If you have read the previous chapters in this series, you will have already come up with a blog name and a niche, so now it’s time to choose your blogging platform.
All blog sites need a platform to help them work. A system to support pages, posts, host images, link to videos, host comments and all the interactions you want from a blog.
That’s what this article is all about.
Like many of these early decisions you take, your choice of blogging platform will influence the direction your blog takes, but is not set in stone. You can select a blog platform now and if it doesn’t work out, you can always switch later.
Switching blogging platform can be a pain so if you give the platform you use adequate thought now, you may never have to change.
We are going to outline what a blogging platform is, the implications of choosing one and outline the most popular blogging platforms available.
Like all our other guides, we aren’t going to make the decision for you. Instead, we’re going to outline your options and provide all the information you need to make an informed decision.
That said, we cannot recommend WordPress enough as a platform for blogging sites. You’ll see why in a little while. 😊
Blogging platforms are usually referred to as CMS, Content Management Systems.
A CMS is a system that provides the framework to support your blog. Software designed specifically to make the front end that the audience sees attractive while keeping the back end, your user dashboard, as simple to use as possible.
The real strength of a content management system is that it enables you to run an entire website without having to learn code or know all that much about how the system works.
It obviously helps if you have an idea of how CMS and websites operate but you can easily use a CMS with no coding knowledge.
There are three main types of blogging platform. There are free blogging platforms, hosted platforms and self-hosted blogging platforms. Each has their pros and cons.
Free and hosted platforms are very similar in how they are made up. Both are a hosted service that manages most elements of running the blog. The main difference is one is free and one is not.
Free blogging platforms are the ideal launchpad for hobby blogs or personal blogs where you just want a place to write and publish your content with no fuss or fee.
You will be limited in how you build and design your blog and you won’t be able to make money from it but it’s a great place to start.
Free blog platforms include:
All you need to do with a free platform is sign up for the service, set a niche, name your blog and you’re ready to go.
There are pros and cons to these free services though.
Pros of free platforms:
- They are free – Sign up, sign in, set up and go. That’s all there is to it.
- Quick and easy to use – You’ll never have to worry about the technical side of hosting, software updates and maintenance. Everything will be taken care of for you.
- Ideal if all you want to do is write – If all you’re looking for is to experiment, try out new ideas or see if blogging is for you, a free platform is ideal.
Cons of free blog platforms:
- They can include fees for everything but basic services – These platforms are businesses. While they offer core services for free, if you need anything else like support or extra features, you’ll pay for them.
- Basic functionality – If all you want to do is write, free platforms are great. If you want to do anything more creative, you will either have to pay or switch to a different platform.
- Their platform, their rules –If you use a free blog platform you are bound by that platform’s rules. Some have limitations on subjects you can write about and all have rules of some kind around monetization.
- Support can be limited – While free platforms do offer customer support, you will usually have to find your own answers. It’s a great way to learn but also takes time.
- Busy servers – If you use blogging platforms, your blog could be one of many thousands hosted on a single server. That can lead to occasional performance problems.
- Limited to using the platform’s domain – Many free platforms will enforce their own name in your domain name. That means your blog might be mypastyrecipes.wix.com or something similar. Not ideal for businesses or brands.
- Will feature ads – Free blogging platforms have to make their money somewhere and some of that will come from ads. Once your blog is up and running, the platform will very likely place ads on your site. You have no control over these and you don’t get the money, the host does.
Hosted blogging platforms are similar to free platforms in that they are run by a company that takes care of everything. They differ in that they are not free.
Hosted platforms include Medium.
Hosted platforms have similar pros and cons as free platforms so we won’t repeat them here. They will have better functionality and better support though.
They will also often be hosted on faster servers with fewer blogs on each so should perform better too.
Self-hosted blogging platforms are usually made up of open source software designed specifically to run blogging sites. Open source software is free and publicly accessible. This means anyone can use it. Anyone can customize it, improve it, add to it or change how it works.
Only self-hosted platforms give you complete control over what themes and plugins you can use and how you use them.
Many self-hosted platforms are open source, including:
Pros of self-hosted blogging platforms include:
- Infinitely flexible – The software is open source and you can change it at will. You can also design your blog however you like, add any feature you want and express yourself in any way you desire.
- You have full control – As you manage and run your own blog, you live by your own rules. As long as it’s legal and you know how to do what you’re doing, nothing is off limits.
- You can monetize however you like – Want to make a little money from blogging? You have the freedom to use ads, affiliate links and any monetization opportunities that come your way.
- You can use your own host – Where you are limited to what hosts you can use with other platforms, here you choose your own web host. Look around, compare web hosts and compare prices. You’re in control.
- Use your own domain name – As well as web hosting, you can also select your own domain name. Ideal if you want a unique identity, plan to run a business, already have a brand or don’t like the ideal of sounding like a free blog.
