Why as a Developer, I Switched to Blogger.com and Why I’m Staying With It – Stay N Alive

Why as a Developer, I Switched to Blogger.com and Why I’m Staying With It

Since writing for LouisGray.com a few years ago I’ve been curious about Blogger. Louis Gray used it at the time and he really swore by it. I talked to Rick Klau, Blogger’s Product Manager at the time, at a BlogWorld expo a few years back and he insisted I try it. He suggested that even as a developer I would be pleasantly surprised. I was surprised by him even saying that.

I admit I didn’t like the interface of Blogger at first. It was klunky, and seemed very limited compared to my self-hosted WordPress install I had been on for years. But I was intrigued at what Rick Klau had told me. At the same time, he Tweeted back in December that over a 2 month time frame, Blogger had experienced a 100% uptime. This further intrigued me.

Just last year, I was running this blog on a self-hosted WordPress instance, the same server I was running SocialToo.com. Being a one-man show at the moment (I do most of this on the side so I can help out the LDS Church with their Social Media efforts), occasionally that server would go down as a result of heavy activity on SocialToo, and with it, my blog as well. I’ve fixed those issues since, but I realized I had to have a more reliable, redundant solution so my communications weren’t cut off when my other services were. It was at that time I decided it was worth trying something else out that didn’t involve me having to worry about hosting.

The Choices

The main choices I had were self-hosted WordPress (WordPress.org), the subscription, pay-as-you-go WordPress.com, and Blogger.com. There were others, but I was looking for reliability and Blogger and WordPress seemed to have the best uptime. Self-hosted WordPress I had already realized wasn’t an option for me – I loved the flexibility of it all, but I just didn’t have the time any more to keep worrying about whether my servers were up, whether I had appropriate cache set up, and everything that goes with it.

So my main choices were Blogger and WordPress.com. To tell you the truth, my first inclination, as a WordPress user and developer (I’ve written a few WordPress plugins and even put together the theme for this blog with help of a designer), was to try out WordPress.com. I began looking at it, and quickly realized to get “StayNAlive.com” as my own domain I would be paying $12 per year. Then, to add my own customized design, I’d be paying another $15 per year. To remove ads, that would be $30 per year. If I wanted to accomodate my entire community, that would be another $30 per year. The entire bill to switch was going to cost me $87/year! All that and I would still not be able to fully integrate the design I had from my own hosted solution. I don’t make a ton of money from this blog (I do make a little from ads to support it), so that’s a huge chunk of change for just a blog, and I wasn’t planning to get rid of any servers to be able to pay for the blog (since I still needed to run SocialToo).

That left me the choice of Blogger.com, so I decided to try it out. Blogger is 100% free, and has close to 100% uptime thanks to Google’s incredible infrastructure. I decided to try it, and boy was I impressed!

Let me share some of the pros and cons of why I decided to stick with it:

The Pros

I always thought of Blogger.com as a place for mommy bloggers (no offense to all of my mommy blogger friends!). It was the place I always sent people with little knowledge in technology and who just wanted a good place they could start a blog. Maybe that’s it’s biggest advantage. I quickly learned as I was getting started that the interface was mind-numbingly simple. It was really easy to manage!

Like I said though, that was what kind of kept me away in the first place. What I discovered however is that Blogger, while simple on the surface, has some very developer-friendly features that to me, seemed even easier to deal with than my custom-hosted WordPress solution. Here are the advantages:

  • Simplicity. I said it already – Blogger’s interface is mind-numbingly simple.
  • Reliability. Rick Klau isn’t lying. I can expect my blog to be up 100% of the time. They simply don’t go down! It was actually quite a relief today, with such a high traffic day (see my blog post about it), to not have to worry about any of my servers in the process. You simply don’t need to worry about a burst in traffic, DoS attacks, or anything like that. Google handles all that for you and they’re pros at it.

    On top of that, I added Torbit caching to the top of it all (they offered me a free beta of their service), which made it even faster. That took away any need for customized Apache caching.

