How to: choose the perfect blogging software

Blogging-software-eds.jpg

Are you feeling the need to start a blog?

Perhaps you’ve already got an account on Blogger, WordPress.com or LiveJournal but you’re ready to host your own blog.

This Tech Digest how-to guide will help you to decide which of the many pieces of blog software and hosting options is right for you.

I’ll look at:

  1. the pros and cons of the different types of blog hosting available;
  2. the benefits of having your own domain name;
  3. a quick way to narrow down the choice of which blogging software to use;
  4. an overview of the main types of blogging software;
  5. some things to look out for when it comes to choosing a web host for your blog

Head over the jump to start.


Types of blog hosting: pros and cons

Firstly, it’s important to understand that there are several ways that your blog can be hosted.

Free blog hosting refers to services that offer you a free space on their web server to run your own blog.

Services such as Blogger, LiveJournal and WordPress.com fall into this category.

While they’re generally easy to set up, they offer fairly limited functionality, are often supported by adverts that you have no control over, and blogs hosted with them are possibly the most at risk of being deleted should someone complain about content.

Nevertheless, they’re a good introduction to blogging for people who’ve never tried it before.

Paid blog hosting refers to services where you pay a monthly or annual fee for access to the blog software and space on a web server.

Services such as Blogs.mu and Typepad fall into this category.

This option often offers the user more features and blog customisation options without the hassles of setting up their own web space. The fee generally covers web hosting and access to support services, plus pays the staff who are looking after the service as a whole.

If you’re a control freak, you may be disappointed that you still don’t get complete control over you blog.

Self hosting refers to setting up your own web space with a service provider and then installing and administering your own blog software.

Blog software such as WordPress, WordPress MU and Movable Type are generally offered to users who want to manage their own blogs.

This option offers the highest level of customisation and control (depending upon which web hosting provider you choose — more on that later) but means you’ll have to get your hands dirty at some point.

If you love the thought of having control over every aspect of your blog, including how it runs on the server, then this is definitely the option for you. It will generally cost more — financial, time, and learning curve — to set up and administer, but in return offers the most flexibility.

Social network blog refers to any service that’s an add-on to a social network site.

Services such as Facebook and MySpace fall into this category.

This option offers the casual (but prolific) social media user the ability to easily integrate a blog and share its contents with friends and other contacts.

However, it generally offers very little flexibility in terms of layout and customisation, and it can be very difficult to extract the posts you’ve written should you ever close your account.

If you just want to share you thoughts with a select group of friends, adding a blog module to your favourite social network platform may be the way to go, but for anything more I’d choose one of the other options.

Should you get your own domain name?

Your choice of blogging platform will depend a little on whether you want to use your own domain name.

The domain name is what someone would type in to the address bar on their web browser, or what a search engine like Google would identify as your web site.

For example, Tech Digest’s domain name is techdigest.tv. It had to be registered and is renewed each year so that no-one else can use it.

Domain names cost a small amount of money to buy and renew, but they offer better branding. techdigest.tv looks better than techdigest.wordpress.com or techdigest.blogger.com, which is the kind of web address we’d likely get if we hosted this on a free blogging service.

It’s worth making the decision early on. If you’re planning on running a blog as part of a business, or to showcase a personal portfolio, then I’d suggest having a domain name is vital.

It’s a lot easier to register a domain name now and build your blog under it, than decide to do it later and have to move everything across. That can lose you visitors, search engine ranking and credibility.

Note that it’s perfectly possible to have a successful, highly visited blog on a free service without a personalised domain.

Having your own domain is vital if you’re going to host your own blog. It also opens up more possibilities further down the line, such as expanding your web site to include other services all packaged up under the same name.

Domain names generally only cost a few pounds to register and renew. The tricky part is thinking of a good one. I’d use Domains Bot to brainstorm ideas, then register with someone like GoDaddy or UKReg.

Deciding which blogging software to use

It can be tricky to decide which the best software to use is. The following flow chart will narrow down the choice you have to make based upon whether you want your own domain name, want to pay for your blog, and host it yourself or have someone else do that.

Once you’ve done that, read on for a closer look at the main blog platforms.

Blogging software: main features

I started by looking at the main types of blog hosting. Now I’ll take a closer look at the main types of blog software and their main features.

blogger-logo.pngBlogger

  • About: Blogger is a service run by Google, and is one of the most popular free blog hosting services.
  • Blog address: yourblogname.blogger.com or alternatively you can use a custom domain name. (More details)
  • Customisation: Blogger offers a reasonable amount of customisation of the design and layout.
  • Spam protection: Offers a fairly high level of spam protection by implementing “CAPTCHA” image/audio system for people leaving comments.
  • Ads? Blogger seems to be ad free though Google often encourages its publishers to run AdSense advertising.
  • Cost: Free to use, except for the cost of a domain name if you choose to use one.

Blogger.com

blogs-mu-logo.pngBlogs.mu

  • About: New kid on the block. Offers free WordPress MU (MultiUser) blogs that can be used to host multiple blogs with multiple authors.
  • Blog address: yourblogname.blogs.mu or alternatively you can use a custom domain name.
  • Customisation: Very basic customisation on free account. Paid “supporters” get many more customisation options.
  • Spam protection: Uses Automattic’s “Akismet” spam prevention WordPress plug-in – generally decent protection but occasionally goes belly-up.
  • Ads? Free account is ad supported. Paid accounts can either remove ads or replace with user’s own.
  • Cost: Free account. Paid “supporter” status starts at $9 (about £5) per month.

