How to Start a Blog for Free in 2017: EVERYTHING You Need to Know to Launch Your Blog Without Spending a Dime


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How to Start a Blog for Free | Oh, She Blogs!

If you don’t know me from my other blogging endeavors, you should know that I started off as a frugal blogger. I started my blog because I wanted to find a way to make extra money, AKA I didn’t have any extra money to spare. Thus, my primary concern when I was getting started was how to start a blog for free AND make money blogging.

Granted, I first started blogging nearly eight years ago and the times have changed a bit since then. There are a lot more bloggers now than there were back in 2008. There are a lot more resources that you can use to make your blogs fancier and perform better. You can’t avoid social media these days. Also? There are a lot more things that you can pay for to allegedly make your blog better.

Here’s the thing, though. While the blogging landscape has changed a lot over the years, one thing has absolutely remained the same: It is entirely possible to start a blog for free AND make money from your free blog.

I’m in a ton of blogging-related Facebook groups and see frequent discussions about how you can’t use a free blogging platform to start your blog or a free email service or anything else, and frankly, it’s all a load of garbage. Paid services CAN make things easier, but it doesn’t mean that they are necessities. (Also, when people say you HAVE to get something, I recommend checking to see if they’re throwing an affiliate link your way, but I’m cynical like that.)

If you want to know the truth, so many people start blogs each year and then abandon them, that I recommend starting out by doing things for free and then upgrading as you begin making money. Blogging can be hard work and it’s not for everyone. There’s no shame in that, but there’s also no sense in spending money on something that might turn out to be nothing more than a fleeting hobby.

If you’re ready to jump head first into blogging and want to know how to make a blog for free, keep reading.

How to Start a Blog for Free in 2017

Part I: Getting Set Up

How to get your free blog set-up

Before you can start blogging, there are a few things you’re going to want to take into consideration, including which platform to use. Once you have a platform, you should spend a bit of time thinking about design and adding a few key pages to your site before moving on to the fun stuff.

 

1. Choose a free blogging platform

If you want to start a blog, the very first step you have to take is deciding on a blogging platform. There are plenty of free blogging platforms available these days, including:

If you want to start a blog for free, then I highly recommend launching on tried-and-true Blogger, which is owned by Google. Blogger is as free as can be, easy to get started with, and they even allow you to use Google Adsense ads on the site, which is more than you can do with the free version of WordPress. (WordPress has their own ad system.) You can also use affiliate links on Blogger, which we will talk about in the blog monetization section below.

Should you choose to go with Blogger, you could potentially have your blog up and running 10 minutes from now. It’s that easy to use!

Because of the ease with which one can set up a free blog on Blogger, from this point forward this post will be written with this platform in mind BUT everything can easily be applied to any other platform as well.

Tip: Purchase your domain name

While Blogger is free and you can use it right out of the box with no paid upgrades needed, if you have the money then the one thing I HIGHLY recommend registering for is a custom domain name. This will make your blog appear to be more professional and will prevent someone else from claiming the name before you get around to doing it yourself.

For instance, when you set up your site on Blogger your URL will be something like http://haveagoodday.blogspot.com – kind of clunky! If you purchase a custom domain, however, you can start your blog immediately as http://haveagoodday.com and not have to worry about rebranding, changing links, or someone else claiming your URL. I buy all of my domain names through NameCheap and highly recommend them. Their domains typically cost $11 or less per year. (Unfortunately, domain names are always going to be subject to a recurring yearly fee.)

Once you’ve got your blog through Blogger and have purchased a domain name, check out this post for how to set up Blogger with a custom domain name.

Future Upgrade Option:

At some point, you might decide that you need more than Blogger can offer. Make sure that you dig deep when considering this, though, and don’t just nix Blogger because someone in a Facebook group says you can’t be a serious blogger if you’re still using the Blogger platform. That’s simply not true.

Host your blog with SiteGroundOnce you start to make money blogging and decide it’s time to upgrade your blog, I, like many bloggers, am a big fan of using a self-hosted WordPress.org site because this gives you the maximum control over everything from design to advertisements. If you want to go this route, then I highly recommend using Siteground as your host, which you can typically get for as little as $30 per year. Check out how to set up a blog on Siteground in less than 10 minutes. They’ll even transfer your blog for free! I absolutely DO NOT recommend Bluehost, which is comparably priced and favorably reviewed by many bloggers. Bluehost sucks.

 

2. Customize your design

The one downside to Blogger sites is that they don’t look particularly beautiful right out of the gate, but a Google search for “free blogger templates” brings up hundreds, if not thousands, of options. Of course, you can also pay for a premium template or pay a designer to create something specifically for you, but if you want to start a blog for free, finding a free template that you like and installing it on a free Blogger blog is a great way to start!

There are also plenty of tutorials online that will teach you how to customize blogger. A few I have found particularly helpful include:

Once you’ve got your template, you’ll want to think about a logo and/or header for your blog. I frequently see bloggers looking for people to design logos for them, and while a logo may at one point be a key part of your brand, it’s not a necessity when you’re first getting started. Instead, here’s how to design a blog header for free:

  1. Browse Pinterest to get some ideas on interesting font pairings and blog header ideas
  2. Check out sites like DaFont.com and Google Fonts for free font downloads. I also frequently download free fonts from Creative Market and The Hungry JPEG, although their free options are only available for a limited time and rotate frequently.
  3. Once you have the fonts you want to use, you can use Canva to create a free logo and/or header for your blog, as well as any social media sites you decide to use. The free version of Canva does not allow you to upload your own fonts, but you can get a free 30 day trial of Canva for Work, which will allow you to do this. (Just be sure to cancel before the 30 days is up!) Kim Garst has a great post about how to find and upload fonts to Canva.
  4. While you can create a blog header using custom fonts and your free trial of Canva for Work, also think ahead to what other needs you might have, for instance, you might want to create a header for Twitter and Facebook or some special images for Instagram.

