A Look at WordPress.com, WordPress.org, Typepad, Blogger and Hubpages
In our last pair of articles, we spent time exploring eight new, easy-to-use blogging tools. Now, we’re going to look at some of the older, venerable choices for bloggers of all levels: beginning to advanced.
The Most Popular Choice: WordPress
Let’s start our discussion with WordPress because it is, by far, the most popular tool for websites and blogs today. Also, when you know the features of WordPress, it makes it easier to evaluate all the other blogging tools we’ve been discussing. (If you already own a WordPress blog, you could skip this section and move on down.)
If you seriously want to start a blog, or combine a blog with static pages, graphics, flexible design, and even eCommerce, there are several good options. Two of the options you will need to consider are the two types of WordPress: WordPress.com – the easy to use version that’s hosted on WordPress’s own servers, or WordPress.org – which is actually where you get the free, open source blogging software that you can install on an internet server anywhere in the world. Let’s explain each.
WordPress hosting on WordPress.com is free. (There are paid premium features, though.) They offer a nice selection of free and premium themes (299 at last check) and a collection of optional plugins they call Jetpack. The interface is not too complex and you can purchase your own URL and use that. WordPress.com is very reliable, even with tens of millions of users. Automattic, the hosts of WordPress, purposely limits the number of plugins and features in order to minimize security loopholes and maximize reliability. This means that there are many popular or advertised WordPress themes and plugins that cannot be used on WordPress.com.
Although WordPress.com is known for its ease-of-use, blogging newbies should expect to invest some time learning how it works. You can also access WordPress.com on the road with iOS, Android and Blackberry apps. The WordPress.com dashboard is available in over 50 languages.
So anybody can blog for free on WordPress.com. It may surprise some to know that the site still makes money through premium services, such as custom design, custom domains, transferring your site to your own hosted site, Ad-free site protection, premium themes, video hosting, eCommerce sites, and WordPress VIP for business sites for large organizations like CBS, Time, CNN, NFL teams, or NASA. You might go your entire blogging career without needing these premium services, but they are there.
WordPress.org the source of the free, open software package, is also available from Automattic (yes, that’s the correct number of T’s). Unlike WordPress.com, you need to find a place to host the software, normally for a fee. Fortunately this is easy with lots of hosts around the world specializing in hosting WordPress. You can also use your own web servers if you happen to own some.
The biggest advantage of using WordPress.org is that you control all the aspects of your blog and make all the decisions on what you want to do. (The disadvantage is that you must control all the aspects of your blog and have to make all the decisions on what you want to do.)
If you like choice, you will love WordPress. There are (today) 2,770 themes available (free and for purchase) in the official WordPress Theme Directory (and there are more elsewhere). Themes give your blog its look and feel and, often, extras in the back end of the software that your readers don’t see. Themes not only look different, but many of them offer specialized features for photographers, marketers, e-commerce, wedding planning, fund-raising events, realtors, churches, performing arts groups, garage bands, ad hoc workgroups, and much, much more. A hot feature these days is called Responsive Design, which optimizes your site for viewing on phones, tablets and computers. Another hot item is flat design (as opposed to skeuomorphic design – but I just threw that in to confuse you a bit). If designers can make it, it’ll likely show up on a WordPress theme.
Fortunately, if the different themes are too much to deal with right now, every installation of WordPress comes with a few of their own themes, so you can be up and running in minutes.
You will find some bloggers who insist that if you want a professional looking blog you must have a paid theme. That’s bullpuckey. There are millions of good blogs running on free themes (including ones designed by Automattic itself). If you get to the point where you want a specific design, specific features, or want a more sophisticated site, you can upgrade to a paid theme after you get some experience under your belt. It is true, however, that creators of some free designs don’t upgrade their themes very often, so you might not get updates for security patches or new features.
One indicator of the difference between WordPress.com and having your own self-hosted WordPress site is in the choice of plugins. There are around 30-40 plugins available for WordPress.com in Automattic’s JetPack. They may be a few others available elsewhere.
As of today, however, if you look for plugins for your own WordPress site, there are 33,789 plugins in the official WordPress Plugin Directory, the best place to search for a plugin for whatever feature you want. Plug-ins, essentially, let you add features to your blog that are not included in your theme. BTW, JetPack is also available for WordPress.org sites.
But don’t panic. If you are starting out, you need just a few plugins. One is Akismet, which protects you from spam. You should have an advanced security plug-in, such as Wordfence, and if you want to help Google find your posts, an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) plug-in, such as Yoast’s WordPress SEO, is very helpful. Add the aforementioned JetPack, and that’s plenty to start you off.
