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The dangers of not being self hosted (and my recommendation)

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On June 30, 2013, Blogger, a blogging platform owned by Google, announced that it would be removing any sites that monetized adult content. Adult bloggers scrambled to figure out what that meant and some erotic romance authors and erotic romance reviewers became fearful that the ban would extend to them. A week ago, blogger Twimom reported that her blog had been taken down by Google. The reason given to her was that her blog had been flagged as spam. Google has a presumed guilty philosophy so it takes down sites first and then you must prove your validity. (Ironically, some pirate sites are run off Blogger and Google hasn’t been so quick to respond to those takedown requests.)

Last week, Tumblr announced changes in how adult content would be indexed and shown to users. Initially all adult content tumblr’s would be removed from search indexes. They’ve clarified the policy and said that adult content will be now be searchable.

But the lessons we can draw from the Blogger and Tumblr announcements and subsequent actions is that when you are on a platform owned by someone else, you are subject to their whimsy, their terms of service. The great benefit of a hosted platform like WordPress, Tumblr, or Blogger is that it is free and it is designed to find you followers within the hosted community. The downfall is that you lose control and sometimes even your content is imperiled.

The options for bloggers is to move to self hosted platform. Before I moved to my current hosting site, WP Engine, I had a lot of problems with the load times of Dear Authors. I’m kind of a plugin addict (and have been trying to seriously cut down on that to ensure smooth functionality of the site) and each plugin would almost always cause the site to load more slow.

For non bloggers, plugins are pieces of computer code that add functionality to the site. For instance, that nifty “reply” button for comments? That’s a plugin someone else wrote for WordPress users. It isn’t part of the basic software that runs the site. But we love it, right?

Also, Akismet, the software code that stops most of the spam is a plugin. So is the feature for spoilers in reviews and editable comments. A stripped down WordPress install may run faster, but it wouldn’t have some of the features I feel are vital to how you all interact with the site. It’s a trade off.

Self hosted platforms can cost as little as $10 per month or as much as $250 per month (and more). What you pay for is support and speed. In the early days, I was hosted by iPowerWeb and when I grew out of that I moved to Esosoft, which is what Sarah Wendell uses. But Esosoft told me I had grown too big for them and my database calls were too unwieldy so upon the recommendation of another person, I went to a site where I had my own private VPS. And no, I really don’t know what that means.

It was faster but I knew less than nothing about how to manage that space on the internet. I actually spent a lot of money paying for consultants to give me advice on how to improve the speed of the website. I paid for someone to customize the options for WP Cache, a plugin designed to store website pages, links, images and serve them up in a faster manner. I paid for someone to analyze the back-end of DA to see if there were things I could change and the results were nearly indecipherable. I paid for a CDN – content delivery network – and barely managed to implement that. I was spending so much time managing the back-end of Dear Author, I hardly had time to write content for the front end.

A couple of years ago, there were hosting services that popped up that hosted ONLY W blogs and I ran to the arms of WP Engine so fast I still had months left at the other service. But being hosted at a WordPress blog means I can say that I’m getting a DB error and they don’t come back with “Well, we don’t support WordPress.” Instead, they research and research until they find a solution.

Parking your website at a WordPress only hosting platform is the only way I would go and while it is slightly more expensive, it is worth the headache. Here’s what you should expect from a WordPress managed hosting platform:

  • 24 hour customer service
  • WordPress installs and updates
  • Daily backups <- This is vital. Do not go to a service that does not offer this.
  • Easy access to your database
  • Easy FTP access
  • Caching
  • SECURITY – they should keep your site safe from hackers.

You’ll want to ask them if they disallow any particular themes or plugins. For instance, Synthesis does not allow Thesis themes. WP Engine does not allow certain backup plugins or caching plugins because those are features that are built in.

Few of them (and none of these are affiliate links):

  • WP Engine – $29 per month for 25K visitors + daily backups, a free staging site (which is a mirror of your site so that you can test out new themes and plugins), ability to make a backup (aka restore point) at anytime.
  • Synthesis – $27 per month + Genesis theme framework, daily backups, domain mapping, ability to host a forum
  • Page.ly- $24 per month for 25K visitors + a “handful of backups”
  • ZippyKid – $25 per month for 100K pageviews + daily backups + a CDN (content delivery network)
  • Kahuna – $20 per month + email + free domain

You may have noticed that few of the managed hosting sites offer email services. Instead, they leave that up to you. Email is a different technical architecture and with the plethora of free email services out there, the managed hosting sites would prefer you go those places for that kind of service. If you really want a domain name email like jane at dearauthor.com then you can try a service like Google Apps ($50 per year) or Zoho ($24 per year).

