Everybody wants something for free—but while the old adage about “getting what you pay for” is often true, sometimes “free” can be a truly cost-effective and successful way for the small business owner to become more active online.
When it comes to a blog, a small business owner doesn’t need all the fancy bells and whistles some platforms offer. Rather, what you need is something that is intuitive for you to use, provides standard options and technical help, and looks good to the user’s eye.
For the uninitiated, a blog is a place to express your own thoughts—generally without any commercial intent. It’s a place to discuss the nature of the market, for example. If you sell sporting goods, you can write a blog discussing how a good past season for the Toronto Maple Leafs can ensure growth of the game at the grass roots level, meaning new boys and girls wanting to take up the sport. Or, you can talk about the benefits of skate brands, and why they justify the cost they ask.
What you don’t do is use your small business blog as an opportunity to rail against religion, politics, gender or things your kid’s school is doing wrong. Keep it focused on elements around your business industry.
When looking for the best blog platform to use, there are two basic types: free; and one you pay for.
The no-brainer is to only consider free—why pay for something, if you can get it for nothing?
What’s the difference between a blog platform you pay for and one that is free? Besides the obvious – cost – there can be some flexibility issues with a free blog platform. For example, if you want to have your own ads on the free version, you won’t be able to do that.
Now… before everyone here says “Blogger” or “WordPress” is what they want to use as a blogging platform, you need to know that there are two main types of blogging platforms: 1) Hosted; and 2) Self-Hosted.
A Hosted blog is owned by the blogging website you signed on with. They control the data, the security, maintenance… everything. They also own your content.
There are many excellent blog platforms out there—however, not that many of them are Self-Hosted blog platforms. We’re going to look at three of the free Self-Hosted options, and note their pros and cons. They are presented them in alphabetical order only:
Ghost.org calls itself a “proud non-profit organization building technology for the future of journalism”—and they aren’t wrong!
Ghost.org is actually designed specifically for blogging, and is simple to use and fast. You care that it’s fast because speed helps improve your SEO rankings, not to mention it ensures consumer engagement doesn’t disappear while they wait for a page to load.
One of the key features of Ghost.org, is that it has a two-window interface, where you get to preview while you input and edit. With other blogging and website platforms, you have to hit a Preview button and wait for it to load before you can see how your efforts will actually look onscreen. In other words, you save a bit of time.
So, what’s wrong with it? Some users have found Ghost.org to be less intuitive to install. And, although the software is free (we love free!) for Self-Hosted platforms, the Hosted blog options do cost money. Should you opt for the Hosted option, Ghost.org says that if you join now, that pricing will remain with you until you decide to stop using the platform.
But, because Ghost.org releases its code as free and open source, you can use the blog platform for free within your own website.
Free apps integrated within Ghost.org include: Google Analytics; Mailchimp, Unsplash, Slack, Disquis, and Zapier, to name but a few.
Introduced in 2001, MovableType.org is one of the first self-publishing platforms. Although the website says it was started by a husband-wife team, it’s no longer a mom and pop business, having gone through many owners – now being run by a Japanese IT company. Unlike WordPress.org (see below), a visit to the MovableType.org website was less clear about its costs.
It does still offer downloadable versions—like Ghost.org—but MovableType.org also offers versions you pay for. Of course, you want “free”, but it is less obvious about where and how you get the free coding to create your own self-hosted blog. No such issues about the paid-blog platforms, however.
It has some blog themes, but not many. You might even need to have some coding ability to fully utilize the blog platforms options. Because it is 18-years-old, and there are other options, MovableType.org has suffered from a decline in popularity. That means less of a community to help if you have any issues, and few tutorials to help you.
On the plus side, it does handle multiple blogs well, and if you can find it, there is free a free option available for the small business owner to add to their own website.
Unlike its free, but Hosted cousin, WordPress.com, WordPress.org is Self-Hosted. It is the most popular website and blogging platform out there by far.
It is free, and comes with over 44,000 plug-in options, allowing you to make your blog (or website) highly customizable. For example, you can add such plugins as: subscribe boxes, polls, and various social media buttons.
There are also a slew of design themes that you can choose from, complete with background colours, font types and much more. Photography is a snap to add, as well – using the tried and true drag-and-drop to anywhere on your blog.
Although the WordPress.org platform is highly intuitive, for those less digitally inclined, you can use WPBeginner to peruse tutorials. Even when you have got into the swing of things, you might have questions – well, you’ll find that there is a huge community support group available to answer any questions you have.
With all this going for it, you might wonder what negative features it has. Granted there aren’t many, but it might still be something to think about. For example, for those looking to add additional security measures or to include premium themes such as charts, costs can add up. However, as an aside, there are ways to add a chart—using programming code you type in yourself.
It seems pretty obvious about which way you should go when setting up a Self-Hosted blog, doesn’t it?
But there are reasons to use a Hosted blog platform, too. For example, if you use the free Blogger or WordPress.com platform, you can easily apply your blog article to whatever social media option you wish.
We find that the only sticking point for some small business owners is the “owning” of material. We get it. Your thoughts and words are your own, and should not be the property of some anonymous blogging platform.
But “thought” ownership aside, a Hosted blog does NOT appear on your small business website. You would have to drive customers there. And it’s harder to drive readers from there to your money site.
A Self-Hosted blog is installed within your website, and is infinitely better for your SEO than a separate blog domain.
Still confused or don’t feel you are tech savvy enough to set up your own blog—Hosted or Self-Hosted? Contact Strider to help you initiate and maintain your website and blog strategies, and much more. Contact us today for a personalized recommendation.