So you’ve decided to start a blog, yay! Blogging is such an awesome way to make friends, indulge in your passions and even make money from those passions!
But you’re on a serious budget and you have ZERO to little money to start, right?
Lucky you found this guide my friend, because I’m going to help you start a blog and design it as cheaply as possible.
How to Start a Blog
This is the beginning of a series on how to start a lovely blog on the cheap. Here are the 3 parts we’ll cover in this series:
00 How to Choose a Profitable Blog Topic and Target Audience + Free Workbook (NEW!)
01 How to Choose a Blogging Platform (today’s topic)
02 How to Start a Blog in 15 Minutes or Less
03 Fill Out Your New Blog Content
How to Choose a Blogging Platform
There are tons of blogging platform options out there and thankfully many are cheap or even free. Yes! Today we’ll talk about some of the more popular options:
With the exception of WordPress.org (the self-hosted version), all of the options covered here are hosted on the providers’ servers, which means you do not have to purchase a separate hosting plan to start a blog there.
But first let’s determine what kind of blogger you are!
New! Take the Quiz to See Which Platform is Your Best Match!
Do one or more of the following statements apply to you?
- You have never had a blog before and you want to give it a try.
- You have no interest in blogging for profit, you’re just looking to journal your life or collect some thoughts, images or favorite things and maybe share it with a few friends.
If you’ve identified with one or more of the previous statements, then a totally free blogging platform is perfect for you. Those options are: WordPress.com, Tumblr and Blogger.
If you didn’t identify with the previous statements,
Do one or more of these following statements apply to you?
- You’re starting your very first blog from scratch but you already have a pretty good idea of what you want to offer the world with your blog.
- You have a blog already but it’s time to ditch the amateur blog and turn this baby into a business.
- You know your business needs a professional looking blog.
If you fall into one of these scenarios or something like it, then you’re definitely ready for a “blog on a budget.” Those platforms include: Blogger, Weebly, Wix, Squarespace and self-hosted WordPress.org. You can skip directly to that section here. Otherwise…
We’ll start with the truly free options, ones where you can just sign up for an account and get going right away. As you would imagine, there are limitations to these platforms: you get what you pay for. But depending on your reasons and your goals for blogging, these may not necessarily be bad options for you. Most also have upgrade plans where you can get more functionality or server space for a price.
Next we’ll move on to a few blogging options that you’ll have to spend some money on at the outset, but still fit into a pretty low budget. These options are usually more robust and feature-rich.
I’ll outline the pros and cons of each platform below as well as tell you which kind of blogger I believe each platform is best for.
But first, check out the quick infographic I created below comparing the platforms. And please share it if you so feel inclined 🙂
How to Start a (lovely) Blog for Free
These platforms are perfect for testing the waters. They’re great for first blogs, blogs for fun, and for those who aren’t quite sure if they’re going to stick with it or not.
As you may or may not know, there are actually two versions of WordPress: the hosted WordPress.COM and self-hosted WordPress blogs (aka WordPress.ORG). They’re both technically free, but right now we’re talking about the former, the one where you can go to www.WordPress.com and sign up for an account and start blogging right away for free. No hosting or installation required.
- You can get started totally for free.
- There is free community support.
With the totally free version…
- you only get a crappy URL like myblogname.wordpress.com (as opposed to the more SEO-friendly www.myblogname.com )
- you only get 3GB of storage (that’s for ALL your content including photos and videos).
- WordPress will place ads on your blog that you have no control over.
- you won’t be able to put your own ads on your blog.
- you won’t have access to the hundreds of thousands of plugins that are available for self-hosted WordPress blogs.
- theme selection is limited and not too great.
- you’re limited by the terms in that you may not be able to run giveaways or link parties.
- you cannot customize your design because you do not have access to your CSS.
Start Up Cost:
Free for 3GB of storage.
$2.99/mo Boost your website with a custom domain name, and remove all WordPress.com advertising. Get access to high quality email and live chat support. 6GB of storage.
