5 steps to starting your own blog for FREE

June 18, 2019

Start a blog for free

So, you’re thinking about starting a blog, but the idea of you making it as a fulltime blogger is too strange, isn’t it? You might want to first dip your toe in the blogging waters and check the temperature, just in case it isn’t what you were hoping it would be. And because of that, you don’t really want to spend all the money the pros are suggesting in order to get started, do you? Fear not! I have the answer for you! In this article, I’m going to show you how to start a blog for free, and you’ll learn the pros and cons that come with it, because yes, there are some cons. At the end and to top it all out, I’ll give you a small recommendation of where you might want to spend your first bucks, to have a better more pro-like blog, but for now, let’s get started.

1. Picking the niche and the name

I’m not going to tell you how to do that, if you want to blog, odds are you already have the itch to write about something, and trust me, there is nothing you can’t blog about. In fact, if you think it’s too crazy to blog about, you might be on to a new niche. In which case you might want to search for the keywords you think your readers might use to find you in Google. See what you get out of it. Use Google Keyword Planner, like I explained in this article. You can even check out Google Trends for your keyword and see if interest is picking up or down on it. Once you have your niche, you’d want to pick the name for your blog. It can be anything, just make sure it’s somewhat related to your topic. If you make it too personal, people might want to stay away because they’d feel like you’re trying to share your own mind about only what you care about and if you make it sound too professional, potential readers might not think it’s their cup of tea. There is a small fine line you need to ride there. The Blog Names Generator can help you come up with ideas, they’re quite fun to read actually. Even if you don’t like any of their suggestions, you might find some unexpected inspiration for your actual name. Give it a try!

Once you have your name and niche, let’s move on to finding a place to host your posts.

2. Find your free hosting

Let this be the first thing you read about going with a free hosting plan: there is only one company I’ve found that allows you to set up your domain name for your free plan. The rest will require you to jump to some kind of paying plan in order to make it work, that’s plain and simple.

Going fully free but with potential for a cheap domain in the near future

If you care about having a domain name and you still want to keep expenses to a minimum, I would suggest going with Github pages. In case you haven’t heard of them (and why would you if you’re not a coder?), Github is a platform where software developers can share their work either in public for others to read and maybe contribute to, or privately, for particular projects that require team interaction but can’t be shared to the public. Github Pages though, are simply static pages they provide you to host information about your projects. They have pre-made templates which you can customize and upload in order to have them published.

The only downside to using this approach is that you’ll have to learn how to code HTML and CSS (and maybe even a little bit of JavaScript on the side). If you already know how to do that, then you’re all set, but if you don’t, I would suggest looking for some online tutorials (or their online documents). They’re not difficult technologies and you only need to learn enough to customize the little bits you need, otherwise, you’re good with Markdown. This might be a bit scary for non-technical folks, but you can think of it as learning a new skill, and the best part is: once you’re comfortable using CSS and HTML, the degree of customization you can add has no limits.

By default, Github gives you a domain that looks like this: yourusername.github.io but you can customize it if you’re willing to buy a domain name (more on that in a second).

With other free platforms, you’re limited, either by the things you can change, or the ads you need to display, or even the slow response times you can get. This platform, however, provides you with everything, as long as you’re willing to learn.

Full disclosure: I use Github Pages for this blog and you can see its code here

Going free but with an easier entry barrier

Maybe learning how to code is not your thing, so in that case, you’ll need to use one of the blogging platforms out there. And when it comes to blogging platforms, especially paid ones, why would you not want to go with WordPress? That’s the real question. They provide you with everything you need and there is an amazing community building themes and plugins for them.

Again, you need to pay if you want to have, at least, a custom domain name. If even so, the basic plan, which is just USD 3 a month, you can have a .blog domain, not a custom one though. Granted, considering you’re thinking about creating a blog, that’s actually quite neat. But then again, with the basic plan, you’re missing out on a lot of features. Check out their pricing page to understand what your options are.

But consider this, if you didn’t care about the domain name for the time being, going with the previous fully free option would give you more customization options than WordPress’ free plan.

There are other options where if you’re willing you pay, you can get some great perks, but I feel like WordPress is the place to go when paying. Anyway, now that you’ve picked your hosting place, it’s time to set up a theme.

3. Setup the theme

Setting up a theme is very important because readers will likely judge your content from the way it looks during the first few seconds. If you manage to not disgust them fast enough for them to stay for that time, you can use your charming words to keep them coming back. Picking the right theme can take a while, in my experience, somewhere between a few hours and a few days. You need to test some of them out (most of them have a preview option) until you’re happy with one.

This is again one of those cases where going totally free can be a pain. Paying for themes can be considered an investment since it’ll impact the reading behavior of your visitors. But then again, you can start with a free one without worrying too much. Once you’re ready, you’ll want to maximize your odds and you’ll probably want to spend the money.