- Full access to themes and plugins – Open source platforms use themes to add unique designs and plugins to add new functionality. Each has an important part to play in making blog sites look professional.
Cons of self-hosted blogging platforms:
- More work for you to do – When you use a self-hosted blogging platform, you have to manage everything. Secure the domain name, arrange hosting, (sometimes) install the software, set up the blog, set up the theme and plugins and maintain everything.
- There’s a lot to learn – There are a lot of resources out there to help you set up a blog, including our own resources but there is a lot for you to learn. It can be exciting and teaches you a lot of very useful skills, but there is a lot to learn.
- It’s all on you – You will need to manage security, users, comments, software updates, backups and everything that goes on. Newer web hosting plans now offer automatic updates and backups but you’ll still need to keep an eye on things.
- They aren’t free – While the software may be free and open source, you will need to pay for a domain name and hosting. That isn’t usually much but it’s still an expense. Some web themes and plugins can cost money too. There are lots of free options though.
A quick note about WordPress.com and WordPress.org. There are two distinct WordPress platforms. WordPress.com is the free hosted platform for blog sites. WordPress.org is the free and open source software used in self-hosted blog sites.
WordPress.org was launched first to provide a CMS for blogging. Then one of the co-founders launched WordPress.com. It is based on the same technology but is open source and free to use.
Confusing we know but it’s something you’ll need to remember!
If you see us talk about WordPress, we are talking about the self-hosted WordPress.org and not WordPress.com!
Choosing your blogging platform is an important decision. The more thought you put into it now, the less likely you’ll want to change it later.
There are several questions you should answer when considering a blogging platform:
Do you already have a business or personal website and just want to add a blog to it? If so, you should consider the capability of your website to host a blog rather than building one from scratch.
You could build a blog on your existing website to add interest and regular updates or you could migrate your existing website to your blogging platform.
Are you new to blogging and building websites? Many platforms make it easy to build blog sites but some have a learning curve.
If you’re completely new and want to start gently, one of the hosted options like Blogger or Wix may be beneficial to begin with as everything is set up for you. There is no installation, no database configuration and all the software is on hand ready to use.
If you want to dive in and learn how blogs work, a CMS like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla might be better. These are self-hosted. That means you’ll have to set up your own web hosting, install your CMS, set it up, install a web theme and configure it.
That might all sound a lot but it’s very straightforward to do!
Do you want to be involved in the entire process of owning and running a blog? Or do you just want to be able to write and tell a story? There is no wrong answer here but that answer can influence what blogging platform you choose.
If you want to be involved in the running of your blogging site, self-hosted platforms are the way to go. There is a learning curve but there is so much documentation around that you’ll always have expertise on hand.
If you just want to write and express yourself with your own blog, a hosted platform may be the best option. You can sign up, sign in, name your blog and begin writing immediately.
Are you looking for a unique blog design? Want to run your own blog your own way or do you just want a serviceable blog so you can begin writing?
If you want full control over how your blog looks and operates, you’re going to want to go the self-hosted route. As you install and run your blog, you can do whatever you like with it.
Hosted platforms have the advantage of requiring a lot less administration. The downside of that is less freedom. You can add blog designs and create a unique look but you’re using someone else’s platform and working to someone else’s rules.
This won’t worry every blogger but it is something to consider when choosing a platform.
The final question is about making money from your blog, or monetization.
If you plan to monetize your website at some point in the future, this will help decide the blogging platform you choose. If you want to use affiliate marketing, Google AdSense, website subscriptions or other money making technique, you’re going to require a self-hosted blogging platform.
Most hosted platforms do not permit monetization of blogs on their system. They are the ones making the money, not you!
If you plan to monetize your blog at any point, you’re going to need to go the self-hosted route.
There are dozens of options out there for hosting your blogging sites but we think there are just 8 that really stand out.
WordPress.com is an exceptionally popular free blogging platform. Launched in 2005, this platform was created by one of the original founders of WordPress Matt Mullenweg.
WordPress.com looks and feels like WordPress and is a great way to begin or experiment with blogging. The software is fully hosted and managed so all you have to do is design and write your blog.
Pros of WordPress.com:
- It’s free. Extra paid features are available
- Everything is taken care of for you, such as setup, upgrades, spam protection, backups and security
- Lots of basic free themes to style your blog
- Optional premium plans to extend features
- Distributed infrastructure should prevent outages and downtime
Cons of WordPress.com:
- Limited functionality unless you pay extra
- No option to use third party themes or plugins when using the free plan
- Ads will feature on your blog and you have no control over them
- You don’t own or have rights to anything except your content
- Limited options for using custom code or customizations
WordPress.com is free to use. It does have premium plans and options though.
