Saturday, February 24, 2007

Which Is Better: Blogger or Google Pages?

Google offers two easy-to-use tools that make it so just about anybody can create a website: Blogger, and Google Pages. Both have their strengths and weaknesses; I’ve created and hosted different sites with each tool.

Here’s a quick, bullet-point rundown of my likes and dislikes for each, followed by a bit of in-depth discussion of what you can and can’t do, with some tips and tricks for each.

Google Pages -- Pros:

  • Create and host up to five websites with one Google account.
  • Comes with 30+ neat looking templates to choose from.
  • Just write-and-go, don’t need to know HTML.
  • Can host regular HTML files if you’ve got an already created site.

Google Pages -- Cons:

  • Websites created have to be hosted under googlepages.com. This means your website has to be mypage.googlepages.com instead of www.mypage.com.
  • As you add more pages, you have to link to them manually. No overall index is created automatically.
  • If you use a redirecting trick to make your webpage show up as www.mypage.com, your organic search engine placement seems to suffer.

Blogger -- Pros:

  • The latest version of Blogger can host custom domains directly. No redirect trickery needed.
  • Easy, word-processor style interface for writing new entries.
  • Built-in RSS feed support.
  • Blogger’s layout modification editor is slick, allowing drag and drop modification of page elements.

Blogger -- Cons:

  • What order each page is displayed in is determined by the time/date it was posted.
  • Blogger only offers a few templates. The default ones are kind of boring.
  • Manual template editing is tricky and NOT for the faint of heart.
  • All sites have the Blogger Navbar at the top, by default.

Templates and “Look and Feel” Modification

The latest version of Blogger only comes with a few templates, while they’re okay, there’s not a ton of them. If you use a default template, your blog is going to look like a thousand others. (Probably far more than a thousand others.)

The template format is open and people can create their own, however, it’s not for novices. I modified spamresource.com’s template to add in a logo and additional graphics, and change the overall look and feel slightly. It took me a long time to do, and I couldn’t figure out everything I wanted to. And I’m not afraid of code. If you’re a superhero with CSS, you’ll feel right at home. However, nobody’s mom is ever going to be able to edit a template or create a new one.

Editing the elements within your template, however, is smooth as silk. Click on add a page element, select what you want (list, title, picture, etc.), then drag it around on the page to where you want it to display. This makes it easy to create things like additional sidebar navigation links on the fly. Even if you’re not a power user, it’s still easy to add things like a SiteMeter and AdSense advertising.

There doesn’t seem to be any way to modify the overall look-and-feel of a page created with Google Pages. You can upload your own HTML files to Google Pages and link directly to them, however.

Content Creation

Creating new content is very easy with both sites. Just click on new post (Blogger) or create new page (Google Pages), type in what you want, and away you go. Blogger is very “post” oriented – it’s all about taking your written content and flowing it into a pre-existing site-wide template. With Google Pages, it’s more of a page-based environment, where different pages can have a different template, different navigation links, etc.

Blogger automatically creates archive links for you, so people digging around on your site can link to older pages with little trouble. It’s different with Google Pages; no page is explicitly linked to, unless you choose to link to it. So if you have a lot of pages, and you want everyone to be able to find all the pages, you have to manually create an index that links to all of those pages. (It’s not an unwise idea to do that with Blogger, either, but it’s definitely not necessary.)

Adding Advertising to Your Site

Speaking of AdSense, Blogger has built-in integration with Google AdSense. If you don’t know what AdSense is, it’s a neat program from Google that allows you to opt-in to their advertising program. You donate some amount of space on your website to showing ads. Google determines which ads are appropriate, and automatically takes care of serving and tracking them. Google tries hard to target ads appropriately for your site, and it seems like it’s usually pretty spot on. You get paid based on ad clicks.

Blogger’s AdSense integration is a bit limited. It’s a great way to get started, but if you’re even the slightest power user, you’ll probably want to download AdSense code yourself and manually add it to your Blogger-hosted site. I’ve done that on www.spamersource.com, so that I could manually configure it so two ads show up in a specific place in the left navigation. (The default Blogger options for putting ads along side templates can result in a big blob of empty space, or only one ad showing up.)

Using Standard HTML

If you’ve already got a website you’ve created elsewhere, and you want to move it to Google Pages, it’s very easy to do. Just go to the “Uploaded Stuff” section on the right side of the Google Page Creator interface. Click on the “upload” button, specify the file you want to upload, and hit upload. Repeat this for every file you want to upload. It’s not as fast as FTP, but it’s only going to take a few minutes, even if you have a few dozen files to upload.

Most people creating a website this way use “index.html” as the name for the front page (default page) of their website. Google Pages is not smart enough to know to display index.html as the default page. To get around that, you create a “home page” (/home) in Google Pages. On that page, click on a content area, switch to “Edit HTML”, and paste in the javascript redirect below.

