It’s not just how to start a blog – but where to start?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a newbie with little or no experience or an established content writer – starting a blog can be a minefield but it is a fun way of sharing your information and thoughts.
Blogging can also be a great way to make money from home and it’s one of the best online jobs…but then I would say that, wouldn’t I? After all, my aim is to show you how to create a blog and start working from home.
So, If you’re going to start a blog, one of the biggest decisions you need to make is which blogging platform to use. There are a lot of free blog sites out there and paid ones too. So how do you choose?
Should you always go for a free blog platform? If you’re serious about working from home, the answer is a resounding no. Skip straight to WordPress.org right now. However, many people like to start off with a free blog as a dry run and if this is your current aim, a free one will do the job.
Here’s a roundup of the best free blog sites – and ones you pay for – available on the Interwebz today.
What You Need to Think About
Do You Want a Free Blog or Do you Have Some Money to Spend?
There are soooo many free blogging platforms out there. Be prepared to spend a fair amount of time checking out which one is going to suit you best. If you get halfway through setting one up and then realise that it’s not the one for you, it can be very frustrating. Save yourself that wasted time by taking a good look at what each one offers. There is a lot of help for you further down this post but nothing beats actually going to the platform and having a dig around.
If you’re ready for a hosted blog, then WordPress.org is the one for you. I’ll be looking at WordPress.org and WordPress.com in depth further on in this article.
How Easy is it to Set Up?
If you’re a complete beginner, you need to start off with something that isn’t intimidating, is user friendly and yet allows you to express yourself without too many restrictions.
Do You Need to be Good at Coding?
For some blogging platforms, this can be a deal maker or breaker. Even if you don’t know any code at all, you will find that as you go along, you’ll maybe want something a certain way so you go off and research the code to do it. Lots of bloggers know little bits and pieces but when the entire blog has to be coded, it may have you passing on to the next choice. I’ve added icons to show if a blog needs code or doesn’t, to help you make your choice.
Does it Allow You Enough Scope to Design it How You Want it to Be?
We creative types don’t just love writing. We also tend to have a vision in our heads of how we would like our blogs and websites to look. Creativity often extends to the aesthetic. Take a piece of paper and sketch out how you would like your blog to look and make a list of questions, such as
1. Which colours can I use?
2. Which fonts can I use?
3. Is it easy to import and use images?
How User Friendly is it to Maintain?
It’s just as important to find out how easy your shiny new blog will be to maintain. How easy is it to create posts? Can you make alterations quickly and easily? If you’re starting out with a low budget, you’ll be doing the lion’s share of the work yourself so being able to maintain your blog underpins everything.
Is it Mobile Responsive?
This is uber important. In January 2014, the way we use the internet changed forever. For the first time, people accessing the internet via mobiles overtook people accessing it on pcs. And this change is not only permanent but increasing.
You may have heard of Millennials. They are people who were born between 1980 and 2000 and they make Baby Boomers pale into insignificance. What you need to know is that they are the first generation born into a world of technology so they have no fear of it. And they do everything via their mobiles. If you want to monetize your site, make sure you build it on a mobile responsive platform.
Does it Allow You to Place Ads?
The general consensus is that putting third party Ads on your blog is not such a good idea. Those Millennials that you want to woo are not as impressed by adverts are their forebears were. They have grown up being bombarded by advertising so they distrust a lot of it. We’ll take a closer look at the thorny topic of advertising on your blog in another post.
Nevertheless, some people still like putting Ads like Google Adsense on their site. If you want to do this, make sure the blogging platform that you choose has that capability.
Who Are Your Target Audience?
The style and design of your brand new blog should be targeted at the people who you want to read it. Most modern blogs are quite minimilist (think Zen Habits) although retro ones are also very popular. Aim for something that you will love – as you will be spending a lot of time building it and looking at it.
Top 21 Blogging Platforms, in Alphabetical Order
I’ve chosen a range to suit beginners, intermediate and experienced – and the little info boxes will tell you if you need coding knowledge or not.
“Make blogging beautiful.”
“Anchor is a super-simple, lightweight blog system, made to let you just write.”
Do I need to know any coding? Yes – at least basic knowledge of HTML, CSS, and PHP.
A free and open-source Content Marketing System (CMS) that’s hosted on GitHub.
It’s feature rich, easy to self-install and gives you ownership of your own content.
For more information, check out the Anchor Forums
Pros: Free, open-source CMS without the bloat
Cons: If you don’t want the basic theme, you’ll need at least basic knowledge of HTML, CSS, and PHP.
Verdict: A good choice if you’re comfortable building your own site as well as taking care of self-hosting.
Blogger is consistently named in every top 5 of free blog roundups.
It’s very quick and easy to sign up for if you already have a Gmail account. It’s all part of Google’s bid for world domination.
One of the biggest drawbacks of Blogger used to be that you could only use their domain name. The format of your Blog URL would be “name of my blog.blogspot.com” You can now redirect your blogspot.com address to your new custom domain. It takes a bit of fiddling about with your DNS which isn’t too difficult as long as you follow each step slowly and remember to breathe.
Blogger is a Google creation so it’s easy to share your Blogger posts to your Google+.
Blogger used to have a bad reputation due to the limited design features and clunky interface. Since Google bought it, several years ago, the design capability has improved for the better. Using a blog platform that is owned by the biggest Search Engine is also a plus as your blog is automatically added to Google’s Blog Directory.
Making Money on Blogger
Adsense is Google’s content-targeted advertising program so it’s no surprise that they make it easy for you to enable Adsense Ads on your Blogger. You can also easily add third party monetization services.
If you already have a Gmail account. Just sign up, name your blog, and pick a template (which also supports a mobile ready view).
Pros: It’s free, easy to set up and has the awesome power of Google behind it.
Cons: It has limited design options and some of the templates feel a bit dated.
Verdict: If you want a dry run before starting your ‘real’ blog, Blogger would be a good choice.
Tagline: Reach Any Screen
I’ve included Contentful because it is free for:
1K content entries
100K API requests per month
If you need any more than that, the monthly price jumps up to a rather eye-watering $99 per month.
Contentful isn’t your average CMS. It delivers your blog as an API.
What’s an API?
An application programming interface (API) is a description of the way one piece of software asks another program to perform a service.
You write your blog post in Contentful, then code a separate interface to pull in your posts from the cloud.
This approach lets you also build your own mobile apps and access content easily there, too.
Pros: You’re not tied to anyone’s interface or development language, instead you can use anything you want.
Cons: There’s no interface or front-end, that’s all up to you. Contentful just provides you with the tools to create a post and then delivers it as code.
Verdict: Only for experienced developers.
Tagline: Just a blogging platform
Ghost is one of the many mimimalist blogging platforms. It’s hosted but also has version for developer which is installable.
The free version allow you to
- Download the software and install it on your own web server
- Get community support on the Ghost forums
- Manage all your own updates and code
The $8 per month version (up to 25,000 page views) allows you
- 1 blog
- Unlimited transfer and storage
- Automatic updates and backups
- Upload any theme or app
- Worldwide CDN & security protection
Ghost has a stunning blog editor that uses markdown code to format your text. One of the best features is the auto preview that you see via a ‘window pane’ in real time on the right window.
Markdown is a coded format but it’s a breeze to learn. If you need help, ghost uses popups to prompt you. In reality, marakdown is so easy that you’ll rarely need to use ‘help’.
There are some great themes available for Ghost. Installing it is quite straightforward but you do have to download it and them re-upload it which can be a little confusing.
Making money on Ghost
You can enable Ghost to run ads but you will need some coding skills to do this.
Pros: the beautiful blog post editor.
Cons: Some coding is required for some functions.
Verdict: A great free blog or paid one if you are OK with some coding.
Hosted for free with GitHub.
Jekyll is a static site generator that uses Ruby to generate your site from text files.
You simply write your post, run a command and the html files generate a static site.
This gives you a very stable website that can handle a significant amount of traffic with very few issues.
You can write in your own editor but you need to be comfortable coding and using a command lines. If you’re ok with those, you can build a highly-customized sites with Jekyll.
Pros: Very customizable if you’re happy to build your own themes.
Cons: You need to know how to code and how to work with command lines.
Verdict: If you love tinkering with code and want absolute control over what goes on your site, Jekyll is for you.
