Hi, Story Empire fans. Craig here to kick off this point/counter-point post. This is something new for us, and we hope to have more posts like this. Some of that depends upon the success of this post. We invite all of you to join our discussion in the comments area. Maybe you can add something to this discussion.
I think WordPress is the best blogging system out there. They are bigger, simpler, and have more interaction going than competing systems. There is one question that bloggers have to answer when they get started: Free or Self-Hosted?
I’m on the side of free. My own blog, Entertaining Stories, is a free WordPress blog. WordPress provides me with multiple theme options, and those are highly customizable. They also provide widgets that allow me to add things like a slideshow of my covers, linked covers that go to the Amazon store, and more. I know the paid sites provide additional options, but I have more than enough to confuse myself already.
I have friends with self-hosted WordPress sites. I find them to be extremely difficult to comment on. I have to enter a bunch of data in a form before my comment will go through, and that seems counter productive to me. If you’ve read my posts on blogging, comments and interaction are golden. Without the comments, you might as well have a static web page. Remember my mantra of not giving someone a reason to say no.
There are some risks involved in my free site, and I stepped in with open eyes. First is that WordPress actually owns my site. They don’t own my content, but it lives on their site. If they chose to shut me down, I would lose all of my content.
I’m a prolific blogger, and there is no way I’m going to give up all that storage space to save a post about my dogs, or my weekly word metrics. I’m also not going to pay for someone to store it for me. I’m taking a calculated risk here. I still have all the photos and cover art on my devices and the cloud. My imagination is my own, and I can write more.
The second risk is that a free site will not let me sell directly. I may be fooling myself, but I’ve convinced myself that I don’t sell books. (My royalty payments will prove it.) My blog points to Amazon, and Amazon sells books on their site. Maybe it’s a weak argument, but I haven’t had any problems. All of life is a calculated risk, and this is where I stand.
Other Story Empire Authors have made different choices, so I’m going to pass this along to them, and they can offer their own opinions.
Ciao, SEers. Staci here, weighing in with my two cents. Thanks to Julie Holmes for asking for more information about self-hosted versus free sites. And thanks to Craig, for his brilliant introduction to the free version.
This post is pretty much one long pro/con list about free versus self-hosted sites. The thing I hate about pro/con lists is that I often end up with the same amount on each side. Creating such a list takes me a lot of time and the result is I still have no idea what to do. Isn’t it fitting, then, that in this post, I’m once again in the middle?
Let me give you a brief history of my blogging life. This may be repeat information for many of you, but bear with me please. I won’t take long, and then I’ll draw my conclusions, such as they are, once you understand where I’m coming from.
I started blogging around the same time I started writing fiction, because, you know, writers need a platform. I tried Blogger first, because it was free and associated with Google, but the format just didn’t click for me. (That blog, pathetic as it is, is probably still out there somewhere.) Then I heard about WordPress in my writers’ group. They debated the merits of paid or free, and the paid version pretty much won. I went home and looked into it. As I hadn’t made any money from writing at that time and I didn’t understand how to set up the self-hosted version, I decided to start with the free one and make the switch when I thought I was ready.
I belong to some online writing tribes, and one of them was really helpful to me. Most of those users lauded the self-hosted sites, and I used to get jealous of all their functionality. They had plugins for everything, but I was limited to a few lousy widgets. They finally convinced me to make the move, and they helped me with the transition. I was initially delighted. My site looked so much better, and I had a ton of functionality due to the various plugins I installed.
But then it hit the fan.
None of my blog followers followed me to my self-hosted site. I wrote posts on my free site inviting them to, but they didn’t. I imported them into my new site, but very few of them came, liked, or commented. I went back to the free site and posted about my move again. And again.
I got more followers to the free site I was leaving (isn’t that crazy?) but no transfers to the self-hosted one.
I didn’t know what to do. My site was prettier on the self-hosted side (which meant people would find it easier to read and navigate), but I had no traffic. That’s when I made the decision to be a WP hybrid. (Yep, I’m creating a new term.)
I still have my site (stacitroilo.com) on the self-hosted side of WP. It’s prettier, it’s safe to advertise there, and I have the benefit of a lot of plugins that I don’t have on the free site.
- One of the plugins is a redirect plugin. So if you want to go directly to my blog and type that sub-root in without actually clicking on my blog link, you’ll type stacitroilo.com/blog. It looks like a menu item from my site, but that’s not really where my blog is. My blog is really at stacitroilo.wordpress.com. But I use the redirect plugin to point a false URL to the real one. It looks better when I share stacitroilo.com/blog, though, so that’s what I do.
