Ever thought about starting a blog? It's a great way to get your voice heard, become part of an online community, or simply keep an online account of your life. It's a fun hobby and can offer up plenty of brilliant opportunities, but it can seem very daunting when it comes to starting one.
The good news is, it's actually pretty easy, and more often than not you can get started for free. We'll talk you through how to start a blog and share some blogging tips. We'll also help you decide which platform is best for you: WordPress, Blogger or Tumblr?
Choose a subject for your blog
The first thing you'll need to decide is what your blog is going to be about. Here at Tech Advisor, lots of our writers also have blogs of their own about things that interest us outside of the world of technology. For example, Reviews Editor Chris Martin's blog Alcohol by Volume is all about beer, spirits, homebrew and music, while mine, Ashleigh Online, is a bookish blog with a touch of home, lifestyle and travel.
You can blog about just about anything. It's your slice of the internet ready for you to put your own stamp on. It's important to choose something that you're really interested in, because it's no fun at all if blogging begins to feel like a chore.
What's the best blogging platform?
Once you're confident that you've chosen what you want to blog about (you'll need to pick a catchy name for your blog too) you can start thinking about the blogging platform you want to use. There are four main options, all with quite different benefits. Read on to find out whether Tumblr, Wordpress.com, Wordpress.org or Blogger is best for you.
We'll start with the most casual blogging platform of the four: Tumblr. Tumblr is more of a social network than a blogging platform, but it's where many blogs start out. Its feed and hashtags mean you can get your blog posts in front of lots of people from the start, but we've found that it works best for 'fandoms' (that's what they're calling groups with a particular obsession with celebrity, film series, book etc. Members of the Harry Potter fandom call themselves 'Potterheads' for example, or Beyoncé fans are called the 'Beyhive').
If the subject you've chosen fits into the fandom category, Tumblr is probably a great place to start your blog. It's also good for those looking to post mostly photos rather than articles with lots of text.
I have a casual blog on Tumblr that I've neglected of late called Book Spotter London. I chose Tumblr because I knew it would be a mega casual blog that features reasonably short and simple posts that are always the same structure. It doesn't require multiple categories, a menu or a more complex design, so it works well as a Tumblr blog (you can click the image below to see more).
And if you do decide to go with Tumblr but are worried that you'll later change your mind, you'll be pleased to hear that it's fairly easy to migrate your entire blog over to Blogger or Wordpress at a later date without losing any of its content.
Blogger is Google's blogging platform. It's a free platform that simply requires a Google account. The free account will get you access to a variety of templates and a URL that ends in blogspot.com, but you can pay to add your own template and URL.
There are thousands of Blogger designers out there with templates you can buy for a small fee or commission if you're looking for something completely unique to you. A popular choice among beauty and lifestyle bloggers is Pipdig, for example.
And if you want to buy your own domain name (URL) you can do so via Blogger itself or from the likes of GoDaddy, 123-reg, 1and1 and others for a small yearly fee. It'll cost you somewhere in the region of £15/$15 per year to buy your own domain name. It's definitely worth considering, no matter what platform you choose, because it'll make your blog that bit more professional.
We think Blogger's standard, free templates tend to look more dated than those you'll pay for, particularly compared with WordPress's free options, which we talk more about below.
One of the benefits of Blogger is that you can use Adsense, which could earn you a few extra pennies thanks to advertising on your blog.
Like WordPress, you'll get analytics to help you track how many people are reading your posts and where they came from.
Again, there are ways to migrate from Blogger to WordPress at a later date if you eventually decide it's not right for you.
Chris's blog started life on WordPress.com and remains there right now, so if you're looking for an example of a wordpress.com, visit Alcohol by Volume.
Like Blogger, you can set up a WordPress blog completely free of charge with a URL that ends in wordpress.com and a free template from the broad WordPress selection. There are also paid-for template options here that give you some more design options but remain hosted by WordPress, so you won't need to worry about purchasing a domain name or finding a server to host your site on (you'll find out more about this below).