  • OpenSocial Support. I think this is the coolest part. WordPress has plugins, but Google uses the standardized OpenSocial API, along with Google Gadgets, to provide an interface to Widgets and other features within the blog. To code a customized feature, I just need to know a little OpenSocial (which works with many other sites), and boom! It works right on my blog. That really got my Geek and Social Developer blood going, and I’ve only started to learn what can be done with it.
  • Simple, XML themes. You don’t have to know how to code (for the most part) to build a Blogger theme. Of course, I know how to code, but it’s not completely necessary. Look at the design of this blog (assuming you’re not viewing it on a very small screen or mobile device – more on that in a second) – all this custom design was built using Blogger’s own XML format. It was a pretty simple integration. I downloaded the XML file, edited it, uploaded it, and tried it out until I got the design I was looking for.
  • Seamless Integration with other Google Products. I say this with an asterisk. It works really well integrating with Google Adsense, Feedburner for RSS tracking, and a few other Google features (including any Google Gadget, as I mentioned above), but some obvious Google products have not been integrated. I’ll share more on that later.
  • Instantaneous RSS updates. When I publish a post, almost instantaneously it goes out to Google Reader and other readers that support the Pubsubhubbub format.
  • It’s free! The best part of it all is I don’t have to pay a thing to run it, and I don’t have to run ads on the site for it to work. It’s a cheap, very customizable solution any blogger can use. I don’t have any special deal to get what you see here – anyone gets this.

While the pros certainly outweigh the cons, there are still a few pet peeves of mine I’d love to see Google resolve. Some of these are obvious, and I really hope Google puts focus on them. Blogger could well be one of the most social products they own, and I hope they realize that. There’s a big bonus check in store for the employees that do get this.
  • SEO. I hope Matt Cutts is reading this (he doesn’t even use Blogger for his blog). The transition from custom WordPress to Blogger is horrible for SEO! In WordPress, I had an interface to customize the link structure so it matched the previous blog where my content was stored. That is non-existent in Blogger. They do provide a URL you can fall back to when your content doesn’t resolve on Blogger.com, but that means I’ve got to keep my previous custom WordPress solution running for it to work.

    The solution for this seems simple. Google already has a cache of every website known to man. They already have a cache of my entire blog. Why not use that cache to resolve current content that doesn’t resolve from old links on the site? Or, they could just do something like WordPress does – I think the former would be cooler, and more Google-like.

    In addition to URL structure, there is no good way to create a site map in Blogger. They provide an RSS feed, and you can submit that to Google Webmaster tools, but I’ve found Google is still missing links in their index from my new blog despite giving it my RSS feed. I’m now trying to just include the Archive of all the links on the sidebar of the page, but that’s hardly optimal, and cluttered too. It would be nice if Google just provided a sitemap, or automatically indexed it for you since they own the site anyway.

    There are also no good ways to customize the way your title, description, tags, and other data are formatted. You can sort of do this in your theme design, but it’s hardly an easy thing to do.

    That said, the uptime, and giving it time to index everything, does eventually make up for the bad SEO features of the site. I’m finding I’m almost all the way back to where I was traffic wise on Google.

  • Plugins. I mentioned OpenSocial and Gadgets as an advantage, but if you are used to the custom WordPress install, there is still a lot you cannot do on Blogger. For instance, to provide an alternate, mobile, version of this theme, I can’t just install a plugin to do it. I have to hard-code it into the main theme itself, which is clunky and bad looking. I’d love to see more fully integrated, and better plugin support. They could really take this to another level.
  • Storage. If I want to store something at the root of my domain, I have to figure out a way to hack my server as the root controller domain that forwards all other requests to blogger. Or, if I want to upload an image, it’s a rather clunky process. I have to upload it as an image on an article and link to it that way from my theme code, or upload to Picasa or some other location to host it there. There’s no good storage solution that fits well with Blogger. Google could do better integrating this.
  • The Cloud. The fact is, when your data is in the cloud, if something dies, so goes your content. I’m very aware of this. I’m trying to consider solutions of redundancy at the moment. I’m hoping to find something. It might be nice to auto-back up your blog to an external server somewhere, and that leads me to my next Con.
  • It’s proprietary. Blogger is not Open Source. I can’t install it on my own server like you can WordPress. I can’t contribute to its development. I can’t create my own instance if, knock on wood, Blogger ever does actually go down. I can’t send my backups to a server and have it continue to run there if my blog ceases to exist on Blogger.com.
The Summary
If you’re considering an alternative blogging platform, getting sick of hosting it on your own, or just want to try something new, I highly recommend Blogger.com. Speaking as a developer, it really isn’t your mamma’s blogging platform any more. There is so much you can do with it, and so many ways you can configure it, that it’s definitely worth a consideration.
If you really needs something fully customizable, are concerned about strict SEO, or need better plugin support, you may be better off sticking with a custom WordPress install, or some other open source blogging solution (hopefully that’s Blogger at some point). WordPress.com is simply too expensive to compare – I’m still unsure why people choose it, unless they don’t care about the custom features I mention above. That said, for me Blogger’s advantages far outweighed the SEO and any slight customization I would need. I also have faith that they will improve.
In a high traffic day like today, Blogger has been a life saver. I’ve been able to replace almost everything I had in my self-hosted WordPress instance, and it’s completely free to do so! I encourage you to carefully weigh the pros and cons but give it a try.
In another post I’m going to share the steps I took to transition from WordPress to Blogger. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime I’m interested in hearing your experiences. What pros and cons do you see with it?

