Every blog is hosted somewhere on the web. Your options are either to have blog hosted by the platform provider, for example Blogger, Tumblr or WordPress.com ( a ‘hosted’ blog), or you can download blogging software (available from a number of providers) and have it hosted by a web host of your choice (‘self-hosted’).
The most common ‘self hosted’ blogging software is WordPress, but there are others. WordPress can be downloaded from WordPress.org (note the different web address!) WordPress is ‘open source’ which means anyone can alter it. This is both a good and a bad thing, as individual developers have the power both to enhance it and to break it.
One way to think of hosted versus self-hosted blogs is that a hosted blog is a bit like Lego building blocks – you can choose what you build but the bricks and other elements come in set sizes and shapes. This can limit your creativity but it does mean you can create a decent looking house, with the doors and windows already pre-made, quickly and easily. A self-hosted blog, on the other hand, is more like Play-Doh – you can bend, shape and style it into just about whatever you want, if you have a bit of skill and imagination. But it’s up to you to make it happen.
Benefits of a hosted blog
- Basic version is free, although there various optional paid ‘extras’
- Large choice of templates available
- Very quick and easy to set up and maintain
- No security issues to worry about
- Reliable hosting (unlikely to ‘go down’ – but then again, you never know – see ‘benefits of self-hosting’ below)
- Comes with a default address such as ‘yourname.wordpress.com’ or ‘yourname.blogspot.com’, but you can use your domain name if you wish
- Easy to change templates if you get tired with the look
- Hosted blogs are part of a large ready-made community of blogs and it’s easier to find and connect with others on your chosen platform
- There are limits to how much you can customise templates or themes, especially within the free versions
- With WordPress.com there are various ‘upgrade’ options, but they can add up: for example, to have your own domain name is $13 a year and if you want to customise a theme (template) the ‘custom design’ upgrade is $30 per year. (Whereas if you use Blogger you can customise the template for free, if you have the technical know-how)
- Your content is your own, but there’s nothing to stop the blog host pulling your site or changing the terms without notice, so do regular backups of your content to your computer or cloud space.
Benefits of a self-hosted blog
- You (or your developer, should you choose to employ one) have complete control over the design, including for example making your widgets match the overall design
- You can choose your web host, and that means more choice of service level and pricing
- You can have whatever functionality you require via plugins (bits of software you can install that work with the WordPress software). There are plugins for everything – from integrating your blog with a mailing list, improving security, running an ecommerce shop or serving adverts.
- Many web hosting companies are geared up towards hosting WordPress software and offer ‘one click’ easy installation
- You are responsible for keeping the software up to date – not just WordPress itself but any themes or plugins you install. Failure to do this can result in security breaches and your site not working as it should
- The full version of WordPress may be more than you need, and you have to make a lot of decisions about things which come as standard in the hosted version
If you’re looking for a simple ‘out of the box’ blog and aren’t too worried about having a super-bespoke look and feel, if you’re not offended by having a blog address that includes the name of the hosting company, if you’re not really interested in running ads, or hosting video or having an online shop, then a basic hosted blog may be perfect.
If on the other hand you hanker after a blog/website with a unique look and some custom features, are happy to spend a bit of money in return for total control over what you can and can’t do, are confident about buying web space and aren’t phased by talk of ‘plugins’ and ‘configuration’, then you may want to go for a self-hosted solution.
Many, many high-profile writers opt for WordPress.com or Blogger.com and swear by them. So it’s not a question of starting with the ‘beginner’ version and working your way up.
Then again, one of the joys of a blog is that it’s not a big deal to start over on a different platform or template, as you can export/import all your content fairly easily. Sometimes you don’t know for sure what you want until you start, and sometimes your needs or tastes change over time.