Digital Marketing Consultant | Passionate Writer | Cat Enthusiast
Blogging is hugely popular today, with the internet playing host to around 500 million blogs and blog writers, collectively releasing over 2 million blog posts every day. And blogs are no longer just the preserve of people who couldn’t start a radio show about their hobby. They’re used for a whole range of purposes, from sharing musings on the latest political developments to driving sales for corporate brands.
If you’re thinking about starting a blog, you’ll find an ocean’s worth of articles about how to choose your topic, set your blogging frequency, and establish your blogging style, but there’s a lot less attention paid to choosing a blogging platform. Yet, this is an important consideration because different platforms are best suited for different purposes.
“If you want to start a personal blog to share your thoughts and experiences, you’re completely fine going with a free blogging platform, like Medium or Blogger,” noted marketing thought leader Neil Patel in a recent article about selecting a blogging platform. “However, if you want to make money blogging, you have to be careful. Most free platforms don’t let you monetize your blog.”
There are probably about as many different blogging platforms as there are blogging objectives, and what matters is finding the platform that best suits your purposes. It’s nowhere near as simple as searching for “the best” platform because there is no objective “best platform” – only the best platform for your situation as it stands right now.
As a case in point, look at Hacker Noon itself. In a nutshell, Hacker Noon began on the Medium.com platform, but as circumstances changed, it had to leave, crowdfunded the development of its own blogging platform, and here you are, reading an article on the independent Hacker Noon blog.
In the beginning, as Hacker Noon founder David Smooke tells it, Medium made it easy for people to set up their own publications on the platform. Each writer could have their own account and publish through it to different publications within Medium, which was perfect for Hacker Noon.
Hacker Noon grew a community as a publisher on Medium, supporting itself with an unobtrusive co-sponsored top banner. It was exactly what Smooke wanted. “The community aspect of this is really what’s grown it because all the content is owned by the community — the individual community members,” said Smooke about the platform arrangement, “we have a non-exclusive license to publish here.”
But then it all ground to a crashing halt. Medium blocked Hacker Noon’s revenue stream by forbidding them from accepting advertising income and stopped Hacker Noon from running content under a non-exclusive license by insisting that content be placed behind Medium’s paywall. Hacker Noon needed revenue and wanted to continue as an open community, so Smooke had to choose between selling out to Medium, closing down, or moving to a self-hosted platform.
Smooke made the leap and chose to move.
“It’s a tough pivot. It changed my entire life,” Smooke said. “I mean, I bet my business on this content management system and trusted that area of the technology was taken care of and I could focus on growing the site, getting better content, building a better community, looking at having events, having a community forum, and just …It was nice to not have to worry about what the content management system will do.”
One positive takeaway from the Hacker Noon saga is that choosing a platform doesn’t need to be a one-and-done decision. Sometimes your objectives change with time, tech platforms can change their terms of service, and sometimes you simply make the wrong decision, but all is not lost. Like Smooke, you can pivot and correct the situation, even if you already have an established blog.
But obviously, it’s best to get your platform right from the beginning. If you’re thinking of launching a blog, consider your objectives to help you select the platform that’s best suited to your needs. Let’s break it all down according to the use case.
When you want to build an online revenue stream with any number of monetization options coming through your website, it’s crucial to set up a fully integrated blog that serves your commerce model.
Integrated blogs are an effective way of establishing or supporting any kind of business, be it B2B or B2C, selling products or services, trading digital or physical goods, etc. You could use it to sell ad space or as a way to attract leads.
A fully self-owned blog enables you to establish a media following, scaling up to sell paid subscriptions and membership plans and sending blog posts as email newsletters, or to nurture an online community of like-minded tribespeople who all share their thoughts and input.
If someone else is hosting your blog, or if your blog is somewhat siloed from whatever your business is, then you’re just adding friction. And if your blog lives on a different domain from your business, then you’re missing out on the potential for your articles’ search rankings to improve your business’s ability to surface on Google.
Whatever your monetization strategy might be, the blog itself must be totally under your control. That means you own all your visitor data and email list, can set retargeting pixels at will, run experiments, own the entire process of capturing and nurturing leads, and can integrate the content audience experience with the commerce buyer’s journey.
Total design control is no less important. You need the freedom to brand your blog however you like. Match your branding to your business site to create a seamless user experience and marry content with commerce.
For these situations, the best option is a self-hosted blog platform. WordPress.org is the standard choice since it can support both business sites and blogs while leaving you to choose your host, fully manage, and own your content database and front end.
If you’re willing to tinker with the code, there are no limits to your customization options, and even code-free users can choose between plenty of different themes and plugins that offer a huge range of functionalities, although many do incur costs. Plus, you can set user permissions at different levels for different visitors, which helps when growing a community.
