As an author, you’re a busy person. You’re probably juggling writing on top of a full-time job, taking care of a family, having a semblance of a social life, and so on. You’re also expected to
help promote yourself and your own published work by creating a “platform.” The central part of your online platform will be your blog. You can post regularly about writing, your story, updates on your WIPs, or anything else that shows off your personality. So you want a blogging platform that will let you focus on what you do best — writing. Not fiddling with image dimensions to get them just right. Not dealing with technical glitches. Not needing to learn HTML or CSS (unless you want to).
Like I said, you’re a busy person. So you don’t have time to deal with that technical junk. But you also want to choose a blog platform that can scale as your popularity and content volume grows.
The platform you choose will ultimately depend on what functionality you’re looking for and your technical savviness (or willingness to learn, or budget to hire someone). Not sure what you want your blog to look like yet? Here is a list of requirements you should look for in a blogging platform:
Important elements your blog should include:
- The ability to write posts without having to dive into code. Ever.
- A way for readers to subscribe to your latest updates.
- A sidebar where readers can easily find your top blog posts, most recent blog posts, your bio, etc.
- Pages that you can maintain in addition to your posts, and include in a top-nav.
- A contact form.
- Social sharing buttons (or an easy way for readers to share your content on social media).
- Commenting functionality.
- Reliability. Drafts don’t disappear on you, the service doesn’t go down often, etc.
Another big one that will depend on your style will be the ability to self-host your blog. If you’re really not tech savvy, you want a blog that is hosted by the blog platform itself. But if you’re a bit tech savvy, or have a friend who happens to be a webmaster, IT person, etc., you’ll be able to customize your blog a lot more if you self-host.
Now let’s look at some of the top blogging platforms, and whether they’ll be able to offer you everything on this list. This is based on my personal experience, as I was torn between what I should use to host this site: WordPress, Tumblr, or Blogger. I ultimately chose WordPress.
This website is a self-hosted WordPress site with the Genesis theme. It took me less time to set up this blog than it did to set up Tumblr, Blogger, etc. Maybe I just find WordPress really intuitive, and maybe it’s because I know HTML/CSS and WordPress makes it very easy to customize your code. So I’m a bit biased. But here are the pros and cons:
- Publishing new posts is a breeze. Just write up your post using the easy WYSIWYG editor, upload your images, choose your categories/tags, and publish. Done and done.
- Your sidebar will be fabulous. WordPress’ widgets make it super easy to add anything you want to your sidebar. Make sure to take advantage of Jetpack, WordPress’ ready-to-go toolkit of awesome widgets and plugins so you can easily add things like Facebook like boxes and Twitter streams to your sidebar in a few clicks.
- Customizations are limitless. If you choose a good theme and are willing to pay a bit of money (Genesis is $59 and is SO WORTH IT), you won’t have to customize very much if you don’t want to. There are tons of pretty free themes available as well.
- You can self-host or not. WordPress.org is for self-hosting, and WordPress.com provides a hosted option. It’s nice to have options.
- Easily create pages. Pages and top-navigation elements are very easy to set up. You can also easily switch to a static homepage, meaning your blog itself doesn’t have to be your homepage. This lets you promote your latest novel front-and-center, and readers can access your blog via your top-navigation.
- Comments, contact forms, and social sharing work out-of-the-box. Thanks to Jetpack, all of these things are included, and you can activate them in just a few simple clicks.
- Extremely reliable. In all my years of using WordPress, I’ve never had content disappear. Your reliability will depend on whether or not you self-host, but I hear that WordPress-hosted blogs rarely have problems.
- Good for SEO (search engine optimization). It’s easy to customize things like your page title, meta description, URL, image ALT text, etc if you’re into those sorts of things for getting as much traffic from Google as you can.
- So. Many. Plugins. Want to automatically optimize your images for size? There’s a plugin for that. Want a pretty image carousel? There’s a plugin for that. Want a page that requires a password to access? There’s a plugin for that. There’s a plugin for just about ANYTHING you’d want to add to your blog.
- Subscription options aren’t obvious. You have to integrate with an email service provider like Mailchimp and add a form to your blog so people can subscribe via email, or set up a Feedburner feed and hope it won’t disappear on you one day (it might). Either requires a bit of setup work. I personally went the Mailchimp route.
- You need to know HTML/CSS OR invest in a ready-to-go theme. The fanciest WordPress blogs have owners who know how to code, or are willing to buy a theme that’s truly ready-to-go, or has a support team available, or have a webmaster they can use. If this sounds like you, WordPress is worth it.