Yes, it can cost a few hundred dollars to run a self hosted blog on a managed wordpress site and obviously running a site and losing money is no fun thing. My recommendation is to run a couple of ads on your site each month to cover the cost of your hosting fees. You’d be surprised at how many authors would be willing to pay $10 or $15 or even $25 per month to run an ad. A couple of these a month and you’ll be able to cover the cost of a self hosted – managed WordPress – website.

But before you go and sign up, you’ll want to read Parajunkee’s instructions on how to make the move from Blogger to a self hosted platform. Many of these sites also offer a 30 or 60 day no risk guarantee and for a fee will help you migrate from your existing platform to a self hosted one. You all know I love the blogging world and to help you all out, I’m going to offer to pay (up to $100) the migration cost of one existing blogspot blogger to a self hosted site.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

29 Comments

  1. Mikaela
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 04:24:31

    Twimom’s report made me speed up my transfer to WordPress.
    Since I live in Sweden, I signed up with Binero, a Swedish webhotel specializing in WP ( The last thing I want when something goes wrong is to have to think about time zone differences.) . The costs are reasonable, and within my budget. The first month the bill is 50 dollar, but that includes the yearly fee for the domain( 13 dollar) and one time start up fee( 15 dollar), otherwise the cost is 10 dollar per month.
    My webpage hasn’t gone live, since I haven’t paid the bill yet. ( I had to wait for the end of the month, since I bought too many books this month. Oops.)

  2. Ros
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 04:41:51

    I think it’s worth considering (cheaper!) options for sites with less heavy traffic and less archived content than DA. I would always pick a host that has a one-click wordpress install, because I like WP and I know how to use it. Once it’s installed, I never deal with any of the real back end stuff, and just use it like I would the wordpress.com free blogs. I pay £20 a year for hosting and another $10 for the domain. If I needed the maximum file space at the same host, I’d be paying £100 a year. Same customer service and support, but a much better price for what I actually need at the moment. So I would encourage people to shop around. From free to hundreds of dollars is a huge leap and I don’t think everyone needs it.

  3. April @ Books And Wine
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 08:00:35

    I asked you like 2 months ago on twitter about WP Engine and you recommended it. I just wanted to say thanks for that, I moved over to them and am so incredibly satisfied. I had a lot of technical issues moving from Dreamhost to WP Engine (most of it my own fault), but tech support was there every step of the way and explained how to fix it in terms I could understand and the one tech guy actually took the initiative to check on one of my issues without me sending in a support ticket. So yeah, thank you for that and I will second the recommendation.

  4. Keishon
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 08:57:36

    This article *sounds* like you are speaking to folks with high traffic blogs in which case those blogs are the exception and not the rule I would think. Hopefully some folks will take you up on your offer as that is really great. The headache involved in moving is…fill in the blank.

    But there are cheaper alternatives out there for people with traffic on the low end and you mentioned one in your article: Esosoft. I used them at your recommendation for two years or more before migrating to a self-hosted WP blog. Self-hosting so far isn’t so bad but the warning is duly noted.

  5. Lara Lacombe
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 12:13:09

    I’ve been thinking about making a change for some time now, but didn’t really know what my options are. Thanks for this!

    P.S. My current BlogSpot address is http://laralacombe.blogspot.com

  6. Kim in Hawaii
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 13:12:18

    Thanks for the recommendations and contest!

  7. Blossom
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 14:08:54

    I go through a web hosting company and installed WordPress which only takes a few minutes using their Cpanel. I pay $10 a month but there is ways to get it cheaper like paying annually you get a better discount. It’s unlimited space and bandwidth. I’ve been with this company since 2005 and have run several sites on one account. No problems and no complaints. WordPress has come a long way. I remember when you had to manually do everything through ftp now almost everything can be done with plugins from the admin dashboard.

  8. Angela
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 14:48:11

    Thank you for this post Jane! I’ve just been thinking about leaving blogger and moving to self-hosting. I’ve been trying to look into it, but I just wasn’t sure where to start. This is a huge help.

  9. Evangeline
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 15:09:38

    I have used Swank Web Hosting for over half a decade with little fuss. Their prices are very reasonable (my hosting package is $132/year for 120 GB monthly bandwidth and 3000 MB disk space) and their support is prompt.

  10. Shelagh
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 16:37:47

    On the subject of backups, check also what kind of backups they do. Some web hosts will only backup databases, which is fine if the only thing your run is WP but if you are hosting other things, eg, photos, they will not be included in the backup.

  11. Lori
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 16:43:53

    Having auto daily back-ups of your website is invaluable. I can’t stress that enough.

  12. Nicola Griffith
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 18:05:10

    I’ve been meaning to switch to WordPress for an age–but the thought of moving all my data (I’ve had a website a long, long time: since the mid-90s for my own site, and since 2008 on Blogger)–makes me blanch…

  13. theo
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 19:37:36

    I don’t have much traffic (apparently, one has to post regularly for that! Who knew?) or revenue, so went with BlueHost and am over the top satisfied with them. One phone call takes care of my questions, their support is great, I’ve not had any down time at all, plugins don’t slow the site at all and everything is a one-click install. I’m not sure how good they would be with a high traffic blog such as yours, but for me, they’re great.