Please note that your template may give you an idea of the ideal header size, but then again, it may not. I usually find that a lot of trial and error is involved with getting the header size just right so don’t get discouraged if you find yourself constantly going back to Canva and resizing your design until it fits perfectly on your site!

Future Upgrade Option:

I don’t mean to upset all of the talented blog designers out there, but I’ve never hired a blog designer myself and unless you want something really particular, I would recommend splurging instead on a nice theme. For WordPress, you can get plenty of nice themes for less than $100 from places like Pretty Darn Cute Designs, Station SevenThemeforest, and Creative Market. (If you want to stick with Blogger, there are also plenty of places where you can buy unique, stylish and affordable Blogger themes, such as pipdig.) Customizing those themes is getting easier and easier and most themes come with detailed customization instructions. While I do pay for blog themes now, I still design my headers myself!

 

3. Create a few must-have pages

Before launching your blog, there are a few pages that you should be sure to create for your blog. Adding pages to Blogger is really easy, just follow these instructions.

The four pages that should be on your blog by the time you launch are:

  1. About Page – Your readers will want to know who you are – don’t be shy! Here are tips for how to write an About Page people will want to read.
  2. Contact Page – In addition to including your email address on your blog, be sure to include a Contact Page as this makes it easy for people – readers, potential advertisers, etc. – to reach out to you. It’s not particularly intuitive, so here’s how to build a contact page in Blogger.
  3. Privacy Policy – If you are planning on collecting any sort of data from your readers, such as their email addresses so you can send them a newsletter, then you need to have a Privacy Policy on your site. Some ad networks, such as Google AdSense, REQUIRE a Privacy Policy, which should tell you how important this is. You can quickly create a free privacy policy online at PrivacyPolicyOnline.com.
  4. Disclosure Policy – If you plan on making any money from your blog – through sponsored posts, affiliate links or anything else – or if you plan on reviewing any type of free products and you live in the United States then you need to have a Disclosure Policy Page on your blog. Period. You can create one for free at DisclosurePolicy.org.

Be sure to check out Privacy and Disclosure Policies: Everything You Need to Know for more on this topic.

 

4. Set up Google Analytics

Google Analytics is FREE and should be compatible with whatever blogging platform you choose. If you hope to be taken seriously as a blogger and would eventually like to make money blogging, it’s imperative that you set up Google Analytics.

There are lots of different options when it comes to free analytics software for blogs, but Google Analytics is the industry standard. This means that once you start working with brands, influencer networks or ad networks, they’re going to ask for stats from Google Analytics, not from some other random plugin. The reason this stinks for bloggers is because most other analytics programs count random things like bot visits in your page views… aka things that aren’t really pageviews. Because of this, pretty much every other analytics plugin is going to show your stats being much higher than what you will get with Google Analytics. On the plus side, if you start with Google and never touch the other stat programs, you’ll never get your hopes up, only to have them come crashing down again when you look at Google.

If you’re trying to set up a blog for free and go with our recommendation of using the Blogger platform, here’s how to set up Google Analytics with Blogger.

 

Part II: Writing Your First Posts

Writing your first blog posts

OK, with the necessities out of the way, it’s time to start writing. Below is everything you’ll want to do once you actually start typing.

 

5. Just start writing

This is the easy part since it obviously doesn’t cost anything to write blog posts!

However, and this is a big HOWEVER, if you want to be taken seriously as a blogger and eventually make money from blogging, I highly recommend taking a few steps now to ensure that you come across as professionally as possible. For instance:

  • All posts you write should be a minimum of 300 words. If you’re not sure you can write that much, draft out your posts ahead of time and be sure to answer the following: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Longer posts will help you with search engine optimization and frankly, are typically more useful to readers.
  • Write clearly and concisely. Read your posts out loud when you are finished to make sure they make sense.
  • Download Grammarly, the free browser extension, that will help you catch spelling and grammar mistakes. I love this free tool and now rely on it pretty heavily! It turns out that I have no idea when I should, and should not, be using commas.
  • If you eventually want to partner with advertisers on sponsored posts or to review products, add a couple of sample reviews to your blog using products you have already purchased and love. You should be able to send prospective collaborators examples of the type of work you can do, so cut your teeth by writing about products you already love.

I frequently see people asking how many blog posts they should write before “launching” their blogs and my personal recommendation is one, unless you’re approaching from the angle of wanting to be an expert in something. For instance, on this site, I didn’t feel comfortable launching until I had 20 posts written, with most of them covering the topic of affiliate marketing for bloggers. The last thing I would have wanted was for someone to find this site and then see absolutely no content about how to make money blogging. However, with most of my other sites, I considered them launched as soon as I wrote my first post and then I just continued to add content.

