Something of a return to blogging seems to be in the air, at least in some circles. Whether inspired by the semi-destruction of Twitter, an increased awareness of the bad incentives and surveillance capitalism that are infused within the places where the world previously moved the bulk of its personal posting to in the past - the big social networks - or part of a vaguely-defined vibe shift, it feels positive to me.
But how to start a blog can be a bit less immediately obvious and accessible than signing up to Facebook is. First up, there’s only one Facebook, one Instagram and so on - which is part of the problem - whereas you can host the same blog in many different places. That even includes on your own computer in your own house, although that’s not to be recommended for most people! After all, a traditional blog is really just a website that displays pages in a certain format, so most places where you can write on the web you can blog. However for anyone who doesn’t need to be too “experimental”, particularly if they’re not super familiar with web hosting or coding and prefer to focus on their post content, it’s probably easiest to start off with a third-party host that is specifically designed to host blogs.
Below is list of the ones I’ve come across. I’ll also add some thoughts as to what went through my mind when it came to choosing one myself. That said, one shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you do not want to spend your time reviewing the options, just pick one and start writing. Honestly if you were to just pick one at random you’d probably end up somewhere that you have far more control over and access to more useful features than the mainstream social networks.
For the uninitiated who are in no mood to spend time exploring:
- Wordpress.com might be a reasonable default for traditional-style blogs because:
- It’s extremely widely used by individuals and big organisations for all sorts of sites. This means it’s generally reliable, plus widespread enough that if it doesn’t suit you then it’s a format that some other blog hosts can import from which can make switching to another site later easier.
- There’s a (permanently) free option if you don’t mind them adding advertising to your posts. This might be especially good if you just want to see whether the blogging is something you are going to enjoy before spending time or money setting up something fancier,
- Wordpress probably can be cajoled to do almost anything in theory, although it might be complicated and/or expensive to fully customise.
- For something more akin to the social media posting experience - short posts with no titles, single photos etc. then if you’re open to paying then micro.blog is one I use that’s more aimed at this style of usage - although it’s perfectly possible to write traditional long posts too; see for example the one you’re currently reading! It does cost a subscription, but there’s a free trial if you want to try it out (and a summer sale on at the time of writing). Tumblr offers another easy-to-use take on microblogging that has a ton in common with the bigger social media sites, for better or worse, including free options. But it comes at the cost of having less control over your site.
However if you have any interest in looking around then I’d certainly recommend doing so to see if which of the options feel most in line with the ethos of what you want.
As noted, you can build a blog with almost anything web-orientated. A text editor and some web hosting works. But to keep the list manageable, I’ve only included those that are ready-to-use cloud services with functions tailored to blogging. As far as I know you can just sign up to use any of them and write a basic blog post that the whole internet-enabled-world can see with minimal effort or technical skill required.
This means I’ve excluded some big categories like static site generators you’d run on your own computer or anything involving setting up self-hosting. These have a good following but are a perhaps more effort than I’d guess the average person new to blogging wants to deal with. But they certainly have advantages if you’re minded to survey all options.
Now the list. I’ll include the tagline for each one in case that helps understand who they’re targeting. To be clear, I’m just pasting their tagline in, not my opinion.
First, the three I currently personally use for various things. Obviously this means I like them enough.
- micro.blog: “Personal blogging that makes it easy to be social. Post short thoughts or long essays, share photos, all on your own blog.”
- Wordpress: “Welcome to the world’s most popular website builder” (I’ve linked to wordpress.com but there are many other sites also provide Wordpress.)
- omg.lol: “Get the best internet address that you’ve ever had” (this one’s blog feature is actually in beta so it’s not even advertised as a feature, but there is one.)
Now a few others that are primarily focussed on blogging that I feel like I’ve heard at least some positive feedback about.
- Bear Blog: “A privacy-first, no-nonsense, super-fast blogging platform”
- Blogger: “Publish your passions, your way.”
- Blot.im: “Blot turns a folder into a website.”
- Ghost: “Turn your audience into a business.”
- Medium: “Publish, grow, and earn, all in one place.”
- Tumblr: “It’s time to try Tumblr. You’ll never be bored again.”
- Write.as: “Type words, put them on the internet.”
These ones I’ve heard of but know nothing whatsoever about:
- Blogstatic: “The simplest, most powerful way to create your new great–looking blog!”
- Postach.io: “The easiest way to blog. Turn an Evernote notebook into a beautiful blog or web site.”
- Silvrback: “The best at simple blogging.”
- Superblog: “Stop worrying about speed, SEO, and servers. Superblog is a blazing fast alternative to WordPress and Medium blogs.”
- Svbtle: “A publishing platform.”
The next few I understand to be more general “make it easy to build any kind of website easily” offerings. To be fair, Wordpress is really that these days. But they do have dedicated templates or features for bloggers so I’ve included them.
