Here we are, part three in our business blogging series. Part one explored some great reasons why you should start a business blog, and part two saw us go into more detail on how to start a blog in a few simple steps.
In this instalment we're going to take an objective view of the most popular and best blogging platforms and tools, and ways to publish your content to get it out there to the masses.
We'll be looking at WordPress, Ghost, Blogger, and let's not forget, your own website!
In part one and part two of our blogging series we looked at the why and the how of starting a blog and although we covered the complete process from planning to publishing, we only briefly touched upon the physical publishing and promotion of your content.
The reason for this is that the content you plan and create is by far the most important aspect to blogging. We mention the phrase a lot, but it's hugely important to understand that great content on a mediocre platform will always out perform poor content on a flashy, whiz-bang website - it's a substance over style affair.
However, that doesn't mean which platform you choose to host your blog should be an afterthought.
Why use a blog platform at all?
You'll always have a number of options available to you when starting and maintaining a blog, whether you want to start afresh, simply separate your blog from your main website, or actually just bolt a blog onto your existing website.
There is no right or wrong way to do things and, to be honest, whatever route you take is fine so long as it works for you. However, we think there are some definite advantages to separating your blog from your website, or at least using a dedicated platform to publish, host and manage your blog content.
Here are some good reasons to use a blogging platform...
You can manage and maintain different content in different ways
At it's heart, a blog is really just a collection of organised articles on one or more topics, usually grouped by date and sorted into one or more taxonomies. Although it sounds simple (and to be fair it is in practice) once you have a sizeable content machine in motion, you will find that organisation is the key. By allowing clear and easy access to your articles and different topics, your readers and potential clients will get more from your blog and keep returning time and again for more of your glorious content.
So, you may choose to add a blog to your existing website, but if it isn't set up in such a way that allows for easy management and promotion of articles then it may be that a separate platform is a better choice for you.
Where a dedicated blogging platform comes into its own here is in a role as an effective organising machine. It should allow easy categorisation of content and grouping of information, as well as promoting different articles in different areas. For example, having most popular articles in one area, but recently published content in another.
You can keep branding consistent, but styling separate
Another bonus of separating your blog and website is that you can keep your website as slick and flashy as it needs to be, or just maintain a particular layout or appropriate style for its content.
Of course, a website needs to convey information and content, but you can take more of a liberty and licence with the presentation, leading the visitor on a journey through your products and services and giving them a real flavour of your brand, personality, and unique approach.
A blog, on the other hand, is a slightly different animal. You still want to take visitors on a journey, but remember, they're on a different journey than they are on your website, at a different stage in their buyer's journey.
The best blogs perform well when they take a step back from themselves, pair back their design and styling and focus on providing the most relevant content to their user, promoting the information that visitors want to consume, and making it easy to find more of the same through related articles.
It's much easier to do this with your blog as a separate entity; different styling, layouts, and construction can all be contained within each, yet share the core essence of your branding and company personality.
Horses for courses: blogging platforms are built for the job
It might be that your website is powered by WordPress. That makes it easy to bolt a blog on to it. However, it's quite likely that your current website is built on top of something that's less blog-friendly, be it a hosted builder-style solution like Wix, a proprietary system, or even just static HTML files edited by a web professional from time to time.
Either way, it's quite probable that your current platform doesn't support the functionality to start blogging, or at least provide a well-rounded experience. One that makes creating and editing articles simple and straightforward, and publishing and promoting part of the machine.
By choosing a fully-fledged blogging platform, built for purpose, you'll find it much better to create and publish content, promote that content through social media and search engines, and also make your user experience better, and that's what it's all about in the end, your users.
So let's take a look at our best of breed systems to start your blogging journey...
WordPress is almost one of the oldest institutions out there on the Internet today. It offers a really flexible experience, it's free, and boasts some impressive statistics, such as almost 20% of all websites are powered by WordPress!
We use it almost exclusively for websites and web design projects that we produce here at Red Guerrilla. We develop blogs on the platform, fully functioning business websites, and even ecommerce websites, using the popular Woocommerce shopping plugin.
What makes it great for business blogging?
Well, firstly it started life as a pure blogging platform. Today, WordPress likes to think of itself as more of a web publishing platform as it caters for blogs, websites, or even apps, but being built on top of a strong blogging foundation means that it knows what's what when it comes to creating and hosting a business blog.
Here are just some of the things that make WordPress a great choice for publishing your blog content:
- It's an open source platform made by the people for the people - WordPress is a result of hundreds of volunteers' time and effort working to produce one of the best web platforms on the market;
- It has countless plugins available - need some specific features? There's probably a plugin out there for that!
