As you may have noticed, a few weeks ago my site went through a major overhaul. What actually happened was I ditched Tumblr to go back to WordPress.
Why? Well, several months ago I decided to give Tumblr a chance as a blogging engine. I imagined hosting my website for free would be great… and if it worked it would make a great case study for using something other than WordPress.
Keep in mind, this all happened before I had any real experience using the Tumblr platform and before the company was sold to Yahoo. (More on that later)
In my opinion, that test was a failure. I’ll try to explain why here – and I’ll also make some recommendations for anyone that wants to start a personal or business blog.
What is Tumblr?
Tumblr is a blogging platform started in 2007 by a guy named David Karp. The site allows it’s users to post text, images, videos, quotes and links to a personal mini-blog (called a Tumblelog). It’s very easy to use and seems to be a favorite of younger kids (18 and under).
Tumblr is free and will host your site and as much content as you can post for free at a domain like yourname.tumblr.com. You can also use custom domain names and Tumblr will redirect your site to yourname.com.
In 2013 Yahoo bought Tumblr for $1.1 Billion. As of today no one is quite sure if they are going to destroy it or not.
Benefits of using Tumblr
- Dead simple setup
- Free hosting (possibly forever)
- Millions of built-in users who might find your content interesting
What is WordPress?
WordPress is a free blogging software that came out in 2003. It quickly become the go-to software for running a personal blog. These days WordPress is used by personal bloggers, mom and pop shops, and major corporations to power everything from blogs and personal sites to major news sites, portals, communities and more.
WordPress is free to download and install on your own web server and has a huge library of 3rd party plugins and themes to make your site do just about anything you want with little or no expertise in web development.
There is also a free hosted version of WordPress available at wordpress.com. Like Tumblr you can sign up and post content for free on their servers without spending a dime.
Benefits of using WordPress
- Dead simple setup
- Extremely customizable
- Thousands of 3rd party plugins
- Great for SEO
Why I (Originally) Left WordPress for Tumblr
For most of the last 10 years I’ve used WordPress to power this site. I also had to pay for hosting which I did through Dreamhost.com and Mediatemple.net. I used Dreamhost for ages and it was much cheaper, about $10/month but after some down time issues years back I’d moved to MediaTemple.net and was on a $50/month plan.
Last year I did the math and realized I was spending approximately $600/year on the site and had never made a dime from it.
So, I decided to see if I could eliminate that cost and host the site for free.
Another benefit of moving was that If I placed the content on a free hosting platform my content would live forever (even after my life ended & hosting expired) without ever costing me a cent.
So I canceled my hosting plan and destroyed my database full of posts (again) and made the move to Tumblr.
Moving From WordPress to Tumblr
The move was pretty simple. I setup malandarras.tumblr.com and started playing around.
Ater the initial sign up process all I had to do was log into Namecheap (where I buy my domain names) and switch the DNS to Tumblr’s servers. In less than an hour my site was officially hosted for free on Tumblr.
I felt like a champion.
I picked a free theme, posted some content and got a few Likes and Reblogs from people I didn’t know, and for the next few months I had a blast.
Later – I realized I had made a huge mistake and I had to get my site off of Tumblr as soon as possible.
Tumblr: What Went Wrong
After hosting on Tumblr for several months I started having real issues.
- I couldn’t tweak things and install plugins like I could on WordPress
- I lost focus and instead of writing blog posts, I had started posting images with quotes on them in hopes of getting Tumblr likes and reblogs. (The most popular posts are all animated gifs, quotes and funny photos)
- I realized I was trying to force Tumblr to work like WordPress. I spent hours tweaking my Tumblr theme to look and act like a WordPress theme
- Yahoo bought Tumblr for $1.1 Billion and suddenly the future for my content seemed uncertain (Yahoo has a habit of buying great sites, ruining them and then closing them down)
The biggest difference I noticed was that Google wasn’t picking up my Tumblr posts in search engine rankings at all.
Getting traffic from search engines has always been one of my favorite things about blogging. The first time I wrote a post and then started getting traffic from keywords within the post my head exploded.
I think organic Google traffic is one of the most fascinating things on earth – even when it doesn’t make me any money. It’s just fun.
With WordPress I got Google rankings pretty quickly. With Tumblr wasn’t happening at all.
So I got the hell out of there. And fast.
Back to Dreamhost
For the change I knew two things. I was going to use WordPress and I wanted cheap hosting. Mediatemple is a great hosting provider with stable servers but it was $50/month, far more than I wanted to spend for my personal blog.
Mediatemple does offer cheaper plans but I was more familiar with Dreamhost. So I logged into my 10 year old Dreamhost account and set up shop. Setting up my site in their admin took a total of about 3 minutes.
First I had to get my site to redirect to Dreamhost’s servers so I headed back to Namecheap.com and made the change to DNS.
Then I need to install WordPress. Luckily, Dreamhost offers a slick 1-click install for WordPress. You literally click 1 button and WordPress is installed on your site in about 60 seconds.