57 thoughts on “Why as a Developer, I Switched to Blogger.com and Why I’m Staying With It

  1. I'm really glad you wrote this. I self hosted my own wordpress.org blogs for the last few years, but recently found myself unable to financially support that any longer. Through a lot of customization and coding, I had managed to turn tumblr into a personal blog and not a microblog, but still found it kind of lacking. The advantage to it was that I could still use my own domains without having to pay the additional fees. I may have to investigate blogger now.

  2. Tumblr and Posterous are also options. I'm still not convinced they have
    enough track record on uptime though. They may be a good backup solution

  3. Blogger was my first love. It'll never be replaced even when I choose to work with WordPress and battle the challenges of Joomla. Blogger is like a high school sweet heart (come to think of it, I was barely out of high school when I started blogging with it) It has grown a lot after the Google Acquisition, and I really like what they've done with it. It's THE platform for those who just want to put content up there with good social tools. Simple.

    Posterous has a long long way to go. It's a quick and dirty, “wham bam thank you ma'am” platform for producing short content
    on the go.

  4. I have been blogging on blogger for the last 4 years and its been a fabulous experience. Absolutely no issues till date. Often and again, I have been advised to move to WordPress but I really do not see any reason for the same. OK, yes SEO and plugins support is why WordPress looks to be a better option but anyways, I am doing better without it. And the best thing to happen with me, I've also been able to make some money online blogging on the same 😉

  5. Moving to Blogger from a self-hosted WordPress setup is a humongous step backwards. Web hosting isn't free, but the value of total control over your content and backend is priceless.

  6. Unfortunately, a WordPress – > Blogger migration isn't practical for many given the SEO issues you touch on. Then again, we don't all do the same things with our blog. For me, $87/yr would be a bargain. Heck I'd save a ton of cash dropping to even $87/month. But the amount of revenue lost due to the link issues probably couldn't be overcome unless Google allowed us to edit the link structure or 301 mapping. Based on your report, it doesn't sound like those options exist. :/

  7. Great article. I use Blogger for my site which gets 5 Million hits per month, and it's NEVER been down and totally free. It's saving me $$$$ per month.

    And when people see my site that can't believe it's on blogger due to the customization we've made, and like you we've integrated the excellent Disqus, which is great.

    Thanks for the well thought article.

    And I agree, the SEO parts of Blogger is a little lacking but apart from that it's a stella service.

  8. Ryan, that's my point though – with Blogger I still pretty much do have full
    control over my content. There are only a few small things I can't do with
    Blogger that I could do with self-hosted WordPress.

  9. It's not possible, but I'm still not sure it's possible on WordPress.com
    either. You'll need a self-hosted solution if you want the full SEO
    potential you mention.

  10. I'll admit, the last time I looked into this was 2008 or 2009, so the landscape of Blogger has probably changed a ton, but at least back then, you couldn't backup/export your database, you couldn't set up 301s if you left blogger or changed post URLs, etc. If that has changed, then I can see why Blogger might be more attractive these days.

