Perhaps you’ll agree with this interesting fact:
Blogging in the past used to be a hobby.
Who would ever guess that blogging could be something worth making money from? But that’s the thing these days; people are making blogging their full-time business venture.
Yes, today’s blog posts have the power to generate a sale, by providing valuable information that readers can act upon.
Because of this “blogging for business” phenomenon, several blogging platforms emerged.
But don’t get me wrong, because there are still many aspiring bloggers who look for free blog sites so they can create their own portfolio or just express themselves.
Regardless of your reason for blogging, how do you choose a platform that meets your needs?
Don’t worry because in this blog post, I got you covered.
Read my simple guide today to learn how to select a user-friendly and popular blogging platform.
Aside from my list of preferred blog sites below, you will also find tools and tips to grow your blog.
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
Things to Look for When Choosing a Blogging Platform
Here are basic and most important aspects to check whether a platform is for you. Make sure to consider these 7 points:
Now let’s discuss each point below.
Anyone who wants to start a blog doesn’t need to be an expert.
This is the beauty of blogging:
You and I can set off even with little to no experience.
So in order for you to succeed, you need to work with a blogging platform that’s designed with the beginner in mind.
At the same time, make sure that the platform comes with features and functionalities that take your blogging to the next level.
In today’s mobile world, people expect your blog not only to look great on their desktop screens but also on their smartphones. Google announced that it would rank mobile friendly blogs higher in search results.
The good news is that a lot of blog sites today automatically adjust according to a user’s screen size.
Once you choose a blogging platform for mobile, pay attention to font size and speed. These aspects affect a mobile user’s experience as well.
You may have heard about this factor the first time.
What I actually mean by “versatility” is the ability of a blogging platform to be used by all kinds of bloggers depending on their niche or interest.
For example, a versatile site builder can be used for business purposes, personal portfolios, and their own hobbies.
It is up to you to decide whether you want a free domain hosting or paid one. Maybe you want to start a blog using free hosting until you are able to pay for one.
Here’s the difference between free and paid hosting:
With a free blog, your domain can read like this: yourblog.wordpress.com. On the other hand, paid hosting eliminates the word “wordpress.”
Please take note that “wordpress” in free hosting represents that name of the company that hosted your blog. In that example above, WordPress hosted your blog as opposed to you paying for your own web hosting.
Later in this blog post, I’ll be discussing with you the difference between a free and paid hosting. Perhaps this will help you choose which one to go with.
Does your blogging platform of choice protect you from different kinds of attacks? Does it have a spam blocker to prevent comment spam?
Remember that regardless of the platform you go with, you are vulnerable to malicious attacks if you use a public network when accessing your blog.
Also, check that a platform offers free or paid security plugins which you can install anytime.
Themes and plugins
How would you like your blog to look like? What functions do you want your blog to perform?
The appearance of your blog can be tweaked with different themes, giving it a certain look and feel. People are visual beings which is why it’s not enough for a blog to be all text. A theme allows your blog to have a personality.
On the other hand, plugins make your blog more functional. The first time you use your blog, you cannot expect it to gather email addresses, speed up itself, or check your content for readability and SEO issues. You need dedicated plugins for those functions.
In selecting themes and plugins to install, read their reviews and ratings. Look at how often they are updated. Regular updates help ensure security and eliminate bugs.
If you ever need assistance with technical aspects or anything that relates to managing your blog, you should be able to get help 24/7.
Support comes in different forms. There are blogging platforms that come with discussion forums, PDF guides, and tutorial videos. Some offer phone support and live chat.
Whichever support is available at your disposal, what matters is that you’re able to find the answer to your concern.
Should You Choose a Free or Self-Hosted Platform?
Before you make your final choice on which platform for blogging to use, you should think thoroughly whether to go free or self-hosted (paid).
Earlier, I mentioned that a free website lets you end up with a domain that includes the hosting company’s address. While this option seems to be very attractive, especially to beginner bloggers who want to save money, first know how it differs from the paid option.
Let’s explore the differences below.
Presence of ads
One problem with free hosting is that your blog can be crammed with ads. Not only are ads distracting to your audience; you cannot receive revenue from these ads as well.
Paying for your own hosting lets you enjoy the advantage of a clutter-free, ad-free website. If you want to, you can choose to display ads that you can make money from.
Ease of set-up
Between a free blog and paid one, the free version can be easily set-up by a newbie in minutes. All you need to do is fill out a few forms. You’ll be asked questions such as your blog name, niche, goal, and more.
Take WordPress.com (free blogging platform) as an example:
After setting up your free website, You’re also offered free themes to tweak your blog’s appearance.
When it comes to paid hosting, you’ll need to go through several steps to get things up and running.
Such steps include:
- Choosing and paying a web hosting service – Note that with blogging platforms like Wix and Squarespace lets you upgrade your free hosted blog to a premium one.
- Installing your content management system to your web hosting.
- Downloading essential plugins and themes to customize your blog.
Would you like monetize your blog? If your answer is yes, the last thing you would want is people judging you as less credible.
Using a free blogging platform for your domain is bad for business. I might come off as rude, but yes, going the free route makes you look cheap. Create a professional, unique identity that people will come to trust by paying for hosting services.
Support and assistance
What if your free domain gets hacked? What if you need help with an issue but you cannot find the answer in the free hosting company’s support articles or forums?
The problem with free web hosting is that it provides very limited support for bloggers. Though you can read their resources in their Support section, you won’t be able to avail of the live chat or phone call assistance unless you go premium.
Popular Blogging Platforms Comparison (2018)
|Free or Paid?||Free||Paid||Free and paid plans||Free||Free and paid plans|
|Hosting Service||Free||Get hosting elsewhere||
|Custom Domain Name||
|Get domain elsewhere||
|Is It Newbie-Friendly?||
|Not really, but there are tons of free resources to help you||Takes you around 20 minutes to get used to the platform||
|Depends on your theme||Depends on your theme||
|Depends on your theme|
|Availability of themes||Yes, but only limited to WordPress.com’s collection||
|Availability of Plugins||
I prepared a comparison chart to give you a quick reference of the top 5 blogging platforms in 2018. If you want to explore further what these popular blogging platforms have to offer, as well as their pros and cons, continue reading below.
Best Blogging Platforms in 2018
1. WordPress.com (Free)
The reason why I started with WordPress is that total newbies who are curious to start a blog try this out. All you need to do to get things up and running is to sign-up and answer a few details about the blog you’re building.
WordPress has more than 76.5 million users.
Do not confuse WordPress.com with WordPress.org. Although both are WordPress, WordPress.com gives you free hosting. You don’t have to pay for anything.
Pricing: $0 for life
WordPress.com is a great choice for:
- Bloggers who want to blog at zero cost
- Those who are totally fine with having ads randomly displayed on their blog
- Portfolios (personal art and writing projects)
- Online diary which you’re okay with other people reading
- Very user-friendly for people who want to “test the waters” in blogging
- Does automatic updates
- Choose from free themes
- You can create your blog from your mobile device
- You cannot make money from ads displayed on your blog
- No freedom to display your own ads
- Plugins not available
- WordPress.com can terminate your blog anytime if you don’t follow their terms
➤ Did You Know?
The keyword “WordPress” has an average search volume of 2,739,999 per month. That’s how popular it is.
2. WordPress.org (Self-hosted)
WordPress.org is the self-hosted version which means that you’re going to be the one responsible for finding your own hosting provider.
This is the content management system you seek if growing a blogging business is your goal, and not just a blog. Making a small investment by paying for a web hosting service allows you to have complete customization over several things.
Pricing: $0 for life – but you need to get your own web host
WordPress.org is a great choice for:
- More serious bloggers ready for monetization
- Any kind of blog imaginable – portfolio, hobby, e-commerce, mommy blogs, app, and more
- Those who want more flexibility and options in blogging
- Search-engine friendly
- Constant updates in their security and software
- Over 53,000 free plugins in its collection (social proof, speed, email marketing, security, etc.)
- Thousands of free themes in its collection + Premium themes from third-party providers
- Not totally newbie-friendly but you can get used to it easily. Refer to my guide on starting a blog.
- If you want to further enhance your blog’s customization, coding is required. However, this should not be a problem if you are content with WordPress.org’s themes and plugins.
Comparison Chart: WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org
|WordPress.com (Free hosting)||WordPress.org (Self-hosted/paid hosting)|
|Totally beginner-friendly||Quite a learning curve but easy to get used to with the platform’s collection of learning resources|
|Your domain reads yourwebsite.wordpress.com||You get a custom domain from your choice of domain and hosting provider|
|For bloggers with no intentions of monetizing their blog||For bloggers who are ready to monetize|
|Limited to personal portfolio, hobby blogging||Create any kind of blog you like|
|Free themes but no plugins||Free/premium themes and plugins|
|Limited analytics (you can only use WordPress.com’s built-in analytics)||Freedom to use more advanced analytics from other companies|
|Limited SEO capabilities (because of the lack of plugins)||More SEO capabilities to boost your search visibility|
One thing that newbie bloggers love about Wix as a website builder is that it has drag and drop capabilities which makes creating a blog easy. People who are just starting out can feel that they are more in control even without coding knowledge.
If you plan to start a small e-commerce online store, Wix can help you do that. Although you should note that you won’t be able to leverage advanced features for a 360 degree management of your store.
Like WordPress.com, Wix has a free version but with limited capabilities for those who’d like to use it for personal blogging. You can increase your capabilities by availing the platform’s paid plans.
Here’s a quick YouTube video that shows an overview of the Wix website builder:
Pricing: Most Basic plan starts at $4 a month
Wix is a great choice for:
- Bloggers who want to build a small e-commerce business (with only a few items in place)
- E-commerce, health, photography, restaurant, fashion, and portfolio blogs
- Easy drag and drop to customize your blog
- Over 510 templates in every niche possible
- Complete support center with tutorials from setting up to optimization
- Comes with a mobile editor where you can customize the mobile version of your blog
- Features Wix SEO Wiz helps you with SEO. It’ll create an SEO plan for you based your needs (location, audience, etc.) and keywords.
- If you change from template to template, you need to re-enter your content which is time-consuming.
- Free version shows random ads you have no control over
Among the recent blogging platforms popping up, you’ll find Medium a platform that will help you gain more publicity. Publicity in the sense that you become part of Medium’s community of writers and journalists.
People who are interested in your topics can follow you and comment on your posts. You can do the same to others.
I think many would agree that Medium has a different feel when it comes to blogging. Somehow it feels more like a combination of a blog, publication, and social media site.
If you are all about writing, have no plans of monetization, and can do without customization, then Medium is for you. As a beginner blogger, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t consider Medium especially that you can follow and learn from industry leaders who joined the platform.
But if you already have a blog on WordPress.org, you can also use Medium to increase your existing blog’s visibility. For marketing reasons, per se.
Here’s what Jeff Goins, an American author and blogger says about Medium:
— Jeff Goins (@JeffGoins) April 5, 2017
Pricing: $0 for life
Medium is a great choice for:
- Total newbies since setting up is very easy
- People who want to express their point of view
- Bloggers with no plans of monetization
- Freelancers to show their writing portfolio
- Free to use
- Simple set-up process in minutes
- Huge community to interact with
- Potential for driving traffic to your WordPress blog or any landing page
- Typography settings
- Lack of customization
- Limited branding capabilities
- You are unable to display your own ads
Judging by the looks of Squarespace’s homepage, you get the impression that this website builder is for the creative individual. And yes, it’s absolutely true. You can create a blog, no matter what niche you’re in, by simply doing a drag and drop.
As far as competition is concerned, we can safely say that Squarespace is a close competitor of Wix.
Squarespace is comprehensive in that all the essential features you need are within the platform. You can even use it for free to get a feel of it. There’s built-in analytics that immediately shows your blog traffic, search queries, and popular content.
Pricing: Starts at $12 per month (billed annually) or $16 per month (billed monthly)
SquareSpace is a great choice for:
- Small to big business blogs
- Bloggers with no design and coding skills
- Those who plan to host a podcast on the blog
- Support section features guides, videos, and a live chat
- Allows you to accept payments for your e-commerce blog
- Discounts if you avail their yearly services
- Takes care of your website speed
- Wide selection of professional templates to match your brand
- 2 allowable contributors for their personal plan is quite limiting
- Not too many tools you can use
Tools and Platforms to Grow Your Blog
My blog readers often ask me how I grow my blog.
A better question would be this:
“What tools do I use to grow a thriving blog?”
Manual efforts can only take me so far. Tools were designed for a reason, and that is to scale blogging processes that would otherwise be time-consuming.
In this section, you will find a combination of various popular blogging tools which I use and recommend.
- HostGator – A host that has been around since 2002, HostGator is a winner in its space. Based on tests, this web host has a 99.9% uptime. You can also rely on their 24/7 live chat support in case you run into any problems. As a HostGator partner, I have an offer which you might be interested in.
- WP Engine – This is one of the earliest hosting services that catered to the WordPress platform. WP Engine lives up to their promise of fast loading times and multiple advanced security features. Up to this date, WP Engine still does not offer domain name registrations. This is something I wished it had, for more convenience to users. See my conversation with one of their representatives:
- Bluehost – If you start a blog with WordPress as your content management system, Bluehost has a one-click install feature. This is extremely useful for newbie bloggers with zero tech experience. I wrote a post where I outlined the steps of installing WordPress on Bluehost.
Domain name registrar
- Namecheap – As the name goes, Namecheap is an affordable domain service. The fact that they operate as an independent company, you can rely on transparent pricing and zero hidden fees which others would normally charge. Namecheap’s data centers are found in North America and Europe to increase your chances of attracting global traffic.
- GoDaddy – To me, GoDaddy is the winner among the top domain name registrars. There’s always a domain name extension available – whether you’re starting a health blog, tech blog, online shop, or another kind of blog.
- Name.com – Name.com does not only provide domain name registration services; they also provide hosting, SSL, and email. Their homepage looks simple and straightforward as you can directly enter your preferred domain to check its availability.
Themes (for WordPress)
- Bridge Theme (by ThemeForest) – ThemeForest has a ton of visually appealing themes but there’s one that stands out: Bridge Theme. It has over 4,500 five-star reviews from users who claim that it offers tons of customization options. The design quality is amazing, not to mention you can use it for any type of blog. Bridge is also responsive so that it adjusts to all screen sizes.
- The Essence (by MeridianThemes) – If you’re a lifestyle blogger who wants a website with a magazine feel, you can’t go wrong with The Essence. A learning curve with this theme though is that for you to gain control over your blog colors, you need to have some experience with CSS.
- Business Theme (by MyThemeShop) – If offering business services is what you have in mind, you can take advantage of MyThemeShop’s professional-looking Business Theme. There’s an options panel where you can customize your blog appearance on your own. You’re also free to do your own edits using code.
- Hemingway App – Inspired from American writer Ernest Hemingway, this simple app helps you come up with a flawless blog post. It checks every aspect of your writing such as readability, the presence of adverbs, and passive voice. Take note that the app does not automate the process for you; instead, it suggests better words which you may or may not use.
- Canva – You can’t run marketing campaigns without incorporating visuals. With Canva, you can create infographic content to summarize long-form blog posts and make statistics interesting. As a Canva user, there’s no need for you to possess design skills since the app is intuitive.
- The Blog Post Ideas Generator – Gathering ideas for your next blog post can be challenging especially if you’re overwhelmed with blogging tasks. In these times, a tool such as this will spark inspiration in one click. You can also install this tool to your chrome.
- RankTrackr – Monitoring your keyword rankings doesn’t have to involve manual work. Not only does it show you your current results, you can also compare a past ranking with your present ranking to gauge your improvement over time. If you handle SEO for clients, you also have the option to set a delivery schedule for their ranking reports.
- Ahrefs – There’s no denying that Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO tool. One aspect you’ll love about it if you’re into local SEO is that it shows you your actual keyword ranking in a specific geographical location. You can also track your rankings in both mobile and desktop devices.
- Moz Pro Rank Tracker – This rank checker tool simplifies competitive research. By uncovering your competitors’ keywords and domain metrics, you’ll know which areas you can improve on when it comes to your rankings.