Drupal is also a good choice. It’s similar to WordPress in that it’s self-hosted and fully customizable with lots of functionalities, but it has a steeper learning curve and requires coding knowledge. However, if you have the tech know-how, it’s a more advanced and secure platform than WordPress.
If you want to use your media empire to attract and convert business, and you already have a business site, it’s best to use your existing website hosting platform to host your blog.
For smaller businesses, especially those in the e-commerce realm, DIY platforms like Shopify or Weebly can be attractive, although their hosted-for-you, black-box tech might be too limiting for large brands. Either way, these all-in-one platforms leave you with solid control over your marketing and sales funnels, interface designs, commerce capabilities and tool integration.
Blogging is an excellent way to promote your brand, no matter what your vertical, audience, or business model. Having an offsite blog allows you to build your own inbound links for SEO, enabling you to build brand awareness and drive traffic to your business site using “rented land".
In these situations, the fact that your blog posts are separate and non-branded is a bonus, because it adds credibility and drives organic traffic. Links to blog posts from independent blogging domains can raise your presence on SERPs, both thanks to link juice pointing to your owned media presence and thanks to having more messaging on other domains, as a type of “shared media.”
Make no mistake, though – even in these situations, you still want to maximize your control over and visibility into visitor data. You need to be able to analyze it to track conversion rates, clickthrough rates, views, and engagement, so you can see what’s working and what needs improvement.
CMS Hub, Hubspot’s CMS platform, is designed expressly for raising brand awareness. It integrates all your marketing campaigns and offers powerful built-in analytics. Its capabilities are strong, and you can use it on any domain, but it is a “walled garden,” and an expensive one at that.
Another consideration is a platform that makes it easy to share posts to social media and integrate social media feeds and posts, to coordinate campaigns that raise visibility. Tumblr is ideal for connecting media streams, with plenty of tools to help you share and reshare content across multiple networks.
However, guest blogging also plays an important role when promoting your brand. It brings you before more eyes, especially when you post to multi-author contributor publications like Business2Community, Thrive Global, or Hacker Noon itself. LinkedIn Publisher and Medium also deserve mentions in this context, as they’re both easy-to-use hybrids of social media and blogging platforms.
Admittedly, these aren’t true “blogging platforms” that you can own and control. Customization options are low and you’ll only have limited access to data, but as an adjunct to an owned blog, they are great places for building awareness, driving traffic, and strengthening SEO signals. They give you a stage and introduce you to an audience that can go on to follow your posts and subscribe to your social media presence.
The lion’s share of blogs launch with zero intention to monetize, but simply as a form of expression. You might wish to run a personal blog that airs your views on the political situation, the weather, or the price of Crocs; or you can share creative projects like photography, scrapbooking, knitting, or party planning.
If you’re primarily sharing visual media, you’ll need a platform that’s tailored to the right layouts and has the bandwidth to support heavy media files. If building an audience is important to you, easy shareability to social media is another consideration. Depending on your interests, you may want to connect a lot of social media channels, including more specialist ones like Pinterest, Discord or Ravelry, which might not be integrated natively into every blog platform.
Unless your hobby is running code, you probably need something that’s easy to set up and use and doesn’t demand a lot of expertise or tech knowledge, with drag and drop editors and built-in SEO tools to make your blog and store more discoverable. You’ll also need to think about how important it is to be able to customize your blog.
Finally, most hobby bloggers need to keep costs down as much as possible. Blogger or Write.as are the most popular “beginner” blog platforms, because they are both free and extremely easy to use, with DIY design and easy editing tools. But they aren’t great for visual blogs, and customization is limited.
Wordpress.com, which is the simplified and hosted-for-you version of WordPress.org, is also free, easy, and suitable for blogs that are primarily text-oriented and don’t need robust customization.
When it comes to visual media, Squarespace leads the way, together with Wix. Both are easy to use with social media integrations, plenty of customization options, and free plans, although you’ll probably need a paid plan to get all the functionality you need. Tumblr is also great for visual-oriented and/or microblogs, offering easy tools to help you curate content across multiple media channels.
Bear in mind that even if you begin your blog as a hobby and don’t care much about monetization or discoverability, that can change. These platforms are great for getting started, but as proven by Hacker Noon’s journey, you can re-platform later when you need more customization, monetization or control. Some platforms offer content export tools to help you move to a new home, including WordPress.com, which offers native tools to migrate to WordPress.org.
Whether you want to raise brand awareness and reputation, establish a versatile owned media realm with plenty of monetization options, or share your thoughts or visual images, there’s a blogging platform that meets your needs.
Price, customization, monetization opportunities, and ease of use all play a role, and there are enough options that you’re guaranteed to find something that’s best for your purposes.
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