Kirby is free to try out and to build your own theme, but you’ll need to pay £10.95 / $17 for a personal license (for non commercial use) or £45.85 / $71.20 (for a unlimited commercial use) before you can put it online.
Kirby is primarily aimed at developers but if you have basic PHP skills it’s relatively easy to to make your own blog. The API is inspired by jQuery and if you have coding knowledge, you will be able to get the best out of Kirby.
Kirby is flat-file based so you’ll need to self-host it. However, because Kirby stores posts as files, it’s easy to change hosting providers and keep backups.
This also means it’s fairly simple in nature, so you can’t do things like schedule posts right now. In the past, Kirby has been my CMS of choice because it’s so intuitive to develop for.
Pros: Customer themes are easy to build.
Cons: You’ll need a good understanding of code to make the best of Kirby.
Verdict: Only for those who understand PHP and don’t mind coding.
Most people don’t associate LinkedIn with blogging but on 19th February 2014, LinkedIn released their publishing platform. As LinkedIn is the social media network that receives the third highest amount of traffic (behind Facebook and Twitter) this caused a lot of excitement.
If you already have a LinkedIn account, there is no set uprequired and it’s free. Just look for the status update tool and click on the pencil icon to get going.
Blogging on LinkedIn is very easy. There’s a basic WYSIWYG editor and you can preview before you publish.
Pros: Your content gets immediate exposure to your professional network.
Cons: Your design capabilities are limited to the main template that LinkedIn provides.
Verdict: A must-do for all serious and professional Bloggers and a great tool for lead generation.
Yes, LiveJournal is alive and kicking. There are five different account types: Basic, Early Adopter, Plus, Paid, and Permanent. Some are free and some are not.
All LiveJournal accounts can use LiveJournal core features, such as posting entries and comments, customizing the appearance of the journal and joining in with communities.
All account types can also buy additional userpics. Basic and Plus users can buy up to 15 additional userpic spaces, while Paid and Permanent users can purchase up to 210 additional userpic spaces.
For additional features, you can purchase a Paid Account or upgrade to a Plus Account.
LiveJournal has a social network structure so publishing entries on LiveJournal gives you access to communities where there are millions of other users.
The key to LiveJournal’s success is having huge communities with similar interests. So LiveJournal is essentially about interacting with pre existing audiences.
Don’t expect Tumblr style slickness in design, though basic purchasable templates are available. LiveJournal seems to be less about style and more focused on the content itself.
Ad revenue is possible with premium accounts, but your flexibility will be constrained.
Before choosing LiveJournal you need to decide if it’s the best place to access your audience. Compare with platforms like Tumblr, LinkedIn, or Quora to see which is the best fit. Which network has the most eyeballs ready to consume your main topic of interest?
Pros: It puts your content in front of potentially huge audiences and it’s very easy to use.
Cons: You don’t have much input into how your journal looks although you can buy basic templates.
Verdict: If your interest is matched by a LiveJournal community, it can be a great way to get a big audience talking about your content.
Medium is beautiful, simple and you can get a blog up and running in a few minutes.
It functions alongside Twitter and it keeps track of who you follow and who follows you if they are also using the Medium platform.
It uses Twitter to give you a ready made audience when you begin.
You can’t place adverts on Medium.
Pros: It has very similar tools to SquareSpace but it’s much easier to use.
Cons: Doesn’t allow for ads.
Verdict: Simple to use and beautiful to look at.
Tagline: Publish a beautiful blog online in seconds.
Pen.io is another mimimalist blogging platform. It has a lovely, clean look which Pen.io say is designed to allow you to write without destractions.
Pen.io doesn’t ask for your email address as it tries to make users as anonymous as possible.
Pen.io doesn’t support Ads.
Pros: A lightweight breath of fresh air. If you love Zen Habits you’ll adore Pen.io
Cons: As a trade off for not taking your email address, you rely heavily on your password. If you forget it, there is no way for you to ever access your Pen.io page again.
Verdict: An oasis of calm in a noisy internet.
Tagline: The easiest way to blog.
Postach.io is unique in that it changes an Evernote notebook into a blog. You just connect it up, tag the entries that you want to publish and Postach.io does the rest.
