After deciding to start a blog, many developers have to decide whether to use an existing blogging platform or create a custom blog from scratch.
Each option has its benefits and drawbacks. The purpose of this article is to answer this question and clarify it! Also, it's important to note that everyone has different needs. So there is not a universal answer.
Read the article, and decide which option suits your needs best!
What matters most
Before going further, let's see the most important things one should look for when opening a blog. They are as follows:
Having a personal domain - Having your domain is essential for two reasons. First of all, your blog looks more professional. Secondly, all the SEO benefits go to YOU. Hashnode is the only blogging platform that allows you to use your domain and for free. If you decide to move away, you retain all the SEO benefits, unlike other blogging platforms.
Focusing on content rather than building - Ask yourself if you want to focus ONLY on creating content or building/maintaining it too? Using a blogging platform allows you to focus solely on publishing content.
Money - Do you want to pay monthly fees for your blog, or do you want to blog for free? With a custom blog, you need to pay for hosting, certificates, and so on. With a blogging platform, you only have to pay for a domain (if you use a platform like Hashnode); otherwise, it's free.
Do existing blogging platforms have all the features I am looking for? - A critical question!
1. Using existing blogging platforms
Let's say you decided to use a blogging platform. There are a plethora which you can choose from, but you need to ask yourself:
If I use it, does it have all the features I am looking for?
Make an informed choice when you choose an existing platform. Can you answer positively all the answers from the section What matters most?
It's straightforward to narrow down your choices with one simple question - can I use a personal domain with the platform?
If the answer is no, you can move on. As mentioned above, having a personal domain is vital! At the moment, only Hashnode supports such a feature for FREE, as far as I know. You can do it on other platforms like Medium, but it's a paid feature.
Secondly, can you customise your blog? Almost all blogging platforms allow you to customise your blog, more or less. The question is - how much can you customise it?
For example, Medium allows you to update the blog colours, fonts and layout. Another example is Hashnode, which is one of the most customisable thanks to the custom CSS feature.
You might want your blog to look and feel unique. Make sure you choose a blogging platform that allows you to do so!
Free or paid
Why pay money when you can blog for free? The only thing I recommend spending money on is the domain, but nothing else. If an existing platform asks you to pay money for features or use it, you might not want to use it. Similarly, why would you pay money for hosting and other charges for a custom blog?
Some of the most well-known blogging platforms are:
- Medium (not entirely free)
- Hackernoon (entirely free)
- Hashnode (entirely free)
Hashnode and Hackernoon are entirely free, meaning that individual bloggers won't pay any fees. On the other hand, Medium has a mix of free and paid features.
Of course, there are drawbacks too. Even though some of the existing blogging platforms minimise the disadvantages as much as possible, there are still some.
The most significant drawbacks are as follows:
You have no control 100% - No matter how much control it provides, you do not have control 100% over your blog when you use an existing platform. For example, some features might be missing, and there is nothing you can do about it.
You are tied onto that platform - On most blogging platforms, except Hashnode and Medium who allows custom domains, you lose everything when you move away. All the SEO and everything you built is gone. The reason is that the platforms get all the SEO juice unless you have a personal domain.
New features - Another vital drawback is that you cannot add features. If you want a feature for your blog, you are in bad luck. Some platforms allow you to propose new features, but it is not guaranteed that they will be implemented.
Choosing an existing blogging platform has its benefits and drawbacks. However, using one is excellent because you can focus only on writing. As you have seen, more offer better options and more freedom than others. Read carefully and pick the one that gives you the most for free. And do not forget: being able to use your domain for free is super important!
2. Building a blog from scratch
The alternative is to build your blog from scratch. Since you are a developer, you should do it straightaway, right? No!
Building a blog from scratch is not a walk in the park, and it requires a lot of work. Of course, if you want it to work and look properly. However, it provides some unique benefits too. Let's see what those benefits are, and then you will see the drawbacks too!
Benefits of using a custom blog
The benefits of having a custom blog are that you have complete autonomy over it, you are not tied to any platform, and it's highly customisable.
One of the most significant advantages of creating a blog from scratch is that you have full control over it.
You can add, remove features and do anything you want to it! If you want 100% control over your blog, you might want to consider building yours from scratch.
You are not tied
Having a custom blog means that you are not tied to any platform. You are free to move anywhere you want and also retain the SEO benefits.
Since you are not tied to any platform, you can do anything you want with your blog! Blogging platforms can restrict you in many cases, so having a custom blog helps if you want to avoid it.
Since you are building it, you can customise your blog however you want. A custom blog allows you to create, design and customise it however you please.
One of the best thing about custom blogs is that there is no limit to what you can do to them. Nobody restricts you!
Drawbacks of using a custom blog
Now let's see the drawback of building a blog from scratch. The drawbacks are that you waste a lot of valuable time, you have to pay money and you blog into the void in the beginning.
Waste valuable time
One of the downsides of building your custom blog is the amount of time it takes to build it. In addition to that, you have to spend time maintaining it.
Building each feature manually and making it work properly takes a lot of time. Also, you have to make sure it works properly on all screens. If you are a developer, you know the pains of making something work appropriately on all screens.
Thus, instead of spending this valuable time creating content, you spend it on building and fixing stuff. If you want to focus solely on creating content, a custom blog might not be the best idea.
Another downside is that you have to pay monthly fees. With a custom blog, you need to buy hosting, SSL certifications and many other services.
In addition to that, you might have to pay extra charges if your blog gets popular. Why? If you get a lot of traffic, you might go over your allocated resources and get charged supplementary.
It can be a lot of headaches, which can be avoided with an existing blogging platform.
Blog into the void
Writing articles that nobody read will put anyone off. You have to build an audience from scratch, and it can become demoralising.
The good thing about joining an existing blogging platform is that they have an audience already. With an existing platform, like Hashnode, the audience is already there. There are a plethora of writers and readers that interact with the articles from the community.
Thus, you can start with an audience from the beginning. It's one of the best feelings knowing that people read your articles.
Oh no, another stuff to do before actually publishing content? Yes! Now you need to create and implement the design of the blog. You need to take into consideration responsiveness, accessibility, UX principles and more.
That is a lot of additional work if you want to do it properly. With a custom blogging platform like Hashnode, you have all this work done! Additionally, you have the ability to customise and personalise your blog design with custom CSS.
Building a blog from scratch is an excellent idea if you want to have full autonomy and you do not mind spending time building/maintaining it. With a custom blog, you have 100% control over it, and nobody can restrict you. However, it's worth considering the drawbacks too - the biggest one being that it takes time and effort to build it.
What should you do
By now, you should have an idea of whether you want to use an existing blogging platform or build yours.
In my case, I wanted to:
- have a personal domain and get all the traffic
- to focus only on creating content and not building/maintaining it
- to be somewhat customisable
What you should do is to list what's essential for you and choose based on that. There is no universal answer.
By the way, if you decide to syndicate/cross-post your articles to other blogging platforms, read about canonical URLs.
Also, I recommend the following articles for further reading: