It’s January – the year is still fresh and people are still setting goals and making up resolutions. And one of those resolutions might be to start a blog in 2020. And why not? It’s a lot of fun, and you can start blogging about pretty much anything.
But can you start a blog for free?
Let’s face it, it can get expensive, and there are a lot of glamourous websites out there that will tell you to spend a lot of money. But not all of us have that sort of money to burn when we’re just starting out or doing this as a hobby. It’s easy to see the value when blogging is your job, but if you’re just beginning? You’re going to make missteps and mistakes and it is just too easy to burn your money on things that don’t work for you.
I’ve been blogging for a while now, so I thought I’d help out those newbie bloggers (or the more experienced bloggers who are looking to up their game) by compiling a list of resources to get them started.
Because this is about blogging on a budget, everything on this list is free or only costs a couple dollars.
Consider Purchasing a Domain
If you decide to spend money on anything regarding your blog, let it be the domain name. Not only does it make you look more professional in your social media bios and the like, but if you use your name, or you have a blog title you are particularly attached to, it might be a good idea to purchase it so no one else can snatch it up first.
Once you’ve purchased your domain, you can set it up to redirect to your blog so you can use whichever free blogging site you like most.
You don’t have to worry about purchasing a fancy plan from a specific provider. The plans typically come with a whole host of extra features and that means they’re going to cost more. But a simple dot com domain is a fraction of the price.
Always keep in mind that there are additional fees when purchasing a domain! You are probably going to want to purchase some privacy protection which is not built into the cost. A domain might run you $15 to $20 a year but the privacy protection will be an additional cost on top of that (which usually ends up being an additional $10 to $15 per year you own the domain).
A few places I’d recommend if you’re interested in purchasing a domain are:
- Weebly – This is if you use Weebly as your blogging platform. I’m not sure it can be redirected to a non-Weebly website
- WordPress – Much like Weebly, this is if you use WordPress as your blogging platform. It costs about $18/year for a domain purchased through WordPress. I’ve used this for many years, though I don’t think it can be used with a non-WordPress blog.
Free Blogging Websites
If you were new to the blogging scene, or interested in a little change without spending a lot of money, I’ve got a list here of all the places you can start a blog without spending a dime. All it’ll cost is a bit of time to set up an account.
My Recommendation: WordPress
This is my platform of choice. It has lots of amazing free themes and a really robust builder. It’s also got lots of fun features for your blog posts. It really offers you a ton of flexibility before you pay a dime. The trade-off is that it’s definitely not as user-friendly as some of the other websites listed here.
Note: None of these are self-hosted. This means you are not in control, and if Wix, for example, were to shut down tomorrow, your blog would disappear. Take care, and backup your content often. Self-hosting is always an option, but it is a lot more expensive!
Graphics & Fonts
If you want to create a logo or add some design flourishes to your blog, you’re going to want to look for some cool graphics and fonts. I have listed below a bunch of sites full of beautiful and free fonts, but I also have a few graphic markets where you can purchase fonts, textures, illustrations and the like and you won’t break the bank! Some of the graphics on those websites cost as little as $1!
You might notice that every blog you go to – every website, for that matter, uses images. Clean, glossy professional photographs that really enhance their content. And unless you happen to have a very expensive camera lying around a lot of time to learn how to use it, you wouldn’t normally have access to that sort of thing.
And the honest truth is that your blog needs images. It doesn’t need a ton, of course, but images make it look more professional, help set your tone and build your brand. They’re eye-catching and all but necessary for social media. They tell readers what the content is about before they even read the title.
There are a lot of amazing, high-quality stock shops out there, but they are also expensive. I’ve found (and regularly use) a few websites where you can find amazing, professional-looking stock photography for free!
All of the sites listed below have completely free stock photos ready for you to download and use. No free trials, or paywalls, and all of them have, in my humble opinion, a very high level of quality – lots of nice photos on these websites.
Note: Always remember to check the terms and conditions!
Before you slap those glossy stock photos all over the internet, you might want to consider learning your way around a photo editor. Not only can you easily customize dimensions for various social media platforms, but you can create a ‘look’ for your blog. Many of these have certain features locked behind subscription plans, but I’ve tested out most of the free options and they work great!