    I wouldn't use Google's infrastructure as a guarantee of reliability. Just look what happened to Amazon's EC2. Nobody saw that snafu coming.

  11. Great article.

    I've been using Blogger since 2007 and have had no issues. Most people don't even know that my blog is hosted on Blogger until they read the site credits (because I removed the Blogger “bar” at the top of the header).

  12. I've been on Blogger since May 2005 — six-year blogiversary coming up soon! — it was flaky the first couple years out, but has been rock-solid the last 3-4 years. There is a “save backup” function; it's not automatic to my knowledge but you could probably script it. Seems like lately, every time a WordPress user sneers at Blogger, WordPress goes down for an hour or two or a new vuln is discovered. 😛

  13. Great article, i think Blogger is only about 5 or 6 customizations away from being the complete package, or as close as you can get.I have a few blogs on Blogger with one quite successful getting good numbers and earning a few bucks, i had one blog on WP and just didnt see the advantages.

  14. You also don't list all the negatives in regards to bloggers who want to monetize from advertisers, sponsors…etc. Many online programs won't accept blogger blogs in their system anymore and Advertisers prefer self hosted blogs vs Blogger. As far as uptime it is true that you have far more reliability in a cloud environment, but then again if you intend to make your blog an income source or a business you should spend the money and invest in quality and reliable hosting. What business doesn't take some initial investment?

  15. 🙂

    The custom design template I use (inspired from a wordpress theme) does that too. I put the navigation bar back in because it was the quickest route for me to access my dashboard and edit my posts. I'll probably remove it for a cleaner look when my 7 week old blog get a proper readership.

  16. Adsense is now accepting Blogger blogs I'm told. I'm not sure if the numbers make it worthwhile to move to self-hosting quite yet, especially depending on your niche and audience size.

  17. Wasn't talking about AdSense, more like PayU2Blog, BlogsVertise, PayPerPost and other systems that pay you for sponsored reviews. Does Blogger allow you to put javascript in your blog, like listing your site on BuySellAds to automatically sell banner ads? I don't think it allows this either? Also I don't think you can use Amazon Affiliate code in Blogger (at least not the iFrame code) only the link itself, but I could be mistaken.

  18. If you didn't have developer in the title, I could accept this as okay, but as a developer, this sounds downright stupid for me.

    You clearly didn't consider a hosted (not even dedicated) server. This gives you all the freedom of a self-hosted server, practically none of the hassle of keeping your own machine in the web and (nearly) the uptime of Blogger.

  19. A friend of mine had her Google account hacked, and when that happened, Google took her blog down. She lost EVERYTHING–all posts, comments, readers, RSS subscribers, everything. She moved to a self-hosted WordPress install, and got her own domain name, but lost most of her readers in the process, and it basically killed her blog. Lesson learned: Don't put anything on Google you can't afford to lose.

  20. I moved from Blogger to WordPress.org a few years ago. As a dev and a geek, I like having total control over everything. That said, lately I've been considering some other options as, like you said, hosting it yourself can be painful, and I've never liked WordPress's default comment form.

    I'm considering going back to Blogger but it's unlikely. As a web standards nut, all Blogger layouts being HTML invalid is kind of a pain point for me. Most likely, if I move, it will be to GitHub pages, another reliable and free webhost, that requires quite a bit of nerd know-how to set up. (Well, Git. And Jekyll.) Disqus takes care of the comments, and the data is all open source and freely replicable across anything I like.

  21. I'm curious, why the preference against Blogger? I can add any advertiser to
    my blog if they give me the code to display their ads. Am I missing
    something in the ToS?

  22. That's what I was doing before. I've lost patience for having to ensure
    that's up all the time. Even hosted solutions go down. This gives me almost
    as much flexibility, and much less worry so I can focus my time on
    developing much more productive stuff rather than keeping my blog up and

  23. Do what I did – create your own Blogger layout. You have full control to
    make your blog whatever you want it to be – standards compliant or not.
    You're thinking too much. 😉

  24. It doesn't matter where you put it – the same could happen to a self-hosted
    solution as well. Always make sure you have a redundant backup in place just
    in case. Imagine if it were hacked and you didn't have Google to help you
    out with the problem. You'd have a much bigger problem than just loss of

  25. Using GitHub pages is the best of both worlds: 100% control (root server access, SEO, design, links, etc.) and 100% free.

