Why Aspiring Influencers Should Build Their Brands on Their Own Domains
I’ve been blogging consistently since 1999 and I’m often asked my top advice for someone starting out. My answer is easy—and it’s not even close—build everything on your own domain.
The title says “influencers”, which, nobody actually knows the definition of. I’m using that term because it’s common, but if forced my definition would be: “Anyone looking to grow an audience around their creative output.”
That’s broad enough to encompass makers, artists, musicians, hackers, writers, gamers, journalists, photographers, chefs, moms, poets, and everything in between. Really, it’s anyone producing something useful to someone else, and who plans on sharing that with a wider audience.
YouTube is an exception, because YouTube.
So, with that out of the way, here’s why you should only do this on your own domain, and not using one that belongs to a third-party platform.
1. Your domain is your brand
As a creator, your domain stays with you for life.
I’m not sure John Gruber would have chosen Daring Fireball to be his permanent home. Or that Dave Winer would have chosen scripting.com. But they did, and that’s them now. It’s their identity.
Ideally you’d have something more tied to your name, but that’s not necessary. What’s necessary is that you have something you’ll like in 20 years. Try to avoid androidupdates.com, for example. Because if you want to start writing about nature photography it’ll be a little weird.
But your domain is the center of your internet creator life, and you want to dilute that as little as possible by referring to other places.
2. Controlling your future means controlling your traffic
Whoever controls your traffic, controls your audience.
If you’re on Medium, or Nuzzle, they have traffic. They have followers. You are largely abstracted from that equation as a faceless author on their amazing platform. The platform is the star, not you. You’re lucky to be there. You should be honored.
Screw that. You are the one writing. You’re the one making stuff. If someone likes your content, you shouldn’t be sharing that incoming positivity with a greedy, rent-seeking landlord.
When you own the traffic you can redirect it how you want to. You can launch new services and ask your fans to try them out. You can set up new subdomains and branch out from there. You have control.
yourdomain.com/newsletter is infinitely better than somesite.com/yourname.
3. Platforms have conflicting incentives
A platform is out for itself, not for you.
They might start “with the user in mind”, and many do. And they might have great people in charge in the beginning, who are truly trying to make the internet a better place.
That’s all nice, but when a couple of years have passed, and they have lots of users, and lots of bills, and lots of employees—there will be hard questions.
They will need to monetize somehow. They’ll need to show a profit. They’ll be competing against other platforms. And under that kind of pressure, decisions will be made that don’t necessarily align with your interests.
When some random management team is called in to increase profits, they won’t be considering how it’ll affect you as a creator. They will make the decision that is best for them, which is completely fine.
But if you’re not there you can’t get hit with the shrapnel of those decisions.
4. Platforms come and go, your domain is forever
In my twenty years blogging I’ve probably used at least 10 different platforms—mostly very early on, and for very short periods of time.
Some of them were tech stacks, where I kept my own domain, but I’ve also flirted with writing on other domains as well.
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It’s never taken me long to see the mistake I made. One time I showed up and saw my URLs were all changed.
I’ve seen blogging platforms crumble and blow away in a matter of a few years. I’ve seen goliaths like Moveable Type—which seemed invulnerable—get completely supplanted by a newer, shinier platform.
They all came and (mostly) went. And now we have a host of newcomers. Wix, Medium, Squarespace, etc. Some of these are pretty cool, but the odds of them surviving another five years aren’t great.
WordPress is the longest standing and most powerful platform right now (and this site runs the software), but even it will eventually evolve and/or die.
There’s one good bet though, and that’s DNS. Your domain.
As long as you’re on good software, which allows portability of your content, you can take all your hard work with you to any platform—just as I have all these times.
5. It’s cohesive and convenient to have a single home
And finally, it’s just nice to have a single handle to refer people to.
You have Instagram and YouTube? No problem, just send them to your site where you have links to all that stuff.
You have a newsletter and a podcast? No problem, just send them to /newsletter and /podcast off your same domain.
You can feel free to experiment with whatever other platforms you want, which basically serve as syndication for your content, but to avoid giving someone 13 different usernames and locations, you can just give them your site.
It’s your home.
Trust me on this. Consolidate on your domain, and try to avoid third-party platforms as much as possible.
Your domain is your brand
Control your traffic
Platforms put you second
Platforms are ephemeral
It’s nice to have a single home
There are certain platforms that you might not be able to avoid using, like YouTube and Instagram in 2020. That’s fine, just try to keep as much of your content focused around your own domain as possible given that reality, and still use your site as home base.
There’s another nuance here for backend platforms, such as MailChimp. I use MailChimp when I could theoretically build my own email infrastructure and do it myself. In this case, that would be a cost not worth paying for a few reasons: 1) it’s hard to send that many emails, so relying on someone who’s good at it has its advantages, and 2) they largely allow themselves to disappear into the background. The platforms to avoid are those that try to interject themselves between you and your audience.