Q. There are several big, well established blogging platforms that let you set up and operate a blog for free. Why, then, would you want to host your own?
A: Better SEO, total control, more traffic and more sales – although those reasons will not 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. I was such a newbie that I did not even realize it was possible to host my own blog.
Even if I had realized that, it's not something I would have given a moment's thought to. I was too new to working online. I was (still am) totally non-techie and 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 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 not read Chinese) I logged into my Google account (Adwords, Gmail, etc,) to raise a request for them to translate my blog back to English.
After a week nothing had happened. I had not received a reply, I still could not read my admin screens, and I was seriously frustrated that Google should also 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 I imported all my old Blogger posts and started to learn WordPress. Given what I'd heard I was looking forward to great things.
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 was 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've been blind-sided by my blogging platform and the second occasion was even more damaging than the first. (It does not look too professional when your visitors are told that your blog's been suspended for infringing terms and conditions).
So, finally, I was pushed into the realization 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 that they've set out for downloading and installing a WP blog are delightfully clear and easy to follow.
There are a few minimum requirements set out, which pretty much every hosting provider meets. You can always check with your provider if you're not sure. Mine does, so 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 gives you an even easier method than that:
One click installation.
I've never done a 1-click installation so I can not confirm whether it really is one click or if a few more are involved – but it's definitely very easy and it does not 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 customize it as much as you like. You do this by installing plug-ins – and there are plugins for pretty much anything you would want to do. 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 largest benefit of all comes from the SEO elements.
This really turns your blog into an incredibly effective way of figuring well in the natural search results.
Optimizing your blog for the search engines is simply a question of installing and activating the appropriate SEO related plug-ins. And you can find probably the best list of these 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 optimizing it properly for the search engines.
Firstly, it's free and secondly, if you do not set up your blog properly you're wasting an awful portion of its SEO potential.
It would be like buying a Ferrari but never taking it out of the city center.
I'm now using my blog as my primary means of drawing in traffic. I have not (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%.