A lot can be achieved online for free. A blog can be built and hosted for free on free platforms like WordPress.Com and Blogger.Com. The free blogging platforms are more restrictive than self-hosted alternatives. Further, free blogging platforms can at any time, close down a blog that is perceived to be in violation of the platform’s rules.
The free platforms may look enticing, with offers of free this, and free that, but ultimately I do not believe I would have the flexibility I’d need to build out a predictable blog.
For this reason, I would never consider using a free platform for my blog. There are many paid platforms available that enable you to build gorgeous sites. One of my favorites is Webflow. It’s probably one of the most beautiful, brilliantly-designed and well-thought out pieces of software. But sadly it isn’t suitable for blogging. Well, not yet.
However if blogging were not my focus, I’d be building stunning websites with Webflow. I literally love it. It is great for building sites and it also helps you learn technologies like HTML and CSS.
For my blogging projects, including the one you’re reading right now, I’ve chosen to use self-hosted WordPress.
- It is a platform I know well.
- WordPress allows me to have full control of my content.
- I have access to a range of WordPress plugins, both free and paid.
- If I need a plugin that doesn’t already exist, or doesn’t function well enough for my liking, we can write our own.
- I can host WordPress sites whenever I like, and can change host if the one I’m using right now should ever piss me off.
- I can use a framework like Genesis which abstracts out the complex common parts of a theme, so ….
- I can easily build a theme that suits me for blogging.
Much of this freedom would not exist if I chose a different platform. So using self-hosted WordPress was an easy decision.
Getting Started – What Are The Costs?
The costs of blogging are relatively small. If the investment needed to start a blog is compared with that required to start say, a sandwich bar, or a dental practice, the investment is insignificant. Further, for a few people, the financial rewards from blogging, will be much greater than from most brick and mortar businesses. This fact incentivises me to do everything I can to make my blog a success.
Blogging requires no premises, no university degrees and only the smallest amount of equipment. Blogging can be done by a solitary person, from home. While few bloggers attain these dizzy heights of success.
Although a university degree is not required, an education is still needed. I’ve been working toward becoming a blogger for the best part of 10 years. During that time I’ve learned a lot about building WordPress sites. In my opinion there is a lot to learn and that takes time.
I learned everything I needed to know technically, though practice, trial and error. That takes time and lots of practical experience. I haven’t attended any technical courses about WordPress. I have though spent a lot on sales and marketing courses. All the courses I’ve attended have taught me there are no shortcuts and that to succeed I must do a lot of work and do it consistently. I’ve also got to get familiar with certain services and tools.
Courses in themselves are not enough. I still have to do the work, fail, pick myself and keep trying. I don’t think this step can be avoided.
Of course, in addition to all of the above, I need a decent computer. It amazes me how anyone can run a blog from a low spec laptop. I couldn’t.
Personally, I need two large-ish screens (minimum 1900px x 1200px) to get my work done. I can’t work on a single undersized screen. I manipulate graphics using Photoshop. When using Photoshop, for me, a large screen in a requirement. Further, blogging and website maintenance is one long, enormous ongoing, multi-tasking project. On a small laptop I’d be switching between numerous tabs, on several window. All the windows would have to be maximised to be of any practical use, and that would drive me mad.
In addition to a computer with two screens, I need
- A good quality mic
I bought my domain name, (wordstamped.com), for around $10 USD. I say “bought”, but buying a domain name is more like renting one. That’s because it’s only possible to pay for a certain number of years – usually between one and 10 years. When I paid $10 USD, that was really for one year of domain name “rental”.
When the year is over I will be notified of its expiry. Registrars (companies who provide access to domain names) go to great lengths to prevent us from the domain names we’ve bought by sending what does seem like endless renewal reminders, as the expiry date approaches.
Even if you let the domain name lapse, there is a period after lapse, during which you can get it back. So unless you want to lose it, the domain can be yours long-term.
Domain name registrars are accredited organisations that are allowed to issue domain names. Normally hosting companies will also either act for an underlying domain name registrar, or if they are very big, be domain names registrars as well as hosts.