WordPress Hosts and Costs
The critical part of using any self-hosted website/blogging software (such as WordPress, Ghost, Joomla, Drupal or other, newer, blogging services) is finding a good host. Again, there are several international hosting companies that specialize in WordPress (for example, my host, BlueHost). Usually you pay an annual fee to use the service; most have attractive introductory rates with a 3-4 year contract, as low as $3-$4 / month. Many of these offer automatic installation of WordPress, which could easily get you to the writing stage in about ten minutes. Be sure to get a host that offers good technical support 24 / 7 and, preferably, a daily backup routine (or install a plugin for backups).
As mentioned, themes and plug-ins can also cost money, but there are a lot of free options, which keeps the commercial ones pretty reasonable, too.
Problems with WordPress.org
With flexibility comes complexity. Over the past ten years WordPress has evolved from being a blogging platform to a full Content Management System. If it can be done on the web, you can probably do it with WordPress. There is a definite learning curve to hosting your own WordPress site, although the online documentation covers the basics quite well. Researching themes and plugins does take time, but there is a lot of satisfaction when you make changes and they work well! If you are a tinkerer, a designer, or a geek, or just plain normal, you can learn to get along with WordPress for your needs.
If you are job hunting and want to just create a site for your job search or to display your résumé and shut down after you get a job, WordPress.org is probably too much, unless you already have experience blogging. WordPress.com might just be the ticket, however.
Just a Wee Bit More about WordPress
WordPress is, by far, the most popular blogging platform in the world and it keeps improving. Between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, WordPress powers about 60 million websites and blogs or almost 20% of the internet. (Not 20% of all blogs, we mean 20% of the Internet!)
There are other full-featured alternatives to WordPress that provide you with lots of website and blogging options. You may find some of these attractive, too. Here are a few.
Typepad has been around since about the beginning of blogging. It’s known for its ease of use, but not as easy as the new, simpler blogging platforms. (Some reviewers place it between WordPress.com and WordPress.org for ease of use – not an awful place to be.) You can publish via mobile or email as well as online.
If you are looking to commercialize your site, you can sell products and services, earn ad revenue, and join the Typepad affiliate program. If your emphasis is on blogging, however, the ads are very distracting. (I counted 16 ads in one blog post all trying to compete for attention. A few minutes later I can’t remember what the blog was about.) Checking a couple of the sites also on my phone, the look was cluttered with ads and social buttons and very hard to read.
To my eye, the sites I clicked on had an old-fashioned look to them – one fairly narrow column of material with sidebars and ads on the left and / or right with boring and small, hard-to-read fonts; I saw only one Typepad blog even using a serif font. Forget about responsive design for phone surfers. There were lots of busy graphics, but nothing remotely close to cutting-edge creative design. Each Typepad site I checked looked like it could be your Grannie’s web site. And these were the featured sites!
Subscriptions range from $8.95 to $49.95 per month. Even the lowest price seems a bit pricy considering some of the alternatives. Typepad was once one of the leaders and innovators in the blogging movement. I’m sure, with some work, you can make a modern website with Typepad, but the blogs I saw looked old-school and disappointing. With better tools costing less, I can’t recommend it. If you don’t believe me, do as I did and view a few Typepad sites, then check out some Weebly or Squarespace sites (we’ll explain in the next post). Even I was amazed at the difference.
Blogger, a.k.a. Blogspot.com
Clearly, for a beginning blogger, Google’s Blogger is a good option. It’s free and easy to use. It has a light learning curve. There is a good choice of well designed themes (not nearly as many, though, as on WordPress.com). Some of those are responsive themes that resize for phone and tablet access. In fact, Blogger has more options for adjusting your site for mobile access than WordPress.com. You can also learn the tech basics of running a blog which will serve you well if you decide to move to a different platform, but many users like it enough to stay there.
Also, with Blogger, you automatically get found by Google for search, you get some good Google Analytics in your dashboard, and it’s easy to install Google Ads and get Google Authorship. If you know a bit of typography, you can install Google Fonts, too. Although it’s a good option for novices, it’s not as good for people who want to customize their blog or use it for commercial purposes. A lot of bloggers start here and then move on to other platforms. If you want to dip your toe into blogging, though, you should check it out. To get a Blogger account, you need a Google account. If you use Gmail, Google+, or any of Google’s other services, you have one. This makes it very easy to start a blog.
Disclosure time: The original Frugal Guidance blog was hosted on Blogger and later evolved into the current Frugal Guidance 2 blog on WordPress (with a brief encounter with WordPress.com in between.)