 

6. Write with SEO in Mind

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is something you’re probably going to hear about constantly as a blogger, and with good reason. There are tons of different ways that you can promote your blog posts for free, but making a commitment to writing with SEO in mind will (hopefully) mean that Google will send traffic your way for years to come. SEO is a multi-faceted beast that I’m not sure many people fully understand, but my recommendations as you begin thinking about SEO are as follows:

 

Think about what someone would Google to find your post

When you’re sitting down to write your post, jot down a few phrases that people might type into a search engine to find your blog post. For instance, the person searching for this post might be Googling “how to start a blog for free” or “how to start a blog.” You should be able to do this for the majority of blog posts that you write because unless you’re writing a deal blog (which is an entirely different thing) or a stream of consciousness, there’s probably going to be a point to most of your posts and a reason you want people to read it.

 

Include keywords in your post

The phrases you’re jotting down that would ideally lead people to your post are called “keywords.” According to Techopedia:

“A keyword, in the context of search engine optimization, is a particular word or phrase that describes the contents of a Web page. Keywords are intended to act as shortcuts that sum up an entire page.”

Once you’ve got your phrase(s) narrowed down, you’ll want to sprinkle them throughout the post that you’re writing. According to Yoast, your keyword density should range from 0.5-2.5 percent per post, which basically means that for a keyword to actually be a keyword it should be mentioned multiple times in a post, but in as natural a way as possible. If you’ve heard of the phrase “keyword stuffing,” this refers to adding keywords to your post in ways that don’t necessarily make much sense just to have them there. Google hates this and will penalize you for it, so don’t fall victim to this tactic.

 

Basic keyword research

Let’s say you have your one keyword phrase in mind for your post. If we take my example for this post, “how to start a blog for free,” the next step would be to find similar phrases for which this post could also possibly rank and also make sure they’re represented in the post. I can either make these up or I could do a little bit of basic keyword research.

There are a lot of keyword tools out there and most of them cost money. They’re probably worth the money, but since we’re focusing on free (and since I’m too cheap to use any of the paid services myself), my recommendation is to check out the following services, which will help you do some basic keyword research for free (for a limited time, at the very least):

  • SEMrush (basic searches are free, more extensive use costs $99 per month)
  • Jaaxy (free trial for 30 keyword searches, then $19.99 per month)
  • Ahrefs (14 days free then $99 per month)
  • KW Finder (free, but limited to 3 keyword lookups per 24 hours)

Most of these work similarly, and I rotate through all of them, but let’s take a quick look at KW Finder. I entered my keyword “how to start a blog for free” and here’s what the results show:

How to use KW Finder

  1. Alternative keyword options that you might consider trying to add to your post. Obviously, you don’t want to use all of the keywords, but find a few that might fit seamlessly. Next to each alternative keyword suggestion you will also see a graph that shows the popularity of the search term, average monthly search volume aggregated from the past 12 months, the average cost per click (if you were going to pay for traffic using something like Google AdWords), level of competition for PPC advertising (the higher the number, the more competitive the keyword is), and the number in the orange bubble is keyword SEO difficulty, where higher numbers again indicate a higher level of competitiveness.
  2. Reiterates the level of difficulty for any given keyword, although if you hover over it this handy scale will pop up to give you a better idea of if the keyword is one that you might want to pursue based on the opportunities for you to rank well using it: SEO Keyword Difficulty
  3. Monthly search volume
  4. The URLs that currently rank best for the keyword term you’d like to use, along with other related data
You might enjoy:
How to Start a Wordpress Blog on SiteGround in Under 10 Minutes

Some keywords are going to be harder to rank for than others, which is why it’s good to use a free keyword tool to do some basic keyword research. If you’re just starting out, try to target keywords with a lower difficulty level because you are more likely to rank quickly in Google for those terms.

 

7. Add high-quality photos to your posts

One of the most long-standing – but untrue – beliefs in blogging is that you need to invest in a DSLR camera in Use free stock photos to enhance your blog postsorder to be successful. This myth has been around for a long time and I’ll admit that I fell victim to it in 2010. I even paid to take a couple of classes so I could learn how to use my fancy camera, but the lessons never stuck since photography isn’t exactly a passion of mine.

At this point in time, I take 100 percent of my blog photos using my iPhone. The cameras on smartphones have advanced so much over the past few years that there’s virtually no perceptible difference between what you can get with your phone versus what you can get with a fancier camera. (Unless, of course, you know how to really use the fancy camera to the best of its abilities!)

While I’ve gotten pretty good at using my iPhone, I definitely can’t take all of the credit and I highly recommend doing two things to make your photos that much better:

  1. Check out iPhone Photography School for free tutorials on how to take good photos using your phone. Tutorials cover everything from apps to photo composition to lighting.
  2. Download the (free) A Color Story App. I’ve downloaded a ton of photography apps but this one is by far my favorite. It has great filters (most of which focus on brightening photos, not making them dark and moody like the original Instagram filters were notorious for doing), the ability to adjust the curves in your photo (aka brightening some parts of the photo while darkening others), cropping, adding various effects to the photos, and so much more. This app is available for both iPhone and Android, and while there are some paid features, the vast majority of the app is 100 percent free.

If you don’t think your post needs personal photos, check out these 23 sites where you can download free stock photos. Since this isn’t a personal blog, I mostly use stock photos on this site. There’s no point in recreating what’s already out there!