As a beginner it is very tempting to buy your domain name and your hosting from the same company. My advice is never to do this as it can compromise your ability to move quickly should you ever need to change hosts. Because you will. Everyone changes host when their current host annoys them sufficiently.
I buy my domain names at Namecheap. The price tends to be about $10 USD per year for each .com domain name. And yes, I always buy a .com domain.
It’s possible to sort-of run a business from a Facebook page or from an Instagram account. But how much sense would it make to put my effort into building content for someone else’s business and never for my own? This is another reason I wanted a blog of my own, on some good quality hosting.
There are many hosting recommendations around the web, but right now, and for the last two years, I’ve adored the service I get from WP Engine.
In the past I’ve used LiquidWeb, GoDaddy, Siteground, FlyWheel, Pagely, Bluehost and Hostgator. We even managed our own servers for many years. I won’t go into a long story about each experience. All I’ll say is that WP Engine took most to all, of the pain away when their competitors were busy handing it out.
I will move away from WP Engine when I get fed up with them or when I find another host that provides everything they provide, plus some.
But that said, WP Engine – won’t think for me. They expect me to have basic knowledge of what I’m trying to do. They are not there to teach me how to run a website. They will assist if I’m stuck trying to get something done, but they are not mind readers.
If I need education about their platform there are plenty of online help documents to read. Then, if I get stuck on any aspect of what I’ve read, I can call their support for clarification. It’s for clarification as I’m calling from the point of view of having a clue about what I’m trying to do.
In general I expect to pay between $10 USD and $40 $USD per month, for hosting one or more sites at any host. Some hosts permit the hosting of multiple sites for $10 per month, while other hosts will charge $35 per month for one site.
On managed WordPress hosts like WP Engine, it is more expensive (closer to $35 per month for one site), but then, the idea is that they take a lot of the stress away. I no longer worry about hackers, fixing hacks, security or having to install firewall plugins such as WordFence. A blog is the wrong place to build a firewall so I don’t particularly want to host somewhere that suggests I do it.
Once people arrive at my site, I’ll eventually want to capture their email addresses. Presumably they will only give me an email address if they’re sufficiently impressed with my website content.
In order to encourage visitors to sign up to my list, many internet marketing gurus advocate giving away a lead magnet (useful eBook or other download that I’d have created for the purpose). The idea is that once they are on my list, I can market to them until they unsubscribe.
The problem with this approach is that people often really only want the lead magnet. They will sign up, and either unsubscribe straight away or simply ignore subsequent emails.
Email open rates are low. This practice may make them even lower in my opinion. To this end my plan is to no longer offer lead magnets. Either you want my emails or you don’t. I’d rather spend the time and effort writing blog posts that are useful and readable, and you can sign up to my list (when I eventually get one set up on this site) if you want notification of new posts. Any free stuff I want to give away I will be giving to committed list subscribers. I want to avoid bribing people to sign up in the first place.
In any event, you will need a good quality email autoresponder. There is a lot of choice out there. I use ActiveCampaign.
In Europe we also have added complication in the form of the GDPR. So now we cannot sign people up using a lead magnet without separately getting their permission to market to them. This means most people will take the free gift (lead magnet) without agreeing to further marketing. I know there are various blog posts out there saying you don’t have to do it separately, but in my opinion, even if they are not wrong, they’re missing the point.
Blogging Tools And Services
Blogging requires software tools and services. I’ve mentioned some of the important ones already. There’s a lot of competition out there so I always have my ear out for any marketing ideas, tools or techniques that may help nudge me forwards. This can mean I end up buying products or services before I’m actually ready to use them. But even with my overspending in check, there are several essential SaaS (software as a service) products. Here’s a list.
Paid Tools I Use
- Hosting (WP Engine)
- Marketing automation tool (Active Campaign)
- List building (OptinMonster)
- Easy stats over and above Google analytics (Clicky)
- Graphics package – and proficiency in using the graphics package (Photoshop)
- Keyword research tool (SECockpit)
- Ranking Tracker (I use Accuranker)
- Site health monitoring and general SEO tool (SEMRush)
- Marketing webinars and one on one coaching meetings (Demio)
- Mindmapping (Coggle)
- Infographics (Visme)
- Link Tracking (ClickMagick)
- Various courses