WordPress is our platform of choice because it has a simple and intuitive interface that you'll get used to in no time, in addition to that better selection of free templates.
It's really easy for readers to follow your blog on WordPress too, and for them to Like and comment on it, which is both motivating and useful for boosting engagement and page views.
One downside to WordPress.com is that you might see some small adverts on your blog that are put there by WordPress. It's essentially how you're able to use the service for free. You won't get any money for these ads and you won't be able to remove them, but thankfully they're very small and unobtrusive so you're unlikely to even notice.
If you want to have full control over your blog's design and its adverts, and are comfortable with taking on some more technical challenges that may take some time to master (there's plenty of help available from WordPress should you need it), we'd recommend WordPress.org. You'll get everything available from WordPress.com and lots more.
This isn't a free option, so is better for those who've had a blog before, are looking to migrate from another blogging platform, or are intending to take blogging quite seriously from the get-go.
WordPress.org will require you to buy or build your own template (there are thousands to choose from, and tools that let you build your own if you've got a very specific design in mind) and you'll need to find somewhere to host it. We explain more about this and advise you of some of the best hosting options in our round-up of the best web hosting services.
If this is starting to sound a bit daunting, you might be pleased to hear that there are plenty of services out there that will set up your blog for you and apply your design ready for you to add your own content. Many template designers will offer this service for free if you buy one of their templates, and others will charge a small fee.
WordPress.org can be customised further through the use of plugins. These can be anything from Google Analytics to SEO tools or newsletters. You can find out about some of the best in our list of the top 8 WordPress plugins.
My blog started life on Tumblr before being migrated to WordPress.com and more recently WordPress.org (which I host on SiteGround). If you want to see an example of a WordPress.org website, you can see it by clicking here or on the image below. But even some of the popular websites you spend time on every day use WordPress, so you're certainly in good company if you choose to do so.
Once you've decided which blogging platform you're going to start with, you'll be able to sign up and follow the (generally very simple) instructions to actually get your blog up and running. Follow the links below to sign up for your platform of choice.
Your blog is probably looking rather empty right now, so you'll need to start thinking more specifically about what you're going to write. You should set up an 'About' page on your blog to explain who you are and what the blog is going to be about. You can also share contact information here if you want to encourage readers to reach out to you.
Then, you'll want to write a blog post or two on your chosen subject. Be sure to include images to make your post more visually appealing. It's a good idea to visit other related blogs to get some inspiration, too.
You might want to think about a blogging schedule, but it's important not to get too hung up on that because it'll soon suck the fun out of blogging. A target is good, but be realistic and don't be too hard on yourself if you can't quite meet it.
Use social media
Now that you've got some content on your blog, you'll want to start spreading the word. You can choose to share your blog on your personal Twitter and Facebook accounts or start new, blog-specific profiles to promote your blog.
Social media is key to blogging. You'll want to use Twitter to communicate with other bloggers and your readers, but also relevant brands and companies that you might be blogging about. You might also begin to find collaboration opportunities with other bloggers on social media too. Blogging communities can be great fun to be a part of and is one of the things we like most about blogging here at PC Advisor.
Some types of blog might also benefit from Instagram, particularly beauty, travel and lifestyle blogs.
What to expect (and what not to)
One final thing to say before you start your blog is that you should make sure that you haven't set your expectations too high. There are millions of bloggers out there, and even some of the best don't make money from it, so don't expect to earn much cash (or any, actually).
You should also expect your page views to be quite low, at least to begin with. It takes a lot of time and effort to build up an audience so if you only get a few visitors each day to it doesn't mean you're doing a bad job. Patience is key.
Most importantly of all, if you're setting up your blog as a hobby (rather than as a means to promote a business, for example) then it should be fun! Don't let it bog you down: if you don't have time to post one day, don't.