- It's awesome for SEO - using one of the many great SEO plugins (we recommend Yoast's in particular) you can make optimising your website or blog a simple process;
- It's easy to find help - being one of the most popular platforms means there is no shortage of experts you can ask for advice or help from.
- It's very flexible - if it doesn't do something really specific that you want it to, it can be bent to your will!
How much does it cost?
Not a thing! WordPress is a free platform. You can head over to the WordPress website and download your own copy today. The only 'cost' so to speak, is that the regular version of WordPress is a self-hosted offering. This means that you'll have to have some web hosting in place and some technical know how in order to install and configure your version.
You do have a couple of other options though:
- You can use a hosted version of WordPress on wordpress.com - it's not quite the same as a self-hosted version and does have some limitations, but the set up and configuration is much easier as it's all done for you. It's a good option for getting started and you can easily export your content into another version if you change later down the line;
- You can choose a web hosting company that offers a service like a one-click-install for WordPress and other common CMS's. 5QuidHost offer a great WordPress-specific hosting service that has an automatic install feature.
How easy is it to learn?
Very. If you're familiar with using a word processing program, such as MS Word, then you'll have no problems editing content in WordPress. You can even extend the features and functionality of your site right there in the dashboard with plugins or custom post types.
- Open source
- Free to download and use
- Tons of support, documentation, user guides, and other help if you get stuck
- Massive library of themes and plugins to get the look and features you want
- Great for SEO
- You generally have to find hosting and install it before you can start using it
- If you need more advanced support, you will have to find a developer or experienced WordPress agency to help
- Whilst open source and free, if you need something heavily customised, unless you can do it yourself, complex custom development can be expensive
Ghost is a 'publishing platform for professional bloggers'. Again, like WordPress, it is an open source platform meaning that its code base is open for all and contributed to by a worldwide community to develop and shape the platform as needs dictate.
Relatively new to the blogging arena, Ghost has grown its fan and user base very quickly because of the open source nature, it's simple, uncomplicated editing features, and it's pure focus on the art of blogging.
Boasting some impressive organisations that use it, such as NASA and Graze, it's definitely a popular choice.
What makes it great for business blogging?
Ghost is a great choice for your business blog as it removes a lot of the unnecessary styling and cruft that often accompanies a lot of blogs. By placing more emphasis on the content and merely supporting great content with complimentary design, Ghost ensures that you get noticed for your expertise and articles than your flashy parallax scrolling home page.
It offers some great features too:
- A simple editing interface that focusses on the content, but also gives you a WYSIWYG live-preview so you can craft the best content and format it in the best way as you go;
- You can collaborate easily with your team to get them involved in discussions and have them producing blogs for their own areas of expertise;
- The article archive is set out like an email inbox and allows you to easily manage your existing content;
- Being open source, it means you can bend it to your whims if the standard offering doesn't quite do something you need it to;
- Their markdown editor allows you to create what you want, rather than limiting you to paragraphs, headings, and images;
- It has SEO and social support baked into the platform.
How much does it cost?
Ghost is another free platform. However, like WordPress, it's also a self-hosted option. You download the Ghost software and install it on a web hosting account. It is a bit more tricky to self-host though; you'll need a fair bit of technical know-how and a web hosting account with a set of specific requirements (things like Node.js, and Ruby).
There are a couple of one-click-installs out there from companies like Bitnami and Rackspace, and you can read more about them on the Ghost getting started page.
But don't let that put you off, Ghost is a fantastic platform and they themselves offer a hosted option which, unlike the hosted WordPress, is a fully-featured version of Ghost, just much easier to set up. In fact, Ghost reckon that you can get your blog up and running in about 3 clicks!
Prices start at around $29 (£20) per month which will suit most businesses looking to start their blogging adventures.
How easy is it to learn?
Really easy. The whole driving force behind Ghost was to keep the focus on creating a simple way to publish great content. The editor offers a clear text editor that uses the markdown syntax to construct your articles, which is very simple to learn. Essentially you add characters to your text to change the style of it - e.g. adding asterisks to a sentence would make it bold, so '*hello there*' would become 'hello there' when published.
With the addition of a live-preview window, you'll always be sure you're end result will look great as you write it.
As for your content archive, if you're familiar with most modern email inbox layouts, you'll take to the main Ghost interface no problem.
- It's a very simple platform that focusses on creating and publishing your content
- Built in SEO and social support
- Doesn't lock you into a particular style or way of doing things
- Adds powerful team features to make collaboration with others in your business very easy
- Large marketplace for themes, add ons, and more
- It's a very fast platform that is great for your visitors
- More complicated to install for yourself
- Offers a hosted option, but at a monthly cost (no contracts)
- Ghost is more complex to deeply customise and is less well supported by the development community due to its relative infancy
Perhaps one of the simpler offerings on the market in terms of features and abilities, Blogger was acquired by Google in 2003. Whilst seemingly aimed more at the personal and amateur market, Blogger does come from a strong pedigree and offers everything aspiring business bloggers need to start creating and publishing great content.
