When I consult with clients about starting a blog, the first thing I advise is that you should not expect to quit your daytime job nor close down your retail locations due to the wild success of your blog.
With that said, every business blogger and personal blogger alike should start their blog with a business mindset.
Starting a blog with a business mindset requires you to think through a few aspects of your new online venture. In this series, I am going to cover the importance of blog ownership, return on investment goals, and then leave you with some general thoughts regarding legal considerations.
In this first post, let’s delve into some important questions regarding blog ownership that should be considered with a business mindset before you even write your first post.
Quickly, before we begin, I know that you might have just read that first section and said to yourself, “This series isn’t for me” since you are starting your blog simply to explore and experiment. However, as we state very clearly in our bios and about section, we are normal people too and this is the EXACT mistake we made when we started MidwestSportsFans.Com.
In fact, we were so naive that the only reason we associated the blog with the company was so we could write off the domain name and hosting. Though this was not a fatal error on our behalf, it sure did cause us a lot of last minute scrambling and headaches during some really defining points in the blog’s history.
If you are exploring the blogosphere, read this series simply to open your mind.
I’m not suggesting you “start a business” with your blog. I am suggesting, however, that you “start your blog with a business mindset”.
If you have already been down this path or are an attorney, please chime in down in the comments section as I only attempt to scratch the surface on these topics, and all of us in the blogosphere can use as much help as we can get on legal specifics.
Who Really Owns That Blog?
In the first post of his introductory series on content, Jerod discussed what you should blog about. In my first post in the business introductory series, I am going to discuss where you should begin writing that content.
It may not seem like deciding where to blog is as important as deciding what you should blog about, but the decision that you make now can have a long-term impact on the ownership and flexibility that you have with your content.
“Who owns my blog?”
To answer this, we have to define some key elements of a blog, including the domain name and the content.
First, domain names are the equivalent of your business name or tax identification number. End users and search engines alike will identify you by your domain name, and once your blog starts to get traction the last thing you want to do is change that domain name.
Here are a couple of examples of domain names that are likely owned by the business or individual doing the blogging and that present a scenario where they most likely have full control:
If you have created your blog on a hosted service, you likely have been assigned a “sub-domain” or “sub-folder” of a domain that someone else owns. This leaves you at a significant disadvantage when it comes to ownership.
If you are a sub-domain or sub-folder of someone else’s domain, the fully qualified domain name for your blog might look like one of the following examples:
Domain ownership is important. Domains are recognized by both Internet standards and most legal systems as the property of the registrant and are 100% portable. In simple terms, if you buy and register a domain name in your or your business’ name, it is yours to take and do with as you please.
Content is the second element of a blog for which it is crucial to retain ownership. Content is a valuable asset that is protected by international copyright laws unless you explicitly give up your rights.
If you self-host your blog under your own domain name, you start off with 100% control. You can give up syndication rights by signing up with advertising networks and other services but as a whole you are in good shape from an intellectual property perspective.
When you sign up for a hosted service, you will be conceding some control or licensing of your content. In most cases the hosted sites are not out to rob you of your intellectual property–they simply need to protect themselves.
WordPress.Com has terms of service (TOS) verbiage that looks like this:
“By submitting Content to Automattic for inclusion on your Website, you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting your blog. If you delete Content, Automattic will use reasonable efforts to remove it from the Website, but you acknowledge that caching or references to the Content may not be made immediately unavailable.”
Blogger.Com, owned by Google, is very liberal in their terms terms of service and clearly state:
“Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submited, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services”
In most cases, terms of service have clauses that state that the terms of service can change at any time, meaning that content policies can change too. Therefore, you are still conceding control even with a favorable terms of service.
When it comes to a blog, the bottom line is that you want to retain 100% control of your presence in the blogosphere unless there is benefit associated with giving up control. To illustrate my point, I am going to paint two scenarios to try and illustrate the importance of ownership and when it is worth considering giving it up.
Scenario 1 – A Hosted Blog Platform
For minimal or no charge, you can start a blog on a hosted platform like blogger.com or wordpress.com. The benefit of doing this is that you completely remove all technical worries and expenses from your venture into the blogosphere. This can save you money, headaches, and time.
The downside is that you are now subject to their terms of service and your ability to customize the platform will be limited. Thus, in exchange for saving you a $10 domain registration fee, $70 worth of yearly hosting, and $100 to buy a good blog theme, you just gave up control.
Put on your business hat and ask yourself: is this is a good trade-off?
Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, articulates the element of control as he compares blog platforms to housing in the following video:
Scenario 2 – Writing for An Established Blog
If you are a good writer, knowledgeable in your industry, or have a recognized personal or business brand, you might have the opportunity to write for another blog.
Jerod, for example, has several guest writers for MidwestSportsFans.Com. These writers enjoy the benefits of a site that has healthy daily traffic, which can help a sports writer gain visibility. Jerod also handles all editorial and technical management associated with the blog, thus alleviating guest writers from the headaches and expenses associated with these responsibilities.
In return for the site traffic and professional blog management, writers assign their content to MidwestSportsFans.Com and give up the rights to advertising revenues (although we always spread the love with our writers when we can). Jerod encourages writers to have their own blogs as well and is very generous in his willingness to help them be successful both on MidwestSportsFans.Com as well as their own ventures.
If you put on your business hat, this isn’t a bad trade off as a writer’s blog posts are immediately exposed to 8-10K viewers a day, which allows them to promote their own personal brand and can help them to launch their own blog. This is something worth considering and perhaps worth giving up some control.
When it comes to ownership and control of a blog, get into a business mindset and think through your decisions. In many cases, these types of decisions are very hard to undo. Don’t let a couple hundred dollars worth of start-up costs or a fear of hosting companies sway you to give up control.
If you have questions about the technical aspects of blogging, spend some time in Matt’s technical section as he has screencasts and posts that will walk you through just about everything you need to get a blog on the Internet and maintain control.