One of the first questions confronting new bloggers is whether to choose the free hosting route or to be ‘self-hosted’. Certainly the free route appears the cheap and easy option, but if you’re hoping to make money from your blog then self-hosting is the way to go, as I’ll explain in this post. The main reason is fairly clear – you want your blog to be taken seriously by both your readers and search engines alike, and be flexible enough to evolve along with you and your needs as a blogger.
Some examples of free blogging platforms are Weebly, Blogger, GoDaddy and Wix. With these platforms your website’s files are hosted on that platform’s servers, unlike a self-hosted blog which is on it’s own server.
Free blogs are fine if you’re not planning to make a profit from your blog, but just want to keep an online diary, or keep friends and family updated with your pictures and videos etc. If you try to make changes and adjustments to your site, including design changes or attempts to monetize it by including ads, you will soon find many inconvenient restrictions.
Say for instance you want to change the placement of your social media icons, and would like to place them in your sidebar rather than the header. In that case you’ll have a problem, as most free hosts don’t allow you to change their theme’s underlying structure.
The fact that your host’s domain name is added to yours, e.g. www.mysite.blogspot.com, immediately makes your site appear amateurish to expert eyes, so advertisers for instance are unlikely to take you seriously. You can pay to have the host’s domain name removed however for a reasonable fee.
The number of free templates is very restricted compared to a self-hosted site, so if you want your site to be designed to certain specifications you’re likely to need to hire professional help.
One of the biggest drawbacks to free blogging is poor Search Engine Optimization (SEO), since all content that you create is indexed to the free site. Also Google tends to rank these sites more harshly than the self-hosted variety. It is rare for a subdomain to outrank a self-hosted site.
Since in the long term (not initially) SEO is usually the best way to drive traffic to your site, this demonstrates why the free option is a poor choice from the monetization point of view – you will ultimately greatly restrict the amount of possible blog traffic.
Many free platforms have a clause in their Terms of Service (TOS) stating that your site can be deleted without warning if you violate those TOS. They may also state that they retain ownership of your content.
“But can’t I start out free and migrate my blog to self-hosted later on?” Yes you can but it could be quite an ordeal. The biggest problem is likely to be your permalinks, which will all need to be pointed to your new domain name. It’s still a reasonable option though, and most hosting services will do it for free.
So to sum up, free blogging has many inconvenient restrictions, and overall it’s best to only consider the free option if you wish to start out and remain an amateur blogger.
Self Hosted Blogging
To start a self hosted blog you’ll have to pay for your domain name and hosting service, but in return will gain a lot more freedom and design choices for your new site.
You can easily make your site look very professional by choosing from a wide variety of themes or ‘Child Themes’, and customize it however you like with ‘widgets’, plugins and some simple CSS commands (your site host’s support staff is usually happy to help with that sort of thing. My host for instance, SiteGround, is actually famous for it’s prompt and helpful support.)
You are of course free to place ads and banner ads wherever you like on your site’s pages, another thing which can’t easily be done with the free sites, which generally place restrictions on advertising.
Being able to download plugins, with literally thousands to choose from, to expand your website’s capabilities is also a major advantage of self hosting. With plugins you have great flexibility to add to or change any part of your website in a simple and convenient manner which is simply not possible with a free site.
Self Hosting Costs
I recommend NameCheap for buying your domain name, as it works out cheaper in the long run than purchasing it through your hosting service. The cost is generally around $14 to $18 per year.
For hosting I chose SiteGround for this blog, after reading many reviews and asking advice on forums. Hosting rates at SiteGround start at $3.95 per month. I have had different hosts in the past but SiteGround is easily the best, and seems to get the best reviews and word-of-mouth on forums. When you’re hosted by SiteGround WordPress is also included for free. WordPress is the world’s most popular Content Management System (CMS) so I’d definitely recommend it for beginners and experienced bloggers alike.
If you Google ‘website hosts’ you’ll see many positive reviews for BlueHost but be warned: they pay (or at least used to) high affiliate fees and so most of the reviews are self-serving. As my review shows, feedback on BlueHost is generally very poor. When in doubt, ask on forums or Facebook groups where people aren’t making any profit from their reviews and advice.
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