This is Part Four of an eight-part series entitled Blog Life: The Ultimate Guide to Making a Living From Blogging.
Choosing the right platform to power your blog will set you up for success. The best blogging platform in 2017 is WordPress, without question. While there several other options available in the marketplace, WordPress has several distinct advantages which will discover for yourself as you read through this chapter. Within this section I also address the common mistakes and traps WordPress so that you can avoid them, and maximise the success of your business venture by leverage an optimised WordPress-powered blog. In this chapter you will learn:
- The Blogging software landscape in 2017
- Why WordPress is the best blogging platform under the sun
- The benefits of a self-hosted WordPress blog versus a WordPress.com hosted blog
- Who’s already having success with WordPress?
- Key Takeaways
The platform you choose to power your blog (also known as your Content Management System, or CMS for short) is the engine that will either keep your business moving forward, or will hold you back, forever. Whilst it is certainly true that the content you publish on your blog is what will attract and grow your audience once launched, having the right blogging platform is what will provide you with the flexibility and scope to maximise your income while minimising your costs. Please take my word for it, making what I consider to be the ‘uneducated’ decision to select a blogging platform other than a WordPress self-hosted solution will potentially end up wasting months, if not years, of your effort when you discover the shortfalls of other solutions later down the track. Read on to find out why a WordPress self-hosted blog is considered the smartest platform for the intelligent entrepreneur who is keen on setting their technology up for long-term success.
1. The blogging software landscape in 2017
Blog software, content management systems, free blogging platforms….whatever you call them, there’s plenty of companies vying for your attention. It’s no surprise, considering that 409 Million people view at least one blog every month (in August 2017, according to WordPress.com).
The market leaders WordPress.com, Blogger.com and Tumblr.com have all been around for long enough to grow their own cult followings. While each of these platforms offers its own unique spin to publishing articles, the latter options are really skewed towards social or amateur bloggers who simply need a free online space to share their content. Then there’s Medium, the cool new kid on the block conjured up by the Co-Founder of Twitter Evan Williams in late 2012, which offered the cool startup vibe however has fallen foul in recent times of ‘no longer helping publishers to profit’. This leaves WordPress as the ever reliable option for bloggers of all walks of life. Regardless, here’s a brief rundown of the history, the pros and the cons of each major blogging platform available at the time of writing.
Established 10 years ago, being founded by David Karp in 2007, Tumblr is generally regarded as a short-form blogging platform. For this reason, most Tumblr blogs features images and gifs heavily, with a comparatively small portion of text-based articles. Tumblr users enjoy the social aspect of the platform, with the ability to follow each others’ blogs and like, comment and repost their content being a fond component of the platform for loyalists.
Tags are also utilised by Tumblr users, allowing others to locate posts related to their tastes and desires (um, yes, including those desires…which is one of the more controversial aspects of Tumblr and the fact that 15% of all content it houses is porn). According to Statistica Tumblr has 357 Million live blogs (as at July 2017), so you do the math on this one. The key drawback with Tumblr, is that the platform essentially owns all of your content and if it decides to change its model at any time (which is feasible, considering that it was acquired by Yahoo which has recently been acquired itself), your blog may suffer immediate consequences, or worse, simply disappear. Another drawback to note, is that Tumblr is not hugely supportive of affiliate marketing. While affiliate marketing it is allowed on the Tumblr platform, they do frown upon some of the traditional approaches internet marketers may wish to use to promote their affiliate products, so if you plan to generate a significant affiliate income from blogging, Tumblr may not be the platform for you.
Founded in 1999 by Pyra Labs, the Blogger.com platform was purchased by Google in 2003. Blogger.com is also known as ‘Blogspot’. The feature that attracts many first-time and novice bloggers to create a Blogspot blog is its cost: free. But you, my friend, are wise, and you know all too well that that nothing comes for free. While Blogger offers many basic features and a user friendly interface for novice users, they really offer nothing for more advanced bloggers. Yes, the simple interface is attractive to novice bloggers, but most professional and advanced bloggers complain about the lack of high-end features and advanced options available with the Blogger.com platform.
