If you’re planning to kick off your blogging (or content marketing) career, stick around. This article is going to get you started the right way.
As a marketing agency, we deal with requests from a variety of clients, but one of the most common questions we face from start-up’s, businesses moving into digital commerce and individuals looking to pursue their dreams is…
…where should I host my blog/website?
There are a bewildering amount of options out there. So, I’ve decided to settle the score once and for all by casting a judgement from my own experience as a blogger, editor and content director.
What Are Your Aims?
Before delving into the world of blogging and content marketing, you must know your aims and have a desired direction.
Everything you do should be primed with this finish line in mind. This promised-land destination must be apparent in your content, distribution (marketing) and finally, your blog hosting platform.
I’ve seen several articles like this one, in which the author has stated that it’s more important to begin, than spend time deciding which blogging platform to use.
This is poor advice.
Yes, it’s crucial you get started ASAP, but if you rush into a platform that isn’t built for growth, steals your greatest commodity (more on this in a moment) and doesn’t align with your long-term aims, you’ll waste a ton of time.
Before you read any further, I’d like to save some of you a chunk of valuable time…
…if you purely want to express your opinions on a topic, have no ambition to own or monetise your blog, don’t care too much about growth or building a brand (personal or business)… then search Google and do whatever feels right. Personally, I’d recommend going with a free blogging platform. Preferably one with a large amount of users.
But, if you’re kicking off this blog to grow your brand, potentially make some money (in the future), build an audience of loyal followers and are serious about content marketing, there’s something crucial you must understand, regardless of your aims…
Own Your Traffic
The biggest problem with blogging platforms like Medium and Tumblr (even LinkedIn), is that you don’t actually own your content’s most valuable commodity…
You might be able to track followers, views and likes, but even though you’ve worked super-hard to drive those numbers up, the traffic isn’t actually yours, it’s theirs.
In other words, you’re putting in all the hard work and they’re making all the gains.
For anybody new to the digital world this all might sound trivial, but I literally cannot emphasise enough how important this is.
I know Medium and Tumblr (just two examples in a web full of content platforms like this) will promote your content, share it with their community and make design incredibly user friendly, but this is because your content is beneficial to them.
The most valuable thing to any website is traffic. It’s not follower count (especially now that fake followers can be bought), design or quality content.
Some of you might have a hard time understanding this, so let me use an example to explain. Amazon is the Internet’s biggest retailer, imagine what would happen if nobody went to their website. How many sales would they make?
No traffic = no movement towards your aims.
Don’t let somebody else own it.
That being said, I don’t dislike Tumblr or Medium. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. I use both of these platforms as distribution points. Content is published on my website and then I import these articles onto both of these sites, driving Medium and Tumblr traffic to my (or my client’s) website.
Why is Traffic so Valuable?
When you own traffic, you can move towards your goal. There are a ton of different reasons for this, let’s take a look at a few of the biggest.
I can’t tell you how irritating it is to hear bloggers say that analytics are available for blogging platforms (owned by somebody else).
The fact is, the number of readers, likes and shares your articles gain doesn’t actually say a lot. Sure, you’ll be able to see what content is attracting the most readers, but you won’t know if you’re reaching your target audience, what effect it has had on your readers and most importantly, you won’t have a clear understanding of how to increase your traffic.
When you have your own website, you are able to discover all of these things with the help of FREE analytics tools. My personal favourite is Google Analytics.
By regularly tracking the analytics of a blog/website, you can discover:
- Behavioural metrics: You can see how long people are spending on your articles, what actions they take after reading (e.g. reading something else or exiting) and their navigational movements through your website (to name a few).
- Acquisition: This will give you an in-depth analysis of where you’re gaining traffic from. This is crucial when growing your traffic. Use the data to implement a plan and track traffic spikes. Find the spikes, analyse why they happened and replicate them!
- Conversions: Whilst this might not be relevant for somebody starting out, it will be essential further down the line. Conversions allow you to track actions by page, specifically buying and lead generation pages.
Blogging platforms do include analytics within a personal account’s user-face, but it’s nowhere near as powerful or insightful as that of a tool like Google Analytics. The information held here is invaluable.
At some point, you’ll probably want to advertise your website or blog. This can be done for very little money, especially on social networks like Facebook.
When you blog on a platform that you don’t own, you are effectively spending your money to boost their traffic, domain authority and brand.
But it gets worse…
As a website owner, you are able to place a ‘pixel’ on your website that tracks all your web traffics interactions on your site. This is absolutely crucial to the growth of your blog/website.
Using the pixel you are able to show ads to people who have already entered your site (have you ever seen an ad for a product after you viewed it?), or better still, increase your reach by targeting your ad at people who have similar interests to those who have already been to your site (using a lookalike audience).
Even if you aren’t planning to advertise, your plans will probably change when you realise how cheap and effective it is (particularly on social media). When you own your own website, this option is always available.
The Snowball Effect
Your blog/website will grow over time, especially if you consistently publish quality articles.
As you grow, you will acquire traffic from a variety of different sources. Your social following will grow (and will be directly correlated with a branded URL), you’ll receive return visitors via direct hits, referrals from other websites, but most valuably…
…your organic traffic will grow.
Organic traffic refers to people who have arrived at your website via a search engine.
When you start out, your organic traffic will be very low, but as your website ages and you publish more content, this will increase and after a while, it will snowball.
Traffic from search engines is highly-qualified (their search has defined them as somebody who is very interested in your content), immensely valuable and FREE.
When you own a website, all the free traffic from a search engine can be used to help you reach your end goal.
With time and consistency, you’ll see your website’s growth snowball and you’ll own every last piece of it.
If you’d like to learn more about optimising your articles and web pages for search engines, check out Page Optimisation: How We Optimise Every Page and Blog for Search.
So, What Do I Recommend?
I know there are a lot of options when it comes to building a website and hosting your content, but in my experience as a blogger, content writer, marketer and director of content, there are only two.
I’m sorry to anybody who uses Wix, SquareSpace, Weebly, iPage (and any other platform I might’ve forgotten)…
…they’re good, but they don’t even come close to touching either of my top two.
I rate both of these CMS’s (content management systems) equally. The decision you make depends on your skills, experience and ambitions.
If you’re somebody just starting out, who doesn’t have that much tech knowledge, would like hosting included, wants to own their own traffic and feels the need to discover more about content marketing (from hands-on experience)…
….I’d recommend WordPress.com.
This CMS is perfect for anybody new to blogging and content. It includes tons of plugins, is really cheap, easy to use (and design) and is a great platform to realise quick growth.
In addition to all those amazing features, when you’re ready, you can move seamlessly onto my next recommendation.
When it comes to websites, blogging and the digital world, there really is no better platform than my final recommendation. It even powers over 30% of the entire internet’s websites!
WordPress.org (yes, it’s different to wordpress.com) is the biggest, meanest and most powerful CMS for building and managing a website.
It requires more technical skills than WordPress.com and you’ll need to buy your own website hosting, but it’s worth it. Trust me, it really is.
If you have big ambitions, this is the place to build your blog/website. WordPress.org includes all the amazing benefits of its .com namesake (except hosting) and so much more.
Nothing is more valuable to website owners than traffic. Don’t let somebody enjoy the fruits of your blogging labour, make sure you own your traffic!
If you’re just starting out or haven’t earned all your tech stripes yet, start out with wordpress.com, and when you’re ready, make the step up to wordpress.org.
These two CMS’s are the world’s most popular for a reason!
There are good alternatives, but why settle for good when you can have great?
If you’d like to learn more about content marketing, or starting your own blog, check out What We’ve Learned From a Year of Blogging!