$8.25/mo Build a unique website with advanced design tools, CSS editing, lots of space for audio and video, and the ability to monetize your site with ads. 13GB of storage.
$24.92/mo Power your business website with unlimited premium and business theme templates, Google Analytics support, unlimited storage, and the ability to remove WordPress.com branding. Unlimited storage.
Important: If you never upgrade to a custom domain and you later decide to transfer to another blogging platform, like a self-hosted blog, you’ll have to pay $13/year to redirect your myblogname.wordpress.com domain to your new blog.
This could be an extra annual expense if you decide to move your blog in the future!
WordPress.com is best for online journals and hobby bloggers that don’t ever plan to monetize their blogs. Also good for first time bloggers wanting to test out blogging.
My Personal Opinion:
If you go with the upgrades, this ends up being a fairly expensive option. I think you can get much more for the value out of some of the other options below.
If you even have the slightest plans to turn your blog into a business in the future, Don’t Do It. Just don’t. I’ve heard way too many people say they’ve regretted going with WordPress.com so do yourself a favor and just stay away from it. There are better options. Read on…
Tumblr is a micro-blogging platform, which means it’s kind of a cross between Twitter and a WordPress.com blog. Most posts are very short and just have either an image, a video or a short blurb. No long-form posts here. This is how Tumblr describes it:
We made it really, really simple for people to make a blog and put whatever they want on it. Stories, photos, GIFs, TV shows, links, quips, dumb jokes, smart jokes, Spotify tracks, mp3s, videos, fashion, art, deep stuff. Tumblr is 238 million different blogs, filled with literally whatever.”
- It’s free.
- It’s cool and simple to use.
- It has plenty of beautiful themes.
- You can direct a custom domain to your Tumblr for free.
- You can’t import posts into it and you can’t export posts OUT of it. That’s a BIG deal when you decide in the future that it’s time to go get yourself a big-girl blog.
- No comments at all, just likes. That kinda sucks if you want to create community and connection with your audience.
Start Up Cost:
If you’d like, you can purchase a domain name from a registrar like Namecheap* and direct it to your blog. The cost of a domain is between $4-40/year. Here’s how to setup a custom domain name for Tumblr.
You can also purchase templates for Tumblr and those run about $30 on average. Find some great Tumblr templates at Theme Forest.*
Tumblr is best for hobby-blogging, collecting your favorite things, etc. It’s not at all a platform for serious, i-want-to-build-a-business blogging.
Blogger (aka Blogspot) is another platform that’s super easy to get going on right away. It’s owned by Google so to get started you just sign in to your Google account, create a new blog, and you’re off and running.
Here are Blogger’s Pros and Cons if you decide to go completely free:
- It’s super simple to get started. You can be up and blogging in 10 minutes or less.
- You can customize it as much as you want with the built-in template editor or via HTML and CSS.
- There are lots of beautiful templates out there, both free and premium. You just have to look. Please don’t use one of their defaults!
- You can easily export your posts and comments should you decide to move to a different platform later on.
- You get a crappy domain like myblogname.blogspot.com that’s difficult to remember or type in.
- The free templates are just plain ugly.
- You don’t technically own your blog so Google can decide to shut it down at any time without warning. This has happened to people I know and is not as rare as you would think. If you decide to use Blogger, be sure to do backups regularly.
Start Up Cost:
- $4-40/year for a custom domain* that you can direct to your blog.
- $10-100 for a premium template.
Totally free Blogger is best for those who want to try their hand at blogging and/or don’t have money to invest into a blog initially. It’s also best for those who have difficulty or no interest with the technical aspects of a blog or website.
But Blogger can also be used as a more professional option too. I’ll talk a bit more about that in the next section.
How to Start a (lovely) Blog on a Budget
Here are some popular options for creating a more professional blog for profit.
