Q: With all the big, easy-to-use, function-rich, free blogging services that are available why should you go to the trouble of hosting your own blog..?
A: Better SEO, total control, more traffic and more sales – although those reasons won’t apply if you’re not blogging for business!
When I started out blogging I opened a blogger.com account. That worked fine for me at the time because I was new to blogging, knew even less than I do now and didn’t even realise that I could host my own.
Even if I had realised that, it’s not something I would have given a moment’s thought to at the time. I was too new to working online, I was (still am) totally non-techie and (in my mind) it would have been too daunting a task.
So I happily blogged away on my blogger account until I logged on one day to find that Google had translated all the admin pages (in fact everything except my actual posts) into Chinese. I live in Hong Kong so Google, thinking they were being smart, used my IP address as the basis on which to make the decision to translate it.
Not being able to find the help link (because I can’t read Chinese) I logged into my Google account (Adwords, Gmail, etc,) to raise a request for them to translate my blog back to English. Luckily they only translated my blogger account, not all the other services I have with them!
After a week nothing had happened. I hadn’t received a reply, I still couldn’t read my admin screens, and I was seriously frustrated that Google should unilaterally decide to translate my blog, so I kissed the big G goodbye and shifted my blog over to WordPress.com.
By this time I had learned enough about blogging to have heard that WordPress was the place to be. So with some anticipation of great things to come, I imported all my blogger posts (click of a button in WordPress) and set about learning the new admin screens.
One thing I noticed immediately was that my posts were suddenly figuring much more quickly in the natural search results, so it looked as though at least some of what I’d heard was correct.
And I happily blogged away until…
… one day I tried to log on to be met with a notice telling me my blog had been suspended for infringing WordPress’ terms and conditions.
DAMN..!! Twice inside a month I’d been blind-sided by my blogging platform and the second occasion was even more damaging than the first. (It doesn’t give a great message about your professionalism when your visitors are met with a message that you’ve infringed T’s & C’s and had your blog suspended).
So, finally, I was pushed into the realisation that I had no option but to set up my own blog and host it myself.
So off I clicked to WordPress.org to see what I could find out. And I was pleasantly surprised.
Firstly, the instructions they’ve set out for downloading and installing a WP blog are delightfully clear and easy to follow.
They set out a few minimum requirements, which I passed on to my hosting provider. Once I got the confirmation back that there would be no problems I printed off the instructions and got going.
First step is to set up the database. Easy to do – the instructions are very clear, include screen shots for every step of the way and are written in simple, non-techie language.
I then downloaded and unzipped the blog files, entered my newly created database details into the config file, (just followed the instructions), uploaded the files and accessed the installation screen via my browser (the URL is provided in the instructions). That kicked off the installation script and I was all done.
It was, literally, a 5-minute exercise.
However, the majority of hosting providers now give you an even easier method than that:
One click installation.
I’ve never done a 1-click installation so I can’t confirm whether it really is one click or whether a few more are involved, but it’s definitely very easy and it doesn’t involve any downloading, unzipping and uploading of files.
So what are the benefits of running your own blog on your own server?
You have total control. You can write what you like, you can drive traffic to affiliate programs, no one is going to translate it into Chinese, and no one is going to lose your database.
You can customise it as much as you like. Customisation is done through plug-ins, and there are plug-ins for just about anything you can think of. You decide what you want to do with your blog, then you can either go to the WordPress plug-in directory or do a Google search for a plug-in for the function you want.
Download the plug-in, unzip it, upload it and activate it through the blog admin screens. It’s that simple. Really.
But of all the sexy things you can do with your self-hosted blog, probably the biggest benefit of all is the SEO tweaks you can make.
This really turns your blog into an incredibly effective way of figuring strongly in the natural search results.
Optimising your blog for the search engines is simply a question of installing and activating the appropriate plug-ins. And you can find probably the best list of SEO related plug-ins in Jack Humphrey’s Authority Blackbook.
If you’ve gone to the trouble of setting up your own, self-hosted blog then you should absolutely download this book and follow the guidelines in there for optimising it properly for the search engines.
Firstly, the Authority Blackbook is free and secondly, if you don’t set up your blog properly then you’re wasting an enormous portion of its SEO potential.
It would be like buying a Ferrari but never taking it out of the city centre.
Since I’ve been working online I’ve always struggled with getting targeted traffic to my site. Traffic, loads of it. But targeted traffic is what pays – and that’s much tougher.
Having spent a lot of money in the past on Adwords and other paid advertising campaigns, with not a lot to show for it, I decided a while ago to change my strategy.
I’m now using my blog as my primary means of drawing in traffic. I haven’t (and will not) spend a single penny on promoting it.
And yet my blog is now attracting a little over 50% of the total traffic I’m getting on a weekly basis – that’s traffic to my blog plus traffic to all my other sites – and that’s almost totally due to the SEO effectiveness of my plugin-rich, self-hosted blog.
Within the next year I’m aiming for that to be well over 80%.
It’s so easy to set up a self-hosted blog – and the benefits are enormous.
Do you host your own blog..? Has it been worthwhile? Have you tried it and run into trouble..? Leave a comment to tell us about your experiences!
Update 27 April, 2009
Since writing this original post I’ve added a new one that gives a more detailed description of how to install a WordPress blog on your own domain.
It includes how to configure it so as to achieve the best balance between control, efficiency, search engine friendliness and community building.
You can find it here.