Postach.io costs $9 per month for up to ten sites and five authors, or $90 per year with two free months.
It’s a hosted-only platform, but also keeps everything beautifully simple. You keep control of your own content.
Pros: Easy to use, setup and maintain.
Cons: The options are limited and it’s a bit strange working out of Evernote
Verdict: If you love Evernote then you’ll love Postach.io
Tagline: Blogging for minimalists.
Postagon’s focus is creating a simple, clean blog for you in a few seconds. And the result is a beautiful minimalist blog. It offers RSS feeds, social sharing, cross-browser editing and more.
Postagon offers a single theme and the options for customization are fairly limited. You can change the images but can’t alter it much beyond that. It does work well both on desktop pc’s and mobiles.
See the demo here.
You can try it out for free. To access all of the features it’s $4.99 per month.
Pros: Lots of features included with minimal setup to get blogging
Cons: Limited customization, no mobile app and no new features recently.
Verdict: Great if you want an easy set up but limited when it comes to putting your own stamp on it.
Tagline: Easy, simple blogs for $5/mo, forever.
If you’ve spent a lot of time setting up and maintaining a blog which disappears due to buyouts of shut downs, then Posthaven is your new BFF.
Remember Posterous? Posturous was bought out by Twitter and then taken offline. Posthaven rose like a phoenix from the ashes.
Posthaven costs $5 per month to set up your blog. It’s fairly basic and doesn’t offer a raft of features and has a rather unusual way of posting. Posthaven say “email us your post – attach photos, music, video, and docs. We reply with your new post.”
Ideal if you don’t want full control. A nightmare if you do.
Pros: Posthaven vows that it will still be here for ever.
Cons: Very basic, not offering features that other services offer already.
Verdict: A good choice if you’ve already experienced losing a blog and you don’t want to repeat the experience.
Tagline: The best answer to any question.
If you were making a list of free blogging platforms, I’ll bet you wouldn’t include Quora. However, if you’re passionate about writing, sharing, learning and improving your authority on the Interwebz, then Quora is a great choice.
It’s primarily a social network. People ask questions and throw them out to the community who answer – and upvote the best responses. It’s like Reddit’s posh cousin.
Quora doesn’t have any adverts so if you want to make any money from it, you will have to use it as a tool to drive traffic to your main website or blog.
Design is not a priority on Quora which can be a downside if you like to create your own space – but a bonus ifyou just want to get on with answering questions.
Pros: An amazing tool to increase your visibility and site authority.
Cons: To see any ROI, you’d need to spend a fair chunk of time answering questions on Quora.
Verdict: A great add-on for your blog or website that not many people think of.
Not a blog but a phenomenon on Twitter where people share their favorite quote of an article in a screenshot to avoid Twitter’s character count.
The name was coined by BuzzFeed’s Mat Honan.
Almost every celebrity under 40 that you can possibly think of has probably made a screenshort blog post, like this beauty from Pink.
You might be surprised that I’ve included this in the list of blogging platforms.
However, if you want to get your message out and up your profile, screenshorting is becoming an increasingly popular method of doing just that.
If you want the easiest way to share your content, write in the notes app on your phone and share it on Twitter.
Pros: Easy to do and no setup required
Cons: It’s not a real blog.
Verdict: Screenshorts are a legitimate way to blog, but not an authority or evergreen one.
Tagline: Lean, beautiful and distraction free blogging.
Another stunning platform out of the “Wow – look how well Zen Habits is doing” stable.
This really is a lovely platform which is beautifully designed.
It’s not free – $29.99 per year – but if you want a gorgeous blog that just allows you to get on and write, go and check it out.
It’s hosted with useful feature such as email subscriptions and support for custom domains.
It also features syntax highlighting for developers.
What is Syntax Highlighting?
Syntax highlighting is a standard feature of most modern text editors and development environments. It displays text (especially source code) in different colors and fonts to make it easier for the programmer to distinguish between keywords, punctuation and names.
Pros: Beautifully designed and easy to use.
Cons: Limited design options and it’s only available as hosted.
Verdict: An amazing, independent blogging platform that’s well developed and easy to use. It’s a good alternative to mainstream choices.
Tagline: Build it Beautiful
I have to confess – I think I’m in love.