WordPress.com is an excellent free option that offers all the basic tools you’ll need to run a blog. It’s easy to use, reliable and there are thousands of resources out there to help you learn.
It is self-hosted, which means you’ll need to arrange a domain name, web host and set it up. In return, you get full control of your website, of the design, features, niche and every aspect of your blog.
Pros of WordPress.org:
- Free and open source
- Self-hosted so you have full control over everything
- Thousands of WordPress themes and plugins available
- Very well documented
- Has been improved massively over recent years to make easier to use and more secure
Cons of WordPress.org:
- More work required to get it up and running
- Steeper learning curve than hosted blogging platforms
- More website administration required than hosted blogging platforms
- Will require you to buy a domain name and web hosting
- Security and backups are your responsibility
WordPress is free and open source. You will need to pay for a domain name and web hosting though. WordPress themes and plugins can also cost extra but there are lots of free options out there.
WordPress is the best blogging platform bar none. We have built Astra around it and millions of others have built their websites using it. We think the numbers say it all.
Technically, it’s Joomla! but as the exclamation is annoying, most people ignore it. Despite that, Joomla is a very competent CMS that is also free and open source. It’s another self-hosted platform for blog sites and has over 2 million active sites with 6% market share.
Joomla is actually more powerful and more flexible than WordPress. It’s also more complicated to use, not as intuitive for newcomers and not as well documented.
That’s a shame because at its heart, Joomla is a very good CMS with a lot to offer.
Pros of Joomla:
- Free, open source blogging platform
- Very powerful features with lots of customization options
- Designed specifically to be a commercial CMS
- Thousands of themes and plugins support Joomla
- Always being refined and improved
Cons of Joomla:
- More complicated to use than WordPress
- Much steeper learning curve
- Does require some technical knowledge to run a Joomla website
- Not as powerful for SEO as WordPress
- Requires extensions for many features included in WordPress
Joomla is free and open source. You will need to pay for a domain name and web hosting though.
Joomla is very good at what it does and is a very viable platform for websites. However, it isn’t designed for blogs like WordPress is and was certainly not designed for beginners. Those work against it unless you know what you’re doing.
Drupal is one of the most established blogging platforms out there having been launched back in 2000. It doesn’t have the same marketing presence as WordPress and as such just 2.5% of websites use it as a CMS.
Despite that, Drupal is a very competent self-hosted blogging platform with some advantages over WordPress. For one, Drupal has a lot more control over user permissions, access controls, custom content types and multilingual websites.
All things WordPress can achieve with plugins but Drupal has it built in.
Unfortunately, Drupal is another CMS that has not been designed for ease of use. It is capable of a lot but it is not beginner friendly. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of experimentation to master Drupal.
Pros of Drupal:
- Free and open source
- Natively supports custom post types
- Offers more control over users and access out of the box
- Works better for enterprise or larger websites
- Multilingual support built-in
Cons of Drupal:
- Very steep learning curve
- Simplistic blog posting dashboard
- Requires technical knowledge to set up correctly
- Nowhere near as beginner friendly as WordPress
- Not as well documented or as well covered as WordPress
Drupal is free and open source. As this is a self-hosted blogging platform, you will need to pay for a domain name and web hosting.
If you know how to use Drupal, it is actually a very powerful CMS. It’s just a shame that it takes so long to learn. Otherwise, Drupal is an excellent platform to build a website.
Blogger is a free blogging platform owned by Google. It’s a hosted service accessible to anyone with a Gmail account. That makes it a very popular option for new blogs and for experimentation.
That simplicity works for it and against it. Blogger is very welcoming to new blogs and is very beginner friendly. Part of that is down to the very basic nature of the platform.
That’s what works against it. While ideal for new blogs, it is likely that you will quickly grow out of the limited features you get with Blogger. You can use your own AdSense ads on your blog though, which is a definite benefit.
Pros of Blogger:
- Very simple to learn
- Freely available to anyone with a Gmail account
- Integrates with other Google products including AdSense and Google Analytics
- Allows access to HTML for customization
- Some drag and drop elements for blog design
Cons of Blogger:
- Very basic offering designed for newcomers
- Very limited customization options
- You will have to use a .blogspot.com domain name
- Owned by Google who loves collecting data
Blogger is completely free to use. You can opt to pay extra to use your own domain name.
It is very hard to criticize a blogging platform that is completely free, so we won’t. Suffice to say it is nowhere near as powerful as WordPress or Joomla and doesn’t have the customization options of any self-hosted blogging platform but if you want to experiment a little, this platform is ideal.
It’s similar to Blogger in that it’s a free blog platform with basic features. You can sign up and begin writing immediately. It also has limited customization options and not a lot of scope to expand.