Future upgrade options:

If photography becomes more important to your blog and you have money to spend, a few items I would recommend investing in include a Smartphone Tripod and Bluetooth Wireless Remote, especially if you’re taking personal style photos. If you find that you’re taking a lot of photos of small products such as beauty products or jewelry, then you can’t go wrong with a Photography Shooting Tent Kit.

You might also consider a subscription to a paid stock photo site, such as iStock. While paid stock photos aren’t a necessity, fewer bloggers use paid stock photos, which will make the photos you do use that much more unique.

 

8. Before you hit publish…

You’ve got your post written and you’ve thrown in some great keywords and some awesome photos. Before you hit publish, there are a few more things you’re going to want to do to ensure that your post is totally good to go.

 

Interlink your posts

In my post about why you need to update old blog posts, I mention how important it is to interlink your posts as much as possible. As you’re writing new posts, think about anything you’ve written in the past that might be related and link to it. Then, after you hit publish, go back to those old posts and add a link to your new post. Connecting your posts like this will help build you (and your posts) up as an expert to Google.

 

Use “no-follow” links

When you place an external link to something on your site, you’re basically telling Google “hey, I think this is important!” The problem with that is Google now has pretty strict rules about whether you should use “follow” or “no-follow” links in a post and they can penalize you for incorrectly using “follow” links. For instance, if you’re writing a sponsored post, Google requires that all links be “no-follow,” which tells Google that the link actually isn’t important and shouldn’t be indexed. I know that’s confusing, especially if you’re just getting started.

My recommendation? Apply the “no-follow” tag to all external links. If you’re using the free Blogger platform, check out this post that will show you how to automatically add a no-follow tag to all external links in Blogger. It also shows you how to do it manually, in case you want greater control. If you’re using WordPress, there are multiple plugins you can install that will take care of this for you. Just do a search for “no-follow” in the plugin repository.

 

Fill out the metadata for your post

Metadata is basically a short snippet of information about your post that you want to feed to the search engines. In one or two short sentences it should describe your post AND it should always include your main keyword phrase. When your post shows up in search engines, it’s actually this metadata that people will see for the description of your post.

In Blogger, you’ll find the “Search Description” field under “Post Settings.” This is the Blogger equivalent of a metadata box.

Filling out the search description in Blogger

There’s no need to make the search description particularly long or use more than one keyword phrase. Two sentences or less is ideal.

If you’re using WordPress, I highly recommend using the Yoast SEO Plugin, which gives you the option of filling out metadata for every post.

 

Add your keyword to the alt text of at least one photo

You’ve filled your post with keywords, but you should also make sure to add one to the “alt text” of one of your photos. Nobody looking at your blog is ever going to see the alt text that you enter unless the photo doesn’t appear on the page. In that case, the text will appear in its place. Basically, the alt text tells search engines – and readers, in case the photo doesn’t appear – what image they should be seeing.

Again, you don’t want to engage in keyword stuffing and add the same keywords to EVERY photo in your post, but you should definitely add it to at least one photo, and then mix it up for every other photo.

In Blogger, after you upload a photo to your draft you can edit the photo with a little bit of information.

Editing photo properties in Blogger

Click on your photo until the box below it appears, and then click on “Properties.”

How to start a blog for free: Add alt text to your photos in Blogger

You can ignore “title text” and just add in “alt text.” While the alt text shouldn’t be the same for every photo, it doesn’t hurt to get in the habit of adding in this descriptive information for every photo.

If you’re using WordPress, you can set the alt text when you’re uploading a new photo.

 

Set a custom permalink for your post

In order to drive organic traffic to your blog, you need to do everything you can to optimize your keywords. I admit, keywords can be annoying and they can be a lot of work. But I also like to think of them as being puzzle-like and try to fit all of my keywords in in as natural a fashion as I can so that the search engines will reward me with decent traffic. When you get annoyed with all of the extra keyword work you have to do, just remember to keep your eye on the ball. The “ball” may be traffic that you won’t see for a few months, but it will come.

Anyhow, the final place that you’ll want to add your keyword is to your blog post’s permalink structure.

In Blogger, you can create a custom permalink under “Post Settings.”

Set up a custom permalink structure in Blogger

Mixed Modern Family is my friend’s podcast blog that I’m borrowing for this example. If I were writing this post on his blog, then I would make my keyword the custom permalink and I would separate each word using dashes. This reinforces to the search engines what this post is about, and prevents them from giving the post a completely random permalink. (The actual URL I’m using for this post is http://ohsheblogs.com/how-to-start-a-blog-for-free – it’s clean, simple and includes my main keyword phrase.)

 

Part III: Promotion

Q4 for Bloggers: Promote your posts constantly!
Image via iStockphoto

If you believe that blogging should be 20 percent writing and 80 percent promotion, well, this is the section where you will want to spend the bulk of your time!

 

9. Set up Google Search Console

Google Search Console

Shortly after launching your blog you should set up a (free!) account with Google Search Console. There are many reasons you should do this, but considering that could be a book unto itself, I’m just going to focus on my favorite aspect. You can use Google Search Console to immediately submit your posts for indexing on Google! Typically, it can take quite a while for Google to index posts, but I’ve heard of Google indexing posts in as little as a couple of hours when people submit their links via Search Console!

Moz has published A Beginner’s Guide to Google Search Console, so in the interest of brevity (hahaha!) I’m going to defer to them when it comes to getting set up. Getting set up involves a little bit of technical expertise, although Moz does a great job of explaining everything. Just be sure to devote a few minutes of undivided attention so you can make sure to get it up and running correctly.

