You have bitten the bullet and decided to add a blog to your ecommerce site and make it a part of your marketing mix. You made the strategic decision of why you want to blog, determined what your core message will be and the audience you wish to target. Now, you have to make some tactical decisions, the most important being the choice of a blog platform. There are more than 60 such platforms on the market today. Most provide similar functionalities and many could serve you well. Some require more technical expertise than others and, as such, it is important you find one that provides the best fit based on your technical skills and budget. In this article, I will review several of the most popular blog platforms and detail their advantages and disadvantages.
Blogger was one of the earliest blog platforms to be developed and has been credited with being the one that really helped to bring blogging to the masses. It is without question the most popular platform in use today. But, does that mean it’s appropriate for business use? Let’s take a look.
Blogger is extremely easy to set up and use. Within just a few minutes following a simple three-step process, you can have a blog online and ready to go. The interface is very intuitive and offers both WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) and HTML editing options. In other words, it requires no knowledge of HTML, but if you have some (and I recommend that you gain some basic knowledge) you can click the “edit HTML” tab and work with the source code itself.
Not only that, Blogger is free to use. But, that comes with a price, albeit not a monetary one. Because Blogger is a hosted platform, every blog in its system has a search bar at the top of the page which links to Google (Blogger is owned by Google) and a series of buttons, including one that links the reader to other blogs in the network. The platform also offers several attractive templates, and you can switch those at your leisure very easily. If you have the skills, you can also integrate the platform into your own website, thereby branding it with your own look and feel.
The chief disadvantage to using Blogger is that it lacks some of the basic blog functionalities found on other platforms. Even inserting images requires the download of a third-party application. In my opinion, Blogger is an entry-level platform more designed for personal use.
Typepad is also a hosted solution and, like Blogger, is very easy to use, though not quite as intuitive. It is very popular with both personal and business users.
Typepad is not a free solution, but the fee is minimal, as little as $4.95 per month for the basic option and $14.95 per month for the pro version. If you pay a year in advance, you get additional savings.
Typepad offers all the functionalities you would expect to find in a blog platform, including the ability for readers to leave comments, syndication of your content via a companion technology known as RSS, and archiving of content by category and date. Placing images in a blog post is simple, and is one of Typepad’s most salient features.
One component that really sets this platform apart is Photo Albums, which can be integrated into the blog. This feature is so popular it’s often the main reason people choose the platform. One particular jewelry store owner I know uses this feature extensively to showcase her jewelry. Even though she doesn’t sell online, customers and prospects can see what she has to offer before visiting the store.
Until recently, Typepad’s design templates were somewhat lackluster and demanded quite a bit of customization to make them aesthetically pleasing. They have added a number of new templates in recent months, many of which are quite attractive and rival those found in Blogger.
Customizing the platform to match the look and feel of your website is easy to do. You can set colors and fonts to reflect those used on your site, and can upload a banner graphic in the header. However, matching the site design exactly will require extensive knowledge of HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and almost guarantee you will have to hire a web designer with specific blog knowledge to implement.
Both Blogger and Typepad are really targeted to personal users. If you want a platform specifically designed for business use, then the following two, Movable Type and WordPress, may be worth considering.
Movable Type (http://www.movabletype.org)
This platform is Typepad’s elder sibling. Both are products offered by a company called SixApart (sixapart.com) and are the result of the company’s effort to reach both the personal and business markets.
Movable Type, or MT as it’s often referred to, does require some HTML knowledge. The posting interface lacks full WYSIWYG capability, though it does offer some. If you want to use a block quote or bulleted list for example, you will have to know the HTML code for those. Inputting images is not nearly as simple either and requires several steps. Again, some HTML knowledge is required.
Unlike Blogger or Typepad, Movable Type is a server- side platform. In other words, it sits on your own server and requires the help of either your server administrator or an IT person to deploy and configure. (One word of caution: Just because someone has technical knowledge does not always mean they understand the inner-workings of MT. I recommend hiring someone who has experience with the platform to install and configure it.)
MT does not come with a built-in set of templates, though pre-built templates can be downloaded from the Internet. It is designed to be customized to match your website template and can be built inside it, though that also requires someone with experience to implement. The platform is available for commercial use for a one-time fee of $199 for up to five users.
This platform is one I highly recommend. It is easier to use than Movable Type and is free. The one downside to WordPress is that it requires the use of a Linux server. It is built using the open-source scripting language known as PHP, which is not compatible with Windows-based servers.
I should note that neither WordPress nor Movable Type will integrate with OS Commerce and must reside in another directory on your server.
So, which platform is right for you? If you merely want to give blogging a try and are less concerned at this point it matching the exact look of your website, Blogger is the obvious choice. If ease of use is of greatest importance, let me recommend either Typepad or WordPress. If money is a concern, then Typepad is the platform I would recommend due to its low-cost, yet robust functionality. However, if you want to customize the blog to match the exact look of your existing website and don’t mind spending a few hundred dollars to hire an experienced designer/developer, then consider either Movable Type or WordPress.