Being a Google-owned platform, users of Blogspot are locked into the Google eco-system. For example, all images on Blogger blogs must be hosted on Google’s own Picasa image hosting platform. The features Blogspot offers are also relatively sparse, and many users have reported significant limitations in their ability to edit posts. Blogger.com blogs are identified by having ‘.blogspot’ in the URL. Unfortunately this immediately offers the connotation that the blogger is an amateur, not to mention the limitations it has on the owner’s ability for growth, and is therefore avoided by entrepreneurs and website developers. Most Blogspot users I have known have rapidly advanced to WordPress once the limitations of the Blogger.com platform started holding them back. To avoid this, if you are serious about generating an income from your blog I’d strongly suggest taking the more professional route straight away and considering the next option, WordPress.
Founded in 2002, the WordPress blogging platform markets itself equally to novice and advanced users, with an intuitive interface for new users which easily upgraded for advanced users. It speaks volumes that WordPress runs 28% of the entire internet, given that the WordPress platform is equally appreciated as the platform of choice by novices and the big boys like Time.com, TED, CNN, Spotify and Techcrunch alike.
WordPress offers over 40,000 official plugins and almost as many official themes, making it the most flexible and extensible Blog platforms available. In fact, it can act as much more than a blog, offering the ability to be customised as an eCommerce store, an online forum, an online directory and literally hundreds of other users besides a simple blog. It’s important to note that a self-hosted WordPress blog (also known as the WordPress.org version) will give you a lot more control over the look, feel and content you can publish on your WordPress blog than a managed solution offered at WordPress.com. The technical requirements required to run a self-hosted WordPress blog are slightly more advanced and you will also need to pay for hosting, but these costs are minimal (starting from $5 per month) and lucky for you, I have developed this guide to walk you through the setup of a self-hosted WordPress blog with ease!
4. Other Options
For bloggers just starting out, there’s a bunch of free options all vying for your attention like Weebly, Squarespace, Medium and Wix. These platforms will woo you with promises of ‘being set up in 5 minutes’ and ‘free hosting’, but as the old saying goes, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. Options like these aren’t going to set you up for long-term success, they’ll simply end up being a short-term distraction that you’ll need to fix later.
Depending on who you talk to, you might also come across fully-blown Content Management Systems (CMS) which have blogging capabilities, such as Joomla and Drupal. While you can host these platforms on your own servers, they are somewhat clunky when it comes to their blogging abilities and intuitiveness.
In my honest opinion, no other option besides a WordPress self-hosted solution (also known as the WordPress.org solution), even come near cutting the mustard for a serious blogger, so put simply….don’t waste your time looking elsewhere. Trust the 75 Million bloggers who have already endured the decision making process and chosen WordPress.
There are many choices vying for your attention when setting up a new blog. I always choose WordPress, and here’s 11 great reasons why:
WordPress is open source (which is the geeky way of saying that it’s free). Not only is the WordPress framework free to install and use, but being open source means the code is freely accessible for programmers to access and tinker with. As a result there are thousands of free enhancements already available (in the WordPress world these are called plugins and themes) for you to install on your blog and enhance the look and functionality of your blog.
Intuitive and easy to learn
Compared to others blog content management systems, the administration panel that WordPress provides is super intuitive. Editing your blog a straightforward process using the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor, and I would be surprised if you don’t feel like a competent WordPress blogger after an hour of two of use.
Search engine optimisation
Search engine optimisation, or SEO, is all about maximising your blog’s visibility in search engines so that others can discover your amazing blog. Even just using default settings, WordPress is impressively good for SEO. If you want to take it to the next level, read my guide to WordPress settings for awesome SEO to set your blog up for SEO success.
Easily customisable with plug-ins & programmers
I mentioned it earlier, but being open source is a good thing for WordPress users. Basically what it means, is that you can have the look and functionality of a premium high-end blog, without the exorbitant costs. There are literally thousands of plug-ins that you can install to extend the capabilities of your blog including online forms, surveys, audio players and plenty more. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, rest easy knowing that WordPress is written in PHP code, a programming language which happens to have the highest volume (and therefore most reasonably priced) pool of freelance programmers dedicated to it on the planet.
‘Out of the box’ solution
When it comes to the world of website software, the definition of an ‘out of the box’ solution is subjected to a lot of abuse. After 15 years of experience developing and installing web-based software packages, I can wholeheartedly vouch for WordPress being the most seamless out of the box solution I have used. Once installed, WordPress is literally ready and waiting for you to publish your first post. Sure, you may want to start customising your blog to your specific tastes (but I’ll leave that can of worms for another post!)
