hosting company (like HostGator), get your own domain name and have a developer download your own copy of WordPress or other software and install it into your hosting account for you. The options for customization are unlimited, you can use whatever design theme/template you like or hire someone to create one from scratch. You can install whatever widgets or tools you like to add to your blog's functionality, you of course own all of your content, you can post whatever you like (within the terms of service of your hosting company), and you can sell ads on your blog as a revenue stream. Just like the "paid software" version above, you pay a monthly fee but it goes to your hosting company. This version can be set up just as quickly but usually with the help of a development company. Basic hosting will be anywhere from $5-$15 depending on what you need.
How to choose?
Generally I suggest the free version if you don't plan to generate advertising revenue, and don't need sophisticated customizations or a custom design. Also if you're not planning to generate a lot of traffic to your blog in the beginning, you won't be as concerned about moving it (and breaking the links) later.
The paid upgrade gives you a bit more but it doesn't eschew the limitations and restrictions that are inherent in working with the blogging companies.
If you are ready to invest I generally recommend the downloaded version which will give you total control over your content, your design, your features and maximum SEO benefits if you have an existing site you want to integrate the blog with.
I hope this has helped you understand a bit better how the world of blogging software works and how to decide which path is right for you.
If you're still wondering which version is right for you, post your question below. I'd like to hear from you.
Two important notes:
I will be highlighting a variety of companies as examples in upcoming posts.
If you've had success with your Blog and can describe results/back it up with real data, you can submit your Blogging strategy here.
Even in a bad economy there's a silver lining. I'm giving away a free Web site!
If you'd like to be the lucky business owner tell me about your business and why you should win here. I acknowledge I'll be choosing the winner purely based on my own discretion. Heck I may even choose more than one. I look forward to seeing your entry!
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