Once your account is set up, it’s time to have Google index your site and posts!

How to start a blog for free: Set up Google Search Console

Head into Search Console, and on the left-hand side of the screen go down to “Crawl” and then “Fetch as Google.”

If you want to have Google index your entire site, which you should do if your site is new or you made any major updates, then leave the box in the middle of the page blank and click on “Fetch.” If you want Google to index a new post you have written, then enter the URL of the specific post.

Fetch as Google via Google Search Console

You’ll now have the opportunity to “Request Indexing,” so go ahead and hit that button. You’ll then have the option of Google crawling only that URL (you can do this 500 times per month), or that URL and every other page linked within the post (you can do this 10 times per month). You would use the former for a new blog post and the latter if you want to index your entire site.

After you’ve requested indexing you will be done with this step and your post will be on its way into Google’s good graces.

 

10. Set up a domain-based email account

Note: In order to set up a domain-based email account, you are going to have to follow the recommendation from the very beginning of this post and purchase your domain name. You CAN send out a newsletter without domain-based email, but it also goes a long way in helping you to look more official. If you do not have a custom domain name, just skip this step.

At any point in this process, you can set up a domain-based email account. Having an email account like “Lisa@haveagoodday.com” wasn’t always such a big deal, but now Mailchimp, a popular email delivery service, says this:

“Due to sudden policy changes by free email services like Gmail, Yahoo, and AOL Mail that can limit the delivery of your campaigns, we recommend you choose a From email address that’s associated with a domain you own.

If you don’t currently have your own email domain or access to your organization’s domain, we encourage you to register for one. When you use your own domain in your campaign’s From email address, your email will look more professional, and you’ll get better delivery rates.”

With that in mind, let’s get you a free domain-based email address. Google used to offer this service for free, but have since changed Google Apps to G Suite and a custom domain email will cost you a minimum of $5 per month.

In order to keep this endeavor free AND get you a professional email address, I found Zoho Mail.

Zoho Mail: Free domain-based email address

Zoho appears to offer many of the same services as a business Gmail account, except mailboxes using less than 5GB of storage are FREE!

If you eventually go over that 5GB, the cost to upgrade starts at just $2.50 per month.

In order to use any of the Google tools I have mentioned you will still need a Gmail email address, and I generally don’t recommend using your personal account. For that reason, I’d actually set up two email addresses. The first would be a Gmail email address, such as haveagoodday@gmail.com, and the second would be the business account set up through Zoho. You can always forward any emails received in your Gmail account to Zoho so that you don’t have to constantly check two email addresses.

 

11. Set up a free email newsletter

Once you’ve got your free domain-based email set up, you’ll want to set up an email newsletter. There are three free email services that get mentioned fairly frequently: MailerLite, Mailchimp, and Mad Mimi. I’ve tried all of them and think they all have their positives but I personally recommend and continue to use MailerLite, so that’s what I’m going to focus on here.

MailerLite is a great free email newsletter service

The reason I think MailerLite is a great option if you’re trying to set up your blog for free is because this service is free until you reach 1,000 total subscribers, regardless of how many emails you send out in a month. Depending on how fast your list grows, this could last you for a long while. The service is also easy to set up, and they offer a bunch of free upgrades that you won’t find elsewhere, such as landing pages and automated emails. Automated emails are great if you have content you want to send out to all subscribers over time, or if you have something specific for which you want people to register. An example of an automated email sequence is my Affiliate Marketing 101 e-course, where once you register you will automatically receive 7 emails in a row on different days.

After you set up a free account with MailerLite you will want to think about the type of email newsletter you’d like to send your subscribers. If nothing else, set up an RSS email so that anytime you post your subscribers will be notified via email. Enabling this option will still allow you to reach out directly to your followers anytime you choose to do so as well.

A lot of people say, “the money is in the list,” and while I’m not fully on board with that sentiment, I do think it’s important to give your readers the option to have your posts sent directly to their email inboxes. You never know how someone is going to want to read your blog, so be sure to cover all of your bases.

Be sure to add a sign-up form (or two or three) to your site, too, so you can start growing your list!

Future Upgrade Option:

Please be sure to max out your free subscribers in MailerLite, or whatever other email newsletter service you choose to utilize. An email is an email and there is NO reason to pay to upgrade to a supposedly better service before you are ready (aka when you outgrow the free options and/or when you start making money from your email subscribers). At the point that you actually outgrow a free service I highly recommend checking out ConvertKit, which is what I use for this site. I would basically describe it as MailerLite on steroids. It has all the bells and whistles in an easy-to-use interface, but it is not cheap and prices start at $29 per month for less than 1,000 subscribers.

 

12. Set up your social media profiles

Luckily for all of us bloggers, social media accounts are still free! And, not only are they free, but they can send a ton of traffic your way if you learn how to use them correctly. Check out our list of social media sites all bloggers should be using for all of the details. At the very minimum you’ll want to get set up on:

  • Pinterest
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram

If running four social media accounts seems overwhelming, remember that there are plenty of (free) Set up your social media accountsservices that will help you auto-post and simulcast posts across networks.

Remember to take some time and add appropriate size headers and/or logos to each site and to fill out your profile for each site, being sure to include a link to your website.

For more on how to make the most of each of these platforms, I highly recommend checking out the book Jab, Jab Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk. It goes in-depth into the best type of content to create and promote on every social network.

