Where’s the Best Place to Start a Blog? – Top Six Platforms (2021)
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Looking to launch your own blog but unsure of which platform to use?
When it comes to choosing a blogging platform, you have plenty of options. But each one has different pros and cons, so where’s the best place to start a blog in 2020 and beyond?
That’s the question I’m going to try to answer in this post.
By asking you five key questions about your blogging goals, and highlighting the pros and cons of six popular platforms, this article will help you to pick one that supports what you want to achieve and sets your blog up for success.
Five Questions to Help You to Pick the Right Spot for Your Blog
Before I get into the best platforms to start a blog, I think it’s important to ask you some questions.
See, there’s no single best place to start ‘a blog’. Instead, I want to help you to find the best place to start ‘your blog’.
For example, if you want to make money from your blog, that could push you in one direction. But if you just want a simple place to start writing and connect with an audience, that could push you in another.
So, before we get into the different places to make a blog, think about these questions…
1. Do I Value Simplicity or Flexibility?
As a general rule, you should think of simplicity and flexibility as two ends of a spectrum:
- If you want more simplicity, you often have to sacrifice flexibility.
- If you want more flexibility, you often have to sacrifice simplicity.
There are certainly some platforms that are better than others at bridging the gap, but that general rule holds true across every blogging platform.
For example, Medium provides the absolute simplest way to start a blog. You just sign up for an account and start writing. There’s no setup process to get through, theme to choose or anything else.
Just sign up → start writing. You can be writing your first post in minutes.
But the tradeoff to that simplicity is that writing is literally all you can do! Want to add a custom contact form to your blog on Medium? Can’t do it! Want to grow your email newsletter list in unique ways? Nope!
On the other hand, self-hosted WordPress makes the world your oyster — you can take your blog in literally any direction, even down to adding eCommerce functionality — but the tradeoff is the setup process is a bit more involved, and you’re responsible for some website maintenance.
2. Do I Want to Make Money?
If you want to (eventually) make some money from your blog, that will play a big role in where you should start it.
Some blogging platforms, such as Medium and WordPress.com, put limitations on how you can earn money from your site; others, such as using self-hosted WordPress, let you monetize your blog however you want.
If monetization is your goal, you’ll probably want to avoid platforms that add their own limitations.
3. How Important Is Content/Data Ownership?
There are two basic approaches to hosting your blog and its content:
- Self-hosted software
- Hosted platforms
With a self-hosted blog, you need to take the blogging software and install it on your own web hosting. While this sounds intimidating, most web hosts actually make the process very simple — and you don’t necessarily need any technical knowledge to go this route.
The big benefits of self-hosted blogs are that you:
- fully own all of your content and data because it sits on your server
- have a ton of flexibility because you can edit everything about your blog
- can monetize your site however you want.
With a hosted blog, your blog and its content reside on someone else’s servers. This has drawbacks when it comes to data ownership because you don’t actually have full control over your content. It’s also less flexible than a self-hosted blog.
The big benefit, though, is simplicity. Because the blog platform is hosted on the service’s servers, you can usually just sign up and start writing. You won’t need to worry about setting anything up, nor will you need to deal with maintenance.
💡 I don’t mean that you don’t ‘own’ your content with a hosted tool. I just mean that your content sits on someone else’s servers, which means you don’t have full control over it. For example, a hosted service could lock your account and take away your access, and sometimes it can be difficult to export your content from a hosted service.
4. What Kind of Content Will I Be Posting?
There are different ‘styles’ of blogging and some may be more suited to one platform than another.
For example, will you be posting short posts with mostly media (images, GIFs, videos, and so on)? If so, you may fit in on Tumblr.
On the other hand, if you want to post lengthier, more thoughtful pieces, you may be better off with Medium or your own platform.
You should also consider the topic of your content if you’re going to be blogging in any potentially sensitive areas.
While most blogging platforms are fairly open with what you can write about, you’ll probably want to use a self-hosted platform if you’re going to be blogging about some topics that push the limits (e.g. marijuana, adult topics, and so on).
5. What’s My Budget?
Finally, there’s your budget. You can find some great free blogging platforms, but most will come with some limitations.
If you want the freedom and flexibility of a self-hosted blog, you’ll need to pay for some web hosting to run your blog software at a bare minimum.
Now, this doesn’t have to be overly expensive — it’s totally possible to run a blog for under $10 a month. But, basically, you can’t run a self-hosted blog for free.
The Best Places to Start a Blog in 2020 and Beyond
Here are the six platforms I’ll cover:
1. Self-Hosted WordPress (WordPress.org)
Self-hosted WordPress (AKA WordPress.org) is the best place to start a blog if you:
- value flexibility
- want to make money from your blog
- want full ownership/control of all of your content and data
- are willing to pay at least $5 to $10 a month to run your blog.
By the numbers, WordPress is by far the most popular way to make a website. According to W3Techs, it powers more than 35% of all the websites.
