As a developer and someone who helps people manage their project(s), one of the first questions I will hear or ask is “Do I need a website ?”. This is an important question to ask especially as the current zeitgeist is to digitise everything. Just because other people have a website is it relevant to you, how much should you spend and what decisions should you make which best suit your situation ?
In this post I am going to try and go through some elements which will help you:
- Know the difference between a website and a free blog
- Understand what the benefits are to a free blog
- Understand what the benefits are to a paid website
- Understand what some of the options for creating a website are
The Difference Between a Website and a Free Blog
Lots of individuals who come to me know they want to have their work available on the internet for other people to engage with. Many people know that there is a difference between having a free blog and a paid for website.
The difference between a free blog and a website is simple; a free blog is essentially a website (somewhere on the internet which belongs to you which you can curate the content on) except the technical building (coding) is managed by a company for you. There are lots of platforms which allow you to have a free blog such as WordPress, Blogger, Wix, and Weebly.
A paid for website comes with paying for a domain name (the address on the internet), and hosting (computers which serve information to people over the internet each time it is requested) which allows you to curate content. There are lots of platforms which offer options for creating websites on the internet such as WordPress, Squarespace, Wix and Weebly.
The significant differences between a free blog and a paid for website are (1) you have more visibility on search engines with paid for websites, and, (2) you have more configuration options available that allow you to do more powerful things.
A lot of people do not have a big need to own and run their own website and are better suited to create a free blog. If most of your interest and engagement to your work come through face to face contact where you can give your blog address to people (for example with a printed business card), then I would suggest that a free blog is likely suited for you. Key to hold in mind is that free blogs are not promoted in search engine results (for example, Google, Bing, Yahoo).
The Benefits of a Free Blog
Free blogs are great to have. If you invest time in a free blog you have a creative space to share your work which you can sign in to at any time and put stuff out into the world for people to see. You dont have to take care of updating a website, manage the security, pay for being on the internet or pay for hosting.
There is a lot of places you can start your own free blog. For me as a developer I feel that using open source technology offers the best long term opportunities. Open source means that the computer code which is used to create is open for you to examine its contents. For example, Microsoft Windows is closed source proprietary software and nobody gets to examine the computer code to see how it is functioning; alternatively Linux is open source. I have certain values which have make me orient towards open source software if I can.
Some of the reasons include:
- Open source software is free and licensed for public use
- Open source software is bug fixed by a large community invested in its improvement
- Open source software tends to be more secure because it is transparent to scrutiny
- Open source software usually orients around conventions across the internet
- Once established open source projects are often more resilient than private companies
For this reason I recommend using WordPress for either the creation of free blogs or for installing on your own hosting. I dislike investing in a technology for that technology to disappear; this involves me then having to do all the work again. So one of my key questions is whether a technology has been around for long time and whether it is likely to be around for a long time. Here is an example tutorial you can follow to start a free WordPress blog:
I am risk averse when it comes to putting a lot of work into storing information only to have to do it again. Selecting a technology that will be around for the long term is an important decision. I chose WordPress to specialise in because it is open source, it has been around for a long time, it will be around for a long time, it has the largest number of computer coders writing for it, and it is the most used platform on the internet.
Another question I ask about any technology is ‘if I put all my information into this system, will it allow me to export it ?’. As a developer and as a writer, I make sure that I can easily move my information (data) should I want to use another technology. An example of this is the Wix platform which does not have the feature of exporting. This means that the information is ‘stuck’ in the Wix system and if you wanted to move to Squarespace or WordPress, you would have to extract it piece by piece rather than a single click.
The benefits of the free blog spaces are that they give you the power of putting your information in a public space for anyone to visit; the downside is that they do not feature in search engine results.
The Benefits of a Paid Website
The chief advantages of having a paid website are associated with visibility on the internet, the ability to customise what the website does, the options for higher level security, and the ability to maximise performance. The most commonly valued reason to have a paid website is the marketing and promotion of its content to the world.
If you want to reach people through search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo, then a paid website is more powerful than a free blog. Search engines are algorithms which search all the information on the internet and create a register of what information is found where. Search engines work as a primary way of people to find out information which they are looking for; it could be finding where to buy Indian Ink or it could be finding a document on the history of calligraphy.
By having your information stored on hosting you own attached to a domain (website address) which is registered to you, search engines recognise this information as belonging to a unique place on the internet rather than a sub account. In this way the information which people have uploaded to Facebook (for example) does not get suggested in search engine results.
For business owners and individuals who have created work that they want to promote as their career portfolio, a paid website offers a shop front onto the world. As a means of advertising the internet now offers the primary means for people to promote what they want. The cost of paying for advertising in print media (such as newspapers) has largely been replaced by advertising over the internet by having their own website.
Lastly a significant difference between a free blog and a paid website is that you do not have to carry the branding or advertisements which come bundled with free blogs. You have complete control over what appears on a website and where.
In summary, paid websites are the best means for advertising to people over the internet through search engines. Many individuals see this as the chief benefit of why they pay to manage their own website. Other benefits include customisability, security hardening, freedom from unwanted adverts and branding,
Options for Creating a Website
Ok, if you want the power of a paid for website you will want to do some research on what platform is best for you. Ask friends you know if you can see the back end of their website – this is the area where you log into where they add new information. Ask them what problems they have with the platform (e.g. Wix, Facebook, WordPress, Drupal, etc), and also ask them what they like about the platform.
If you can, spend some time moving around inside their website and get them to show you how they add information to the site. Also, find out about how much organic traffic they get visiting the website. The organic traffic refers to the visitors that arrive at your website as a result of unpaid (“organic”) search results on search engines. The other kind of traffic is ‘paid traffic’, which refers to the visits generated by paid adverts on the internet.
Ask yourself the question of how much time and energy are you going to put into the website. If you dont have the time or interest, then you will have to pay someone to do the work for you. If you are a keen learner with the spare time, just like building a patio, you can learn the skills and do it yourself. If you dont like learning computer skills much and dont have a need to be discovered through the internet then a free blog may be the best way to go.
You get what you pay for, and whilst there are lots of options it pays to think through the best ones for you before you leap into getting on the internet. Talk to friends, read what people are saying on the internet about different technologies, workout what your budget is and what you want for that budget, use established technologies which have good reputations, plan what information you want displayed in what order.
The better the technical performance of a website, the more visible it will be on the internet. If a website is unsecure and slow to load then search engines will mark down that website because their business model is based on giving the highest quality, most appropriate suggestions to the individual using the search engine. If the code is junk or security dodgy, then that is how the search engines will see the website and award it marks accordingly; the more marks the better.
If you want to analyse other websites and understand how well they perform you can use a series of free audit tools:
BuiltWith technology tracking includes widgets, analytics, frameworks, content management systems, advertisers, content delivery networks, web standards and web servers to name some of the technology categories we coverbuiltwith.com
GTmetrix is a free tool that analyzes your page’s speed performance. Using PageSpeed and YSlow, GTmetrix generates scores for your pages and offers actionable recommendations on how to fix them.gtmetrix.com
Enter a URL like example.com and the Sucuri SiteCheck scanner will check the website for known malware, viruses, blacklisting status, website errors, out-of-date software, and malicious code.sitecheck.sucuri.net