Owen WilliamsFormer TNW employee
Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their word Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their words friendlier. In his spare time he codes, writes newsletters and cycles around the city.
Despite ongoing cries that blogging is slowly dying, there are still tons of people looking to start a new free blog for the first time or move to a better platform on the Web.
We wrote a comprehensive guide to blogging platforms two years ago, but the landscape has changed dramatically in that time, with new entrants and technologies offering completely new approaches to writing.
If you’re looking for a free blog site or a premium solution, here’s our ultimate guide to the best platforms for getting your blog set up for the first time, or as a new home for those who are tired of what they’re already using.
- A quick primer
- Scriptogram R.I.P.
- The ones that didn’t make it
Recommended Business Apps
A quick primer
There are a whole lot of confusing words and technologies involved in setting up your own blog, so consider this your glossary. These are the common terms you will run into when trying to set up your own blog.
This is usually provided by a company that manages the entire blog for you. All you need to do is sign up and you can start blogging without worrying about setting up your own server or knowing how to code. An example of a hosted service is WordPress.com.
A self-hosted blog means paying a company like Digital Ocean to rent a server, then downloading some blogging software to install on your own. This option requires some basic technical skills to set up things like a database and custom domain name.
The domain name is the URL of your website, or how people can find you online. An example of a domain name is www.thenextweb.com or www.facebook.com. To get one, you’ll usually need to pay a yearly fee to a domain name provider like IWantMyName or NameCheap.
You’ll also see references to sub-domains. They’re used by third-party services like WordPress or Tumblr so you don’t need to buy your own. Here’s an example – owenw.wordpress.com.
Markdown is a simplified way of formatting your text, developed by John Gruber. For example, to make text bold you would *write it like this* and to link a phrase, it would [look like this](https://thenextweb.com).
It might look intimidating at first, but it’s actually a graceful way to write, because there’s no complicated user interface to get in your way.
A flat-file CMS doesn’t use a database to generate the site, instead relying on text files stored on the server to serve up pages. These sites are easier to move and manage because there are less moving parts.
WordPress (Hosted or self-hosted)
The default choice for many bloggers, WordPress remains the most popular choice and comes in two forms. WordPress.com offers a freemium hosted service that provides free sub-domains and limited customization to users, or WordPress.org’s free self-hosted option that doesn’t contain the restrictions found on the hosted version.
The organization hasn’t shared any official usage statistics since 2013, when it claimed to run about 19 percent of all websites (W3Techs says Wordpress made up approximately 23 percent in 2014).
Over the last two years WordPress has seen a lot of improvements, such as a distraction-free writing mode, better media editing tools, full emoji support and a fully responsive administration interface.
WordPress remains the king of customization, with thousands of plugins and themes available for installation to make the platform do whatever you please. That said, using them correctly requires a fair amount of knowledge so you should be careful which ones you choose.
It might be the most boring choice of blogging platform, but it’s also the most reliable.
Pros: Most mature blog platform, stable and highly customizable through plugins and themes
Cons: Can be complex to configure beyond the basic setup, self-hosting has a high learning curve.
Verdict: If you’re new to blogging and want full control over how your site looks and feels, WordPress remains the best choice. It’s rock-solid and has been around for a number of years.
➤ WordPress.com (hosted) / WordPress.org (self-hosted)
Many people mistake Squarespace as a service for simply setting up a business website, but its blogging platform is best in class. Starting at $8 per month, Squarespace makes it easy to build a good-looking blog without any coding experience whatsoever.
The service provides a range of theme options, but if you’re adept at coding you can also build your own.
The best thing about Squarespace is how easy it is to set up. You can easily build out an entire website alongside your blog.
Squarespace’s blogging interface is simple, easy to use and allows you easily embed a huge amount of third-party content like videos, calendars and even restaurant menus.
Pros: Easy to set up and build a great-looking blog
Cons: No free plan, only available as a hosted offering
Verdict: If you want an easy, hassle free blog that’s a cinch to maintain and you don’t mind spending money, Squarespace is the best choice.