While WordPress is now used for everything from portfolios to eCommerce stores, it actually started as a blogging platform, so it still makes a great option for a blog.
The WordPress software itself is free and open-source. However, because it’s a self-hosted solution, you’ll need to pay for hosting to power your blog. Don’t worry — you can find cheap WordPress hosting for under $3 a month if you’re willing to pay for one year or more upfront.
I know that installing software on your own hosting sounds intimidating, but, because WordPress is so popular, most WordPress hosts have built super user-friendly interfaces to help you to get started without needing any technical knowledge.
One of the biggest benefits of using self-hosted WordPress for your blog is flexibility. You can use two types of extensions to customize your blog:
- Themes — these let you control how your blog looks. Think of them like your blog’s ‘clothing’.
- Plugins — these let you add new features to your blog, such as a contact form, an Instagram feed or even eCommerce functionality.
At the WordPress.org directory alone you can find thousands of free themes and 55,000-plus free plugins. Basically, you can probably make your blog do whatever you need it to without needing any technical knowledge — you just click a few buttons to install the required extension.
Beyond that flexibility, you also fully own all of your content and data, and there are no arbitrary restrictions when it comes to the content you publish and how you monetize your blog.
💡 How to Create a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog
We have an entire guide on how to create a self-hosted WordPress blog 👈
But, in general, the process looks like this:
- Purchase web hosting — you can follow our guide to make a good choice.
- Choose and purchase a domain name (you can often do this via your web host). We have some tips here.
- Install the WordPress software (most web hosts make this easy). We also have a tutorial on installing WordPress.
WordPress.com is the best place to start a blog if you:
- want a free blogging platform
- value simplicity, while still having the ability to add some flexibility if you’re willing to pay
- want to be able to sign up and start writing right away
- don’t care about 100% data privacy/ownership.
WordPress.com is one specific implementation of the open-source WordPress software from the previous section. We have an entire article dedicated to the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, but the gist is that WordPress.com makes it easier to use the open-source WordPress software — but at the cost of some of WordPress’s flexibility.
With self-hosted WordPress, you need to purchase hosting and install the WordPress software before you can start blogging, but with WordPress.com you can just sign up and start writing right away.
There are two big benefits here:
- You can start a blog for free, though you’ll need to pay if you want to use your own domain name (e.g. winningwp.com instead of winningwp.wordpress.com).
- It completely eliminates the technical part of the process.
However, you lose the ability to install your own WordPress themes and plugins unless you pay for the $300-a-year Business plan. So, unless you’re prepared to spend that much money, you’ll lose out on a lot of WordPress’s flexibility. Plus, even if you do pay, you still don’t have as much control over your blog as you would with self-hosted WordPress.
Overall, I’d say WordPress.com is a great option for a hobby blog where you don’t anticipate doing anything beyond blogging. But if you want to monetize your blog, then using self-hosted WordPress is almost always a better option because you have more flexibility and fewer restrictions.
💡 How to Create a Blog With WordPress.com
To create your blog, all you need to do is visit WordPress.com and create an account.
We also have a tutorial video on how to create a WordPress.com blog 👈
Medium is the best place to start a blog if you:
- want the absolute simplest way to start writing
- want access to a built-in audience
- like the idea of being paid based on how many people view your posts
- don’t need any functionality beyond the ability to write blog posts.
Medium is a cross between a blogging platform and a media publisher. Anyone can sign up and start writing a blog. Then, you also have the option of allowing your content to be ‘curated’ to the Medium publishing platform, which gives you a chance to make some money via the Medium Partner Program.
We cover this more in-depth in our comparison between Medium and WordPress.
Because of this publisher aspect, one of the big benefits of Medium is that it gives you a chance to reach a built-in audience.
If you use another blogging platform, you’ll basically have to build your audience from scratch — but if you get curated on Medium, your content will be visible to thousands of readers who are interested in what you write about.
The downside of Medium, though, is a lack of flexibility. You’ll build your blog on the Medium platform, rather than your own site, which means you’re limited to only the features Medium gives you. For example, you’ll struggle to grow your own email list or build your social following.
Overall, if you just want a place where you can write and not worry about anything else, I think Medium is a great choice. But if you value flexibility and owning your own platform, or if you have any plans for monetization (beyond the Medium Partner Program), there are better options.
💡 How to Create a Blog With Medium
To create your blog, all you need to do is visit Medium and create an account. You can be writing your first blog post in under a minute.
Wix is the best place to start a blog if you:
- want the option to add additional features beyond just a blog
- want the simplicity of a hosted tool — while maintaining a good deal of flexibility
- aren’t concerned with 100% data ownership/privacy
- are willing to pay at least ~$10 a month.
Wix is a popular all-purpose hosted website builder. It doesn’t put a big emphasis on blogging, but it does offer full blogging support and makes a good option if you want your blog to be part of a site rather than your complete site.
