Top 6 Blogging platforms on 2019
June 25, 2019
Starting a blog is not a difficult task, but picking the right platform where to do that might not be as easy. Nowadays every blogging platform is designed with the same objective: to simplify the blogger’s life. As a new blogger, you don’t need to know how to code, you don’t really need to know about how to web works or what a stylesheet is, and that is great! That’s technology evolving, helping you focus on the important thing: your content.
But why are we getting so many offers out here? Why are there so many platforms if they all do the same? Keep reading and I’ll try to enumerate the pros and cons of the top 6 blogging platforms out there, hopefully helping you decide which one is the right one for you.
But before we start delving into each platform individually, I’m going to be categorizing them into three different groups. That way you’ll get a basic understanding of their main characteristics even before looking into them directly. Let’s get started.
Blogging as a Service
This category includes platforms that do everything for you. All you have to worry about is writing your content and then hitting publish. Website? No worries. Styles? What’s that? Customizing and setting personal brand? Not a chance.
This category is where Medium would be placed, you can’t do much other than writing, but maybe that’s what you’re really after. Let me explain. You can think of Medium as a massive blog where everyone who wants to, can publish. Their platform takes care of making sure the right content is shown to you, the reader, based on your reading history and other preferences.
So what’s good about Medium?
- Well for starters, their community is massive, so immediately you gain access to a huge amount of readers who’re interested in the topics you write about. You do have to find a way to get your content in front of them however, it’s not automatic since Medium needs to pick the best of the best, that usually means the most liked or most read articles. But once you gain a following the potential is amazing.
- Another big plus is that they take care of everything for you in regards to styles and presentation. They only have one set of styles, and you can’t really do much about it, but it’s quite pleasing and easy on the eyes (which for a reading platform makes a lot of sense).
- Medium is free to publish, which lowers the entrance barrier to zero, although not fully free to read. There are some articles that get swept behind a paywall and you, as a reader, need to pay a few bucks in order to access them.
On the flip side, there are some negative aspects to Medium:
- You don’t really have a brand. You could create what they call “Publications”, which act as e-magazines inside their site, but your customization options are quite limited. They make it really hard for you to personalize your styles out of theirs.
- The paywall is getting out of hands. This is actually a recent development, but they’ve started forcing the paywall for most of their articles, so publications suddenly started seeing a huge declined on their read numbers because very little of the reader population is actually willing to pay for it.
- Forget about custom behavior. You either accept their UX or move along, there is no way for you to customize what you show as part of your stories or publications. How the navigation works or even things like custom pages. That’s all out of the question.
- Everything is a story, even comments on other stories. This one might be a small one, but mixing stories and comments into the same bag confuses the hell out of me. Sorry Medium, but that one to me make no sense.
So, why would you pick Medium?
If your interests are:
- Writing on your own behalf
- No need for a particular band
- Don’t care about look & feel
- Really only care about writing and getting your word across (forget about monetization, mailing lists, sales funnels, and the like).
Then Medium is for you.
- You’re looking to get a blog in order to monetize it and make a living out of it
- You want to build a brand and manage everything from your blog/site
- You’re a control freak who needs to be able to tweak everything
Then Medium is not what you’re looking for and should keep reading.
Update from July 11, 2019 I’ve done a quick review of Midnight, a Medium-like platform that provides a lot more control over your content with the same beautiful writing experience. Check it out if you’re already a Medium user looking for a change.
Build your own blog platforms
These are the most common platforms for those starting a blog. They have all the options you need to set up a website, which can be a blog or something else (i.e e-commerce store). You’ll be able to control everything you need, from page structure, all the way to the font you’re using for your main header. And the best part is you don’t need to know how to code. Here is where we would put platforms such as Squarespace, Wix.com and WordPress.com.