Wait. Didn’t we just talk about Blogger already? Yes, yes we did, but Blogger fits under both the free and budget blog categories and here’s why…
Yes, you can totally blog for free on Blogger if you want, but you can also spend a little bit of money to make it into a more professional blog. Here are some costs to consider:
Get your own domain and point it to your blogname.blogspot.com blog. Having your own domain makes it easy for people to remember and type in. Plus it just looks more professional. Here’s where you can get cheap (sic) domains: NameCheap.com.*
Get an attractive premium template. While it’s true you can get free Blogger templates all over the internet, a lot of them are just downright ugly. You should consider getting a nicely-coded professional template. There are tons of gorgeous templates out there that you can buy on Etsy and other various designer websites. Just do a Google search for Premium Blogger Templates.
In addition to those mentioned above…
- Blogger is owned by Google. That’s good for SEO, yay!
- It’s pretty easy to figure out the dashboard.
- Blogger is owned by Google. That can also be bad because I’ve seen people’s blogs get taken down for no good reason at all and with NO warning. When you don’t actually own your site, you have no control over what happens to it.
- Editing the code can be more complex than editing the code in a self-hosted WordPress blog, so customization can be a little more cumbersome depending on what you want to do.
- Blogger is not known as an e-commerce platform, so if you plan to create a shop straight off your site, it may not be so simple to do so. If you just plan on using Etsy or the like as your shop, that’ll work but remember that you will be sending traffic away from your own site.
You can also add a Shopify button to your Blogger website but that entails also purchasing the Shopify platform.
Start Up Cost:
$4-40/year for a custom domain* that you can direct to your blog.
$10-100 for a premium template.
Non-amateur bloggers who don’t need all the bells and whistles but want to easily customize colors and fonts via a dashboard instead of CSS.
Weebly is a website and blogging platform that’s easy to use but can be very limited compared to other options listed here in this post. There is a free version you can start with but it’s so much more limited compared to Blogger that I wouldn’t even consider it.
- Unlimited pages.
- Drag and drop page builder.
- e-commerce included: up to 5 items on the free version.
- e-commerce solution is very limited unless you upgrade to the $25/month plan.
- No favicon with free version.
- Weebly ads and link not removable with free version.
- No ability to add video/audio players with free version.
- No ability to search site on free version.
- Editing HTML and CSS is not easy.
Start Up Cost:
Free for 500MB of storage. No ability to add e-commerce.
$8/month for a custom domain (one year), customizable footer, unlimited storage
$12/month for the above plus a slider, video/audio players, password protected page, site search, unlimited storage
$25-38/month business and performance options also available.
No one really. I just don’t think that it’s worth it with the other options available that I’ve listed.
Wix is a website platform that can be very limiting because it’s more of a website platform than a blogging one. Some templates may not include blogging ability at the outset and would need to be added in.
- Get up and running quickly.
- Drag and drop page builder
- Good tech support.
- Designer-made, responsive (mobile-friendly) templates.
- Beautiful galleries
- Ability to add landing page templates
- Space and bandwidth is severely limited on the free plan.
- Wix ads are shown on your site in free version.
- You cannot change the template once you’ve chosen one. If you do, you must start a whole new site. That’s just wrong.
- Your Wix site and all of its content is hosted exclusively on Wix’s servers, and cannot be transferred elsewhere. Here’s a lengthy tutorial to help you move from Wix to WordPress.
- You can’t access the code because it’s proprietary. So if you need functionality that Wix doesn’t offer, you can’t even hire a developer to program it for you.
Start Up Cost:
Free for 500MB of storage
$4.50/month to connect a domain
$8.50/month for 3GB of storage, free domain and no Wix ads
$12.50/month for 10GB of storage, free domain, no Wix ads and more
Additional upgrade plans available up to $24.50/month.
Personal and family blogs. Those who don’t care to turn their blogs into a business in the future and just want a quick and easy, good-looking solution.
Squarespace is a great option because they have amazing mobile responsive templates that are seriously gorgeous and offer plenty of customizations that don’t require coding knowledge. It comes with an e-commerce solution built in and they also have quick and awesome support from what I hear.