Because Wix is a hosted tool, you don’t need to handle any of the technical details. But, at the same time, you have a lot more flexibility than with a platform such as Medium.
You’ll be able to control the design of your site with templates, and extend its functionality with apps. Wix even includes a number of dedicated blogging templates.
However, Wix still isn’t as flexible as the likes of a self-hosted WordPress blog, and you also have the ownership/privacy concerns about content and data that’s true of any hosted platform.
Wix has a basic free plan that lets you create a site using a Wix subdomain (and with ads from Wix). This is nice to see if you like the platform, but for a serious blog you’ll probably want to choose one of the paid plans, which start at $8.50 a month.
For a deeper look, check out our Wix vs WordPress comparison.
💡 How to Create a Blog With Wix
To create your blog, all you need to do is visit Wix and create an account. That will launch a setup wizard, where you can choose your template and customize your site/blog.
The Wix team also published their own guide on how to make a blog with Wix.
Ghost is the best place to start a blog if you:
- want a self-hosted tool that’s 100% focused on blogging
- like the idea of being able to monetize your blog with paid content
- don’t need the full flexibility of self-hosted WordPress
- value data ownership/privacy
- are willing to pay at least ~$10 a month for your blog.
Ghost is somewhat like the self-hosted WordPress software — but it’s pretty much only for blogging, whereas WordPress is a lot more flexible and has a bigger library of extensions. The benefit is that Ghost is a little more streamlined, as it’s only trying to do one thing (blogging).
Plus, Ghost is still more flexible than most other platforms on this list, so it’s a good middle ground.
Like WordPress, Ghost is open-source and you can freely install the Ghost software on your web hosting.
Because it’s 100% focused on blogging/publishing, it comes with some of the most important features bloggers need.
One of the most unique features here is a built-in tool to monetize your site with memberships, rather than just ads. You can allow both free member registration or charge for access to your blog’s content.
Beyond that, Ghost’s code is written in more modern technologies (headless Node.js), which usually makes it a bit speedier than WordPress.
For a deeper look, check out our Ghost vs WordPress comparison.
💡 How to Create a Blog With Ghost
There are two ways you can start a blog with Ghost.
The simplest way is to pay Ghost to host the software for you. Unlike WordPress.com, you still have full access to your underlying site/data, but the Ghost team will take care of all of the technical details for you. These paid plans start at $29 a month.
However, Ghost is open-source software, so, if you’re more of a DIY type, you can also download the software for free and install it on your own web host. This makes the launch process a bit more technical, but you’ll be able to save some money. The process is basically the same as self-hosted WordPress:
- Purchase web hosting.
- Purchase a domain name.
- Install the Ghost software (many hosts will offer a Ghost autoinstaller, though it’s not as popular as WordPress).
Tumblr is the best place to start a blog if you:
- plan to post short, visual content
- want a free blogging platform
- don’t need much flexibility
- want to connect with a built-in community.
Tumblr is more of a microblogging platform than a full blogging platform. Basically, this means it’s more suited to short posts and visual media, rather than long-form content where the focus is on your words.
In August 2019, Tumblr was acquired by Automattic, the same company behind WordPress.com. However, it’s still an entirely separate blogging platform.
You may see some changes based on this acquisition, though. For example, Automattic may bring the WordPress blog editor to Tumblr, which would give you a little more flexibility.
One nice benefit of the platform is that, as with Medium, you have a chance to reach a built-in audience. Tumblr actually has a bit of a social network feel to it, where other users have the ability to share and comment on your posts. It’s also 100% free, which is another perk.
Tumblr is definitely not for everyone, but if you prefer the visual, microblogging approach, then it’s one of your best options.
However, the downside is that it’s the least flexible blogging platform — it’s really only for microblogging — so, if you decide you want to move beyond that in the future, you’ll probably need to switch to a different platform.
💡 How to Create a Blog With Tumblr
To create your blog, all you need to do is visit Tumblr and create an account.
Where Should You Start Your Blog?
Most of this post has been focused on helping you to pick the right blogging platform for your needs. However, if you’re still not sure, let’s finish things off with a blanket recommendation.
If you want the most versatile place to start a blog, you should use self-hosted WordPress.
Self-hosted WordPress is easy enough for anyone to use, while also giving you the most flexibility and ownership.
For example, maybe you decide you want to add a new feature down the road or take your blog in a different direction. With self-hosted WordPress, you can adapt as needed with no problems, but if you use a more limited platform you’ll be boxed in by your initial choices.
There are certainly situations in which another blogging platform makes more sense, which I’ve tried to illuminate above.
But, overall, self-hosted WordPress is the best blogging platform for most people, which is why WordPress powers more than 35% of websites, and is also what we’re using on this very site, WinningWP (of course).
To get started with a blog using self-hosted WordPress, you can follow our guide here.
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