    Oh and 100% open source.

  26. This is a key advantage blogger has over WordPress.com free hosting which gives you no ability to implement javascript into your site as it strips it out.

  27. The XML stuff is only used to format your HTML. The end product is the HTML
    you specify. If my blog doesn't validate it's because it's my fault, not
    Bloggers. There are ways around the unescaped ampersand. You really do have
    pretty much full flexibility within your template design.

  28. I would love to hear how you would get around that, the unencoded ampersands. I would also like a link to one single valid Blogger blog, as I still don't believe it's possible. 😉

  29. I haven't looked (or tried obviously), but I don't see why it wouldn't be possible. I could be wrong though. I'm curious if Rick Klau knows of any examples (or someone on the Blogger team since Rick's no longer there).

  30. It wouldn't be possible because they're in the URLs Blogger uses. They're hardcoded. The only way around that is to not use those URLs, but that's going a bit far.

  31. Let me reiterate: Her GOOGLE (gmail) account got hacked and Google deleted her BLOG. There is no way this would happen with ANY self-hosted blog provider.

  32. Certainly, but her self-hosted servers could have gotten hacked even easier
    if she was on a self-hosted solution, and in that case, she has absolutely
    no recourse. I'm not saying Google was right to delete the blog, but
    mistakes and problems can occur anywhere. I think the Blogger solution is
    actually the safer solution. Whatever you choose it's always good to have a
    backup somewhere in case something does go wrong. This can happen anywhere.

    BTW, self-hosted servers get hacked all the time. Mistakes also happen on
    those servers all the time. What if someone accidentally clicks a button and
    deletes your entire VM or server instance? What if the server completely
    dies? Those are all problems that can occur that are out of your control.

  33. I won't argue that WordPress sites do tend to get hacked (if you leave them on old versions of WordPress), but it's frightening to think that if your email account gets hacked, Google can/may delete your blog as well..with no recourse from you.

    The answer, of course, is backups. And one problem with Blogger is there is (as far as I can tell) NO automated way to back up a Blogger blog. That also stinks. Relying on your users to click 'export' on a regular basis isn't that great IMO. There are many easy tools to automatically back up a WordPress blog, so if you do get hacked, you have recourse.

    I don't agree with the whole “switch to Blogger” thing (in case you can't tell.) I'm a big believer in having control over my own sites. I would never put my content–my lifeblood–under the control of an entity that doesn't even have tech support available.

  34. As so many said before: Blogger indeed is a good platform, but there are so many drawbacks if you switch from another service to Blogger or if you care a little bit about clean markup. But there is one reason I never finally switched (although all my articles are imported and ready to go online): Try to keep a domain without the www.

  35. Yes SEO isn't good in Blogger, They really should remove the 302 Moved Temporarily redirection for Custom Domains

    Blogger has a really poor Comment system, but we can external services 🙂

    We have to wait months before having access to new features that Blogger announced months ago for 1% of its users. Do you have access to the new Dashboard ?

  36. I wasn't aware that you could host your domain name for free through Blogger as SpoilerTV mentions. It seems incredible that Google would allow free hosting to site which gets so many hits.

  37. I personally would like to see some kind of file storage, especially for scripts, CSS files and images used in the template. Right now you can either use an external provider (weird) or put scripts/CSS inline (not exactly efficient). What's even weirder is that Blogger does serve it's own scripts through blogger.com, but the users cannot do that…

  38. easiest way to backup? create a wordpress.com and have the posts sent there? or even posterous
    there are backup services online that you can run periodically.
    I've moved an entire blog on blogspot from one domain to another

  39. Posterous was awful and even less to work with in terms of templates.
    The push elsewhere was nice, but the downtime was heinous.
    Tumblr seems the same way

  40. Jesse,

    Thanks for taking the time to write this detailed and incredibly informative piece. I am glad to see that evergreen content such as this is showing up in my search results. Actually, I was brought here by Christopher Slade's post, also on Blogger. I think some of the SEO issues are being overcome, but I'm curious to see what you think after having used the platform for so long now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *