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

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.

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