My Recommendation: Canva
I recently started using Canva to make images for my blog and for Pinterest and I really love how versatile and easy to use it is, even without a subscription. The templates are awesome, and you have access to a ton of fonts, even on the free plan. I would absolutely recommend Canva!
These are just a few of the images I’ve made using Canva to promote my blog on social media but also to create a ‘brand’. I’m using the same sorts of styles and colours so they all ‘go together’.
- Adobe Photoshop – the Adobe Suite does require a monthly subscription, but if you sign up for an account you can download Photoshop CS2 for free! It’s a bit old at this point, but it’s still a really powerful photo editor, especially if you’re just starting out.
Maybe this is getting into blogging 201 here, but as you may have heard if you’ve done any research into a starting a blog (and trying to earn money with it), of this thing called an email list. In case you’re unaware, an email list is exactly that – someone gives you their email so you have the ability to email your new subscribers early blog posts, behind the scenes, free stuff, product releases, etc. And the reason it is so important is because it is a direct line of communication between you and your ideal audience.
Email marketing is expensive, but thankfully there are a lot of websites that offer free plans up to a certain subscriber count and/or monthly email limit.
- Mailchimp – Far and away the most popular, and if you’re a WordPress user reading this article on WordPress, I would highly recommend it as it is fairly easy to integrate into a WordPress.com blog. And you get landing pages!
The next logical addition to your blog after you get email marketing set up is to create a landing page and offer up your lead magnet. If you’re not sure what a lead magnet is, it’s the thing you offer in exchange for an email. If you’re a food blogger it might be a recipe. If you’re an author it might be a short story.
There are a lot of paid resources out there, but I was able to scrounge around for some free options:
- Convertkit – Their email marketing services are paid only, but they have recently started offering free landing pages!
Keywords & SEO
Going even deeper down the rabbit hole, there are some SEO and keyword tools that I habitually turn to. I’m not made of money, of course, so I’ve hunted down what I think are some excellent resources that won’t cost you anything and can help you dip your toes into the SEO game.
What is SEO? What are Keywords?
I’m no expert, but I can at least provide a simple explanation. SEO is Search Engine Optimization – it involves a whole bunch of things, but it’s basically what determines your ranking in a search engine, like Google. If you want organic traffic, it’s important to be higher up in the ranks so you appear nearest the top of the search results, because those typically get the most clicks. Your keywords are your search terms – the things people are typing into that search engine. You want your website to rank for those keywords so that people can find you more easily.
SEO is a bit tricky, but keywords are actually fairly easy to incorporate, especially if you have a niche. But you’ll need to figure out which keywords you want your blog to rank for.
Some of these have premium plans but allow for a set number of searches per day. Use them wisely!
Note: Google Search Console and Analytics may not work if you don’t own a domain. If my research is correct, that should not be an issue with free WordPress and Blogger accounts. If you’re interested in integrating either of these SEO tools, I’d do some research with your preferred blogging platform.
Nothing irks me more when I’m reading a blog post than catching an error or typo. It immediately makes the post seem rushed and unprofessional. I implore you, no matter how excited you are about churning out those blog posts, to give them a little time and attention. And that means editing.
I run mine through several rounds of edits, and I know I still miss things. So I use a couple free tools online to give my posts the final polish before I send them out the door:
- Hemmingway – Amazing for readability and it can point out confusing or run-on sentences
- Grammarly – A super handy grammar and punctuation checker that you can install into Google Chrome
Social Media Management
Once you’ve got your blog set up, your images in order and your posts ready, you’re going to need to get the word out there. The easiest way to do this is with social media – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. You can log in every day and try to promote your blog, but that’s not feasible for everyone.
Enter the social media management tools. With these, you can schedule your posts or tweets with all the relevant links and images well in advance, so you don’t have to worry about jumping in every day to do it yourself.
There are a lot of paid tools out there for this, and unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything free that worked with Pinterest, but I did find a couple of others that work with Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Check ’em out!
Are you starting a blog in 2020?
Did you find any of these resources helpful? Have any budget resources to add to the list? Let me know what you’re blogging goals are for 2020 in the comments below!