What you should know:
Squarespace has a monthly fee which at the time of this writing starts at $12/mo but that plan is pretty limited:
- You are limited to 20 pages which seems like a lot, but if you want to create multiple landing pages for products and list building, you’ll have to upgrade. I currently have 24 pages on DYOB with more in the works. That includes all my targeted landing pages.
- No access to HTML or CSS.
Squarespace comes integrated with an e-commerce solution and that’s cool, but I’ve heard that it leaves something to be desired. You are limited to using Stripe as your payment provider, so you can’t shop around for the best fees.
- Beautifully designed responsive templates.
- No coding knowledge required.
- Integrated e-commerce solution built in.
- Excellent 24/7 support.
- Importing content from another blogging platform is easy.
- Landing page templates built in.
- Uses a drag and drop page editor.
- You don’t own your blog/site.
- Expensive: can cost more per month/year than basic hosting for WordPress.
- Integrated e-commerce solution only allows for one payment provider. You cannot use PayPal.
- No ability to add any plugin or functionality you want: Very limited in this regard.
- Exporting content to another platform is NOT easy. Squarespace controls your backups. You cannot save your own and the only way to export anything is by exporting them straight to WordPress only. I’ve heard that it won’t export your images, that’s a major bummer!
- Only integrates with MailChimp* out of the box, so it’s much more difficult if you use another email service like Aweber or Constant Contact.
Start Up Cost:
$12/month for free domain, 20 pages, unlimited storage and more
$16/month for unlimited pages, professional email and more
$24 – 40/month for full online stores
Squarespace is best for creatives or bloggers who want a great cutting edge design without a lot of fuss or coding. While it does have some downsides, I think Squarespace is a very good solution as long as the limitations don’t hold you back.
My Personal Opinion
I think it is a bit pricey compared to hosting plans you can get for a self-hosted WordPress blog which can start as low as $3.95/mo.* But I do understand the need for a low maintenance, beautiful blog or website, so I think it’s a strong contender.
Last but not least is WordPress self-hosted. There are reasons why self-hosted WordPress is the most popular blogging platform of choice. If you’ve been blogging a while, are serious about making money, and don’t plan to stop blogging anytime soon, here’s why I highly recommend a self-hosted WordPress blog:
It’s customization options are ENDLESS. Because it’s open source, you have full access to alter the code however you want. If you don’t wish to touch the code, you can still add any functionality you want by installing plugins.
You have access to your CSS so you can customize anything at all in your design. Speaking of customization, I have heard people say that all you get with WordPress are cookie cutter blogs and honestly, that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard!
Those people have obviously not seen the hundreds of thousands of different themes in pretty much any style and/or layout imaginable. So please, don’t let this myth be a reason to not use WordPress because it’s just not true.
E-commerce options for WordPress are great and varied. WooCommerce is the most popular and it’s free for the basic structure. Bonus! It works with almost any payment provider (including PayPal) you choose so you can choose one based on cost and needs.
Of course there are tons of other e-commerce options available to you through WordPress so you have the ability to shop around.
Did you know that 30% of the world’s websites are on WordPress?”
What you should know:
Security: You’ll have to manage your own security with WordPress, which means being diligent about installing security plugins and keeping plugins, themes and the platform updated at all times. You’ll also need to be careful about the themes and plugins you choose to install.
Managed hosting companies specifically for WordPress, like Siteground,* Flywheel and WPEngine, can help you with most of these security issues. They’re a bit more expensive, but can be worth it in the end due to their high security, customer service and fast-loading websites.
Support: WordPress doesn’t have customer support because it’s open source. But because the community is so large, there is a huge forum where you can usually find the answers you’re looking for rather quickly.
Learning Curve: The learning curve can be steep with WordPress. It’s platform may not be intuitive at first to a new blogger, so you may need to spend a little time learning your way around the dashboard. The good news is that once you learn your way around, it makes a whole lotta sense.