Social media management
- Hootsuite – Connect your multiple social media profiles to Hootsuite so that you can schedule your posts in advance. Anyone may use this tool for free though it is very limited in the number of social media accounts you can connect. Hootsuite’s paid plans also allow you to have team members and gain access to analytics.
- SocialOomph – I am amazed by what SocialOomph can do to take your Twitter profile to the next level. Making sure that you’re on top of your Twitter tasks is difficult enough. You can connect many profiles, follow back audiences who follow you, and schedule your social updates.
- Buffer – Another tool that takes the stress out of social media scheduling is buffer. I love the user interface because it’s neat. You have access to the metrics to every post you have scheduled in the past. That way, you can insights of the strategies that work well for you.
- Slack – If you need a straightforward app that allows you to streamline communication with your remote workers or team, let Slack be your chatroom. In case you manage multiple teams with a unique function per team, you can create multiple “workplaces” to keep things organized.
- Trello – Let’s say you need a platform where you can assign tasks to your team, check the progress of these tasks, attach files, and leave messages. This is where Trello becomes useful. Create different boards for different projects. In a board, you can add cards that represent specific tasks. Watch Trello’s quick video below to get a feel of how this collaboration system works.
- GoToMeeting – To be honest, I just recently learned about GoToMeeting. I recommend this platform for blog owners who are expanding their means. GoToMeeting allows you to set-up web conferences and meetings with your team from around the world. What makes this platform different from Skype and other messaging apps is that it enables recording which can be sent to absent team members.
- ClearVoice – Content marketing responsibilities don’t have to be daunting if you can take them off your to-do list. As a long-term solution, Clearvoice helps growing business blogs create more content by leveraging their team of content creators whose style match your niche and brand message.
- FreeeUp – No matter what you need in your blogging business, FreeeUp has a huge pool of skilled virtual freelancers who can help you. What makes the platform stand out (in my opinion) is that they make sure to pre-screen their applicants so that you only get the best of the best.
- UpWork – To date, UpWork has about 12 million registered freelancers and 5 million clients. UpWork has more freelancer categories to choose from. Instead of trying to figure out everything in managing a blog on your own, you can simply hire the right talent for you.
Tips To Take Your Blog From Zero To Hero
It’s not enough to know which paid and free blog sites to use when you’re out to start a blogging journey.
Blogging tools and platforms won’t take you far unless you practice the right strategies. Check out my quick list of tips below.
- Pay attention to blog structure – Your blog shouldn’t just be a collection of random pages and posts. Structure it in a way that readers can easily navigate. The simplest way to structure your blog is to create categories for your posts. Don’t forget to link together related blog posts as this helps establish relevance to search engines.
- Write better headlines – My number one advice for you here is to get straight to the point with your headlines. That said, you need to use simple language and let your blog audience know what they are going to benefit from reading your post. Add elements to improve your headlines such as odd numbers, adjectives, and power words (free, best, top, now, etc.)
- Ensure site security – When I was new to blogging, one thing I was very annoyed with were the spam registrations I got. If you use WordPress, you can simply head over to the dashboard. Enter Settings > General > Membership. Then uncheck the box that says “Anyone can register.” Also, install plugins like Akismet that block out spam comments. Update your theme and plugins as well.
- Improve your page speed – Page speed is a Google ranking factor, if you didn’t know. This matters more now that people turn to mobile to shop and look for information. To speed up your blog, there are some things you can do. Minimize your image file sizes, redirections, and the number of your plugins.
- Spark interaction – When your blog audience gives you their undivided attention, give back. In other words, respond to their comments. Acknowledgement is a powerful thing as it sparks interaction. Imagine getting a continuous stream of comments for each new content you publish just because people are noticing that you take the time to respond.
Want more such blogging tips to take your new blog from Zero to Hero?
I have 30 for you.
Click here to read actionable Blogging Tips categorised for Beginners, Intermediate and Expert level of bloggers.
As you can see, there is so much you can do to build a thriving blog.
Because of the massive wealth of information you can leverage, my recommendations for blogging platforms, tools, and strategies are only the tip of the iceberg.
Nevertheless, I hope this post hasn’t overwhelmed you! Most of all, I hope you learned a lot today.
I suggest you capitalize on a few of the things you read here and do them extremely well. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Good luck!