If you free-host your blog flee now!

Run away as fast as you can!Dear free hosted blogger, here is food for thoughts, err my few good reasons to escape the free-hosted blogging hell.

If you don’t own the domain, you don’t own your content. In other words: all free hosts steal content, skim traffic, share your reputation, and whatnot indulging the evil side of life 2.0. You get what you pay for, and you pay with your contents, your reputation, and a share of your traffic.

Of course you’ve the copyrights, but not the full power of disposition. Sooner or later –rather sooner if your blogging experiment becomes a passion and your blog an asset– you want to leave the free host, at least if you don’t decide to abandon your blog. At this point you’ll spot that your ideal blogging world is a dungeon in reality, from which you can’t escape saving your bacon.

For the sake of this discussion I don’t need to argue with worst case scenarios like extremely crappy free hosts which skim a fair amount of your traffic to sell it or feed their cash cows with, plaster your pages with their ads, don’t offer content export interfaces, and more crap like that. I’m talking about a serious operation, the free blogging service from the very nice folks at Google.

Web content is more than a piece of text you wrote. A piece of text anywhere on the ‘net has absolutely no value without the votes which make it findable. Hence the links pointing to a blog post, the feed subscriptions, the comments, and your text build the oneness we refer to as content.

Your text lives in Blogger’s database, which you can tap through the API. Say you want to move your blog to WordPress, what can you pull using the WordPress Blogger importer? Posts and comments, but not all properties of the comments, and some comments are damaged.

  • Many of your commenters are signed in with Blogger, commenting under their blogger account, so you don’t get their email addresses and URLs.
  • Even comments where the author typed in an email addy and URL come in with the author’s name only. I admit that may be a flaw in the WordPress script, but it sucks.
  • Blogger castrates links on save, so links embedded in comments are nofollow’ed. Adding nofollow crap to moderated comments on the fly is evil enough, but storing and exporting condomized comments contributed to your posts counts as damage to property.

According to Google’s very own rules the canonical procedure to move a page to another URL is a permanent redirect. Blogger like most “free” platforms doesn’t allow server sided scripting, so you can’t 301-redirect your posts from blogspot.com to your new blog’s pages. Blogger’s technical flaws (the permalink variable is not yet populated in the HEAD section of the template, hence it can’t be used to redirect to the actual posts’s new location with a zero meta refresh) dilute each post’s PageRank because it can’t be transferred to its new location directly. Every hop (internal link on the new blog pointing to the post from the meta redirect’s destination page) devours a portion of the post’s PageRank.

The missing capability to redirect properly, that is page by page, from blogspot to another blog hinders traffic management a blogger should be able to do, and results in direct as well as indirect traffic losses. It’s still your content, but you’ve not the full power of disposition, and that’s theft, err part of your payment for hosting and services.

PageRank is computed based on a model emulating surfing behavior. Following this theory a loss of PageRank equals a loss of human traffic. The reality is, that you don’t lose traffic in theory. You lose a fair amount of visitors who have clicked a link to a particular post and land through the all pages to one URL redirect on a huge page carrying links pointing to all kind of posts, exactly there, on the links page. A surfer not getting the expected content hits the back button faster than you can explain why this shabby redirect is not your fault. And yes, PageRank is a commodity. The post’s new location will suffer from a loss of search engine traffic, because PageRank is a ranking factor too.

As defined above, a post’s inbound links as well as the PageRank gained thereof belongs to the post, and Blogger steals takes away a fair amount of that when you move away from blogspot. Blogger also steals collects the fee (link love and, in case you move, click throughs from the author’s link) you owe your commenters for contributing content to your blog, regardless whether you stay or go away.

Of course you can jump through overcomplicated hoops by first transferring the blogger blog to its own domain, publishing it there for a while before you install WordPress over the Blogger blog. Blogger’s domain mapping will then do page by page redirects, but you’re stuck with the crappy url structure (timestamp fragments in post URLs). I mean, when I want to cross a street, is it fair to tell me that I can do that anytime but if I’d like to arrive unhurt then I must take the long route, that is a turnabout for an orbit around the earth?

Having said that, there are a few more disadvantages with Blogger even before you move to another platform on your own domain.

  • Blogger inserts links seducing your visitors into leaving your blog, and links to itself (powered by Blogger images) sucking your PageRank.
  • If you have to change a post’s title, Blogger changes the URL too. You can’t avoid that, so all exisiting traffic lands on Blogger’s very own 404 page on blogger.com. The 404 page should be part of the template, hosted on yourblog.blogspot.com, so that you can keep your visitors.
  • Commenting on a Blogger blog is a nightmare with regard to usability, so you miss out on shitloads of user contributed contents.
  • Blogger throws nofollow crap on your comments like confetti, even when you’ve turned comment moderation and captchas on, what should prove that you’ve control over outgoing links in the comments.
  • There is a saboteur in Google’s Blogger team. Every now and then Blogger inserts “noindex” meta tags, even on Google’s very own blogs, or silently deindexes your stuff at all search engines in other ways.
  • Often the overcrowded servers of blogger.com and/or blogspot.com are so slow, that you can’t post nor approve comments, and your visitors don’t get more than the hourglass for 30 minutes and then all of a sudden a fragment of broken XML. This unreliable behavior does not exactly support your goal of building a loyal readership and keeping recurring visitors happy. You suffer when by accident a few blogs on your shared box get slashdotted, digged, stumbled …, and Blogger can’t handle those spikes.
  • Ok, better don’t get me started on a Blogger rant … ;)

By the way we’re in the same boat. When I started my blogging experiment in 2005 I was lazy enough to choose Blogger, although after many years of webmastering, providing Webmaster support and rescuing contents from (respectively writing off contents on) free hosts I should have known that I was going to run into serious troubles. So do yourself a favor and flee now. Blogger is not meant as a platform for professional blogs. It’s Google’s content generator for AdSense. That’s a fair deal with personal blogs, but unacceptable for corporate blogs.