- Squarespace: “Everything to sell anything.”
- Weebly : “Websites, eCommerce & Marketing in one place. So you can focus on what you love.”
- Wix: “Create a website without limits.”
Other categories you might consider include sites targeting newsletter creation, Substack being the obvious one. Although it’s very much email newsletter focused, people read your newsletters on the web, within a Substack app or, to some extent, via RSS readers, which makes it bloggy. But it’s set up to prioritise the newsletter side of things so unless that’s your focus it might be of less interest.
Things you might consider
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things that went through my mind when thinking about blogging platform choice. Honestly there’s a lot here that you don’t really need to care about at all in order to just start blogging, particularly if it’s a personal blog.
Plus if you do overlook something you later want to change, well, part of the joy of blogging is that you’re almost never locked into anything. Change it later! Some people appear to enjoy changing their blog hosting every few months.
So certainly don’t let not being up for reading incredible amounts of rambling about tiny decisions put you off getting started right away. It’s important to remember that for a lot of people the alternative we’re comparing blogging to is posting on social media where you have essentially no control over anything.
But in case like me you enjoy dramatically overthinking everything:
How do you want write your posts?
- Likely all blog hosts have some kind of web editor you can use. But how exactly you write your posts might differ.
- Some use “block editors” where you construct your posts out of a series of blocks for various types of content. For example maybe your post has a paragraph of text block, then an image block, and then another paragraph of text block that you can move around as you wish.
- Others are more like typical word processors. You just write your document and embed what you want within it in the same way as Google docs works.
- Is it a WYSIWYG interface? If not, is there some way to preview what the post looks like pre-publishing?
- How do you format text, define headings, add other media etc? Maybe you use menu items or keyboard shortcuts, again like Google Docs' default. Would you prefer to write in markdown? Can you edit the HTML directly? Sidenote: markdown is fairly easy to learn and after I did so I found I it invaluable to use in all sorts of places unrelated to blogging.
- If you prefer to write on the go, is the web editor easy to use on a phone? Does the provider have its own app you can write in?
- If you already have favourite writing apps, can they publish directly to your blog? For example, iaWriter can publish directly to several blog hosts. Obsidian has addins that can do things like publish to micro.blog. This is more likely if it’s one of the big hosts or they use some API or protocol that’s common. Although there’s no need to over-complicate things, copy and paste usually works fine.
- Can you edit and update your posts? Almost certainly the answer here will be yes.
- Do you want to be able to schedule posts to be published in the future, or to edit the post dates for other reasons?
How do you want your blog to look and work? How much technical ability do you want to expend to make it so?
- How much do you want to be able to customise your blog? It may be very little if your focus entirely on your writing or other content. After all most people are happy enough posting on social media where you basically have zero control over what it looks like. But it might also be a whole lot if you have a particular design in mind, especially one that’s something other than the norm.
- Do you like the default format of the blog enough? That way you can just begin posting right away.
- Are there different pre-made themes you can easily apply to your blog? Do you like any of them?
- What elements of the design can you customise beyond any preset themes?
- How do you make these customisations? e.g. is it a case of point-and-click, filling in forms, selecting from dropdowns etc. or do you need to know some kind of code?
- If you do know or want to learn CSS or HTML code, are you able to add that kind of custom code to your blog? It’s likely the only way to get full control over its appearance, but it’s also something that many people may have no interest in doing.
What type of content does the host support?
- Traditionally, blog posts have a title. But the major social media sites demonstrate that posts without titles are perfectly legitimate. Does the host work well with both posts that have and do not have titles, if you think you’ll use both types?
- Can you make pages other than blog articles? For instance many people like to have a static “About me” type page that is outside the chronological flow of the regular blog posts.
- Can you directly upload pictures, videos, PDFs and any other types of file you might want to share. Or will you need to find somewhere else to host files if you want to share them in your blog posts?
- Are there limits on file sizes, types, etc?
- Are there any restrictions on what types of things you can embed from other sites? For instance, if you plan to share Youtube videos, you’d want to know that they’ll display nicely.
- Does it integrate with any other online services you’d like to connect to it?
On site navigation:
- Is there a built-in site search feature?
- By default blogs are usually arranged in reverse chronological order. But are there further ways to organise or navigate through your posts? e.g. categories, tags, folders.
- Can you create menus, lists, tag clouds, or whatever else you think might help people to navigate your site?
On a different topic, how does the hosting company make money? Are you comfortable with whatever the answer is?
- Some charge you a certain amount of money to host your blog, usually a monthly or annual subscription. These are often the most transparent but are of course not accessible to anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to afford the cost.