  14. Sophia (FV)
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 23:21:27

    A daily backup and strong customer service is a must!! I’m seeing some bloggers offering up hosting on their VPS servers to other bloggers. I’m weary. Hosting is technical stuff and you get what you pay for. So be careful who you trust your blog and hard work to.

    I too have moved from shared hosting to VPS. VPS was over my head and my host was of no help when I needed it.

    I switched to WP Engine and they assured me I’d be fine on their stater plan ($29.00 per month). I loved their features and customer service was ok. However a few days after my risk-free trial was over they said my traffic was too heavy and they bumped me up to their business plan ($249.00 per month). That was a bit steep for me so I had to move again. :(

    I’m with Synthesis now on their professional plan ($90.00 per month) and its worth every penny. I only need to file a help ticket if I need anything and they are on in immediately, every time. Recently I noticed a little slowing at FV and so I put in a ticket. Within minutes they worked out it was a plugin I was using. They didn’t tell me to disabled and enable plugins, they did it and fixed it. Within minutes. My site is fast and reliable, and I don’t worry about the technical junk anymore.

    So, what I’m saying is, if you can do it, managed WordPress hosting is so worth it.

  15. mike mcbride
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 00:27:20

    One additional caution I would make is that you, not your host, owns your domain name. In fact, I suggest using a domain registrar other than your host. If you have problems with your host and need to immediately move your site to a different host having ownership and control of your domain avoids many problems, up to and including changing your domain name.

    Mike

  16. Danielle Gorman
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 00:50:11

    I’ve been thinking about making the move to WP for sometime now. Thanks for the contest.

  17. Michelle Louring
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 05:16:14

    Great post!
    I used to host my site at the blogging service Blog.com, so I was really quite screwed when their servers started crashing so often that you could only access your site about 10 mins a week. Now I have moved to being hosted by WordPress and for the time I’m happy with that, but you’re completely right that self-hosting is the right way to go.
    I’ll get there… I’m just lazy…

  18. David Haywood Young
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 08:38:05

    Hi-

    Some good information here. But are you sure the term “self hosted” applies? Personally I manage virtual machines that run my web and email servers. It’s not a lot of trouble (for me…YMMV) but I’d hesitate to call what I do self hosted, as the “bare metal” machines are owned and managed by Rackspace.

    I think you mean to contrast “free” vs. “paid” hosting. And I liked your article, except that it pureed teeny little bits of my brain. On the bright side: I wasn’t really into using the thing anyway.

  19. David Haywood Young
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 09:10:19

    I almost didn’t mention this…but before I switched to full-time fictioneer I used to sell subscriptions to a service I created that monitored website availability and also did backups.

    Most of the time you’ll be okay whatever you do. Sometimes, though, you’ll want to be very careful about site monitoring…and especially about backups.

    Your hosting provider is absolutely the worst place to turn (but isn’t “worst” comparative?) for this stuff. There’s a built-in conflict of interest about uptime/availability, and if you need to restore from a backup…it’s because something went wrong, right? What if you get into a dispute with your hosting provider? What if they screw up your site somehow…at that point will you want them to have been the sole managers of your backups?

    Admittedly: I saw & heard about a higher percentage of horror stories than most, because the once-burned were well represented among my customers. (And also because I love to read horror stories?)

    But still. It’s probably worth thinking about a separation of powers here.

    One last point: if you haven’t tested restoring from backup, you don’t know whether your backup is any good. Problems arise here far more often than seems reasonable.

    -D

  20. David Haywood Young
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 09:42:01

    I love that I said worst was comparative. I blame the puree thing.

  21. Kim M
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 09:48:56

    I will admit, last Sunday I woke up and freaked out about the possibility of Read Your Writes Book Reviews disappearing. I’m still super new to blogging and thus still trying to figure out all the ends and outs.

    Thank you and all the other established bloggers who help newbies like me out.

  22. Moriah Jovan
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 11:54:35

    Just throwing my 2c in: I own all my own domain names I buy from a vendor different from the webhost. I use/manage my own WP installations. I have a security company monitor all my live sites. I do manual backups every time I have to upgrade WordPress. I don’t have anywhere near the traffic DA has, so that might not be relevant to anybody.

    That said, I ran into issues with Pinterest, of all places. I had some naughty pins (shocker) they unilaterally took down, which pissed me off, mostly because they were on a board nobody could see but me. So even though I had set myself up from the beginning to do my own thing without problems from a platform provider, I had grown complacent and this drew me up short. Since then, I’ve been provided with the open-source software I’d need to set up a pinterest-type site of my own. Now I just how to figure out how to deploy it, and when I do, I’ll be off Pinterest, too, since I’m totally uninterested in whether anybody else can see my pins or not.

