If you are an over-thinker like me, you are bound to share my experience ahead of launching your first blog. The most strenuous part is platform selection. Wordpress.org? Wordpress.com? Squarespace? Wix? A never ending cycle begins: Weigh pros and cons of each and choose one, only to start over again on second-guessing.
Web development background doesn’t help either. It only presents more options like static website generators such as Hugo and Jekyll (though equally accessible to non-developers), and non-WordPress systems like Keystone.
Now I’ve comfortably settled on Hugo, I’d like to list down all platforms, both commonplace and unpopular, I got to explore.
Blogging and WordPress are now synonyms. Everyone loves it, majority of bloggers recommend it, and bulk of newcomers gladly adopt it.
This popularity of the CMS, however, comes with shortcomings. It transfers all the burden of decision making on you. Install the software, hire a WordPress developer (if you’re not one), choose a theme, brainstorm additional plugins, explore hosting options, manage MySQL database, worry about security updates. All these efforts might be worth for a mighty website with good budget but definitely an overkill for a one-man personal blog.
In response, WordPress hosting service providers offer one click installation for everything WordPress site requires, including security updates, on shared hosting environment at very nominal price. The plan carries great many free themes too. Purchase it and your blog is up and running instantly.
Most of the bloggers who recommend these providers make money off people like us, who purchase it through affiliate links on their recommendation posts. As soon as you dig deeper, the overhype dawns on you. Flood of negative reviews reveal deplorable customer service. Many end up buying an upgraded package to solve their slow and buggy website because that is what they are presented as cause of the trouble.
Easily confused with wordpress.org, wordpress.com is a separate platform that builds a website for you using the same WordPress software. It’s different from hosting companies as you’re not installing anything but using a system to create a site. With just a few clicks, you get a limited WordPress site with everything taken care of for you by wordpress.com.
Admittedly, it looks promising for starters. It’s even great if you’re just trying out the blogging experience for free. But free has downsides, such as no free custom domain, and no access to SEO or monetization tools.
Then again, if you’re not concerned (you should not be) about advanced features at the outset of your blogging experience then it can introduce you to the world of WordPress without much technical knowledge required. As you get better, you can move to their Personal or Premium plan that come with more features. Or you can migrate your website to somewhere else, like your own wordpress.org hosting.
Squarespace is a drag-and-drop, non-WordPress, and quick setup website builder which beats other similar platforms by offering a great collection of eye-catching themes. Apart from the same limited control problem and high price there’s little else one can find negative.
For my personal use, I would’ve accepted all the trade-offs, even limited control, in favor of quality themes and ease of use. But the price was too high with no free version to test it beyond 14 day trial.
Wix is another strongly marketed (notably on YouTube) non-WordPress, drag-and-drop website builder. And it does offer an unlimited time free version – which places it well above squarespace in terms of affordability and free trial period – with 500MB storage, 500MB bandwidth and URL format username.wixsite.com/sitename/page-url (you can’t use your own domain in free plan). This one I almost invested in despite not really liking its look and feel because the main selling point for me was the free plan and relative ease of use.
Outside of PHP, keystone.js is one of very few systems which presents a viable alternative to WordPress. Built on Node.js, Express.js and MongoDB, it has a very healthy developer community, a great sign. But I haven’t had chance to explore Keystone any further because of my budget and time constraints.
Jekyll and Hugo are both static site generators (for explanation, check static site and static site generators). Jekyll is more popular and has larger community of developers and users. I ultimately chose Hugo because reviews spoke of its quicker build time compared with Jekyll’s. Also, Jekyll depended on rubygems for its development environment while Hugo only required setup for operating system, which was a plus. In any case, differences were not substantial and Jekyll would have been equally fulfilling experience.
Needless to say, a static site generator like Hugo doesn’t have problems of other platforms. But Hugo is not a silver bullet either and it’s only fair to list downsides first. Here are some:
Knowledge of Markdown is essential
Though only few commands, you can’t work your way out without some knowledge of terminal, as Hugo (and Jekyll) works through it only
Knowledge of git is not required for Hugo but unless you plan to manage project and build directories in dropbox or flash drive, always a cumbersome process, you’re better off learning git basics. Without git making use of CDN or GitHub for deployment is nearly impossible
Hugo doesn’t come with pre-existing theme. You have to choose it from Hugo themes or build one yourself
Any considerable tweak you want to make in your website will require some knowledge of basic programming
Now, to the pros:
Hugo is an open source and free software. You have 100% control over everything you produce
It has no requirement of database (the build has complete site in the form of static files, thus the name static site generator)
Being static means a small site like this personal blog can operate freely on a content delivery network (thanks to netlify) which offers free hosting. Even GitHub offers free hosting of static sites. You only need to buy a domain name
Being static also means no security threat. Whereas, we often hear news of WordPress security breach
With database removed altogether, website speed increases manifold. WordPress and other similar platforms, with all the shiny features they offer, cannot come close to page rendering speed of a static site