- Another plugin allows me to create tables without html coding. It makes the display of my book covers much neater.
- I have a plugin that creates beautiful sliders. I use it to showcase my teasers on each page site and to do tagline sliders on my home page. The free version does allow for a sliding gallery, but the formatting isn’t as nice.
- There’s also a plugin I’m fond of that customizes lead generation. I have a bar at the top of my page and a designed pop-up for newsletter signups. I can do something similar on the free version, but it’s not nearly as attractive.
Clearly, I prefer the look and customization the self-hosted version gives me, but I’ve switched my blog back to the free side of WP. Appearance and ease of navigation are important, but so is gaining an audience to begin with. That’s why I became a hybrid. I got a lot of my followers back (although not all) when I returned my blog to the free version, and I’ve gotten new followers, too. I think that’s because somehow WP has a community of some sort that allows the free WP users to find each other. I’d love to know how to maximize that potential, because I’d jump in with both feet. I’m sure I’d grow even faster that way. As it is, though, I’m steadily (albeit slowly) gaining traffic.
This hybrid use has given me the best of both worlds, I think. (Here’s that even pro/con list I mentioned earlier.)
- blog exposure to a wider audience (free version)
- enhanced functionality on my site (paid version)
- widgets have gotten better since I started (free version)
- the look is better on my site, so it’s more user-friendly (paid version)
As Craig mentioned earlier, I don’t have to worry about selling on my site, because I own it. I can do what I want there without fear of repercussion from WP. And that is primarily where I do my promo—on my paid site landing page. When I blog promos (which I try not to do too often), I link to my paid site. That way I’m sure I’m on the right side of the terms and conditions of WP use.
Maybe things would have been different if I had started with the self-hosted WP site to begin with. But I didn’t. Because I started at the free site, the switch just never worked properly for me. I’m now quite pleased with my WP hybrid status, and I can honestly recommend it to anyone without reservation. But if you want to know what it’s like to start with a self-hosted site right from the beginning, Joan can talk to you about that…
Hi, SE Readers, Joan here. Like Staci, I started my first blog years ago using Blogger. At the time, I wrote mostly nonfiction, and I had just begun going to writer’s conferences and workshops.
Back then, I saw so many cute blogs, that I thought I needed to invest in a custom design (and did). Then, I went to a workshop about establishing your writer’s platform. The one thing I remember most about that workshop was when the speaker said, “Forget Blogger, you need WordPress.”
I didn’t even know there was a free vs. self-hosted platform, but I recall coming back home and checking into the free site. At the time, I found it to be more limited than Blogger, so I stuck with that platform.
A couple of years later I became involved in an online course and the instructor made the same statement I heard years earlier. “You need WordPress.” This was also the time I had decided to devote my writing to fiction, so I started my self-hosted site from scratch. The followers I had on the other site didn’t come over (and frankly, I didn’t expect much because I was switching to a different genre).
This time, I did not waste money on a custom design, although I did purchase a theme. (In fact, I’ve purchased at least three, because I grow weary of the same design and like change.) The theme I use now is designed for authors. In addition to a blog, it has a section to showcase my books and provide purchase links. There is also a call out section that I use to link visitors to my email sign-up list.
I’ve added other widgets, such as Goodreads, Facebook, and other social media links. Overall, I am pleased with having a self-hosted site.
However, there are a few drawbacks. A self-hosted WordPress site does not allow for visitors to reblog articles, nor can I reblog from other sites. I can use the “Press This” button, but it’s not the same as reblog. I’ve activated Jetpack, so I’m linked to WordPress.Com, which allows followers. However, if I was just starting out with a paid WordPress site there are a couple of things I would do differently:
- Use the WordPress comment system. I began using Disqus years ago and I don’t have many issues with it. However, on a recent blog tour a few people were unable to leave a comment.
- Not use a separate system for email followers of my blog posts. By using Mailerlite, I set the time each post notification is sent. WordPress sends automatically as soon as each post is published.
Other than those minor details, I’ve been pleased with the self-hosted site. Setting up the site from scratch was relatively easy. I chose Bluehost (no affiliation) as my host site. By using their tutorial, I was able to get the site up and running easily.
There are a number of hosting options, so if you’re thinking of starting a self-hosted site, be sure to do your research to find the option that most suits your needs.
Craig again to close this up. This is something all authors will have to decide eventually. You need a platform, and blogging is your best plank in that platform. WordPress is the best thing going, but you’re going to have to decide if you want the free site or a self hosted one.
Let’s hear from you in the comments. What is your preference? If you haven’t started yet, or are thinking of changing, has one of us swayed your opinion?