Future Upgrade Option:

Pinterest is the one site that consistently brings bloggers tons of traffic and so I’d recommend starting here if there’s one site that you were going to take the time to really get to know. Although it’s pricey, once you have the money one of the few courses I highly recommend investing in is Melyssa Griffin’s Pinfinite Growth. (Check out my Pinfinite Growth review for all of the details.) This course completely changed the way I use Pinterest, which means that it’s my second main source of traffic behind Google.

 

13. Set up a social media auto-scheduler

As I mentioned above, the toughest part about needing to be on so many different social media sites is that it can be really time-consuming trying to keep up with all of them! There’s only so much time in the day, and common wisdom says that you should continuously share the things you create on social media since the shelf life of a tweet or Facebook post is only so long.

You might enjoy:
11 Ways to Make Money on Pinterest

One of the most popular social media schedulers is Edgar, but it costs $50 per month and that’s just crazy town. Buffer is a good option that’s free, but you can only schedule up to 10 posts per profile at a time under their free plan. Currently, the best free social media scheduler is Recurpost.

Recurpost: Social media scheduler

With Recurpost you can schedule up to 100 total posts across Facebook (your profile, pages, or groups), LinkedIn, and Twitter.

The way Recurpost works is that you connect your social media accounts to the site, and then take some time to build a “library” of content. On a schedule that you determine, Recurpost will then automatically post that content on your behalf. Your library can be filled with things like your blog posts, other people’s blog posts, quotes, or anything else you think your audience would enjoy. You actually should include a variety of different types of information, especially if you’re using Recurpost to schedule to Facebook, because Facebook doesn’t like when you only share your own content.

Considering that blogging should be 20 percent writing and 80 percent promotion, Recurpost makes it easy to do some promoting, while also snagging a little bit of free time back for yourself. You can set it and forget it, though you should also take a look every so often to see if anything needs to be updated and/or any of your new posts need to be added to the queue.

Future Upgrade Option:

While I’ve heard great things about Recurpost (and Buffer) from many bloggers, if at some point you want to move to a more powerful option then I highly recommend MassPlanner. MassPlanner works with more social media networks and lets you schedule an unlimited number of posts for $9.95 per month. I’ve been using MassPlanner for a year now and the only downside I’ve found is that it has to run on a PC, so if you’re a Mac user like me you either have to use a virtual private server (VPS) or invest in a PC. I ended up investing in a cheap laptop (less than $200 from Amazon), which I now consider my “personal assistant.” It will also make for a nice tax write-off in April.

 

14. Drive traffic to your blog via Facebook groups

There are quite a few different ways that you can promote your blog posts for free, but one of my favorites is through Facebook groups. Over the past couple of years, quite a few groups have launched that are dedicated almost entirely to the art of blog promotion. In these groups, there are various threads that you can join on a daily basis. For instance, let’s say you’d like to get more retweets on something you posted to Twitter. You could share the link to your tweet in these groups and others who are participating will retweet you. You, in turn, will need to retweet something for everyone else participating in the thread.

There are threads available for nearly every social media network. Threads can take up a LOT of time, though, so here are a couple of recommendations to help you make the most of them:

  • Ideally, you want to create a community of readers who aren’t necessarily other bloggers themselves. (I mean, I love bloggers, obviously, but for my main site I want my readers to be people who want to click on my affiliate links to make purchases… not people who will click on their own links to purchase items I recommend!) In order to reach non-bloggers, focus on social media threads that have the potential to get your post in front of more eyeballs. Pinterest share threads are GREAT for this since Pinterest sends so much traffic to bloggers and there are tons of non-bloggers using the platform. What’s probably going to be of less use to you is getting other bloggers to like your Facebook page as this will bring you virtually no traffic. If time is a factor, focus on what will benefit you the most, and that’s almost always going to be legitimate blog traffic.
  • The blogging landscape has changed quite a bit over the past few years and people just don’t leave comments as frequently as they did in the past. Unless it’s for a sponsored post where you want to show an advertiser that your engagement was through the roof, I really wouldn’t recommend spending too much time in commenting threads. In the grand scheme of things, those comments won’t do you much good.

There’s no shortage of Facebook blogging groups these days, but a few of my favorites that have blog promotion threads include the Blog Promo Community, Bloggers Supporting Bloggers, Grow Your Blog, and Social Media Network Group. There are TONS more where these came from, though! Just do a Facebook group search for “blogging” and join away.

 

 

Part IV: Make Money Blogging

How to start a blog for free and tips for how to make money from your free blog | Oh, She Blogs!

Finally, it’s time to talk about the best part of blogging… aka when you start to make money blogging.

One word of warning, though. There are a lot of courses and such out there that will try to sell you on the idea that you can make $10,000 per month if all you do is buy the course or work with a consultant! To the vast majority, I say this: bologna. Blogging is a long-term adventure. You can start a blog for free. You can start a blog for free and make money from it. Are you going to make money from it today? No, probably not. Tomorrow? No, probably not. It’s going to take a lot of time, effort, dedication and you’re going to need to work constantly to refine your craft.

Eventually, though, I promise that anyone can make money from blogging. But if you get discouraged because it doesn’t happen instantly, well, I don’t know what to tell you other than the best things come to those who work hard.

The best things come to those who work hard.Click To Tweet

Below are the top ways bloggers make money, but for more information on the topic you can also check out How to Diversify Your Blogging Income.

