When Is It Time To Leave A Free Blog?

Filed as Features on May 15, 2007 12:29 pm

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A hosted web service, especially the free hosting services like and , 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.blogspot.com to 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 protected] looks great on a business card compared to [email protected].

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

A self-hosted site allows you to control every feature of your blog. You can dig into the web design and tweak it to your own needs or create one from scratch. You can add WordPress Plugins, javascripts, shopping carts, and any bells and whistles you want to 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 .

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  1. By Tony Hung posted on May 15, 2007 at 12:42 pm
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    For me, the move was a no-brainer.

    I have been self-hosted from the beginning and love it. But to be honest, I think most a-types love control, and love the sense that you *are* in control when you host your own blog.

    It also provided me the opportunity to learn about the nitty gritty in design, some quicky programming and other interesting things.

    But heck .. that’s just me. ;)

    I find that the debate is almost like the archetypal buying vs. renting dilemma when looking for an abode.

    On one hand, its cheaper (free even, in the bloggin world), you have things taken care of you, and you just do your thing. On the other hand, you don’t really own the place, and you can’t really do what you want.

    I’ve opted to “buy”, but it really boils down to a personal decision, I think.

    Another intersting question, perhaps, is would any “real” or “professional” blogger stick with a hosting service? There are a few. Amit Agarwal at Digital Inspirations is an example (labnol.blogspot.com) and so is Robert Scoble (Scobleizer.wordpress.com) Why do they do that? do they regret it? Are they happy with it?

  2. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on May 15, 2007 at 1:14 pm
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    For me, moving from self-hosting to free host (sorta) was really challenging, but I found that I could focus more energy on the blogging and less on the mechanics. BIG DIFFERENCE!

    As for the famous who stay with a free hosting service, Scoble was a special case as his was the first test of the VIP hosting program for WordPress.com so while he doesn’t have the domain, he has more control over his blog’s look and features. He could change the domain name, but currently stays with this. He doesn’t regret it, according to him. He’s happy enough and puts his energy into the blogging and leaves the rest of the worries such as traffic and bandwidth busting to WordPress.com.

    Some “pros” are “bigger than their blogs” so the URL and host is not important, but that’s rare.

  3. By engtech posted on May 15, 2007 at 2:07 pm
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    I’ve been fighting with this one for several months now. I’m not the right type of user for wordpress.com. I find myself hitting the limits of their constraints quite often, creating complicated workarounds for their limitations.

    Because I’m the kind of person who wants to get into the code and hack/create plug-ins that don’t already exist — I should probably be running self-hosted.

  4. By Tony Hung posted on May 15, 2007 at 2:17 pm
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    Yeah, Engtech … I’ve often wondered about that.

    As for Scoble — I’ve heard his reasons (and reservations) about being on WordPress.com. As for other big hitters being with hosted services, one reason I’ve heard them staying with them is that some of them never anticipated their blog being big — and are worried about losing google juice now about moving to a new domain.

    Cheers
    t

  5. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on May 15, 2007 at 2:29 pm
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    I’ll be talking more about why people don’t move, overcoming those issues, and how to move your blog, at least with WordPress in mind, in the next few weeks.

  6. By Valeria Maltoni posted on May 15, 2007 at 3:02 pm
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    Lorelle:

    Another tremendous post. You do not mention Typepad. I’ve suffered from a split personality since I started, alas unknowingly. For every metric, I have two stats: the domain name URL, and the Typepad URL. Maybe they cannot be synched in. I’ve written to Technorati several times to see if at least on their site we could consolidate my numbers… no dice.

  7. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on May 15, 2007 at 3:07 pm
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    Typepad is one of those “inbetween” but valid for this debate as well. It’s part free and part paid, depending upon what you decide to do. Still, leaving it puts you in the same mindset as leaving a totally free host.

    Actually, many of these points apply to paid hosting and when it’s time to switch paid hosts. I’m researching a paid self-hosting system now for two of my blogs as I am VERY unhappy with my lousy web host. Change is always hard, especially when there are so many things to consider.

  8. By Darnell Clayton posted on May 15, 2007 at 3:13 pm
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    Great post Lorelle, although I not so sure if most of those points can easily can be applied to the new version of Blogger.com (and perhaps WordPress.com) nowadays.

    Taken by the points:

    -Time For Your Own Identity: Blogger(and I think WordPress) allow users to switch their blog from the “hosted url” to their own domain in a simple easy step. Very little hassle, and your blog looks professional.

    They also redirect your old link to the new one, avoiding any missing traffic from earlier posts.

    -Fear Of The Flag: I’ve heard the “flag stories” myself, but on Blogger if you “get flagged” all it does is bring you to Google’s attention. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Your blog is not shut down, no word verification, etc. If you are suspected of being a spammer (which their machines search for) you will receive a word verification, but its usually painless to prove your legit, and when it happened to me (once) I notified Google and 24 hours later the word verification was gone.

