One of the most common questions I get about business blogging is whether it's best to host a blog on your own site vs. hosting it on one of the major blog hosting sites, such as WordPress.com, Blogger or Typepad.
The answer is different for each of these, so let's look at them one at a time, as well as some of the alternatives.
WordPress.com - WordPress (the application) is a great platform - it's what we run here at About.com, and what I use on all of my other business blogs. So WordPress.com, which offers free hosting, may seem like a very enticing choice at first. However, they have a strict "non-commercial use" policy and enforce it, well, "rabidly" would be putting it nicely. I have known instances of several people having their blogs simply deleted, without warning, without recourse, without being sent a copy of the data backup, etc., just for having too many affiliate links in their posts. Blogging about your area of expertise seems to be OK, but try to actually sell something and you could lose all your work. Hardly worth the risk. It's great for personal blogs, but not for business. They do offer a commercial-grade hosting service, but at $300 a month, it's clearly not targeted at small business.
Blogger/Blogspot - Blogger.com is the authoring service, and you have the option to either host the blog on your own site or on Blogspot.com for free. Blogger really deserves credit for bringing blogging into the mainstream. You can set up a blog in like two minutes, which is pretty cool. But while they don't have the strict anti-commercial policy of WordPress.com (at least not in practice), the problem of "splogging" (blogs set up as a new form of spam, often stealing copyrighted material in doing so) is such a huge problem for them that they frequently have "false positives", i.e., mark a legitimate blog as spam and remove it. I've heard of this happening to several business owners. In every case, Blogger reinstated their blogs with no loss of content, but it usually took 2-3 days. Is it worth the risk?
Now you also have the option of using Blogger for authoring but then hosting it on your own site. This works, but if you're paying for hosting anyway, why not use a more robust solution run directly from your site? There's just so much more you can do with blog software run on your own site and frankly, it's not any harder to set it up.
Typepad - Typepad.com is intriguing in that it is purely a blog hosting service, not a full-fledged web hosting service. You can host commercial blogs, and even on your own domain. At $4.95 a month for the basic service, it's pretty reasonable, but that doesn't allow you to customize your template or run it on your own domain. Those features put you at $8.95 a month, which gets you three blogs on their own domains. By comparison, you can get full-service blog hosting that will support WordPress for around $7 a month or less (WordPress.org recommends several hosts that charge $6.95 a month and specialize in WordPress hosting). Of course, since Typepad is just a blog hosting service, you get any upgrades to the product automatically. My recommendation is that if you're trying to create one or more blogs as businesses themselves, Typepad represents a viable option. But for a blog in support of your business, I don't think it's the best solution.
MySpace, LiveJournal, etc. - There are cases in which running your blog within a blog-based community, such as LiveJournal or even MySpace, could make sense - if and only if that's where your target market is. For example, check out this case study about a company that undertook an "authentic engagement" campaign on MySpace, including blogging, group participation, etc.
And all of the successful internet marketers and affiliate marketers on MySpace are using their blogs. It's a given. See Ross Goldberg, Stephen Ralph, Theo Baskind and Coach Deb Micek, just for a start. Most of them also have their own blogs on their own sites as well, but they do use the blogs within MySpace as a marketing channel.
Oddly enough, though, both LiveJournal and Facebook have "non-commercial use" clauses in their terms of service similar to WordPress.com, but neither of them has ever enforced it vigorously. That just covers them when they delete real spammers.
BLOG i360 - I know, you've probably never heard of this yet, but I expect a lot of people will be soon. BLOG i360 is a marketing platform that was built originally on WordPress but has grown way beyond it. In a nutshell, imagine taking all of the cool marketing-oriented plug-ins for WordPress and bundling them all in, pre-installed -- no need to go figure out which ones do what you're trying to do (or even work at all). On top of that, they have a more robust content management system than WordPress's basic "Pages" feature.
The key word here is "automation". I host one of my blogs on BLOG i360, and I figure it saves me about 4-6 hours a month, minimum, plus doing things for me automatically that I don't even have time to do on my other blogs. At $39 a month while they're still in beta (they say they're eventually going to $79 a month, but founders lock in the $39 price), it's a lot pricier than basic hosting, but how much is your time worth?
On top of that, they have a pretty generous affiliate program. Basically, sign up three people and it will be paying for itself (no, my link above isn't an affiliate link -- About.com doesn't let me do that -- but I am actually both a paying customer and a money-earning affiliate).
This is a great option if you don't already have a website and want a blog to be a key part of your web site, but not necessarily the home page. About the only downside is that you have limited flexibility with the design, so if you have a very specific look you're going for, this may not suit you (yet).
Hosting on your own site - This is generally the best option for a blog that's intended to help promote your business, especially if you already have a web site. Having it on your own site gives you complete control, the ability to integrate it into the navigation of your site and make it a seamless user experience. And once it's up and running, it's really pretty maintenance-free. The only real downside is that adding new features or upgrading the software to the latest versions may require a small amount of technical skill, but if you have a web designer/webmaster, it's should certainly be within their skill set and required only a minimal amount of time on their part.
As described above, hosting costs less than $7 a month. And if that's not a drop in the bucket compared to the value blogging brings you, then why are you blogging in the first place???
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