15. Advertising

There are a few different ways that you can place advertisements on your blog. For instance, you can work with ad networks or you can reach out to potential advertisers directly to try to work out individual deals.

Personally, I recommend starting with Google AdSense. If you’re using Blogger on your free blog, getting started with Adsense couldn’t be easier since they’re both Google companies! AdSense pays out a few pennies whenever someone sees your ad or, in some instances, when people click on the ads. (Do NOT click on the ads yourself or ask others to do it for you as this can get you banned from AdSense.) I think AdSense is a great introduction to blog advertising and I still use it on my site.

You can use AdSense to place ads in your sidebar, above your header, near your footer or even within posts themselves. One thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to CPM ads (meaning you get paid per thousand views), it pays to have your ads near the top of the page because that’s where they’re more likely to be seen.

Another great advertising option for new and old bloggers alike is Amazon Native Shopping Ads.

Future Upgrade Option:

Joining an advertising network shouldn’t cost any money, but in this case, you might consider upgrading to a new advertising network as your traffic continues to grow. For instance, Mediavine has a good reputation as being a great ad network for bloggers, but you need to have 30,000 visitors a month to apply.

 

16. Affiliate marketing

Obviously, affiliate marketing is my preferred method of blog monetization. The difference between traditional advertising and affiliate marketing is that while advertisers will pay you just for page views, with affiliate marketing you get paid if someone clicks on a link in your post and makes a purchase. In other words, affiliate marketing is very similar to earning a commission as a salesperson.

The secret to being good at affiliate marketing is finding products that interest you AND that will interest your readers and that you can “sell” without being too salesy. The “sales” aspect might be different at first, but with a little bit of practice, you’ll find it’s not hard at all and you don’t actually have to do a sales pitch to your readers. Some easy ways to include affiliate links in your blog posts include:

  • Create a gift guide
  • Review products
  • Recipe bloggers can include links to pantry items or pots and pans or utensils that are necessary
  • Fashion bloggers can include links to the products you’re wearing or similar items
  • Travel bloggers can join some of the myriad travel affiliate programs
  • If you write about food and wine you could join some wine affiliate programs
  • Wedding bloggers might find success joining the Etsy affiliate program and promoting the plethora of wedding-related items that are on the site

There are thousands of affiliate programs out there, and there’s definitely going to be someone selling products that you can easily feature on your blog.

Tips to help you get started with affiliate marketing:

You can and should add affiliate links to your blog on day one.

Aside from Amazon Associates, every company belongs to one or more affiliate networks. Here are the best affiliate networks for bloggers, though ShareaSale is my absolute favorite. Here are some of the best ShareaSale programs for bloggers, which is based on the companies that are generous in offering samples, bonuses, and other incentives.

If affiliate marketing is completely new to you, check out our free e-course, Affiliate Marketing 101, which walks you through everything you’ll need to know to get affiliate links up and running on your site in no time.

 

17. Influencer networks

Influencer networks exist to help bloggers more easily connect with brands, primarily for the purpose of creating sponsored content. There are networks that focus primarily on blog content and others that focus on social media. Here are 10 influencer networks you need to join now.

One of the biggest networks that most bloggers have heard of is BlogHer, but at my last count there are more than 35 networks and new ones seem to pop up regularly. Be sure to register for our email newsletter and I’ll send you the list I’ve compiled of influencer networks, as well as so many other companies that want to help you make money blogging!

I don’t recommend relying solely on influencer networks to make money blogging because the work isn’t typically consistent, but they can certainly be a great way to add to your income!

 

Part V: Final Tips

A few more tips for how to start a blog for free | Oh, She Blogs!

And now, the end is near…

I’ve given you all of the tools you’ll need to start a blog for free and make money from it, but here are a few more tips before you go.

 

18. Set up a posting schedule and stick to it

You can promote your posts, pin your posts and use good SEO tactics. But the best way to grow your blog is to develop a steady base of readers who return regularly. One of the easiest things you can do to make sure this happens is to set up a posting schedule and stick to it.

Your readers will want to know when they can expect to hear from you next, but it can be hard to build loyalty if you’re only posting once every two months.

Set a realistic goal for yourself. You don’t have to post every day and it’s OK if you don’t always stick to the schedule. Just try to publish new content on a consistent basis.

 

19. Update old posts periodically

You need to write posts. You need to promote your posts. But you also need to update old blog posts. Every so often you should take a look at posts you’ve written to ensure that all links are working and that your affiliate links are up-to-date. It also never hurts to take a minute to proofread the post again… just in case!

 

20. Make a wish list of upgrades

As your blog begins to make money, be sure to treat yourself (and your site) to upgrades. Remember, though, that you don’t have to do everything at once nor do you ever have to upgrade to whatever the hot product or service of the moment may be because it is going to constantly change. Invest in products that will actually make you more successful or teach you a skill that would help you to be more successful.Make a wish list of upgrades for your blog

While I hope this post has shown you that it is absolutely possible to start a new blog for free, the first upgrade I would recommend you make is to migrate to a self-hosted WordPress site. Going self-hosted will give you the opportunity to expand a bit more and get you out from under the clutches of Google. I’m not one of those people who thinks that Google is going to start shutting down blogs whenever they want but technically they could do that. You’ll have more protection from that once you go self-hosted. Aside from that, though, the two things I love the most about being self-hosted in WordPress is that you have greater design flexibility (and it’s easier to update, too) and there are so many plugins you can add that will make blogging life easier.