Be it as it might be, if you’re going with the free option, free themes can be found at https://jekyllthemes.io/free. If on the other side, you’re working with WordPress there are way too many sources, you might be better off directly Googling for “Free Wordpress plugins”, but that being said, you can check out https://colorlib.com/wp/free-wordpress-themes/

4. Write and Publish

Easy right? Just write and publish, what’s so hard about that? Well, the key here is not just writing and hitting the publish button, but rather creating content your readers will want to read about and doing it in a consistent manner. There are a few things you can do in this area in order to help you achieve those levels, I did write about some options here. That being said, there are some quick tips I can leave you with right here as well.

Checking your writing

Although not the only part of your articles you should focus on, tools such as Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid will help you check out things like your grammar, the syntax, they even allow you to verify if your intention with the article is accomplished (i.e are you trying to provide a formal, informative piece? Or a laid back, opinionated one?). Now, bear in mind, those tools are free to try, but you have to pay for them if you want to have access to their entire set of features. Their free tiers are actually quite useful for the beginner blogger, so don’t worry about that right now, just give them a try and tell me what you thought in the comments, would you?

Minding the headline

There are many different opinions when it comes to what makes a great headline. Some people recommend it to be short and preferably start with a number, others think a long headline, with power words, makes more sense. Either way, there is no silver bullet, you’re actually better off knowing about them all and testing them by yourself. For example, ShareThrough’s Headline Analyzer will analyze your headline and give you a score from 1 to 100, the higher the better, and based on the score and the content of your headline, it’ll give you some suggestions on what to improve. I’ve personally used that tool in the past, and the final title for my posts end up being a lot more eye-catching than they were before. If that actually affects my traffic, that’s still something I trying to determine. There are others who suggest using a formula for your headlines, such as having a number (ideally an Odd number), then your main keywords and end it with a word (or words) that suggest urgency, such as “right now!” or “can’t miss it!”. For example, what would you say if when looking for “best blogging tools” in Google, you read one link saying “Best tools for all your blogging needs” and then, right below it, something like “5 amazing blogging tools to help you avoid newbie mistakes!”. Which one would you click on?

5. Indexing your blog so others can find it

Because it’s not just about writing and publishing, if that’s all you do, Google (and the other search engines) will only find your articles once readers start linking to them in other places. That’s what is known as backlinking and it is great because that’ll let the search engines know your site is trusted by others. The problem? That can take a lot of time, sadly not everyone who reads and likes your content will take the time to share it, and even if they did, they might do so to their only 3 Twitter followers.

So instead, you want to take action, and make sure Search Engines know about you, even before your readers do. The ones I would suggest you aim for first would be:

  • Google: Check out their Search Engine Console. You’ll need a sitemap for this though. If you’re going with Github pages, you can check out Jekyll’s Sitemap plugin for information on how to install it. If you’re on WordPress though, check out this article on how to do it.
  • Bing: Yes, I said Bing, it might not be Google, but it’s still one of the most known search engines out there and defaulted by some browsers, so it won’t hurt you to index your site in there (hey, it’s free anyway!). In order to do this, you’ll need to visit Bing’s Webmaster tools and follow a similar set of steps as for Google. Again, you’ll need a sitemap for this too, so make sure you followed the steps mentioned above.
  • Pinterest: Finally, make sure you’re pinning your content in Pinterest.com. Although many uninitiated to the art of blogging might consider it a place for artists-wannabe and DIY lovers, Pinterest is actually an amazing search engine and a fantastic source of traffic for blogs. Make sure you sign-up and set up your business account (so you can get free analytics!) and start pinning your site and blog posts right away!. For the purposes of this, I’ll just link one particular article here but I would recommend doing a quick search for “Pinterest marketing strategies for bloggers” or something like that. You’ll get tons of ideas and fantastic advice.

Extra step: spend some money and get a domain name

So far, you’ve set up your hosting, added a theme, managed to write and publish your blog posts and you even indexed your blog and its posts into the major search engines. All of that for USD 0, you’ve spent no money and you’re feeling great! What now? Well, the only problem I can see with your play-it-safe technique is that your readers need to type something like yourblogname.wordpres.com or yourusername .github.io. That may or may not be a big deal to you, but considering you can get a domain name for something around USD 12 / year. Yeah, you read that right, getting a domain name is pretty cheap, and if you went with the GitHub Page option, you can configure your domain name with your free blog in a few steps.

If on the other hand, you went with WordPress, you’ll have to improve your plan, either into a basic Blogger plan which translates into USD 3 / month + around USD 10 / year (for a .blog domain) or USD 5 / month + around USD 12 / year (for a .com domain)

Closing thoughts

That’s it, I hope I managed to give you all the tools you need to start blogging without making a big investment! My personal recommendation though, if you care about it, would be to bite the bullet and go with the GitHub Pages option, learning some HTML / CSS and JavaScript on the way there. It’ll give you more flexibility and you can always migrate into something more robust if your blog takes off.

Have you started blogging like this? What was your experience like? Please feel free to leave a comment below and share your experience with others!

See you on the next one!

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Starting a blog for free is possible, there are limitations though, but you can get your work published without spending a single penny.