- WordPress isn’t a social network. Some authors like the networking value of Tumblr and Blogger. I personally use Twitter for networking, so this wasn’t enough of a con for me.
Since WordPress used to take some time to set up (and I didn’t realize how easy they’ve made things in the past couple years), I originally created my author blog on Tumblr. But it had many limitations that led me to go back to old faithful WordPress. But here’s my analysis of the pros and cons of Tumblr.
- Post and go. It’s easy to write very basic posts and images, and it easily connects with Instagram so you can easily share content from anywhere.
- For people who don’t care about customizations, you absolutely don’t have to. Tumblr has ready-to-go themes to choose from, and you can pay anywhere between $20-60 for a fancier theme. Then you don’t need to code anything, at all, if you really don’t care about customizing anything.
- Valuable for networking. It’s easy to reblog other people’s Tumblrs, follow other Tumblr blogs, get followers from other Tumblr users, etc. Many authors thrive on this networking capability.
- They take care of hosting. You can set a custom domain name ( http://diana-urban.com as opposed to http://dianaurban.tumblr.com) and never worry about your own server going down.
- Theme options are pretty. They just are. Tumblr prides itself on slick designs and mobile optimization, and it really shows.
- You can add pages. These pages are not very easy to customize, but the ability to create pages and add them to your to navigation is there.
- Post and go ONLY THE BASICS. If you ever want to embed a tweet, or add styling to a paragraph, or do anything even slightly fancy, it’s very difficult. And even if you manage to make the change, it weirdly reverts the HTML back to the default sometimes.
- Really hard to customize. The HTML and CSS files are very hidden, and even then it’s really hard to customize because of the way Tumblr blogs are coded to begin with. It’s even difficult to edit the style/size/borders of images.
- Not very reliable. In my couple months of using Tumblr, I had two drafts disappear completely, and Tumblr was down for 20 minutes once when I was trying to update my blog.
- Not all themes have sidebars. In fact, most don’t. This makes for a subpar user experience. And if you’re insistent on having a sidebar, it limits your theme options.
- Comments aren’t out-of-the-box. You can install Disqus for comments, but this will have an impact on your page load time and bogs down your blog. The fewer plugins you need, the better.
- Social sharing is hard to install. You can technically add AddThis code to your Tumblr blog, but it’s not easy for those who can’t code.
- Want a custom form? Forget it. You can use their “Ask me” feature, but then you can’t customize your form fields.
- Homepage must be your blog. You cannot create a static homepage with Tumblr.
- Plugins? What’s a plugin.
- Awful for SEO. By default your posts don’t even have page titles at the top of your posts, and you have to hack it with some advanced coding, and even then it’s not perfect. Bleh. If you’re spending your time creating content for your blog, you want your content to have the best potential to get traffic.
I dabbled with Blogger after deciding to switch away from Tumblr before I settled on WordPress.
- Easy to post. It uses a simple WYSIWYG editor, just like WordPress, and you can easily access the HTML of your posts to add anything fancy.
- Easy to make basic customizations. While you don’t have 100% control like you do with WordPress, the free themes are fairly easy to customize. And it’s easy to access the HTML/CSS.
- You’ll have a great sidebar. All but the very visual themes have them, and you can add anything you’d like to your sidebar.
- It’s powered by Google. If you have Gmail, you already have Blogger. And this means it’s very reliable.
- Pages are easy to create. Easily customize them and add them to the top nav as well.
- Comments are out-of-the-box. You don’t need to install a 3rd party comment plugin, but you also can’t customize the comments functionality.
- Image uploading is wonky. When you upload an image, Blogger tries to resize it automatically, so you have to fiddle with the settings to get the sizing right. But when you just want to write your post, add your images, and get it published, this isn’t something you want to deal with.
- The free themes aren’t fancy. If you want to have a really pretty blog, you’ll need to do some customization yourself.
- You don’t have 100% control. While it’s easy to make stylistic tweaks (especially if you can code), Blogger doesn’t have the wealth of plugins that WordPress does.
- There is a 1GB storage limit. If you like to post lots of pictures or files, you run the risk of using up all your space.
- Not the best for SEO. This is ironic because it’s powered by Google. But your URL will always have the date in it (e.g. http://diana-urban.com/2/12/blog-post-title) which isn’t as SEO friendly (or user-friendly) as http://diana-urban.com/blog-post-title.
- No out-of-the-box forms. But since you can easily access your pages’ HTML, it’s much easier to add one than it is on Tumblr.
- Easy to set up Google+, but no other social sharing.
Which platform do you use for your author website? How do you like it? Let me know in the comments below!
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