Selecting a blog platform – Part 1: A critical choice
Alright! You recognized your organisation can benefit from a blog and you know what you will blog about. The next step is critical: Choosing your blog platform, the “software” to edit, publish and host your blog.
Choosing the right blog platform is critical. You might set out as “let me give this a decent try”, but once you made your choice, moving from one blog software service to the other is an absolute drag, as we will cover more in depth further down in this post.
Comparing blog platforms
The most popular blogging platforms are:
- Blogger, owned by Google
- The WordPress duo: WordPress.com (hosted by them) and WordPress.org (selfhosted)
- The Six Apart duo: Typepad (hosted by them) and Movable Type (selfhosted).
They also offer the lesser known VOX, a free blogging platform.
Each of the blog platforms has specific pro’s and con’s. It is difficult to find a single article covering an unbiased, comprehensive and objective comparison covering all features, ease of use, flexibility, cost, support and technical limitations.
In this series, we have turned it around: We started from you, the non-profit organisation, narrowing down the options you have, based on the 5 most critical questions you need to ask yourself:
- Will you host the blog yourself?
- Do you want basic or advanced functionality?
- How important is ease-of-use and support for you?
- How about layout, design and navigation?
- Is customizability a must for you?
This series is largely based on my own experience. I have used Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr extensively. For the Six Apart family, Dave Barnhart, a professional in the social media business (see box at the bottom of this post), kindly helped to fill in the blanks.
The blog market. Damned the choices!
Here are some examples of blogs using the different platforms we will discuss. You will immediately see some of the typical differences and flavours:
- verslaafdaandehorizon.blogspot.com is a typical Blogger hosted blog, with a standard template, using the Blogger domain name. This is a “Blogger out-of-a-box” blog.
- www.theroadtothehorizon.org is a good example for a heavily customized template and home made widgets in a Blogger hosted blog. It uses its own domain name.
- theotherworldnews.blogspot.com is a Blogger hosted blog, with a Blogger domain. It’s main post has no content, but runs a script to show the content. It is an example of the kind of extensive post customization which is possible on Blogger.
- www.thehorizon.info: Moving on to Tumblr. Simple blogging, with plain vanilla posts, mostly clips from the Internet, using its own domain name and a slightly customized template, hosted on Tumblr.
- www.aidnews.org, www.aidblogs.org, and www.changethru.info are all hosted on Tumblr, with their own domain names and slightly customized templates. Each is used for a unique feature Tumblr offers: converting RSS feeds into posts.
- www.blogtips.org and www.haveimpact.org are examples of WordPress.org blogs, hosted externally, using their own domain names, with out-of-the box templates, theme and widgets.
- Ray Silversein’s Blog is a typical Typepad blog using one of TypePad’s 363 different themes.
- Randy’s Journal is a typical Movable Type blog with little or no customization.
- Business Blogging Pros is a Typepad blog using the stock templates, achieving the custom look with only minor style sheet modifications. (Take particular note of the footer)
- Andrew Keen is an example of what can be done by customizing TypePad’s templates.
- Barak Oboma’s Campaign website is a Movable Type site that shows what can be done with just a little customization.
- The Huffington Post is probably the best example of a Movable Type blog, which is fully customized.
A repeated word of caution: Think first!
Think before you jump, Please! Choosing a blog platform is not about your blogging needs today, but to think about what you want to do with your blog 2-5 years from now. Pick a platform that can support those future needs. Moving a blog is difficult, painful and time consuming.
Even though some can easily import posts from an other platform, internal links to your own posts won’t change automatically. Links to pictures you uploaded to your previous blog host won’t migrate neither. Your widgets, plug-ins and blog layout will disappear, to be re-tweaked from scratch. In short: A serious blogger should spends some serious time finding a serious blog platform. Once you made the choice, you are pretty much stuck. So think of your needs today, but also how you would like your blog to evolve in the next years to come.
Changing blog platform, what is the big (link) deal?
Moving from one blog platform to another, hundreds (if not thousands) of internal links to your blog will be broken… Hold on a sec, you are redirecting “myorganisation.org” from one blog platform to the other, so it remains “myorganisation.org”, no? So what goes broken then?
Each blog platform has its own way of (automatically) forming the URLs for your pages:
As an example, on Blogger, your post will be called:
On WordPress it will become one of these (dependent on your choice):
http://www.myorganisation.org/2008/1/my-introduction/(and not “HTML”)
http://www.myorganisation.org/2008/1/16/my-introduction/(and not HTML)
This problem is one of the reasons why I never moved my personal blog away from Blogger. It has 1,700 internal links. These would all need manual editing when I move to another blog platform.
Need another reason why choosing the right blog platform is critical?
An even more important and more longer term effect of changing your post URLs: you will loose all “Google juice”, as Dave calls it…:
Over the lifespan of your blog, Google and other search engines have collected all your page URLs, and attributed a PageRank to it, which is critical for bringing in new visitors to your site. PageRanks are like gold for serious blog master. Blogmasters will optimize their pages for maximum search traffic, and need be, strip down their pants for a higher PageRank.
Often it takes months before a blog is really fully valued by search engines. All of that would disappear in a few days if you change your URLs.
Dave recently moved a one-year-old blog for a client. There were almost seven hundred links out there on the internet to that blog. When he moved he lost all the Google juice those links provided.
One of my blogs is 30 months old, and has about 1,500 posts and 47,000 (fortyseven thousand !) incoming links. You don’t believe me? Check if for yourself!. Those links provide me with a PageRank of 6, which is at the high end of a blog-o-sphere. You think I will give all of that away, just to change blog platform? I-DONT-THINK-SO…
So, in short: Let me repeat the credo here: “A serious blogger should spends some serious time finding a serious blog platform.” (Amen!)
In the next post, we answer question#1: Should you host your blog or use your blog service to host it?
Writing this series, I got significant help from Dave Barnhart, who filled in the blanks on Typepad and Movable Type.
Dave is a social media strategy consultant, founder of Business Blogging Pros, and a gourmet chef. He and his firm have been helping companies use social media since 2005.
He blogs at Business Blogging Pros and Fumbling Foodie. Check out some of the blogs he has created.