What makes it great for business blogging?
What makes Blogger a good choice for businesses is that it doesn't really require any extra effort to start. There's no downloading software and installing it, or looking to take out web hosting and setting up a new system on there.
You simply sign in to your Blogger account (which you automatically get as part of your Google account, should you have one) and start creating blogs.
One downside is that you are restricted to using a sub domain of the main Blogger domain (so something like 'myblog.blogger.com'), which isn't always ideal. You can map a third party domain to this though, and while this isn't the absolute best solution out there, it does allow you to promote a domain that you have more ownership over.
Another nice touch is the ability to switch your blog to using SSL - i.e. a secure version. This is increasingly important from a search rankings point of view, as well as visitor safety and trust. With Blogger, you don't have to purchase a costly SSL and have it set up, there's a simple setting available to flick from 'no' to 'yes' and it's on.
Here are some more good features:
- The platform is tightly woven into Google's search and Google Plus networks;
- There are lots of styling and customisation options available to make sure your blog is brand consistent;
- Mobile support is included as standard so your blog will look great no matter what device it's viewed on;
- Editing the layout and template of your blog is made easy with a simple drag and drop interface;
- There is a large range of widgets to choose from to add lots of custom functionality to your site.
How much does it cost?
Nothing, the Blogger platform is completely free. In fact it's bundled in with your Google account. That's one of the great things about it: if you've already got a Google Plus account (which you definitely should for your business SEO) then you can quickly and easily get a Blogger account and start writing.
Unlike the other options in this article, there are no set ups or installs, no self-hosting, or paid options. You simply sign up for an account and start managing your blogs.
You can even have multiple different blogs under the same account.
How easy is it to learn?
It's easy, it is Google after all, but there are a few more bits and pieces to dig into if you want to do any customising and alter some settings. Playing around with the layouts and modules features is straightforward, but the interface as a whole isn't a geared towards simplicity as with Ghost.
Fortunately there are lots of help guides and tutorials out there from Google themselves to answer just about any question you may have.
- Completely free platform
- No installing or hosting
- SSL certificates available as standard
- Lots of help and support available
- Tightly integrated with Google search and services and the Google Plus network
- Very customisable at a design level - lots of templates, widgets, and fonts and colour choices
- Not as simple as other platforms
- More restrictive customisation features
- Less ownership and control over content as you don't own the platform - it's hosted by Google
4. Using your own website
OK, so this is a bit of a cheat option in that we can't talk about features and costs of using your own website, but it is still worth a consideration.
If your website supports it, it might be that the best option is to bolt a blog onto it. You may have to have your chosen web developer or agency do this for you, but I think you'd be surprised at how easy and low-cost it could be.
As mentioned previously, if you're running a WordPress website then you've already got a blog sitting in the wings waiting to be used! There will be some work needed though to style up the page layouts for your blog lists, archives, and article pages, but it should be minimal and it's definitely worth exploring as an option.
Even without WordPress, you might have a CMS in place that allows you to create blog articles and list pages. If so, then this is another good option to explore to begin with as you get going.
There may be a cost benefit in using your own website, but more likely the biggest win will come from leveraging any domain and ranking authority that your current website has built up. If you have a really popular website, then it follows that adding a blog to it can only strengthen your position and allow you to build upon your success.
Choose a platform, install, go blog!
There are almost as many blogging platforms out there as you have hairs on your head (well maybe not that many, but there are loads!). You can read about some other popular, simple blogging platforms in this great article by Mashable UK.
We chose the platforms in this article for their balance of costs, flexibility, sheer performance and ability as a blog publishing platform, and how well they'll perform for your business. We've also used them at one time or another and have a lot of love for them.
Definitely take a look at the available platforms, read some more about them, and have a try, even if it's a daft play about; once you have a feel for a particular system, you'll be able to see what's going to fit best with you and your business and ultimately what's going to enable to you keep up your blogging efforts.
Coming up next time
In our next article, we'll be looking at post-publish promotion: how best to promote your blog content and how to grow your audience.
Other articles in the series
This is article 3 in a multi-part series of guides on business blogging. You can find the others in the series here:
- Part 1 - 5 reasons you should start a business blog
- Part 2 - How to start a blog in 3 easy steps
- Part 3 - 4 of the best blogging platforms for business
- Part 4 - Promote and grow your blog audience
- Part 5 - Making a profit from your business blog