I challenge you to go and look at SquareSpace’s Home Page. It’s ok – I’ll wait. Come back and tell me what you think.
Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? I’m a diehard Elegant Themes fan but this one had me considering a swap or starting another blog just to use the total yumminess of SquareSpace.
They offer a 14 day free trial. Then it’s $8 per month for the personal plan, $18 for Business and $26 for Commerce – but oh boy, do you get what you pay for. And you get a free domain name with your first annual plan ($20 per year after that).
SquareSpace is a complete CMS (Content Management System). The high quality of the template designs is just off the scale and it’s mobile ready.
And they’re integrated with Getty Images and have a library of over 40 million images you can use.
Pros: Stunningly beautiful like a high end, glossy magazine. It looks and feels professional straight out of the box.
Cons: None that I’m aware of. If you know of any…
Tagline: A blogging platform designed to make you think.
Svbtle has the general feel of Ghost or Medium but it supports the process of writing by allowing you to curate ideas and keep a large amount of information in draft.
It also piggybacks Twitter but the simple design makes it less elegant.
There is a minimal monthly fee for Svbtle and you need to enter your credit card details to trial it.
Because Svbtle is so minimalistic you won’t be able to do much customization or ad enabling.
Pros: Beautifully simple writing interface.
Cons: Having to use your credit card to try it out.
Verdict: Not much opportunity for customizing.
Tagline: The best GitHub writing platform.
GitHub offers free website hosting for every user. Tinypress makes it easy to get an open-source blog set up quickly.
TinyPress has a simple editing interface, customizable themes, a full Markdown/HTML editor and an Android app. If you’re familiar with GitHub, you can download your blog and then edit it in your favorite text editor.
You don’t need a custom domain to use Tinypress, because GitHub gives you a free sub-domain for you.
Pros: Developer friendly, easy to use and free
Cons: If you’re not familiar with GitHub, it could be a challenge.
Verdict: A simple, free blog that is completely customizable.
Tagline: Follow the blogs you’ve been hearing about. Share the things you love.
Tumblr is a hugely popular social network which concentrates on lightining fast content sharing.
It’s perfect for visuals: image, videos, quotes and short written entries. The emphasis is on fast so it you like to take your time, it’s best avoided.
You can tweak your chosen Tumblr theme to include Ads such as AdSense.
Once you’ve got the hang of it, Tumblr makes it easy to post new content. Be prepared to spend some time finding your way around it so that you can set it up to suit your style or brand.
If you’re targeting Millenials (and who isn’t?) then Tumblr is for you. It’s uber friendly with mobile devices.
Pros: It’s simple, flexible and fun.
Cons: Takes a while to get used to how it works and how to use it.
Verdict: Perfect for fast sharing – if you have a blog that’s heavily into visuals, it’s a must-have add on.
WordPress and WordPress…
that’s WordPress.com and WordPress.org
People who don’t use WordPress love to criticize it. People who use it – just love it.
If you’re not familiar with WordPress, it can be confusing because when someone says “WordPress” they usually mean WordPress.org
Here’s an infographic to show you the main differences between the two.
If you’d like to share it on your own website or blog, please feel free. The embed code is at the bottom of the page, under the Author Bio box.
Pros: WordPress.org gives you the most flexibility and you can use your own domain name.
Cons: It can take a while to get used to the WP inferface.
Verdict: For my money, WordPress.org is the only blogging platform.
Which Blogging Platform is the Right one for You?
Make a checklist of the blogging platform aspects that are non negotiable and the goal of your blog.
Do a lot of looking and reading before you make your choice.
Wherever possible, try out a working demo or a free trial. If you can’t do that, go and look at existing blogs that have been built on that platform.
Don’t get destracted by ‘shiny things’ – stay focused on your list.
Don’t forget that you can use more than one at a time. For instance, you might have your main blog on WordPress but also run one on LinkedIn, Tumblr and Quora.
Read the T’s and C’s of the platform. Most have a cooling off period which means that if you decide it’s not for you, you can bail and get your money back. The cooling off period is usually 30 days but do check your platform of choice to be sure.
Most of all – have fun choosing. I’d love to hear how you get on and what influenced your final choice.
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