With Squarespace, you’ll be able to create beautifully designed websites and blogs without the need to have a degree in either coding nor web design. The way it works is by allowing you to define a set of parameters for your blog (I’ll assume you’re trying to build a blog here), and with that, it’ll present a list of existing themes. Once you’ve picked your theme, you’ll be able to customize it by using a drag&drop UI, adding elements such as text boxes, contact forms, image slideshows and so on. Just like most of the platforms in this category, aside from site construction, they also offer the option to buy and administer your own Domain name as part of the deal. This would help, since by default your blog would sit inside a subdomain of theirs: your-blogs-name.squarespace.com They have a very interesting set of integrations, which you can add to your blogs, such as Google Analytics, Paypal, Stripe, YouTube, Vimeo, and others. This comes in very handy if you actually need to integrate with any of these 3rd party sites.
Sadly, they do not offer a free account, so you’ll have to pay their fee even if you’re just interested in building a small blog.
- Amazing looking designed themes out of the box. If the presentation of your blog is important, this is a major plus.
- Great set of integrations that come with your subscription. All major blogging-related 3rd parties are there. Perfect if you’re looking to do things like charging for your courses or integrating your blog with your YouTube channel.
- Great & easy to use editor that gives life to your own vision of what a blog should look like.
- Further code-enabled customization for your site, should you need them.
- No free account. You can’t test the waters (well, you can, but only for 14 days and that’s it) and then decide to go pro, you’ll have to pay from the get-go.
- Have you ever heard of “Mobile first”? Well, it looks like they haven’t. You can’t customize the way your blog looks like or behaves in mobile devices.
- No back-up plan for your data, other than manually exporting the information. This is never a big issue until the day you’re data is lost and you have to suddenly start over.
So why would you pick Squarespace?
If you’re interested in:
- A beautifully designed blog.
- Integrating with 3rd party services to enhance your reader’s experience.
- Eventually, perform customization of the code
- And don’t really care about paying to have a blog without a few months of a test run.
Then definitely Squarespace is right for you.
If, on the other hand:
- You don’t really care about the design.
- You were actually hoping to avoid paying money for the first few months until you managed to monetize your blog.
- You don’t really care for drag&drop editors
Then maybe Squarespace is not your cup of tea.
Similarly to Squarespace, Wix allows you to graphically customize one of their own templates into a website of your design. They have pre-defined themes based on your needs for your site, and although they’re quite nice looking, the design quality is not exactly that of the Squarespace themes. That being said, when it comes to their offering, they have a very interesting set of features for bloggers, for example:
- Integrated blogging platform. Although quite minimalist (ala Medium), you get to manage your blog posts separate from where your site’s pages would be.
- Email marketing and SEO tools are available if you’re willing to pay for them.
- They offer a huge array of 3rd party applications that integrate with their platform. There is basically a marketplace you can browse in order to add extra functionality to your sites, such as Facebook comments on your pages, or contact forms, social sharing services, and so on.
- Their editor UI is quite powerful for basic users with their growing set of widgets to add (such as image sliders, contact forms, opt-in sliders and so on). But they’ve also taken it to the next level, allowing you to manage basic databases linking them to their dynamic widgets, allowing you to perform some crazy behavior without the need to code at all (i.e you can have a set of sliders that pull data from two different databases, which you can admin directly from their UI, updating their content without having to deal with the widgets ever again).
- Their marketplace is quite big. There is a big ecosystem of 3rd party applications being added daily, and you can easily browse it when looking for things to add to your site.
- SEO customization is easy & quick to do, even on a per-page basis.
- They also sell domain names that you can integrate with your sites quite easily.
- They offer a free account, although limited in features and with a banner shown on your site.
- You can customize and visualize the way your site looks on mobile devices.
- Their UI although powerful, can be a bit slow at times, making simple drag&drop task to be a bit frustrating.
- Response times tend to vary, especially with their dynamically linked widgets. Sometimes needing a quick refresh before the actual page renders correctly.
- Their blogging platform is quite minimalist, lacking a lot of features other platforms have (such as font customization, extra control over styles, etc).