The benefit to Medium is that you join a self-contained ecosystem with an established readership. Your blog has as much chance of being read as some of the most popular authors.
Pros of Medium:
- Free and easy to join and use
- Existing audience of 170 million
- Well established platform
- Uses metrics to list your content based on internal quality metrics
- Has a built-in monetization program
Cons of Medium:
- Very limited in power and scope
- Simple blogging options only
- Requires the use of https://medium.com/@yourname domains
- Medium owns the readership so you cannot take them with you when you go
- No option for monetization aside from the Medium system
Medium is free to use with a $5 per month membership option.
Medium is great if you don’t want to use Blogger and want a slightly more sophisticated audience than social media. It is easy to use, simple to set up and has a built-in audience. The downsides are that built-in audience and the fact it uses its own metrics to judge your content and not readers.
Tumblr is part social network and part blogging platform. It sums itself up by saying “Tumblr lets you effortlessly share anything. Post text, photos, quotes, links, music, and videos from your browser, phone, desktop, email or wherever you happen to be.”
It is a free hosted platform accessible to anyone and has around 217 million blogs. It is very accessible and intuitive to use. It has similar characteristics to Blogger, with a simple interface, few customization options and the potential for a wide and varied audience.
That audience tends to be younger on Tumblr. The average is apparently teenage so if that’s your target market, this is the platform for you.
Pros of Tumblr:
- Free hosted blogging platform
- Build specifically for blogging sites
- Super-simple to post using phone, computer or any device
- Huge readership
- Unlimited storage for your blog posts
Cons of Tumblr:
- Very limited features
- Restricted to https://example.tumblr.com domain unless you pay extra
- Younger demographic
- No monetization options
- Little control over your blog aside from content
Tumblr is free to use with some premium options.
If you’re a younger blogger or want to appeal to a younger audience, Tumblr is ideal. The cross between being a social network and a blogging platform feeds right into that. For more serious blogs or those in niches with an older target audience, you might want to look elsewhere.
Wix is a very popular blogging platform thanks to a massive marketing campaign. It’s a hosted solution that offers individuals and small businesses the opportunity to blog with minimal setup and configuration.
Wix provides a simple drag and drop solution to help build a blog from a selection of included design templates. The dashboard is very easy to learn and you should be able to register, set up and begin posting within an hour.
Wix also offers limited eCommerce and extension options for premium subscribers which crosses the border a little between hosted and self-hosted blogging sites.
Pros of Wix:
- Very easy to use and to set up
- Mixes hosted options with theming and extensions
- Lots of templates to make your blog stand out
- Drag and drop page builder makes a huge difference
- The Wix App Market
Cons of Wix:
- The free account is very limited
- Most good features are premium
- Once you commit, your design is locked
- Ads feature on all free blogs
- More expensive than self-hosted options
Wix has a free tier with ad placement and four premium plans costing from $3 per month up to $18 per month. Business plans cost even more.
Wix is an excellent option for those who just want a blog site with none of the hassle. The opportunity to use themes places it above many other hosted options but having ads on free accounts is a downside.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of blogging platforms but it does cover the ones we think are the most popular and most viable.
So which would we choose?
We recommend WordPress (WordPress.org). We have built our entire business around it because we think it’s the most powerful, the most flexible and offers the most freedom.
You can design a WordPress website how you like. You can fill it with whatever features you like. You can monetize it however you like and you can express yourself however you like.
It’s beginner friendly and very easy to use too.
For all those reasons, we think WordPress is the ultimate CMS.
According to data from W3Techs – World Wide Web Technology Surveys, WordPress is the most popular content management system on the web. It powers an astonishing 37.8% of the internet as of 1st June 2020. Its closest competitor is Joomla coming in at a distant second.
When we have a look at the content management system market share, according to more data from W3Techs, WordPress, has 63.5% of the market as of 1st June 2020. That’s a quite a market share!
According to Digital.com, WordPress features 70 million WordPress posts and 77 million new comments are made every month!
That’s 2,333,333 new posts every day, 97,222 every hour, or 1620 posts each minute. All using WordPress.
One of the primary reasons why the self-hosted WordPress is so successful is because of its unparalleled versatility. This enables it to be deployed anywhere, from small blogs and business websites to powering fortune 500 companies like Microsoft and Target.
Now you have a good idea of what blogging platforms are out there and what their various strengths and weaknesses are, which will you choose?
Will you go the no-hassle option with a hosted platform or opt for more freedom and independence with a self-hosted platform? Will you hit the ground running with Joomla or do your best to learn Drupal?
Or will do you what we did. Join millions of others who utilize the power of WordPress to run your blog?
Tell us your thoughts below!
Join us for chapter 4 Choosing the best WordPress hosting provider. We’ll walk you through the many hosting options and compare some of the leading web hosts on the market.