This is a series of posts about starting your own blog in 5 minutes or 5 days. In my last post, I wrote about some key questions you should ask before you start a blog and the ways you can differentiate your blog. In this post, I’m going to talk about picking a platform.
Step 2: Pick a Platform For Your Blog (Are You A Needy Control Freak?)
This is essentially the step where you have to decide whether you want to go with an out-of-the-box free host or something with more flexibility. This is the splitting point that decides whether you can setup your blog in 5 minutes or 5 days. Really, your answer to this will be most influenced by how tech savvy you are and whether your blog is for business or not. There are a couple of key questions you need to answer:
- Do You Need Complete Control Over The Look and Code? – Many of the quick start blog providers offer some set of themes to tweak the look and feel of your blog. If you want to import something designed by someone else, or have your own designers match your company’s style guide, then you’ll need a platform that supports this level of control. Similarly, if you want to add in special code, say for web analytics, you’ll want to pick a platform that lets you insert your own code wherever you want. That’s a lesson I learned the hard way when I needlessly wasted $10 and several hours thinking that buying the CSS extension to WordPress.com (the hosted version) would let me setup Google Analytics (it doesn’t, duh).
- Is Tech Support Critical? – There is no free lunch when it comes to blogging. If you choose a free vendor or free host, then you will be at the mercy of user forums the good graces of the internet to solve any dilemmas you have. This problem is exacerbated if you’re not technically inclined or are running a business blog without a blogging guru in-house to help you out. Of course, sometimes learning by doing is the best way to master the medium (hence, DigitalAlex).
Once you’ve decided which kind of blogger you are, then you have to stake your lot with one of the 4 major blog platforms:
- WordPress – This is an open source, community supported tool available 2 flavors, the free, fully hosted version with limited control (WordPress.com) and the free, unhosted version with unlimited control (WordPress.org)
- Blogger – This is the granddaddy of platforms. Blogger helped launch the blogosphere and was later snapped up by Google.
- Typepad – This is Six Apart’s more personal-oriented service.
- Moveable Type – Also from Six Apart, this version is more oriented toward business and enterprise level bloggers.
Your own blog needs, budget and personal preferences will dictate which of these platforms appeals most to you. Personally, I favor WordPress because it supports the open-source movement, it has a ton of community developed plug-ins and its size and goodwill mean that it’ll probably be a good bet for the long-term.
I wanted control over my blog, so I chose the downloadable version of WordPress (aka WordPress.org) and found a host to set it up to my specifications. The consequence of this choice for me has been that I’ve had to delve farther into the technical details than I might normally, but the experience has been very educational. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in influencing their site directly and who is willing to put in a bit more effort into the nitty gritty.
For a much more specific breakdown of the various features, benefits and technical specifics of each vendor, check out this blog comparison chart.
Pick a Blog Host (You Have To Put That Thing Somewhere)
If you’ve decided to go the fully hosted route, say through WordPress.com, then you’re already setup with a host. Simply follow the instructions and you’re good to go in 5 minutes. If you’re going with a platform you have to host yourself, say WordPress.org, then you’ll need a place to host the software. If you’re a business, this will be with whoever hosts your regular site. If, like me, your blog is your website, then you’ll have to start looking.
I started with the list suggest by my platform, though you might just want to ask around to some friends or colleagues who have blogs to see which one they’re satisfied with. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Aside from the usual price considerations, check their feature list to see if they offer any particularly interesting features that you need (ex: easy synching with PayPal or automatic installation of WordPress).
- If you’re not technically inclined, make sure the interface is user-friendly. Many hosts use standard software called C-Panel that is point-and-click.
- Test out their customer service before you buy, particularly on the weekends (chances are that you’ll be blogging then). Trust me; this one is definitely worth the time. I was close to signing up with one vendor and decided to ask for a preview of their WordPress theme gallery. Well, 45 minutes later and I was brusquely informed that I couldn’t have a preview. Another vendor answered all of my questions quickly and graciously, so I switched to them at the last minute.
I ultimately signed up with HostICan, though after digging around a bit, I wish I had considered MediaTemple. If you do choose one of the larger hosting services, do a quick check for discounts at RetailMeNot.