- All plans are for a single site, not an account. So you need to pay several subscriptions if you want to have more than one site inside your account.
So why would you choose Wix?
If you’re interested in:
- A quick and semi-simple website with a blog
- You don’t care about coding but are interested in having the ability to perform dynamic data linking from the UI
- You just want a quick blog without paying but that it looks professional.
Then maybe Wix.com is for you.
If, on the other hand:
- You’re very concerned with website performance
- You can’t deal with slow or convoluted UIs
- You’re not looking to pay just to have a basic blog (even one with a custom domain name)
Then forget about Wix and keep reading.
The last platform in this category is no other than the famous WordPress. There can really be no list of blogging platforms without this giant being part of it. Now a big important note to make right off the bat is that this review is for their managed platform and not for the downloadable version of the same thing. If you want to download WordPress and install it in your own hosting service, then, by all means, go ahead, but it will not be the same.
Now just like the two options above, WordPress.com allows you to create a website, which you can particularly turn into a blog. The main difference is that while with Wix and Squarespace that statement is 100% true, with this one, it’s the other way around. Let me explain: WordPress is a blogging platform which you can use to create websites. The focus is blogs, by default you’re making a blog, there is no arguing that. You can bend it and twist it enough (through style customization and 3rd party plugins) and make it do other things, but by default, it’ll be more than enough to set up and start running a blog.
- The number of available themes is mind-blowing. And if you consider paid themes as well, then you’ll probably be looking for the right one for days. This might sound like a lot, but it provides a level of freedom a lot of bloggers welcome with open arms.
- Third party plugins are a thing. Just like with Wix you have a 3rd Party Widgets marketplace, with WordPress you have a plugin marketplace to browse. And they provide all kinds of functionality ready to install and use. Some of them are free, others you need to pay for.
- Very simple UI. Where the previous competitors tried to win and failed is with their UI. WordPress managed to create a simple, yet powerful UI, which allows you to perform the right level of customization and actions without suffering from a bad or slow UX (user experience).
- They also offer a free plan, which you can use and have a blog published under the .wordpress.com domain. If you want to customize it, you’ll have to pay for a premium plan.
- Even though they offer quite a lot of room for customization through their UI and plugins, many people find a limit when their custom needs grow too big. Then it’s either learning how to code using their platform (PHP + other frameworks) or pay other experts who specifically do that for a living.
- You’ll need to pay for basic things, like having a custom domain name.
So why would you pick WordPress?
If you’re interested in:
- A quick blog and nothing else.
- Minor customization without having to code
- You don’t mind coding PHP
- A managed platform meant for bloggers
Then probably WordPress is where you should go.
If on the other hand:
- You don’t want to spend money on anything but your domain name
- You really hate PHP and the idea of having to use it sickens you
- You don’t want to rely on 3rd party plugins that might have security problems.
- Or your blog is actually not your main focus, and you’re actually thinking of building something else, with a basic blog attached.
Then my friend, just skip WordPress and move on.
Fully free blogging
Finally, the last category includes platforms where you can work without spending a single dime directly on your blog and you get access to the full set of features. Mind you, these platforms are the ones that require the most manual work from you (or have the least amount of features), so it’s also important to understand how much money you’re willing to pay and how much the automated work provided by the above platforms is worth to you. Platforms that work like this are Blogger and Github Pages.
Once known as Blogspot, Blogger is the blogging platform from our beloved Google. So much so, that if you already have a Gmail account, you have a Blogger account as well. Go ahead, check it out, I’ll wait. Back already? So what’s the deal with this platform? Nothing much really, it’s just your basic, run-of-the-mill blogging platform. You’ll be able to select a theme from a list, and then you’ll be all set to start writing. Yeap, that fast. Mind you, a lot of you are probably looking for a basic thing, without all the bells and whistles, which is why I added this one to the list. So top asking if that’s all there is, would you?