    -One Of The Many Not The Individual: Not too sure what you exactly mean here. Most people (that I know of) don’t really care about where you post, but rather the content you post.

    -Better Features and Services: As far as email goes, I rather have it off my server than on, as over time they can take up space. Since one would own their own domain, they could simply have their domain email redirect to their yahoo/gmail/hotmail account (and with Google send it underneath their domain email).

    Also you can add any analytics tool to a blogger hosted blog, although I am not too sure if its the same with wordpress though. And as far as images go, you can always buy more space on Blogger if necessary (if you need more than a gig, or you could simply host the images elsewhere if you preferred).

    -Your Host Ain’t Working For You: The same thing could be said for a general hosting service as well. I’ve personally found Google’s customer service superior to that of most internet companies in America, so I am very happy with them thus far.

    -Moving Means Learning and Change: I agree with that. I actually bought hosting for a blog before, and the change was a fun experience. But although I was making a very small fortune blogging, I decided to simply maximize my time (and money) by allowing Google to muck with everything, freeing me up to simply focus on blogging.

    Either way I’m content, although ultimately its up to the individual.

  9. By timethief posted on May 15, 2007 at 8:34 pm
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    IMO this is a timely post as we have been getting bloggers on the wordpress.com forums asking in essence when is it time to move on?

    In almost all cases they wish to move to wordpress.org so they can monetize their blogs. And in almost all cases they assume the benefits they enjoyed by having blogs hosted by wordpress.com would continue to flow to their new blogs.

    The true cost of self-hosting and monetizing your free blog template from wordpress.org can be summarized:

    (1) When you host your own blog or hire a web host the new blog will not be entitled to be “featured” amidst the rest of the wp.com blogs because wordpress.com will no longer be hosting it.

    (2) The benefits of having your blog posts appear in the wp.com Category tag pages will not issue to your new blog and you may lose some traffic that was generated by having a blog hosted by wordpress.com.

    (3) Your new blog will not be considered for a position among wp.com Top Posts, Top Blog or Growing Blogs. These will not apply to your new blog because wordpress.com will no longer be hosting it.

    (4) As your domain will change the Technorati status, ranking and links to your former blog will not be applied to your new blog.

  10. By Genevieve Netz posted on May 16, 2007 at 12:13 am
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    I figure I’ll switch to a self-hosted blog when I run out of free space in Blogger photo hosting.

  11. By Luciano posted on May 16, 2007 at 9:42 am
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    Hi, as you said when you are small (like me!) it is safe to be part of a blog host (blogger for me). I think and hope that one day I’ll jump to go on my own….great article!

    http://www.lucianobove.blogspot.com

    thanks for visiting, Ciao!

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  13. By Dawud Miracle posted on May 17, 2007 at 6:58 am
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    My work is to help people get into and enhance their blogging. How I approach this is by first suggesting to a client that they try TypePad or WordPress.com initially to see if they’re going to like blogging or not. I usually suggest they try it on for month with a commitment of writing minimum three times per week.

    At the end of the month, we sit down and evaluate their experience. Then I guide them in deciding whether blogging will work for them – and with what level of commitment.

    If they don’t feel blogging is for them or if they just aren’t sure yet, I usually suggest that they continue with their hosted service until they’re sure.

    However, if they have any interest in blogging to increase their business or find that they love it, I’ll put them on a host and install WordPress with a number of plugins. Then I guide them through a bit of the learning curve. And they’re off. Now as their blog grows, their set and don’t have to worry about moving it later.

  14. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on May 17, 2007 at 1:33 pm
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    Darnell: Very good points. However, I know many bloggers who were flagged and are waiting months for some response let alone the flag lifted. Luckily, you had a good response. Moving your blog is always up to the individual. It might be one thing or a collection of things that pushes them off the cliff towards a new address.

    TimeThief: You are right on about the reasons not to leave WordPress.com. It’s an amazing community and evolving into a better one. For some, leaving that safety net is enough reason to put up with some inconveniences. For others, the community doesn’t matter and the freedom to rip and tear their blog to pieces does. Personally, I love much of the freedom being on WordPress.com gives me.

    Dawud: Excellent point. I tell everyone that WordPress.com is training camp. If you can get through that and survive (even though it’s pudding and jello easy boot camp) then you are ready for the big league. Some never leave, others see the justification in moving on to something with more control. And others move, and come back because they liked NOT having all that temptation. ;-)

    It varies for everyone. When to move as well as which service to use. Luckily, we have choices.

  15. By Dawud Miracle posted on May 18, 2007 at 11:26 am
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    It does vary for everyone. And different users require different solutions. I’m just glad WordPress is so versatile

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  21. By Brenda posted on May 23, 2007 at 5:56 am
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    Thanks for stopping by my blog Lorelle. For me, migrating my blog from Blogger to WordPress.org was less about niggles with Blogger than the desire to embrace my inner geek and exercise maximum control over the content and format of my blog. Five months on and I still have lots to learn about WordPress but forums like yours all provide inspiration.

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