You can optionally go to WordPress.org, download the software to your computer and then upload it via an FTP software. This works fine but takes 10-15 minutes to complete.
Choosing a WordPress Theme
I knew exactly what I wanted my site to look like. While I was on Tumblr I had tweaked my theme to look like the Genesis Framework’s default theme.
The Genesis Framework by Studiopress is a killer code base for WordPress that is packed with SEO magic and beautiful typography out of the box.
It just so happens that their default theme (the one I am using right now) looks exactly what I think a blog should look like, so I didn’t have to change things – saving me days of design time.
Genesis costs $59 but I didn’t mind paying it. The truth is that most of the free WordPress themes look… well, let’s just say you get what you pay for. I didn’t want a free theme that I’d have to spend hours tweaking to try to make it look like Genesis.
I paid the $59, installed it and was ready to go in 10 minutes. No regrets.
Update: I’m now using Dynamik Web Builder for the design of the site.
My How WordPress Has Changed
I was kind of shocked. It had been a while since I’d installed a new version of WordPress and my God has it changed.
The interface is so clean and easy to understand… it just looks – beautiful. They’ve really come along way since those early interfaces in 2003.
Writing My First Post
For my first post I wanted to re-post the last thing I’d written on Tumblr. It was my first affiliate marketing related blog post ever – titled “Why Most People Fail at Affiliate Marketing”. It had received more traffic than just about anything I’d ever written. The problem was it was sitting on Tumblr, rotting with no SEO juice and I didn’t want it to leave it behind.
So I imported the Tumblr post into WordPress, made sure things looked good and clicked “Publish” and just like that my new WordPress + Dreamhost site was live.
What Happened Next
Over the next few days I made a few new posts and the whole process felt great. I was no longer fighting with Tumblr to save $10/month in hosting fees. I was just using WordPress and sailing along.
Almost immediately, Google picked up my posts and organic search traffic started coming in. I installed an Analytics plugin and could see all of the organic traffic, what keyword they used and what post they had landed on. I could even see how many users were on the site, live at any time.
I found a super simple Mailchimp plugin for WordPress that allowed me to start building a newsletter with the new traffic. Installing the plugin and adding the opt-in form took just a few minutes.
Mailchimp is an email newsletter software that allows you to collect email addresses on your site and then email them whenever you wish. I’ve used similar services in the past, like Aweber but chose Mailchimp because they allow you to have up up to 2000 subscribers and send 12,000 emails for free.
Other services charge you from day 1, whether you use it or not. If you want to build an email list use a free Mailchimp account for sure.
I also setup a few more plugins:
- Askimet to block spam comments
- Disqus Comment System
- Google Analytics Dashboard for WP
- Crazyegg Heatmap Tracking
I’m in the process of installing and testing several others. Again this is one of the top reasons to use WordPress over Tumblr for your blog. You can install a plugin and have new functionality on your site in 5 minutes. Most of the plugins are also free.
Now the blog is more active than ever. Posts are going out and traffic is coming in. I can attribute most of that to switching back to WordPress. By doing so I removed almost all of the stress I was having trying to force Tumblr to be something that it is not.
Now instead of fighting, I’m having fun.
Recommendations and Resource Links
Blog Platform: WordPress
Look, if you want to start a real blog that gets traffic and does what you want it to do – use WordPress, hands down. WordPress is free and your only costs will be buying a domain name and paying for hosting. Which out-weight (by far!) the stress of using free hosts.
For normal blog and website hosting you can’t go wrong with Dreamhost. I have used their cheapest plan to host this site for years and have had any real problems. Hosting costs about $10/month and is easy to setup. Click here to check out Dreamhost.
Domain Names: Namecheap
I use Namecheap to register all of my domain names. A .com costs $3.98 a year and I’ve never had a problem. They also offer hosting and more but I stick with domain names only through them.
Choosing a Theme
WordPress comes with a library of free themes. Some are great, some are not so great. Some work, some break when you install them. Almost none of them are optimized for SEO and getting your site ranked on search engines.
My advice would be to pay a little money for the Genesis Framework that is well built and optimized out of the box. I wanted a pro look and organic search engine traffic from Google, Bing and Yahoo and Genesis is the best for that.
In my opinion there is no better theme or framework on the market that does what Genesis does.
There are also plenty of Child Themes for Genesis to make your site look like anything you can imagine. They cost extra but if you’re a business or a product you probably don’t want your site to look like a personal blog.
Update: I now use Dynamik Web Builder to change the look/feel of the site on the fly. Point and click, very simple. Highly recommended.
The Bottom Line:
If you want to run a personal blog that receives traffic, WordPress wins over Tumblr. No contest. Using WordPress allows you to do whatever you want with your site or blog. They offer thousands of plugins to help you accomplish any goal you can dream up and work well with tons of 3rd party sites.
If you are dead broke and want to post simple photos and funny images for your friends and family to “express yourself” and you don’t mind Yahoo controlling all of your content, Tumblr may work for you.
But for me – it’s WordPress all the way.
If you have any questions please fire away in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer them.