WordPress has a highly active community of users and developers who continuously share ideas for future enhancements to the platform. New versions of WordPress are released frequently in order to maintain its position as a leading platform in terms of best practice functionality, administrative usability and security.
Search for a specific WordPress challenge or objective in Google and you will immediately discover the official (and non-official) WordPress forums. With thousands of active WordPress users sharing problems and solutions, and sharing their own stories with the platform, it’s a great feeling to be a part of this unique community.
WordPress’s security vulnerabilities are minuscule. Yes, you may read the occasional sensationalist article published on a ‘tech bulletin’ about hackers taking down hundreds of WordPress websites in one fell swoop, but relatively speaking that’s less than 0.5% of the total WordPress installations that exist on the web and it’s mostly because either the webmaster has:
- Literally forgotten about their blog for years and neglected to upgrade it
- Been very careless with their security measures by using a sub-standard hosting solution (i.e. not A2 Hosting) or has installed dodgy plugins that are not supported by the WordPress community
As an additional measure for piece of mind for securing your WordPress blog, consider implementing a third party security partner such as Securi to protect your blog from hackers. I use it, and it has served me very well!
WordPress is mobile friendly. This isn’t just important, it’s mandatory, with web users on mobile devices exceeding desktop users for the first time in history this year.
More than just a blog
Yes, WordPress was founded on its innate ability to publish articles in chronological order, allowing readers to respond with comments and keep up to date via RSS feeds. That was back in 2005. Fast forward more than a decade and WordPress does a whole lot more, including power some of the web’s most frequently visited websites including Techcrunch, BBC America, Usain Bolt’s site and Sony Music.
Can schedule posts
You’d be surprised how simple this sounds, but the ability to queue a post to be published at the specific minute of a specific day can be very powerful. Heck, you could write all of your content for the next 12 months within 30 days and simply queue it up to be published at appropriate times….while you sit back and focus on other things. Like social media posts, or networking, or cocktails in the Caribbean…..I think you get my drift.
3. The benefits of a self-hosted WordPress blog versus a WordPress.com hosted blog
‘Self-hosting’ essentially means your WordPress blog is totally under your own control. A self-hosted WordPress blog requires more effort to setup and maintain, as it requires an additional party to host your blog, however the benefits far outweigh the effort. The community of self-hosted WordPress blogs is sometimes referred to as the WordPress.org camp, because this is the website most users visit to discuss challenges, issues, proposed enhancements and successes they may have had with the platform.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are ‘managed’ (also known as ‘hosted’) WordPress blogs. These are blogs that require less effort to setup and maintain, as they are hosted and maintained by WordPress.com themselves. While WordPress.com blogs still offer many of the standard features of a WordPress blog, there are some constraints, some of them quite significant in terms of their ability to sustain a long term income.
Read on to discover the key differences between WordPress.org vs WordPress.com hosting for your blog.
Self-Hosted WordPress blog (WordPress.org)
WordPress.org is the most cost-efficient option if you are seeking maximum flexibility for your blog’s design, functionality and monetisation. Here’s a few more reasons why:
- WordPress.org is free! (NB: hosting is not included which will incur a small additional cost. Running a basic self-hosted WordPress blog is relatively inexpensive and shouldn’t cost you more than a few dollars a month)
- You own the website and data – no one can turn it off
- You can add a wide variety of free & paid plugins to your WordPress site to enhance your blog and its capabilities (including automation, social media integration, membership sites, eCommerce, SEO extensions and plenty more)
- You can run ads on your site
- Loads of freedom
- Loads of templates
- Full flexibility to monetise
- Full access to back-end code and files, allowing you to make changes themes and overall functionality
WordPress.com Hosted Blog
A cheap option for beginners who aren’t really fussed with customisation, monetisation or scalability in the future. Here’s a more detailed explanation of the WordPress.com offering:
- Can work out to be more expensive (however hosting is included). It’s free for up to 3GB of space, but after that you will have to switch to a paid plan for more space with a Personal plan at $36 /year giving you 6GB, a Premium plan $99/year gives you 13GB storage, or Business plan for $299/year for unlimited storage)
- They place ads on all free websites that you don’t receive a
- You are NOT allowed to sell ads on your website. If you run a high traffic site, then you can apply for their advertising program called WordAds where you share revenue with them (Premium and Business plan users can use WordAds right away)
- You cannot upload plugins (Business plan and upwards users can install from a selection of compatible plugins, but these are severely limited compared to WordPress.org. The VIP program lets you install plugins…..but it starts from $5000 per month!)