Blogs.mu feature list | Blogs.mu

livejournal-logo.pngLiveJournal

  • About: Has been around since 1999 and now has over 20 million journals.
  • Blog address: yourblogname.livejournal.com or alternatively you can use a custom domain name.
  • Customisation: Fairly basic level of customisation compared to the likes of WordPress and Movable Type.
  • Spam protection: Varies from account to account, adequate.
  • Ads? Free accounts are ad supported. Paid accounts don’t display ads.
  • Cost: Free account. A paid account is $19.95 per year.

LiveJournal.com

movable-type-logo.gif

Movable Type

  • About: Run by Six Apart since 2001, Movable Type is designed to be downloaded and installed on a personal web server.
  • Blog address: Hosted at your own domain name eg yourblog.com
  • Customisation: Highly customisable through the use of plugins, most of which are fairly easily installed from the main administration dashboard.
  • Spam protection: Advanced software such as TypePad AntiSpam plus other third-party plugins help to combat comment spam very effectively.
  • Ads? Only if the blog owner wants to run them.
  • Cost: For limited personal use a free download is available (of course you still have to pay for your own web space). More advanced versions (multi-author, for example) require a license, starting at $395.95 (one-off fee).

MovableType.com

typepad-logo.pngTypePad

  • About: Run by Six Apart, this is a paid-for hosted blog platform – in other words, you pay to use the company’s software and web space, you don’t need your own.
  • Blog address: yourblogname.blogger.com or alternatively you can use a custom domain name.
  • Customisation: Very high level of customisation available. You don’t get control over the web server itself, but you do have control over most aspects of how your blog looks and operates.
  • Spam protection: Advanced software such as TypePad AntiSpam plus other third-party plugins help to combat comment spam very effectively.
  • Ads? Only if the blog owner wants to run them.
  • Cost: Prices start at $4.95 per month, with other options at $8.95 and $14.95 per month. More expensive accounts offer unlimited blogs and more bandwidth (how many pages and other stuff your blog can serve up each month – more popular and/or multimedia-rich blogs need more bandwidth)

TypePad

wordpress-dot-com-logo.pngstrong>WordPress.com

  • About: Run by Automattic, this is a free hosted blog platform based on the hugely popular WordPress blogging software.
  • Blog address: yourblogname.wordpress.com or alternatively you can use a custom domain name.
  • Customisation: Moderate level of customisation over design theme and plugins.
  • Spam protection: Uses Automattic’s “Akismet” spam prevention WordPress plug-in – generally decent protection but occasionally goes belly-up.
  • Ads? Occasionally shown but can be removed for an annual fee.
  • Cost: Free. Premium features incur a small annual cost.

WordPress.com

wordpress-logo.jpgWordPress

  • About: Free blogging software designed to be downloaded and installed on a personal web server.
  • Blog address: Hosted at your own domain name eg yourblog.com
  • Customisation: Highly customisable through the use of plugins, most of which are fairly easily installed from the main administration dashboard.
  • Spam protection: Can use Automattic’s “Akismet” spam prevention WordPress plug-in, plus other third-party plugins, for decent overall protection from spam comments.
  • Ads? Only if the blog owner wants to run them.
  • Cost: Free to download but remember to factor in the cost of web hosting.

WordPress.org

Choosing a web host

Should you decide to run something like Movable Type or WordPress on your own web server, there are a few things worth looking out for.

It’s beyond the scope of this guide to tell you everything to look for in a host, but here are some important things to check.

  1. Check that the web host supports everything that the blog software requires. For example, WordPress requires PHP and a MySQL database.
  2. Be wary of web hosts which promise “unlimited bandwidth” or “unlimited web space” for a very low price, because blog software can actually be quite processor-intensive and you could find that a popular blog starts running very slowly, “crashes”, or your account is suspended.
  3. If you’re unsure about installing software from scratch, look for a host that includes a control panel that can install the blog software you’re after.
  4. Look/ask for recommendations from other bloggers about what blog hosts they use. Try to get impartial advice rather than offers from people who are on commission!
  5. Don’t feel obliged to buy a domain name from your web host.
  6. If you’re just buying a domain name to use with a hosted service like Blogger, Blogs.mu, WordPress.com or TypePad, ensure you register it with someone that gives you access to the full record. That’s because you often need to change what’s known as the “CNET” record. If in doubt, get some advice from the blog company.

Conclusion

Setting up a blog needn’t be complicated, but if it’s something you’re planning on taking seriously, a little forethought now will really help a few months down the line.

Personally, I’m a big fan of hosting a blog on my own server because it gives me the most control. However, it’s not necessarily for the fainthearted.

For those wanting complete control for minimal financial investment, I’d recommend WordPress. Movable Type comes a very close second.

If you don’t want hosting hassles but do want a lot of control, check out TypePad.

Otherwise, one of the free hosting options will get you blogging. You can always upgrade or start again later.

If I’ve missed out your favourite blogging platform, or done one of them a disservice, then do feel free to leave a comment below.

If you’re already blogging, what software do you use? How did you choose it?






About the Author

Andy Merrett

Andy MerrettHow to: choose the perfect blogging software
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