Today I wanted to talk about a topic that can be confusing when you first decide to start a blog – the initial setup. You’ll read things about free blogging platforms, self-hosted platforms, domains and hosting and the many differences between them. This post will explain all that!
I’ve actually had this in my drafts since March 2015 after a #lbloggers chat on Twitter. During that chat there was a lot of confusion about the different blogging platforms, the two versions of WordPress and being self-hosted versus having a custom domain name.
Below is an overview of what a domain is, what hosting is and the differences between using a free hosted blogging platform and self-hosted blogging platform.
The difference between a domain and hosting?
Hosting is the space on a server for your site files to be stored and accessed by users online. The domain name is the address for the location of your site files on the server.
What is a custom domain?
A (custom) domain is your own unique web address using the name of your choice that identifies your site online (like xomisse.com). Once this is purchased you can set up subdomains (like blog.xomisse.com).
When you sign up to a free blogging platform, like WordPress.com or Blogger, you use their subdomain (yourblog.wordpress.com and yourblog.blogspot.com) unless you purchase and install your own domain.
The benefit to having a custom domain means you own it, you can grow your domain authority, start building links and work on your SEO. Then you can move it easily to another platform or to a self-hosted site without losing anything. I recommend getting a custom domain as soon as possible, especially if you decide you want to grow your blog in the future.
Related: Domains 101 – complete guide to purchasing a domain for your blog
What is hosting?
This is the server (like a computer hard disk) where your site’s files and pages are stored and served. WordPress.org is self-hosted, meaning you store the files yourself and have access to your server. If you choose to go self-hosted, you’ll need a custom domain name and your own hosting.
If you are on Blogger or WordPress.com, it doesn’t matter if you choose a custom domain (xomisse.com), Blogger subdomain (xomisse.blogspot.com) or WordPress.com subdomain (xomisse.wordpress.com), your blog is still hosted by Blogger or WordPress. You don’t have access to the server or the backend.
Related: Hosting 101 – complete guide to purchasing hosting for your blog
The difference between free and self-hosted blog platforms
The main overall difference is simply where the blog is hosted.
With a free (hosted) blog platform, the files are stored and hosted on the servers of the blogging platform itself and there is no charge for this. Whereas a self-hosted blog is hosted on the server of your choice of web host.
Hosted blogging platforms
A free blogging platform is one that you can simply sign up for a free account, get a free subdomain via the platform (like xomisse.blogspot.com or xomisse.wordpress.com) and quickly set up your site.
Your files are stored (hosted) on the platforms servers, which you don’t have access to but you have the option to purchase a custom domain name. Some free hosted blogging platforms are Blogger, WordPress.com, Squarespace, Joomla.com, Tumblr and Medium.
Self-hosted blogging platform
Self-hosted is slightly more work to set up and comes with some added cost. You need a custom domain name and hosting in order to set up your site. A self-hosted blog is one that “lives” on your own server. You pay for hosting to “rent” digital storage space.
You have full control over your blog and have more options when it comes to layout, search engine optimization, advertising revenue, additional functions and more. You can install custom themes to brand your blog. You have complete access to your backend files, which allows you to make any necessary code changes. Some self-hosted blogging platforms are WordPress.org, Joomla.org, Drupal.org and Ghost.org.
|Hosted Platforms||Self-Hosted Platforms|
|Blogger, WordPress.com, Joomla.com, Squarespace, Tumblr, Weebly, Wix and Medium||WordPress.org, Joomla.org, Drupal.org and Ghost.org|
|Files are stored on the blogging platforms servers||Files are stored on an external server of your choice|
|Free subdomain with option to add own domain (sometimes for a fee)||Purchase of domain and hosting is required|
|Little setup, just register an account||Need to install and setup on server, requires some technical knowledge|
|Less control with limited access to file structure and features||Full access to file structure and features, more customisation options|
|No updates, security or maintenance required||Responsible for updates, security or maintenance|
|Can be restricted with advertising and monetisation options||Full control over advertising and monetisation|
There you have hit, the difference between domains, hosting, hosted platforms and self-hosted platforms.
Just getting started and want to concentrate on writing? I’d recommend a hosted platform like Blogger.com, WordPress.com or Medium.
But if you want to delve in a little deeper and build out a website that you can grow over time, I recommend self-hosted WordPress.
Check out the following post for more details: An Overview of WordPress, Blogger and Other Blogging Platforms