A hosted web service, especially the free hosting services like WordPress.com and Blogger, is great for the beginner blogger. With limited but extensive offerings, the blogger can set up shop and learn the basics of how it works. It’s a fairly protected and safe environment, with little risk of being shut down due to Digg, TechCrunch or other traffic-driving and bandwidth busting link-to events. And once you are up and running, you become a part of a community. It’s safe. It’s familiar.
But there comes a time when you need to jump off the hosted cliff and get your own blog. Your own domain. And start controlling your blog. Your way.
How do you know it’s time to leave the comfort of a free hosted site?
Time For Your Own Identity
A good time to leave a free or restricted web host is when you are ready for your own identity. Yes, some hosted services allow you to buy your own domain, but this may or may not come with the features you really want in addition to your own domain name.
A domain name helps to establish your identity and blog brand. It removes your identity from the hosted service when you switch from
fredsmith42.com. Or maybe the subdomain you wanted was not available, like “fredsmith” and you choose to be the forty-second fred smith on the service. Or when you started, you just picked the first name that came to you and now you want to move away from that and have a more defined blog name. Moving to your own domain could give you the opportunity to choose a more appropriate domain name.
Many consider it very important that your URL match your blog title. Your
fredsmith42.blogspot.com may be titled “Dancing In My Dreams”. A domain name of
dancinginmydreams.com would go farther to match your URL with your blog title, thus establishing your blog identity and brand better.
Fear Of The Flag
WordPress.com, Blogger, and other hosted web services feature a bar across the top of the blog with a “Flag This” or “Report This” option for the visitor to mark this blog as a splog or spam blog, or as adult or other inappropriate or suspicious content. Once you are marked, it’s hard to get unmarked and off such lists. WordPress.com is fairly speedy in responding to false accusations, but there are a lot of stories of Blogger taking a long time to respond or not removing such accusations.
I’ve talked to many who worry about this easy ability to have their blog shut down. Leaving the hosted service doesn’t remove the possibility, but it does take longer and is more difficult.
One Of The Many Not The Individual
As wonderful as being a part of the WordPress.com or Blogger community is for many new bloggers, many say that after a while they feel like one of the many and not an individual, standing on their own two feet with a self-hosted blog. They feel like these services are the playpen, the place to learn how to talk, walk, and figure out how this whole blogging thing works. Moving to a self-hosted site could mean wearing adult pants.
There is some truth to the association of “oh, you’re a WordPress.com blogger” or “Blogger blogger”, a kind of “oh, you’re still with them” that these bloggers sometimes face. I’ve been told many times that I should get off WordPress.com and get a “grown-up site”. If you are on a hosted service, have you heard the same thing?
Blogger goes up and down with popularity, rumors, and innuendo which can paint you with its brush through association. It might be time for you to stand on your own feet with your own self-hosted blog and be painted with your own brush not your host’s.
Better Features and Services
Free hosted services do not offer email. Self-hosted sites do, even allowing you to have more than one email.
Having the same email address as your blog’s URL also works in your favor to improve your overall blog identity and brand. A URL of
dancinginmy dreams.com with a matching email to
email@example.com looks great on a business card compared to
You can also add your own shop for e-commerce, have more storage space for uploading files, improved statistics monitoring, and many other services not available on free host services. If your blog has come to the point where these features are important, it’s time to move to a self-hosted service.
More Control Over Your Blog
Some free hosted blogs do not allow advertising. If you are ready to monetize your blog, going to a self-hosted site allows you to experiment with different advertising methods to maximize the benefit of those ads.
With a self-hosted blog, you can add a variety of analytics and statistics Plugins and add-ons which help you track your traffic better, thus improving your response, services, and content for your readers. You can offer a variety of feeds, email feeds, newsletters, and other services to your readers to help promote your blog and keep your readers informed.
If you want more control over every aspect of your blog, it’s time to get self-hosted.
Your Host Ain’t Working For You
While it is the business of your blog host to put customer service first, it doesn’t mean you feel like you are getting the “first” treatment. It could be blatant, such as you wanted a feature or fix and you feel the host is unresponsive to your needs, or it could be more subtle.
It could be that little nagging something that your web host might not be providing, either through services or interface. It might not even be definable, just something that irritates enough to wear a blister on your blogging spirit.
This is usually a sign that you are ready to move on and get more control over your blog and it’s features.
Moving Means Learning and Change
The number one reason people don’t move from one host to another, free or otherwise, is because they don’t like change. Change can be hard work and involves risk. But if the risk is worth it, then you are ready for the change.
Moving your blog means learning about how all this blog stuff works. Instead of having your blog setup for you, you may now have to set up your own. A free host answers your questions and provides a forum to learn from others. Self-hosts might, but you have to go digging for the answers.
Moving your blog means risk. While WordPress and others make it easy to export and import your blog’s content, you may lose some categories, comments, posts, and other information along the way. It’s not likely, but it happens. That’s part of the risk.
It also means work. Not just learning how to do it all, but hours spent copying, backing up, moving, setting things up, filling out forms, testing, checking, verifying, and fixing whatever goes bump in your blog move. You have to make some compromises and sacrifices along the way.
Moving takes time. If you aren’t blogging for your life, if it isn’t your income or reputation at stake, don’t move. Be happy where you are. Sometimes, learning to work within the restrictions actually makes you a more creative blogger, focusing on content more than the details which consume so many people’s time.
If it’s the right time for you to move, you will know it. Doing it is another post.
Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on Lorelle on WordPress.