WP101* is an awesome library of video tutorials and it’s cheap! It’s $19/mo or $39/year but you can get the first month completely free! If you hustle, you can get all your learning done within those 30 days and not pay a thing 😉
- You own your blog/website and all its content.
- You are free to import or export your content as you please.
- You are not limited to one hosting solution, so you can shop around for best pricing.
- You have full access to all the code and CSS.
- You can add any functionality you want via the hundreds of thousands of free and premium plugins available. There’s literally a plugin for anything you want your blog to do.
- There are plenty of fantastic e-commerce solutions available.
- There are lots of plugins that allow you to fully create and host eCourses on your site.
- There are tons of nice-looking free themes as well as hundreds of thousands of gorgeous premium themes that allow you to customize your blog in pretty much any way you’d like.
- The WordPress community is huge and free and very helpful (and friendly!)
- Because WordPress is so powerful, it can be complex to figure out if you aren’t just a little bit tech savvy. But luckily there are plenty of free and paid courses and tutorials that can help you learn how to use it all over the web.
- You’ll have to pay for hosting every month/year.
- You must buy a domain.
- You will have to manage your own security unless you purchase managed WordPress hosting which can cost more. Luckily there are some really good, free plugins available to help you with this.
- You will need to maintain your blog yourself, which means making sure that everything is updated and backed up. Again, there are plugins available to help you with this.
Start Up Cost:
- Like Blogger, there are plenty of free themes (templates) but you may wish to purchase a premium theme that’s coded well and comes with support. The average cost of a decent theme is about $50 but I’ve seen themes as cheap as $15 and as expensive as $145 (that’s rare though).
- While many plugins for additional functionality are free, there are premium plugins you may wish to purchase depending on your business needs. These can be anywhere from $5 to $100+. We’ll talk more about plugins in Part 2.
But still, you can get started with WordPress for a very low initial investment (and a free theme that’s just fine for starting out with) so don’t let cost be a deterrent for you.
Professional bloggers and solopreneurs: those who want to build an online business selling digital products, e-courses and/or membership sites. You can also install multiple instances of WordPress on most hosting plans so that you can host more than one site. For example, say you want a separate site for your shop or e-course.
My Personal Opinion:
WordPress is so robust that you can literally make it do anything you want. There are virtually no limitations as to what you can do with this platform. There’s a reason it’s the #1 CMS (content management system) in the world. All of my websites and blogs run on WordPress and I don’t think I could have it any other way.
You will need to learn a bit about the technology to make it work for you and it might get a little frustrating at first, but that goes with anything new that you learn. I think in the end, it will be well worth your time investment into your business.
Which Solution is Best for You?
If the thought of learning new technology terrifies you, you might opt for one of the simpler solutions mentioned in the free section. Your budget is certainly a consideration, but don’t let it be the only deciding factor. Again you’ll want to think ahead and not lock yourself into a platform that severely limits what you can do with it or hinders your ability to transfer all your hard work in the future.
Of course, if you’re serious about building an online business, I highly recommend a self-hosted WordPress blog just because it gives you the most options. I have a fear of being pigeon-holed into things so I like the complete control and flexibility that I get with WordPress. My blog is MY blog and I can do whatever I please with it.
I will unabashedly admit here that I am a big fan of WordPress and definitely biased towards it. It’s the platform I know the best and the one I discuss most on DYOB.
If you’re still on the fence and not sure which option to go with, please feel free to ask questions in the comments below and I’ll be happy to help you decide which is best for you. As much as I love WordPress, I know it’s not for every situation.
But if you happen to be convinced that you want to go with self-hosted WordPress, we’ll head on over to Part Two where I’ll walk you through choosing a great domain name (download the free worksheet!) then set up your new blog in about 15 minutes!
Whichever platform you choose, you’re going to want to go to Part 0 😉 How to Choose a Profitable Blog Topic and Target Audience (with another free workbook!) and Part 3: Fill Out Your New Blog Content.
Got questions or your own experiences you’d like to share with a blogging platform? Leave a comment now!
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