<script type="text/javascript">
<!--
window.location = "http://aqphilhey.googlepages.com/index.html"
//-->
</script>

Of course, change “aqphilhey” to the name of your site, otherwise you’re going to redirect people to my friend’s site, instead of yours. After you save this, people who visit http://(yourname).googlepages.com will be automatically redirected to your index.html page.

It’s not possible to host already-created HTML files with Blogger. Blogger manages and creates pages for you; your only control over this process is turning it on or off.

Using a Custom Domain Name

This is an area in which Blogger excels over Google Pages. If you own a domain, you can make it point directly at your Blogger-hosted site by creating a CNAME record pointing to ghs.google.com. This sounds harder than it actually is. My domain registrar (joker.com), the company I purchase domain names from, offers an easy control panel where I just have to click in, select my domain, select “Create a CNAME entry” and then type in ghs.google.com. You don’t know even have to know what a CNAME is. (It’s an alias that makes one server name point at the same place as another.) Most domain registrars offer something functionality similar to what I have available to me as a user of joker.com.

It’s not possible (at the moment) to purchase a domain name and make it point directly at a site hosted at Google Pages. However, there are hacks you can use to work around that limitation. See www.philhey.com for an example of a site I host with Google Pages. In my domain registrar’s control panel, I created a web redirect so that www.philhey.com points to aqphilhey.googlepages.com (the “real” address of the site). This is necessary because sites created with Google Pages have to be hosted under googlepages.com. I use a “frame based redirect” to mask this fact as much as possible. That way, the site appears (to most users) as being hosted under philhey.com, instead of under googlepages.com.

Search Engine Placement

This is really important, and you’re about to find out why I just spent a lot of time and effort transitioning some of my sites away from Google Pages and over to Blogger.

Having my website show up only under my preferred website URL is important to me. I don’t want www.aliverson.com to actually be aliversonchicago.googlepages.com (which was the case for a while). There’s two reasons for this: branding and search engine placement.

By branding, I mean the look and feel of the site. When people visit my site, I want it to show up as “mine”, and not as a tiny little portion of Google Pages. If people look in the address bar when visiting my site, and see “aliversonchicago.googlepages.com,” they see the latter, not the former. With the redirect tricks I talk about above, it’s possible to mask this association to some degree. Using a frame-based redirect, most users never notice that a site is actually hosted under googlepages.com. However, doing it this way has a huge negative impact on your organic search engine ranking.

What’s organic search ranking? It’s how your site is ranked and rated by search engines. I’m focusing on Google, because that’s the one that’s most important to me.

When you use redirect tricks to make a website show up as a URL other than the one it’s actually at, Google can’t easily follow the link between the top level of my domain down to where the actual content is hosted. I don’t know why this is the case, but the net result is that when I hosted my sites with redirects in front of them, the majority of the text content of the sites did not show up in Google’s search results. (Note to the nerds in the audience – yes, I know it’s technically possible to still categorize and rank the content in spite of this link – it’s just that it clearly was not happening until I stopped using the frame-based redirecting.)

Google is how people find your website nowadays. If your content doesn’t show up in Google, you’re nothing; you’re going nowhere fast. I write lots of articles on technology-related concepts, pretty specific stuff on narrow topics like spam and blacklists. I expect (and hope) that people find my articles when they search on those topics in Google. If Google’s not adequately cataloging my content, those people never find me. Sure, some people know to go to my website address directly, but those people already know about me. This is more about growing my readership. People search for information on a specific topic, come to my site, and then hopefully like it enough to bookmark it and come back to it later to learn more.

That’s why I’ve moved even this site (which really isn’t something I consider a blog) over to Blogger. With Blogger’s ability to have a domain name point directly at my Blogger-hosted site, the connection between my domain name and my website is made in a way that Google’s much more easily able to catalog my content and return it in response to Google searches on topics I write about.

Which one Wins?

So, which tool am I recommending over the other? That’s a tough call; it really depends on your goals and skill set. If you’re an HTML neophyte and just want to write up articles and post them, Blogger’s the way to go. If you have an already-created site with HTML files and supporting images, Google Pages is a better fit. If you’re a super hard-core CSS nerd and want to create a bang-up template to use with Blogger’s easy text content management system, then that’s the way to go. If you want to play around with static pages and host specific content (images, MP3s, PDFs, etc.,) then Google Pages is likely where you’ll want to start. I use both, and which I prefer for a specific project depends on how much time I want to spend on a site’s look and feel, how much content I have created already, etc.

1 comment:

sivaprakash@crankygeek said...

Dude can u please explain me the steps involved in hosting a domain in blogger or google pages ? ..

Say i own a domain www.myname.com
I want to host it in blogger or google pages or wordpress ..

Please explain me the complete steps involved ..How long will it take to do that .

Thank u ..