Blogs that do not cost you anything? What is this – Y2005?

Many people far knowledgeable than me declare that the era of free blogging has all but disappeared. It is told that people must be next to crazy to blog on Blogger, Tumblr, and such. So naturally, free blog != good idea.

Is it that evident?

It is the glorious year 2019 and free blogs and websites are still a thing. Fear not, and read on – the era of amazing, free-to-use platforms are just beginning.

What are the prerequisites to start a blog in 2019?

  1. Maintain a to-do list on Wunderlist / Workflowy. Record everything that you want to write (OR / AND) maintain a journal using Glimpses /Journey to record your progress
  2. Decide what you want to blog about. Can you narrow down the topics to such a level that you have a big enough audience, but do not compete with the likes of The Huffington Post? For example –
    • It may be a good idea to create a ‘spiritual travel blog’ rather than a collage of ‘spiritual, adventure, caravan-focused, recreational travelogue’ with guest house reviews put in for effect
    • Prefer ‘short stories for the modern era’ vs. ‘a blog that deals with haiku, old English poetry, long-form novels, philosophical works in the middle ages’
    • Develop websites on React vs. develop desktop, mobile, and IoT applications using Elm, C++, HTML5 + develop ad-hoc Node modules
  3. Identify the audience (related to the above point but not the same). Audiences can relate better if you narrow down the story. For example –
    • Target urban home gardeners using small spaces in India vs. covering all gardening topics of interest to rural farmers, gardening in arid areas and high-rise ‘grow your own vegetables’ gardens anywhere on the planet
    • Focus on web developers in the middle-east rather than all developers in the Milky Way
    • Ideally, you would want to start with a narrow audience, grow them quickly and scale to other audience types. Narrowing down audience does not mean you will lock yourself down forever
  4. Choose a blogging platform (ideas below)
  5. Don’t stop at writing alone – it is 2019 for God’s sake. Have a clear idea to mix your content with a healthy dose of videos, podcasts, pictures, cartoons, music, or whatever is your thing. You may not do this on day one, but must have them on your radar with specific target dates
  6. Although optional: invest in a domain name. This will come in handy in the long term. Namesilo offers one of the cheapest prices for a domain (‘.com’ starts at $5.99 if you use discount code ‘technosanct’)

Platforms to Maintain a Free Blog

I have divided my recommendations into three parts – based on ease of use, and targeted audience.

Reader-focused Blogs

I am referring to generic readers from all walks of life. The blogs targeted at generic readership may contain images, videos along with the written word.

Recommendation: Start a blog on Medium.

Medium gives a clean, readable platform that is loved by all.

Note that custom domain is not available for Medium since 2017. If you switch platforms later, you will have to export posts from Medium and import them elsewhere.

Although your brand can stand out on Medium, it may exhibit a tendency to get submerged in a content nirvana. You may also not like the fact that Medium can place restrictions on the type of content you can publish.

Alternatives –

  • Svbtle with custom domain
  • write.as
  • WordPress.com (do not use custom domains, switch to shared hosting
    instead)
  • The combination of GitHub + any static site generator is good for anyone, not developers alone (see below). But you may need to explore things a bit to make it work for you

Developer Blogs

As a developer, you want to focus on presenting your knowledge in a clean but plain design. Focus on content, typography and white space, and have the site load super fast.

Recommendation: Use GitHub Pages with custom domain for hosting and Hugo + Netlify to generate static websites

Static sites are fast and I am strongly for using a static site generator for any blog that is not required to do magic.

You can set up a Netlify template on Hugo to generate ready sites pretty fast. Netlify templates provide built-in writing and managing tools using NetlifyCMS. Alternatively, you can use forestry.io to edit posts and pages.

Alternatives –

  • dev.to with custom domain
  • Use Jekyll + GitHub Pages. You have the advantage of automatic static site generation by GitHub. You could then create content using nothing but VS Code or SiteLeaf

Other / General Blogs

All the blogs that are outside of developer and generic reading category. This forms the bulk of the blogs out there. Focus here should be ease of use, almost zero maintenance, and design that reflects the blogging topic.

Recommendation: Use the paid option to get started on a custom domain + WordPress!

If you have any specific requirements or want your Blog to look a certain way, WordPress can do that really fast. Although you could use wordpress.com without a custom domain, you will lose the opportunity to create your own brand from the very beginning.

Do remember to look beyond the traditional Blue Host, GoDaddy, etc. that typical Bloggers and Internet Marketers recommend. Not only these shared hosting services are slower (empirical evidence – don’t shoot me), but they tend to cost more as well. Do your research on websites like Webhosting Talk.

My Preferred Platforms

I use multiple platforms depending on the usage.

  1. WordPress on shared hosting for all ‘generic’ websites. This blog is hosted on ASmallOrange, and I have used BlueHost, GoDaddy etc. before. But I would implore you to consider cheap hosting solutions with good ratings on Webhosting Talk forums. A couple of recommendations –
    • Do not sign up for more than a year!
    • Prefer hosting nearer to the geographic location of your audience. Faster ping times can also help speed up the perception of website performance. But, don’t get obsessed with this – ping times are measured in milliseconds and a faster host with SSD is better than a slow server running on old platforms
    • I had a good experience with Forward Web for my audience in Asia, but YMMV
  2. GitHub for hosting Hugo-based websites using Netlify to compile websites. These sites are focused on developers.

PS

Go ahead, choose a platform and create magic. Never let money or ‘long term strategy’ spoil today’s fun. Start writing, creating content and figure out how you can chart the way forward.