Welcome to the second post in my new “Blogging Journey” series.
If you missed it, be sure to catch up on Part 1: Choosing a Name and Choosing a Mission, where I shared a little history behind “The Gathered Home” as well as some helpful tips on narrowing down your creative vision.
Today, I want to dig a little a deeper into the nuts and bolts side of blogging with the subject of blogging platforms and blog hosting.
Before we start, I have to address the fact that this is an area that tends to be fraught with fear, divisiveness, misinformation, and bias in discussion. In the blogging community, “Blogspot vs. WordPress” has join the ranks of other famous rivalries like “Coke vs. Pepsi” and “PC vs. Mac.”
And I think sometimes there is unfortunate and unhelpful prejudice on both sides, when it should really come down to a matter of preference and utility.
As someone who has experience blogging on both platforms (and doesn’t drink Coke or Pepsi), I’m excited for the chance to share my perspective.
In all actuality, this post title should really be called, “Choosing The Right Blogging Platform FOR YOU.” Because I truly believe there is no right or wrong answer – only one that may be a better fit for you, depending on your wants and needs.
Today’s post may contain affiliate links for your convenience at no extra charge to you. I may receive a small commission if you sign up or make purchases through them.
The Gathered Home’s History
In the summer of 2012, I staked my claim at “www.thegatheredhome.blogspot.com” by signing up with a free Blogger account. Blogspot/Blogger is a free blogging service owned by Google. There are no fees associated with signing up or hosting your blog there and very few limitations. So it was an absolutely pain-free way to jump right in and give it a try before making any stronger commitments.
In the summer of 2013, I dropped the “blogspot.com” from my blog’s URL by purchasing the domain name “www.thegatheredhome.com” for $10/year, beginning my journey to really customize my blog and make it a functional and pretty website.
Blogs on Blogger can be personalized almost endlessly with a little basic coding (*as long as you always have your site backed up beforehand*), so I was able to muddle through lots of design options on my own with the help of Google and some good old-fashioned trial and error.
One of the most helpful things I did was sign up at Codecademy for free, interactive lessons on the basics of HTML and CSS. I believe it’s so very important for bloggers to understand a little bit of the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into creating their content and their pretty sites! You don’t need to build your own site from the ground up, but I think every blogger would benefit from a good grasp of the basics. I can’t encourage you enough to dabble just a bit!
I would see a cool function over on someone else’s blog or think of a way I wanted mine to look, and then try to figure out how to make it happen. Sometimes I was successful. Sometimes I spent 9 hours trying to figure it out only to have to admit defeat. Sometimes it took several days of research and fiddling before I finally got to experience the magic rush of triumph.
Learning to blog on Blogger was an invaluable learning experience and a wonderful way for me to expand my knowledge without too much fear of “breaking” my site.
However, in the summer of 2015, I decided that it was time to move my blog over from Blogger to a hosted WordPress.org site.
(*Note: WordPress.org is very different from WordPress.com. This article explains more.)
For all the reasons I loved Blogger, I also found it a bit frustrating.
It’s free – but there was no support. If something went wrong, I was the one digging through the back-end trying to find the problem. (Hence my admonition to always have a back-up ready!)
With enough time and knowledge, I could figure out how to customize almost anything – but I was at a point in my blogging journey where I came to realize that my time could be better invested elsewhere. I was tired of wrestling to achieve certain things I envisioned (like a mobile-responsive project gallery) and never quite getting it right.
And I’ll admit it, I also considered moving to WordPress out of fear. When you hear tons of successful bloggers telling you that moving to WordPress is the only way to become a “serious” blogger, you start to think, “Well, maybe that’s why I’m not as super-successful as they are… Maybe moving to WordPress really is the secret. Maybe I’m just holding myself back!”
But you know what? It wasn’t the secret, go figure.
Let me be the voice that says: Your blogging platform is not the key to your success. Be savvy – not scared.
I have no doubt that with the right experience/investment, I could have continued to host The Gathered Home on Blogger with mainly the same results, but moving to a blogging platform that streamlined many of my desires was the next logical move for my blog.
For a hot moment I considered reading up and doing the work myself, but I quickly decided that discretion was the better part of valor and ended up hiring Lisette from High Note Designs to handle the migration for me.
I provided Lisette with all my login credentials and on the scheduled migration day, she handled every last detail over the course of a few hours. The [very reasonable] expense was absolutely and without a doubt worth it.
Once she had handled the technical aspects of moving over all my blog posts, comments, and site design elements, I dove right into making a few long-awaited changes, like pulling together an automatically populated Project Gallery, Vintage Finds page, and Thrift Score Thursday archive and setting up a more-interactive Home Tour page with related post galleries. I can’t tell you how satisfying it has been to finally have my site arranged exactly as I envisioned!
Am I happy I moved to WordPress? Yes, absolutely.
I find the WordPress interface easier to use and customize exactly as I want. Composing a post in Blogger was frequently an exercise in patience and HTML formatting. I’ve come to enjoy writing a post in WordPress so much more!
I haven’t run into any major issues yet, so I can’t speak to the support aspect just yet. However, my hosting fees are minimal at the moment and I can’t believe I let $7/month keep me from making the switch for so long!
I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous to mess around with the coding aspect of my site now – WordPress is very different from Blogger in that respect, and it is very possible to accidentally cause “the white screen of death” if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing!
However, I’ve found a great group of plugins that eliminated a lot of the necessity for coding alterations. (Read more about my favorite WordPress plugins here.) Plugins do have the potential to slow down your site and introduce vulnerabilities, so yes, there is more to consider now, and I do have to be discerning in the number and quality of plugins I use.
In summary, I’m happy to spend a reasonable amount of money each month in exchange for less time working on my blog and access to certain features that are of paramount importance to me.
Was the anti-climactic? I’m sorry, truly, if you were looking for a testimony like, “I moved to WordPress and my traffic tripled overnight.”
(Sidenote: I suspect that stories like that have a lot less to do with what blogging platform the person was using and more to do with the life cycle of their blog – sometimes blogs just experience huge bursts of growth!)
I don’t believe there’s a magic answer or a magic bullet, but I do think I’ve found the right answer for me and my blog, and hopefully the path I took to get there can help give you some insight!
Choosing the Right Blogging Platform
So, I’m sure you’re expecting this by now… I can’t tell you what blogging platform is definitively “right” for you.
But I can give a few suggestions.
I highly recommend Blogger/Blogspot if you:
- Are interested in trying out blogging, but don’t want to make any financial commitments just yet.
- Have the time and desire to explore the world of HTML and CSS so you can learn how to customize your blog. (OR if you’re fine with the idea of hiring out a few site design tweaks.)
- Value the “free” aspect over other concerns – hey, I am such a thrifty girl at heart, I get it!
Note: There is a frequently circulated myth that bloggers on Blogger/Blogspot don’t really own their own content, but rather Google does. Straight from the horse’s mouth: Some of our Services allow you to upload, submit, store, send or receive content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.
I believe there are valid reasons to choose WordPress, but the common fear-mongering of “Google owns your content on Blogger!” isn’t one of them.
I highly recommend WordPress if you:
- Have a little more money to invest in your blog than time. A self-hosted WordPress site will always involve some level of monetary investment – anything from a minimal hosting fee to purchasing a brand new site design.
- Highly value certain specific features – some things just work better on WordPress blogs; many plugins are only available on WordPress.
For ALL bloggers, I highly recommend you:
- Learn the basics of HTML and CSS. Don’t rely on your blogging platform for everything! Utilize free resources like Codecademy or work through an entry-level book like HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites.
- Purchase your own domain name. If you go the self-hosted WordPress.org route, you’ll need to purchase a domain name by default, but even if you use a free blogging platform like Blogger/Blogspot or WordPress.com, you should go ahead and spend a few dollars (around $10, but sometimes a low as 99 cents) per year so that readers can visit “YourBlog.com” instead of “YourBlog.Blogspot.com.”
- Spend time reflecting on good blog design. What’s important to you? How do you want your blog to feel? How do you want it to function? Here’s a secret: Good blog design is largely independent of your blogging platform. If you aren’t able to do it yourself, you can probably find someone who can!
- Focus first and foremost on your content – not the content delivery system. You’ll find highly successful bloggers on any number of blogging platforms, and I can just about guarantee their writing, photography, and creative ideas had a heck of a lot more to do with their success than which blogging platform they use (or started on). Finally, don’t confuse a beautiful blog with a good blog. It’s trite but true – it’s what’s inside that counts!
Whew! Did you make it all the way through? I’m impressed and humbly grateful – thanks for letting me get on my passionate little soapbox and share with you today!
One last thing – I wanted to introduce my new Blogging Resources page with you. I’ll be collecting all these blogging journey posts there as well as helpful resources and links, so check back often!