    FWIW, I also have a chatroom and a PHP message board.

    FYI:

    >domains: GoDaddy
    >webhost: Linksky
    >security: Sucuri

    My yearly outlay (not including the chatroom) is $165.

  23. Kristi Lea
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 12:44:55

    FWIW, I use http://www.powweb.com. Current going rate (according to their front page) is $3.88 a month if you sign up for 2 years at a time. I think it’s extra to register the domain, but my husband and I have been using them for around 10 years, so maybe what we pay is the renewal, not the first registration.

    My main author site http://www.kristilea.com is wordpress. The install involved clicking a few buttons through a webpage, and then I use the wordpress admin portal to customize from there. But powweb has a bunch of options, including Joomla (which I played with and got annoyed with), a bunch of photo-type content managers and e-commerce stuff, and writing old-fashioned static web pages (ya know, index.html). I’m relatively tech savvy (software engineer by day, though I don’t do web development in the day job), so take the recommendation with that caveat. However, PowWeb also provides my mail (as many email addresses @kristilea.com as I can dream up…if I feel like configuring [email protected], it takes about 2 minutes.

    I also have a free blogger site where I’ve been rambling about writing since my very first NaNoWriMo (http://skimdecafmochawithwhip.blogspot.com). I also have a different, currently less public, Blogger “mommy blog” that I’ve been writing on for probably 8 years now (I need to take that puppy completely down..at some point my kiddos will begin googling themselves and figure out how many diaper stories I’ve shared…)

    For blogging, I’m way more comfortable with Blogger than WordPress, probably because I’ve spent more time scribbling thoughts into Blogger. But the WordPress site (and the back end at PowWeb that also hosts my mail and lets me ftp files and all that) is also really easy to use. I also struggle with what to blog on my author page and what to keep at the other one (and whether to combine the two, or nix one).

    And, now I’m kinda worried about what shape both of those blogs is in…maybe I should go post something new to one or both :)

  24. The_Book_Queen
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 15:51:43

    I’ve been seriously considering switching from Blogger. So many problems and the possibility of losing the blog… But, like many, I’m, well, afraid. Blogger’s familiar, it’s all I know. Self-hosting? WP? That’s the big scary unknown! lol. But in the long run it may be a better choice for my blog, and what I want from it. I’m still doing a bit of research before I make any decisions, but would appreciate any feedback self-hosted bloggers have to share!

    Thanks,
    Enjoy!
    TBQ

  25. twimom227
    Jul 25, 2013 @ 12:21:15

    As you know, I was a victim of Google and their bots… my blog was marked as spam and deleted. I am in the process of migrating my blog to a self-hosted WP blog now. I appreciate your post and contest! Thank you!

  26. Saturday Conversation: The Big Move | That's What I'm Talking About...
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 03:03:49

    […] Fast-forward several tears, much panicking, and desperate cries for help on Twitter… Google (owner of Blogger) had flagged my blog as SPAM! I was very lucky and was able to get my blog back up and running in about six hours. Thank you to all those that helped me that night! What I learned from this experience is that Blogger can take down a website at anytime, and sometimes, there may not be a course of action to get it back. Parajunkee has a great outline of the whats, whys and hows HERE. Dear Author also addressed this issue HERE. […]

  27. That Thing Called Murphey's Law - Parajunkee | Parajunkee
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 12:23:40

    […] Now, if I was with a dedicated WordPress hosting, this wouldn’t be my issue, I would have paid someone to handle this for me. But, you know me, right. CONTROL FREAK EXTRAORDINAIRE! I live for this stuff… I knew I could do this. I hoped I could do this. For people that don’t want to jump feet first into permissions and access, Jane Litte has a few recommends for WordPress hosting that does stuff like security. […]

  28. Steph from fangswandsandfairydust.com
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 13:05:49

    This was a lovely contest. Who would accomplish this migration – by which I hope you mean move my blog from Blogger to Word Press and make it all work without me losing stuff?

  29. Jami Gold
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 20:22:44

    I agree completely. If our platform is important to our goals, we need to own as much of that platform as appropriate. I’ve taught workshops on setting up a website/blog, so I have several posts on my site about Blogger vs. WordPress, how to make the choice between free and paid, and what to look for in a hosting provider (http://jamigold.com/tag/wordpress-workshop/).

    FWIW, I use TechSurgeons.com and their support is phenomenal. I’ve had brute force hackers go after my site, links on HuffPo and mediabistro, etc. and never had my site go down from hackers or too much traffic. It helps that my tech guy there (Jay) is a certified white-hat hacker (no joke! :) ) and knows security inside and out. He’s now specializing in websites for authors, specifically WordPress installations, and has helped many bloggers migrate from their old host.

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