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17 Comments to "If you free-host your blog flee now!"

  1. Adam on 29 August, 2007  #link

    Just another reason Wordpress is the industry leader.

    [Sorry, your site is on the dontfollow-list. Sebastian]

  2. Jan on 29 August, 2007  #link

    That isn’t any different than e-mail addresses w/ ISP, or any other service provider. They have little incentive to make it easier for you to go to the competition.

    It’s more painful, because of the equity you’ve built up which isn’t transferrable. But arguably that’s a flaw in the search engines, not the blog hosts. There are many other scenarios where you may own certain web properties but it’s not feasible to create proper 301 redirects.

    Now, if you made the argument that as the owner of the page, you also had legal rights to the record descriptibing it in the Google index, and therefore Google would have to provide you a management interface to it, then we would get closer to a solution.

    That’s a model closer to what the credit reporting agencies have to use. It would also deal with situations like the ones discussed earlier this week regarding the NYTimes new SEO efforts and old and incomplate/inaccurate stories showing up as top results.

  3. Sebastian on 29 August, 2007  #link

    Thanks for stopping by Jan. My point is that w/o a proper redirect from a Blogger post to a WP post you’ll lose human traffic. PageRank losses are a secondary pain. The PR algo known to man is sexy but lacks a shabby redirect model where the dampening factor is not 0.75 but 0.01 or so covering the high bounce rate of links lists when a visitor expects a page delivering content. Probably meanwhile Google has factored in this stuff, but that’s not the point. I’ve used the well known PageRank formula to stress that Blogger’s lacking support of proper 301 redirects will send human visitors to kinda nirwana where the blogger loses them. That’s plain traffic theft caused by extremely flawed and not well thought out software. As much as I’d like to have a UI for my search results and their rankings, that’s not going to happen anytime soon and wouldn’t solve the problem outlined here. It’s a Blogger bug, not a Web search problem.

  4. Halfdeck on 30 August, 2007  #link

    One upside to blogger is that you can use it to build crosslinks and reciprocals without Google being able to connect the dots. Sure, a blog on blogspot is mine, but its not on my IP and doesn’t have my whois. If I run an old skool a-b-c link exchange, so that a I link into someone’s site B who links into my blogspot blog, Google can’t complete the circle (because all three domains involved in the manipulative link exchange are technically under different ownership).

  5. Sebastian on 30 August, 2007  #link

    Thanks Halfdeck, I guess you’d never move this kind of blogspot blogs to another platform. ;)
    As for the undedectable theory, I’d rethink that because domain ownership is just one signal, link patterns can be found even without considering whois information.

  6. Halfdeck on 30 August, 2007  #link

    I’m glad you moved (it’s about time). I appreciate the doFollows on the comments too.

    I have a few blogspot blogs and no, I’m not planning on moving them. On one blog I don’t even post, because one of the post is ranked #1 for a long term that converts like mad.

    I agree link patterns can give you away, but the footprint these third-part blog leaves is much less obvious than a blog on the same IP/whois as your other domains. Google may still connect the dots, but it takes alot more legwork.

  7. Clangnuts on 30 August, 2007  #link

    I’ve been very happy with the way Blogger has functioned for me. It’s not perfect - but ease of use, and how much Google search likes Blogger blogs is a bonus.

    I have a wordpress blog as well - but I don’t like the way I’m restricted on the wordpress hosting service. I don’t have the time or the inclination to host my own WP blog. I want something quick and easy to use - and Blogger gives me exactly that.

  8. Sebastian on 30 August, 2007  #link

    Clangnuts, on your own domain, for your needs and with your topic you’re doing fine with Blogger. Actually, Blogger covers this type of blog perfectly. I’m not bashing Blogger at all, what I say is that you get what you pay for. In your case this payment seems acceptable. In my case it was not, and the same goes for all corporate blogs, other somewhat commercial blogs, and bloggers who just can’t live within Blogger’s boundaries.

  9. James on 30 August, 2007  #link

    Great post, I’m forwarding this to one of my website clients who insist on using Blogspot instead of a Wordpress or Drupal blog on their own domain. I tried convincing them but they didn’t listen, hopefully your post will bring them back to reality.

  10. Jill on 2 September, 2007  #link

    Not to mention that blogger can and will just delete your blog for no reason at all if they feel like it. Just happened to a friend of mine.

    Perfectly normal blog for 2 years. Not about SEO, nothing spammy, not even any ads on it. *Poof* simply removed by Blogger with no explanation other than a supposed “automated filter.”

    Get off blogger now while you still can!

  11. Sebastian on 3 September, 2007  #link

    Thanks for mentioning that, Jill. Actually that happens not only to totally legit blogs whilst gazillions of splogs do fine at Blogger, their weird filters catched even a corporate Google blog a while ago and deleted it (see Google splogoscoped).

  12. Jenny on 6 September, 2007  #link

    That’s interesting. I never knew that that is what happened on a free host. It’s pretty scary if you think about it. I’m gonna pass this along to my friends. Thanks for the post.

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  14. Carlo on 1 October, 2007  #link

    I think I realized this after being hosted by someone else for some time.

  15. Ruth Lanham on 6 October, 2007  #link

    Wow…I’m so glad I ’stumbled upon’ your blog! Thanks.

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