Promo people and industry experts everywhere are advising clients – and anyone who will listen – that starting a blog can do wonders to promote a business. So whether you’re a real estate agent or an author (or both!), no doubt blogging is on your must-do list for this year.
I started my original, free WordPress blog in March 2011, and quickly found that blogging is about art, discipline, and commitment. What to write, when to post and the best reasons to blog in the first place have been explained by better bloggers than myself. Check out Tess Hardwick’s guest post about why you should join the club.
My discussion in this post is how intentions and the future you envision for your blog should affect the choice of venue you choose. In other words, consider your blog’s direction before you set it up. When I began, all I could think was “just do it, already!” I didn’t have goals or a plan for how a website could benefit me down the road. In retrospect, I wish I’d been less of a pantser and more of a plotter.
WordPress.com is one of the most popular free blog hosting sites out there. That’s right, with minimal work and limited computer skills, anyone can set up a free blog and start to post. But WordPress – and other free blog sites – limit your ability to control the look and functionality of your website. It’s an important consideration. In addition, free WordPress sites display the url wordpress.com. Since I couldn’t register anything close to my own name on free WordPress, my original blog didn’t help establish my “brand” in any way.
About my blog: I posted once a week consistently right from the start. According to my stats page (a WordPress perk), views grew slowly over six months to an average of 26 per day, with a higher average of apx. 60 views every day I published a new post. I’m indebted to my friend Terri Long, because her guest post How to Sell 100 Books a Day soon drew a lot of attention and boosted my page views to an average of 77 per day.
Soon after, I posted How to Build a Quality Twitter Following FAST andgot an amazing 378 views in 24 hours. Encouraged (ecstatic!), I began to use Hootsuite (watch for a future post about this fabulous twitter tool) to pre-schedule tweets with links to my backlog of posts, one per hour 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. With that, page views grew to an average of 99 daily within 8 months of starting my free blog, and I’d gained over 100 subscribers.
At the same time, I began final edits on my debut novel, Mark of the Loon. Too bad I hadn’t thought ahead about the possibilities for my blog and how I could develop it. If I’d planned, I would have realized how cool it would be to provide free sample chapters that potential readers could download from my site. (That’s how I found Author Pam Beason and her wonderful novels.) Yep, chapter downloads. Brilliant. But you can’t do that on free WordPress.
So, if you’re a new WordPress blogger, or your goal is “To Start a Blog,” my suggestion is to research and list the functionality you’d eventually like from your website. Your own website address, fancy themes, widgets and plug-ins are not available on free WordPress. Here are several reasons to begin with (or move now) to a self-hosted WordPress.org site. Basically, it boils down to more control and more options.
Your self-hosted site can …
- Display your own web address, “your.name.com,” which helps brand you
- Include ads to generate revenue, if desired
- Use a different comment system, if desired
- Turn your single-author blog into a multi-user site with various contributors
- Provide free sample downloads of books, and even sell your books on your hosted site
Now for the drawbacks: The self-hosted process requires a few more steps. There’s more to figure out. (Keep in mind though, I set up my own simple site and I am far from a Computer Tech.) AND – and here’s the big and: You can’t move your subscribers with you. That’s right. You can package and take all the content from your free WordPress blog, but not your subscribers. They all must manually re-subscribe. Sadly, I lost most of mine when I moved, and only hope that great content going forward will bring them back. Bottom line: If you start with a self-hosted blog and website, you’ll NEVER have to move your subscriber list.
One of the simplest alternatives to free WordPress.com is (self-hosted) WordPress.org (I know, confusing). What’s the difference? You must pay to maintain a website using the WordPress.org framework. But if I could snag a do-over, I’d start with a self-hosted site, no question. If you haven’t started a blog yet and you’re ready to take the leap, here’s the simplified process:
- Go to Bluehost.com (many web developers prefer other hosting companies over Go Daddy)
- Purchase your domain name
- Sign up for two years of hosting (it’s a bit cheaper)
- Purchase a WordPress theme from Woo or Elegant (links next week)
- Style the theme a little bit – or simply use the defaults for now
- Add a “subscribe to my blog” widget
Next week I’ll describe the process of actually moving an existing WordPress blog in more detail. Meanwhile, feel free to leave a comment about your own pros and cons or experiences with a free blog or self-hosted website!
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