If you want to start a blog, you’ll need to start by choosing your blogging software (known as platforms). There are many to choose from, and many opinions on which ones are the best. I’ll try to break it down objectively for you, but I will be giving you my opinion here. If you’re new to blogging, this should be a helpful comparison for you. If you’re too anxious to get started and don’t care about the details, click here to skip to the bottom and read my recommendations.
A blogging platform is essentially the software you use to write your blog. Space on the internet, like physical land on the planet, is already owned. And in order to have a place to live (either your physical self or your blog), a piece of property must be purchased or rented from someone. On the internet, this is known as hosting, because whoever owns the property will be hosting your website for you as you pay them monthly rent.
Most blogging platforms give you both the software AND the hosting. The most mainstream exception is WordPress.org (about 23% of websites on the internet are using WordPress.org). The WordPress.org software is free to have, but you’ll have to find your own company to host it for you, and that’s where the monthly costs for WordPress.org come in.
So why are some platforms free both to use and to host? Usually for one or two reasons: they are giant companies and when you use their free service, there’s a good chance you will turn into a paying customer by going for various upgrades, or they place ads on your blog and make money off of your visitors. As with most free things, there are limits.* Space is limited, numbers of visitors at once is limited, etc. These are all legit and fair limits for free products.
And what about that column about owning it? When you use one of the platforms that say “No,” that just means you don’t have final say about your content, monetization, whether your blog continues to exist, etc. (Just like when you’re renting a house as opposed to owning one–you don’t have final say in what you do with the property.) At any time, if any one of those businesses goes out of business, your blog will also cease to exist. In the case of Blogger, they have been known to occasionally permanently remove blogs from the internet without warning.
Here are the free blogging options
As mentioned, Blogger is owned by Google. It’s really common for bloggers to start on Blogger, it’s free, and it’s pretty user-friendly. You get a free web address for your blog such as www.MyNewBlog.blogspot.com. With Blogger, you are free to purchase your own address (aka domain) and just have www.MyNewBlog.com. There are thousands upon thousands of designs to choose from, and you are also free to create or purchase custom designs. You are also aloud to make money through ads or selling products on a Blogger site. I started out on Blogger myself years ago.
Not to be confused with WordPress.org. This is very similar blogging software, only hosted by WordPress themselves. It is free to set up and to use monthly. In my opinion, they nickel-and-dime you after that. You have to pay to use your own domain, you aren’t allowed to have a custom design, they place their own ads on your site unless you pay them to stop, and you also must pay a fee if you want to be able to make money from your blog. As you can probably tell, it’s not worth it in my opinion.
Tumblr is the most user-friendly of the free platforms. There are tons of good-looking designs available for free (right out of the gate, it looks a little more professional than Blogger), you are free to use your own domain, you are allowed to make money from your site, and it’s just SO easy. (Side note: the future of Tumblr is questionable to me as they were recently purchased by Yahoo, who loves to monetize, monetize, monetize. It is my prediction that they will be headed the way of WordPress.com. But for now, they are still my favorite of the freebies.)
Now for the non free blogging options
There are more than two options, but these are the pretty much the best, and definitely the most widely used. For some crazy reason, all civility goes out the window whenever the words “WordPress vs. Squarespace” are uttered. It’s like Android vs iPhone on steroids. The level of ferocity with which these two are defended (and attacked) isn’t the only thing these two comparisons have in common either. One is trendy and user-friendly, the other is powerful with unlimited potential. One is a flat fee at a higher-end price point, the other ranges from nearly free to very expensive.
WordPress.org, around $40 + per year
WordPress is open source software, meaning that anyone can build on their foundation to create plugins (a website equivalent to smart phone apps), which for the user, means that the potential for their website is unlimited.
Squarespace, $96-$312 per year
Squarespace is unrivaled in user-friendliness (much like iPhones). Plugins are limited, which could limit functionality, depending on how you want to use your blog.
The reason I use WordPress rather than Squarespace?
If I were with Squarespace, I would need the Commerce package for this website, but I also have 4 other websites for various purposes, which means I would be paying $98 a month; with all sites on WordPress, I’m paying $20 a month, total.
If you have a grand-total budget of zero dollars, I recommend getting started with a Blogger or Tumblr (super beginner-friendly and good looking) blog. If you have $40+ to spare, you can get started with a powerful and professional WordPress.org blog. And it will be painless and stress-free for you too, because I have put together lots of videos and blog posts about how to set it up.
For the record, I am recommending WordPress over Squarespace for beginners because of A) the price point is much lower and B) it’s much easier to grow and evolve, which is important, because you never know what direction a blog will take you in. It’s also very, very difficult to move your blog off of Squarespace and onto another platform if you wanted to do so in the future.
* No matter what a company may say about being “unlimited,” when it comes to anything to do with website hosting, never, never believe that “unlimited” actually means unlimited, it just means the limit varies and they won’t tell you by what until you hit the limit–then you’re trapped and must upgrade to the next level of “unlimited.”