- Blogger is ready for you already. Just sign-up for a Gmail account and get access to Blogger, add your blog (you can have as many as you’d like) and start creating content!
- Since it’s a Google product, its integration with other G-products, such as AdSense is right there, out-of-the-box.
- You don’t have to pay, like, at all, it’s free. Even if you want to add a custom domain name. It even comes with a free SSL certificate!
- Speed. Since it’s super simple, blogs created with it are very responsive providing your readers the right type of experience when visiting your site.
- There is no customization. Actually, there is, you can edit the HTML & CSS of your blog using a single file with thousands of lines of code. And that’s all you can customize by the way. Would you like to have a custom top header with your top posts? Nop. What about changing the order of the post pagination? Not a chance. Customization is not the focus of Blogger and it shouldn’t be yours if you’re using it.
- Google’s been known for canning other projects in its past. Remember Google Wave? Yes, I’m that old. What about the most recently deceased Google+? They gave everyone enough time to migrate out of their products, but there is no guarantee when it comes to Google really.
- Lack of extra features. If you want to write blog posts, then perfect, but if you want to do anything else? Adding an opt-in form to lead readers into your sales funnel? That’ll be difficult and probably require some mad coding skills.
So why would you pick Blogger?
You’d pick it if you’re:
- Interested in a minimum blog where you can put your content
- You’re not interested in paying for anything (other than maybe, a domain name)
- You already have a Gmail account and can’t be bothered with signing up someplace else.
- The presentation of your blog is not really keeping you up at night
Then yes, by all means, go with Blogger.
If, on the other hand:
- You do care about customizing your blog’s behavior
- You don’t really trust what Google does with your data
- You want to have full control over the way your blog looks and feels
Then nope, Blogger is definitely not for you.
Last but certainly not least we have the ultimate developer option. Don’t be scared, but with this option, you’ll most likely be having to understand a bit of HTML & CSS, since there is no real editor UI other than your favorite text editor. GitHub Pages allows you to create a static website based on Jekyll, which is a blog-aware static website generator. In other words, you can use it to generate a full blog, with a minimum amount of coding. And having that on top of Github’s platform, allows them to serve your static content with minimum effort, thus providing this service for free. By default, all you’ll have to do is sign-up to Github if you haven’t already, and create a particular repository where you’ll start adding files to. Based on your needs, you’ll be able to customize as much as you want from the website. By default, you’ll have themes that pre-define the behavior of your blog and over time you’ll be able to slowly customize the parts you need with minimum changes.
- Since it’s all static content, rendering and response times are super fast.
- Static content also means a more secure blog.
- There is a nice amount of plugins available to deal with things like SEO tags and content pagination.
- Hosting is completely free, including the configuration of a custom domain name.
- Their documentation is amazingly well developed. This is a major plus not only for existing developers but for the non-initiated as well.
- You’ll need to pick up some coding skills along the way. Just enough to write content and customize what you want, but you won’t be able to do it without that.
- Expanding the behavior of the basic theme will require development.
- No official support for when the coding goes wrong. You’re in charge of that, so if things don’t work, you’ll have to figure it out.
- No default comment support, although it can quickly be solved by adding a Disqus or Facebook plugin for that.
So why would you pick Github pages?
- Already a developer looking for a cheap blogging platform
- You can’t deal with drag&drop UIs and instead, you’d rather write code all day
- You need full control over how the blog looks and behaves
- You can’t deal with response times from other platforms
Then get over there and create your own Github Page already!
If on the other hand:
- The idea of having to code scares you too much
- You don’t really like any of Jekyll’s default themes and/or don’t have the skills to improve them.
- You’d rather spend money over spending time learning how to code
Then not to worry, just go back to the top and start going over the other options again, because Github Pages is not for you.
That is it for this list, I hope I managed to shine some light into the confusion that is trying to find the best blogging platform for your particular needs. Feel free to leave a comment below letting everyone know which one you’re using and if you’re happy with it. I personally would love to know what others are using!
See you on the next one!
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