- You cannot upload custom themes. Free plan users can only install from the limited free themes collection. Premium and business plan users can also select premium themes.
- There are limited customisation options for the free version. Premium and Business plan users can use custom CSS
- You are restricted to their stats. You cannot add Google Analytics unless you use the Business plan or above
- WordPress.com can actually delete your site at anytime if they think it violates their Terms of Service
- Unless you have the Business plan or above, your blog will display a ‘powered by WordPress.com’ link.
- WordPress.com does not offer any eCommerce features or integrated payment gateways
- You cannot build membership websites within WordPress.com
4. Who’s already having success with WordPress?
Search Google for almost any niche topic imaginable and you will likely find a WordPress blog in top 10 results. The savviest bloggers amongst them are monetising their WordPress sites and pulling in a handsome profit, month after month. There are literally thousands of dedicated WordPress users who have successfully managed to setup an a respectable, ongoing stream of income by leveraging their WordPress website in conjunction with their niche authority. Here are a couple of my favourite WordPress success stories:
Pete Cashmore, Mashable.com
Pete Cashmore founded Mashable.com when he was still living at home at the ripe young age of 19 in Aberdeen, Scotland in 2005. The site was a much more basic tech blog at that time, based on the WordPress platform. His parents had no idea that the 18 hour days he was putting into generating content for his blog, Mashable.com, would lead to it becoming one of leading sources of tech pop-culture on the internet, now raking in over $500k per month in revenue. With numbers of this magnitude, it probably comes as no surprise that at age 26, Pete landed himself in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and is considered one of the most influential internet entrepreneurs of our generation.
Alborz Fallah, CarAdvice.com.au
CarAdvice.com.au was founded by Alborz Fallah in 2006. At the age of 21 he purchased the domain name for $35 and started the WordPress powered blog from his parents spare bed-room while working a full-time job. The site was initially a means for Alborz to gain access to cars for test-driving and to share his thoughts with followers. After Car Advice launched, he soon realised that none of his online ‘competitors’, such as the car companies, were very good at SEO and he quickly progressed through the ranks. He then monetised the site through advertising, selling ad space predominantly to car manufacturers and eventually bringing in upwards of $70k per month. In late 2016, Alborz sold CarAdvice.com.au to Nine Entertainment for $35 Million.
Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, MakingSenseOfCents.com
From humble beginnings as a WordPress blog dedicated to covering Michelle’s path to paying off a $38k student loan in 2012, MakingSenseOfCents.com is now a globally popular resource for personal finance. The site now brings in over $70k per month in revenue, mainly through affiliate marketing. Michelle has also released a number of her own information products, including ebooks and training courses, sales of which also contribute to her staggeringly impressive monthly income. (Note: many of the articles on this site will add value to almost every household, I recommend you check it out).
Michael Arrington, TechCrunch.com
TechCrunch is a blog that covers startup and technology news. It was founded by serial entrepreneur Michael Arrington. In fact, in May 2008, Time Magazine named Michael Arrington as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. While this certainly isn’t a story of a successful site started in a bedroom on his neighbours’ wifi connection, the fact that Arrington chose WordPress as the platform for TechCrunch.com speaks volumes for the reputation of WordPress amongst leading entrepreneurs.
For more inspiring WordPress success stories, view my 2017 WordPress Blogger Richlist.
5. Key Takeaways
- There are numerous platforms you can use to start a blog including Tumblr, Blogger and WordPress however if you are serious about creating a digital asset that can also provide you with a regular income then WordPress should be your first choice
- Testament to its strengths, many of the world’s leading blogs are powered by WordPress including Mashable.com, MakingSenseOfCents.com, TechCrunch.com and CarAdvice.com.au
- It’s important to understand that there is a difference between the self-hosted version of WordPress (WordPress.org) and the hosted version (WordPress.com); WordPress.org is the version you should choose as it is the only option which allows you to have full control of the functionality, design and advertising which appears on your blog
FAST-TRACK TIP: If you are super keen to get started with setting up your WordPress blog right now, opt for the A2 Hosting’s WordPress Hosting Solution package. Starting at just $3.92 per month, this package offers one of the easiest self-hosted WordPress blogs I have ever experienced from a website hosting company!