It’s an age-old dilemma. You put a lot of effort into your blog, but is anyone reading it?
To have a successful blog, you need to have a clear message or goal and a specific target audience. Then you need to make sure your target audience can find you. This is where blogging platforms come in. Where you host your blog can have nearly as much of an impact on your audience as what you write about.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how to choose the best platform for your blog by considering the ideal audience you’d like to reach.
What’s the Goal of Your Blog?
Every blog should have a primary function. If your blog is part of your business website or is responsible for promoting your brand, you should have a good handle on the purpose of your blog and what you want it to achieve.
A few reasons to have a blog include:
- Demonstrating your expertise or displaying your portfolio
- Bringing organic search engine traffic to your website
- Capturing customer email addresses
- Generating advertising or affiliate income
Check out our article on the Business Case for Blogging for a more in-depth explanation about the different ways a blog can help your business.
Know Your Audience and Your Content
Every blog is different. A nonfiction book author might have a blog to keep her fans up to date on what’s coming out next, while a fitness company might be blogging about health topics in order to attract new clients.
You need to understand and identify your ideal audience, what they’re looking for (or what you can provide that they didn’t know they wanted!), and where on the Internet they spend their time. Are they more likely to be on Facebook or Instagram? Do they prefer longer, more researched articles or are they skimming through photos and videos?
Once you clearly identify who your ideal blog reader is, you’ll be able to choose the best blogging platform.
Choosing a Blogging Platform
Over the past few years, the options for free or low-cost blogging platforms have increased significantly.
Deciding on the best place to host your blog can be a challenge. Let’s look at the pros and cons of some of the most popular platforms.
The big name these days in blogging is WordPress. According to W3Techs, WordPress powers almost 30% of all websites and runs 60% of all websites with a content management system (including blogs).
But before we go any further, it’s important to understand that there are two different “flavors” of WordPress blogs.
You can get a free, basic blog hosted at WordPress.com, and if you wish, you can purchase additional upgrades to give yourself more design, branding, and ecommerce options.
Advantages to using WordPress.com include:
- Access to the most current version of WordPress automatically, with automatic updates and backups.
- Free customer support and ample documentation for setting up a blog.
- Great discoverability—readers can search for topics and follow different bloggers
- Google ranks content on WordPress.com very highly and crawls the sites every day, so you will get SEO juice from the start.
- Dozens of free and premium themes and other customization options to make your blog stand out from the crowd.
The downsides to the hosted WordPress option are that even with the options they provide, your customization options remain somewhat limited. You can’t install your own plugins, so you can’t run your own membership site or drop in a newsletter signup form, and you’re limited on e-commerce. If you’re planning to use advertising to monetize your blog, you’re limited to their own ads program as well.
If you need advanced functionality or want more control over all aspects of your site, you might prefer the “self-hosted” WordPress option. Rather than use a site hosted at WordPress.com, you would obtain your own domain and hosting from someone like Namecheap and then install a downloaded version of WordPress from WordPress.org onto your site.
For those who are not brand new to blogging, a self-hosted WordPress blog is the best choice, hands down. Self-hosting offers the full site control you’ll need if you want to do any of the following:
- Run ads on your site
- Generate new leads through retargeted advertising
- Collect newsletter signups
- Integrate affiliate links or products into your site
- Engage in e-commerce
- Run a membership site or forum
- Match your blog’s design and branding with the rest of your website
Keep in mind that, while you get greater freedom by hosting your own WordPress blog, you will need to pay for your hosting, install your own theme, and manage all upgrades and security yourself.
Medium started out in 2012 as a hosted blog platform similar to WordPress.com but with a simpler interface. You can create your own blog or publication for free on their site. However, there is limited customization, so your content, rather than your design, is what needs to stand out.
Over the past five years, Medium has grown significantly and has become quite popular in the areas of entrepreneurship, technology, creativity and writing, personal growth, and popular culture. People can subscribe to publications, follow bloggers, and get recommended content delivered in their inboxes once a day, which is a great way to find content (or get found). Readers can follow publications as well as individual writers, allowing them to receive curated content on a daily basis.
Some of Medium’s advantages include:
- Access to article statistics at any time, including how many people read to the end of your article.
- Millions of daily readers, so it’s a very large platform.
- Articles that perform well (and get liked by an ‘applause’ button) get extra boosts from Medium on the home page and in digests sent out in email.
- Medium makes it simple to connect with people through social media.
There are a few disadvantages. Unless you create a publication, your content isn’t connected to any navigation other than your profile. Comments are clumsy, as each response is considered another piece of content by a given author. As noted above, customization is limited, but there are some ways you can brand your content with custom headers and so forth. And recently, Medium added a paid subscription option so some content is now restricted behind a paywall.
Other Hosted Blog Options
There are other companies that, like WordPress.com, will host your blog for you and give you a certain amount of control over your site. Companies worth looking into include Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace. If you want a website builder, it’s best to shop around for the best balance of control, support, and cost.
One word of caution when selecting any hosted option: find out what the company’s policy is about exporting your content if you decide you want to host your blog elsewhere. Some companies make it difficult–if not downright impossible–to move your content off of their site. Both WordPress and Blogger have excellent export options.
The Bottom Line
Choosing your blogging platform can be a difficult decision because of the many options out there. Since many of these platforms offer a free basic level, you can try them out (maybe with a personal blog) to see what suits you best.
If you have strong content and blog mainly to get your ideas, personal brand, or company name out there, Medium.com is probably the best solution because of their huge readership base.
If your style is more short updates, photos, or videos, then you could try Tumblr, though the current trend is to post that kind of content to Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter rather than to a blog at all.
But if branding is important to you, and if your blog is an integrated part of your business website or you need any special functionality, the best option is a WordPress blog. Namecheap offers inexpensive shared hosting plans that will get your blog up and running in no time.