- Others are free or have a free offering. Of course they’re not free for the company to actually run, so how do they make enough money to sustain themselves? For example it might be by:
- displaying their own adverts on your site. If this is the case, are you comfortable with the adverts? Both content-wise and to whatever extent they track your readers.
- by collecting data, possibly covertly, from your readers.
- by relying on some users to upgrade to a paid offering.
- VC or other funding (but then what will happen when that runs out?).
- Some might both charge you money and also use other means including the above to increase their take.
- If they don’t appear to have any way of making money…why not?
Here’s a few more points around longevity, if it’s important to you that your blog will last. Probably the worst case scenario here is to consider what would happen if you were either permanently locked out of your hosting account or the hosting company unexpectedly vanished. But there are several other less dramatic but much more likely to happen issues around being locked into a given provider.
- Can you easily back up your site? Can it be automated? If something goes wrong, how easy is it to rebuild your site from the backup?
- Can you export your posts if you decide you want to move hosts? How easy would it be to import them elsewhere? This includes your writing, but also any photos, videos, etc.
- Do you fully own your posts? Has the host any rights over them?
- Can you use a custom URL? i.e. a web address of myblog.com rather than e.g. a subdomain myblog.thehost.com. If so, not only does it look nicer and is probably more memorable and “professional” but it also gives you the possibility of moving your blog elsewhere in future without breaking all the links. For instance if you want to move your Wordpress blog “myblog.wordpress.com” to another host then you will have to tell all your readers to look in the new place. But if you owned “myblog.com” then you can move it wherever you like as long as the host supports custom URLs.
- Note that you will usually have to pay an annual fee in order to purchase the domain name in the first place, separately from any blog hosting costs. It can be as cheap as a few pounds a year if you don’t want anything too fancy or arcane.
- Some blog hosts might be able to arrange the purchase for you as part of the signup process. This can be convenient but isn’t necessarily the cheapest option. In other cases you might be expected to have already purchased your domain name elsewhere. I use Porkbun for this at present.
- If it’s a site you pay for, what happens to your posts if you decide to stop paying for it?
- How long has the site been around? If it’s very new it might in some sense be less “proven” than older sites, although of course all new services have to start somewhere.
- How big is the company? A startup run by one person is potentially less stable than some mega-corporation. But there may be many different reasons to prefer the former. And famously of course even the Google giant has a habit of shutting things down.
Regarding audience interaction and discovery:
- Do you want readers to be able to leave comments on your posts? Should people have to log in to comment? Particularly if that’s not the case, how is spam handled?
- Note that if you love everything about a service other than the comments side of things then there are third-party services that provide commenting features that you might be able to integrate into your blog if you are prepared to make the effort and potentially an extra cost.
- Do you want a contact form?
- Some hosts have their own kind of social media or discovery component relating to your blogs e.g. micro.blog has a timeline , Wordpress has a reader.
- Can you automate the sharing of your posts onto the big social media networks if you want to? What happens if users reply to them there?
- Do you want any other specific features around making it easy for people to email you, connect with you on social media, that kind of thing?
If you want readers to be able to subscribe to your blog beyond being able to read it on the web:
- Does the host offer an automatic RSS feed of your posts?
- Can readers subscribe to your posts as an email newsletter?
- Can readers subscribe via other means? For instance because micro.blog uses the ActivityPub protocol, readers can subscribe via Mastodon.
These ones are probably more relevant if you’re planning to make money from your blog. I’m not interested in this at the present.
- Is there a facility to make private or subscriber only posts?
- Is there a paid membership concept? Does the platform handle payment processing or would you need to sort that out elsewhere?
- Can you run your own adverts? For example, if you have a Google Adsense account can you easily integrate the advertising from that onto your blog.
- Is it optimised for good search engine performance?
- If you post a link to your article on a social network does it show up in a nice format?
Finally, some miscellany to consider:
- Are you the only writer for your site, or will it be important that more than one user can post, each having their own username?
- Do you want any kind of analytics? Some hosts have built-in analytics.
- Note that if you like everything else about the host, there are third-party services that are specifically designed to provide analytics that you might be able to integrate into your blog separately if you are willing to spend the time and potentially money to do so.
- If the host does have built in analytics, are you comfortable with them and how they track users? Can you disable them if not?
- If you already have a blog that you want to move to this one, how easy will it be to import your existing posts?
- We’ve sort of covered this one already, but it’s a particular bugbear of mine at present! Does the site surveil your visitors with trackers and the like? This might be in theory for your own “benefit” (e.g. to show you analytics) or for their own money-making purposes.
- Is there an API that would let you either post to or retrieve from your blog programmatically, if that’s something you envisage needing to do? Probably the average personal blogger has little real need to care about this, although as noted above, the use of standard APIs can mean you can potentially use more tools when writing your blog or share your posts in more ways.