When I used Blogger for my first blog, I eventually became frustrated by its slow response time (some of that may have been due to my internet provider, though). Blogger is not cutting edge, but it does upgrade its features, offer attractive themes, and generally is a pretty good place to write and publish. You can also edit the HTML and the CSS.
You can also give editorial access for owners, writers, editors, and readers at the back-end. There are a few tools you can use in the back-end also for organizing your collaborators. There are not sophisticated commenting tools or choices for spam control. Blogger doesn’t have the much wider choice of design tools, themes, and plug-ins that WordPress.org has, but then, nobody does.
We mentioned earlier that WordPress.com makes money from upgrades and extra services. Blogger may be the only high-end blogging service that only offers free services. No limits on static pages, no storage limits for your media, no charge for an extra public domain, nuthin’. From a purely economic standpoint, it’s the best deal, feature-by-feature, on the web. (Fortunately for bloggers, Google still has a few other ways to make money. Lots of it.)
When Google ended its support for Google Reader, it made many Bloggerati nervous about its support for them, but there is no sign yet that Google will shut this service down. The unanswered question is whether Google will eventually try to merge Blogger and Google+ together somehow, although I certainly can’t see how. If the time comes and you decide you want to move on to a WordPress, there are tools to export your Blogger posts to WordPress. In my case, however, I just started over from scratch.
Tumblr is a curious mix of a blogging platform and a social media aid. It is an excellent place for short-form blogging and photography and is easy to use. Many Tumblrs use the service to promote other people’s writings, too.
Since it was bought by Yahoo!, Tumblr should be financially stable now. (It almost went bankrupt before the purchase.)
Tumblr does have more design options than the newer extra-simple blogging sites, including many free themes which offer both dark and light design options. Tumblr also allows you to create static (unchanging) pages along with the blog pages.
If you want to write short, rapid-fire commentary or posts and easily share them with your Facebook and Twitter followers, Tumblr is a great option. With its ability to quickly share social media tidbits, other people’s posts, photos, and multi-media, it has a mash-up quality that you don’t see in more traditional blogging platforms. You can also upload your contacts list and see if any of them are also on Tumblr, giving you the option of following them or asking them to follow you.
Portable blogging is possible, posting via phone and tablet apps, with an email message, or adding an audio file from a phone. There’s also a “reblog” button which works like a retweet on Twitter, adding their post to your site.
For jobhunters, Tumblr could be a good way to start your first blog. It’s free and simple, plus it offers you the option of adding static pages for your résumé, marketing piece, biography, portfolios, and more. You can also build a following, but be careful who you link to. Tumblrs can be anonymous, and there are no controls on quality or taste or nudity (OK, let’s just say it, porn) on Tumblr, as there are on other hosting platforms. Depending on on your career or who you want to market yourself to, this may or may not be a problem.
If you want to do long-form blogging or build up a library of searchable posts, or build an email list, you probably want to look elsewhere. But if you already do those things on another blog, you can add a Tumblr account to help attract new readers socially and link to your blog.
HubPages (& Squidoo)
HubPages is a blogging platform which allows users to post related posts into Hubs. It allows you to add text, graphics, video, and engage readers with comments, Q&A, Quizzes and more, all to create the feel of an online magazine. They apparently don’t have much of a marketing department, though, because their hub site has no public info on costs or other important info.
There is a revenue sharing component to HubPages through ad displays, eBay and Amazon. You don’t need to participate in the income program, but it apparently allows everybody to use the site for free. According to one undated and unsigned review, HubPages works on a 60/40 commission basis – if you generate $100 of income, you get to keep $60. There may be some limitations to how much you can publish in a month, too. HubPages has a ranking system for the quality of their bloggers’ work and how engaged they are with their readers.
HubPages is taking over another similar site, Squidoo. On the Squidoo site, they announced the merger, but also announced that some of their writers will not be ported over to HubPages and they will have to download all their data before it’s gone later in the fall. An odd way to do (or end) business.
Is HubPages a blog host or a commercial content farm? Many people appear to like the ability to create magazine-like articles on a profit-making site without having to worry about the technical aspects of the operation, but I’d read the terms of service carefully before joining. If you have experience writing for magazines or newspapers, you might be able to repurpose some material to earn a little bit of money. It doesn’t sound like the best place for a novice blogger, though.
In our next post, we’ll go commercial, with four eCommerce sites where you can also blog: Webs, Weebly, Squarespace, and Wix. Plus we’ll have an extended list (with links) of all the blogging tools we found but didn’t have time to check out in time for these articles.
Did we miss your favorite blogging tool? Tell us about it in the comments.
the screenshot for WordPress is from Frugal Guidance 2.