If you’re nervous about setting up a blog only to have the service you choose eventually disappearing, Posthaven is an excellent choice.
Posthaven rose from the ashes of Posterous, which was abruptly taken offline after it was acquired by Twitter.
Touted as an offering that plans to last “forever,” Posthaven costs $5 per month to set up your blog. It’s fairly basic and doesn’t offer a raft of features, but makes it easy to quickly share your thoughts, pictures or other content.
Pros: Posthaven hopes that it’ll stick around longer than most alternatives, easy to set up and get publishing
Cons: Very basic, not offering features that other services offer already
Verdict: A good choice if you’re worried about your blog being around for as long as possible
Originally conceived in 2013 as part of a highly successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $300,000, Ghost has been in active (albeit slow) development ever since.
The platform is based on a modern Web technology called Node.js, which means it’s fast and responsive, even under heavy loads. The interface is fast and simple, using Markdown for formatting posts.
It’s initially fairly basic, but Ghost themes are highly customizable (if you know how to code) and the community building them has grown rapidly. Right now, there are no third-party plugins as Ghost doesn’t support them, however they’re expected to land later this year.
Ghost is available in two flavors, as a download for self-hosting or the hosted GhostPro option which starts at $8 per month.
Pros: Super fast, modern blog platform that’s easy to use. The new-comer on the block.
Cons: Ghost is slow to add new features, slightly harder to self-host than WordPress
Verdict: The best alternative to WordPress, if you don’t mind a few missing features
Kirby is a unique, flat-file CMS built using PHP that keeps things extremely basic but offers a lot of customizability. Out of the box, Kirby works as a blog, however it really shines when you develop your own themes.
Oriented toward developers, Kirby makes it easy to develop your own customized blog with fairly basic PHP knowledge. The CMS takes care of complex tasks and its API is inspired by jQuery so you’ll probably already know how to use it if you’ve coded in the past.
Perhaps the best feature of Kirby is you are able to create “blueprints” for the site, which adds custom fields in the administration panel for filling in areas of your custom designs. There’s also a healthy third-party plugin community.
Because Kirby is flat-file based, you’ll need to self-host it. One cool thing to note: because Kirby doesn’t rely on a database to run, storing all posts as files, it’s easy to switch hosting providers at any time and maintain backups.
This also means it’s fairly simple in nature, so you can’t do things like schedule posts right now. In the past, Kirby has been my CMS of choice because it’s so intuitive to develop for.
Kirby is free to try and build your theme, but you’ll need to pay $15 for a personal license before you put it online.
Pros: Easy to build custom themes without extra learning required, simple to use and friendly interface
Cons: To truly take advantage of Kirby you’ll need to know how to code
Verdict: A great choice if you know some PHP and aren’t scared away by having to code
When Medium arrived on the scene in 2012, it was a major shake-up for the blogging universe. It delivered a beautiful interface and a network that can reach a lot of people.
Medium has one of the most well-designed post editors out there, making it easy to quickly style text, quotes, images and other media in an attractive way. There are no options to customize themes or look and feel of your ‘blog’ but different image layouts, quotes and text uses can make a big difference.
There are two major gotchas with Medium: first, you’re required to use the hosted Medium site and second, custom domains are supported but are only invite-only for now so you’ll probably end up with something like http://medium.com/@yourtwittername.
That said, Medium is a great place to get started because it’s currently very popular. If you write something that gets enough recommendations, it can end up on the homepage or in people’s email inboxes, which drives a significant amount of traffic.
Pros: Instant setup, easy to use, fantastic editor
Cons: Limited customization, no custom domain support and no self-hosting option
Verdict: If you want a no-setup way to get blogging, this is it. If you want to customize your blog, try something else
In the same vein as Medium, Svbtle is a dead-simple blogging platform for just getting set up and writing straight away.
Svbtle focuses on making the writing experience as simple as possible. The interface is stripped back, offering only what you need to write and publish a post. It uses Markdown for text formatting.