I see a lot of people comment about how they don’t know how to transfer their sites should they move to being self-hosted, and this is where I say that choosing a good host is imperative. I highly recommend SiteGround as they will transfer your blog posts for you. (Unfortunately, your site design cannot transfer between Blogger and WordPress, so devise a plan to deal with that before making a switch.)

Typically, the amount that you pay for going self-hosted will depend on the quality of the web host as well as the traffic you get to your blog. I would say that the average range is around $35-$100 per year and most hosts charge a one-time fee per year (aka there’s no monthly plan). Make the switch once you can swing that yearly fee AND you’ve decided that blogging is something you’d like to continue doing so that the cost is worthwhile.

 

21. Keep track of all income and purchases for tax season

Whether you blog full-time or not, you should keep track of all of your income and expenses for tax season.

Remember that you should be reporting all blogging-related income on your taxes. On the other hand, remember that you can also use all blogging-related expenses as tax deductions. It is imperative that you keep good records of both income and expenses. I recommend Xero, which is an online accounting program, to help you keep track of everything.

 

22. Don’t compare yourself to others

What I love about blogging is that there’s room for all of us. Yes, sometimes it feels like the blogging landscape is crowded, but think about how many readers there are compared to bloggers. There are far more readers than there are bloggers! Plus, how many blog readers do you know who only read one blog?

Don't compare yourself to othersOne thing to keep in mind is that we are not in competition with one another. Some bloggers will get opportunities that you won’t get. Shrug and move on because at some point you’ll receive opportunities that others won’t receive. Advertisers and collaborators are all looking for different things, so I recommend trying to tune out the noise as much as possible and just focusing on what you can do to become a better blogger each and every day.

Also? Stop reading blogging income reports. As a freelancer, which is essentially what bloggers are, we are all going to have different paths to making money. There’s room for all of us to be successful and there’s room for all of us to make money. Take inspiration from those reports, if you need to, but don’t for a second think you need to replicate them to make money or that you need to follow any one blueprint. When it comes to being a successful blogger, and making money from your blog, everyone has to forge their own path.

Be yourself. Let your personality shine through in your blog.

I can’t say it enough: Don’t compare yourself to others. Have confidence that you can succeed. There’ll be hard days and success rarely comes quickly. Every day, however, just do what you can to get a little bit better and earn a little bit more money.

Good luck!

 

 

Do Tell: What other tips do you recommend for those who are wondering how to start a blog for free? Did you start your own blog for free and then upgrade as you started making money?

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Lisa Koivu

Founder at Oh, She Blogs!
Lisa Koivu is the founder of Oh, She Blogs! A seven year blogging veteran, Lisa can also be found posting shopping deals and steals at ShopGirlDaily.com . In her free time (ha!) she is also a freelance writer who has written for About.com and U.S. News.
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  • Thank so much for this post Lisa! I was feeling frustrated with my blog and now I realize it’s due to conflicting information. Everything I’ve read said to pay for this amd that and right now, I can’t afford it. The tips and advice you provide here are absolutely amazing and on point! I’m glad to have read this (bookmarking it as favorite since I will need to revisit ). Again, thank you so much for this! Cheers! 🙂

  • Thank you for this post. You are an amazing writer and I appreciate that you reached out to people like me who couldn’t afford $200 I’ve seen to start a blog. I love this article. Thank you Thank you Thank you.

  • Than you Lisa Koivu

    i read your post i am so happy because you explain A to Z information about blog . and your word combination are awesome i like it 🙂

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you Lisa!!!
    I am one of the many bloggers who have shelled out hundreds of dollars on hosting, domains and the lot just to find that, blogging isn’t necessarily my goal (I want to create info products and use my blog for content marketing mainly).

    This post is exactly what I need to downsize and start fresh!
    So am I able to use zoho mail in a way that will create a custom domain email?

    Thanks!

  • I have been looking for a post like this all month. Thank you. I am finally beginning to feel exciteds about starting a blog and confident. You are truly amazing. One thing I am having difficulty doing is adding my domain to blogger. I purchased my domain from namecheap but can’t figures out what to do. Any help or tips appreciated. Thank you again for this amazing post!

    • Absolutely – you don’t have to pay for hosting to get ranked by Google! All of the free domains should have information about listing your site with Google Search Console. If you can’t find it, do a google search for, “Google Search Console Weebly,” or whatever domain you’re using and you should find the information. Submit your site to Google and you should be good to go. Good luck!

  • I’m not even done reading this post and every paragraph I am nodding my head saying, yes! now THIS is what I was looking for! Thank you so much for such an informative post. I have read post after post and would get quite frustrated when they’re all saying the same thing about using their affiliate link to start with “the only blogging platform you should use” and how to set that up and then, end of post. No information about the nitty gritty stuff that is probably in the “must have” courses that are (in my frugal opinion) just too expensive! This post however is making me feel motivated and inspired again thinking maybe I CAN do this without having to buy 10 blogging courses! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your knowledge of actionable steps and necessities of blogging. I’ll be saving this page and checking out everything else you have to offer from your sites!

    • Natalie- Thank you for this very sweet comment. It really made my day! More importantly, though, I’m really happy that the post is helping you get going. For some things, you might have to do a little bit more research, but pretty much everything you need to know about blogging can be found on Pinterest for free. Best of luck to you!