You can’t customize your blog very much outside of an accent color and logo and it doesn’t offer as many options for arranging your images and text as Medium. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, because Svbtle is designed for simplicity.
In the past, Svbtle was invite-only but it opened up in 2014 for all to publish on, offering either a sub-domain or the use of your own custom domain.
Svbtle is only available in hosted form, for $6 per month.
Pros: Dead-simple interface for reducing distractions when writing, popular among the technology community
Cons: Limited customization, Medium offers more features for free and no mobile app
Verdict: Great platform for reducing distractions and just writing, however the limited customization options and restricted interface are not for everyone
Postagon’s focus is creating a simple, clean blog for you in a few seconds. It’s a feature rich blogging platform that offers RSS feeds, social sharing, cross-browser editing and more.
Like a number of the other options here, Postagon only offers a single theme with limited customization options. You can’t change the way the theme looks beyond a few photos, but it works well on mobile and desktop.
For $5 per month, you get all features and custom domain support.
Pros: Lots of features included with minimal setup to get blogging
Cons: Limited customization, no mobile app and no new features recently
For the adventurous, or those that simply don’t want anything complex. Jekyll is a powerful ‘static site generator’ that uses Ruby to generate your site from text files.
The idea is that with Jekyll , you don’t need any moving parts in your web app. You simply write your post, run a command and a static site made up of HTML files is generated.
This technique means you’ve got a rock-solid website that can handle a significant amount of traffic with very few issues and you can write in your own editor, on your terms.
You need to be comfortable coding and using a command line, but Jekyll lets you build highly-customized sites. If you’re brave enough, Paul Stamatiou, a designer at Twitter, has written an excellent set up guide.
Pros: Very customizable, you can use your own editor and build your own themes, handles high traffic levels well
Cons: You need to know how to code and be comfortable finding your way around a command line
Verdict: Want to nerd out and build your own blog? Jekyll is the absolute best way to do it.
A slightly different way of thinking about a CMS for developers, Contentful delivers your blog as an API. You write in Contentful, then code a separate interface to pull in your posts from the cloud.
This approach lets you also build your own mobile apps and access content easily there, too. There’s no interface or front-end, that’s all up to you. Contentful just provides the tools to create a post and delivers it as code.
Pros: You’re not tied to anyone’s interface or development language, instead you can use anything you want.
Cons: It’s up to you to build the entire thing
Verdict: Only for the most adventurous developers
It’s feature rich, easy to self-install and gives you ownership of your own content.
Pros: Free, open-source CMS without the bloat
Cons: If you don’t want the basic theme, you’ll need to know how to code.
Verdict: A good choice if you’re comfortable building your own site as well as taking care of self-hosting.
A beautifully designed minimal platform for getting blogging done. If Medium and Ghost had a child, Silvrback would be the result – a beautifully designed, minimal platform for getting blogging done.
Silvrback focuses heavily on design and getting out of the way so you can blog. It’s a hosted offering that focuses heavily on design, with a number of useful feature such as email subscriptions, custom domain support and syntax highlighting for developers
It costs $29.99 per year to run a Silvrblack blog, but it’s a great option for those that want to own their own content rather than handing it off to a company that can only profit from selling your data.
Pros: Beautifully designed, easy to use and independent
Cons: Limited design options, only available in hosted form
Verdict: It’s hard to fault Silvrback; it’s an independent blogging platform that’s well developed, easy to use and offers a great alternative to the mainstream choices.
Still the cool kid on the block, Tumblr is a great place to quickly get your own blog set up. It’s full of young people and hipsters, but Tumblr’s blogging tools are easy to use and unique.
The service is built around different post types, so you can share a photo set, quote or video post, rather than just cramming different content types into a default style.
The most powerful thing about Tumblr is that, just like Medium, there’s a community that you can engage with – it’s more than just a blogging platform.
That helps to get your blog out there and noticed. If you’re self-hosting, using something like WordPress, you don’t have that advantage.
Tumblr is free to use, but has advertising.
Pros: Easy to set up, thousands of theme options available (free and paid), community can help get you started
Cons: Full of teens and hipsters, not everyone wants social networking baked into their blog
Verdict: Tumblr makes it easy to get started and meet like-minded people, significantly more so than most traditional blogging platforms. It’s easy to get started and makes it easier to find like-minded bloggers, significantly more so than most traditional blogging platforms.
LinkedIn has quietly become a popular blogging platform and the company finally launched blog analytics last week. If you’re looking to make a name in business blogging, it could be the place to do it.
There aren’t many options, since this isn’t so much a traditional blog as a tool built on top of LinkedIn’s social network. That said, if you write good content that’s relevant to those that follow you, it’s a powerful way to reach a wider audience, thanks to the social network’s sharing tools.
Pros: You’re blogging right where the business audience is, LinkedIn has powerful tools for amplifying your content on its network
Cons: There are essentially no configuration options and you’re blogging on top of a social network so you don’t really own your own content. Also, not everyone appears to have access
Verdict: Want to reach business readers? LinkedIn is a good place to start, but don’t expect any fancy options
Postach.io is a little different – it turns an Evernote notebook into a blog. All you need to do is connect it up, tag entries you want to publish, and it will do the rest.
Postach.io is $9 per month for up to ten sites and five authors, or $90 per year with two free months. It’s a hosted-only offering, but also keeps things incredibly simple, while letting you retain control over your own content.
Pros: Easy to use, setup completed in a matter of minutes, integrates into your existing workflow
Cons: Fairly limited options, a little odd to work out of Evernote
Verdict: Love Evernote? Use this.
This blogging platform turns a folder in your Dropbox into a blog. The company aims to reduce friction to blogging by allowing you to put words on the internet as fast as possible.
All you need to do is create a Markdown file in your Dropbox — which you can do from any device — and hit synchronize to publish. Scriptogram has a number of custom themes, but you’ve also got complete control over the CSS if you prefer that.
What’s most compelling is that Scriptogram is free and supports your custom domain without any additional cost.
Pros: Free, works with Dropbox, easy to get publishing
Cons: It being free means the company will have to monetize one day, right?
Verdict: It’s worth using Scriptogram if you don’t mind using Markdown and like not paying money
GitHub offers free website hosting for every user. Tinypress builds on that to make it easy to quickly get an open-source blog – where anyone can submit errors of corrections – on the service.
It offers a simple editing interface, customizable themes, a full Markdown/HTML editor and an Android app. If you’re familiar with GitHub, you can download your blog as a repository and directly edit it in your favorite text editor.
You don’t need a custom domain to use Tinypress, because GitHub provides a free sub-domain for you. You can also use a custom domain for free. The service was formerly $9.99 per year, but is now available for free.
Pros: Developer friendly, easy to use and free
Cons: If you don’t know Git, this could get complicated
Verdict: Nerd out and use this for a fully customizable, but simple, free blog
You might laugh that this is even an option in here, but it’s increasingly becoming the choice of platform for younger generations.
If you don’t want to set anything up and want the easiest way to make your content shareable, you can just write in the notes app on your phone and drop it on social media. It sounds ridiculous, but loads of the celebrities are doing it.
Pros: Easy to just write, no setup required
Cons: You didn’t actually create your own blog
Verdict: Screenshorts are a legitimate way to blog, but probably not a credible one
Last time we wrote a roundup of publishing platforms in 2013, there were a number of options that appeared that didn’t make it this time. Here’s a quick overview of why:
Google+: It’s fairly obvious why you shouldn’t be publishing on Google Plus, but if you weren’t aware, it’s not doing particularly well as the company has neglected it in recent times, even splitting off some of its services.
Quora: It’s a place you can blog if you really want, but that’s not all that popular anymore. You’re better off moving somewhere new.
Blogger: This platform is dead. Google might insist that it isn’t, but the company also isn’t putting any effort into it at all and hasn’t for a number of years. It’s not a safe bet.
Facebook Notes: Do you really want to be that person in your friend circle that’s blogging on Facebook?
Did we miss any great new blogging platforms? Let us know in the comments!
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