Don't Wait for the Funds: Set Up Your Blog NOW
A member of the Twitter #writingcommunity recently asked, "If I don’t have the funds for a paid website, should I do a free one just to be out there, blog, review, etc., or should I wait until I can afford something more professional?"
Whether you're an author, entrepreneur, small business owner, or blogger, the answer to that question is always going to be a resounding YES.
Even if it's just a free WordPress or Blogger site that you're going to use until you can afford a better website, get the free version going in the meantime. For one thing, there are a few ways to hide that it's free (more on that in a minute. Even if you only want the totally free option, you need a content presence online so you can start promoting your personal brand. So start with the freebie and see how it goes.
You can also upgrade to WordPress' $8.00 per month option that will remove ads, give you some additional capabilities, and let you upload videos. If you want something that looks a little more professional, go with this option. It's not free, but it's affordable. It's the option to pick if you don't want your company website to have ads on it.
Next, don't get a "website," get a blog. These days, they pretty much mean the same thing, thanks to the strides blog software has made. However, blog software is sometimes called a "content management system," which is just the fancy-schmancy term for a blog. (Business people love their jargon, and "blog" just didn't sound business-y enough. Why use one short word when three longer ones will suffice?)
A blog is more versatile and can be easily updated, but a website is static and unchanging, and that hurts your SEO in the long run. Plus it's more expensive to update and change.
Your blog can be made to look like a website, but you can still publish articles and stories on a blog. This helps improve your SEO, because Google wants fresh, new content on a regular basis. It's hard to get that done on a website, but very easy on a blog.
Secondly, this is free branding. You need to start proving your expertise, demonstrating your knowledge, sharing your work, building your audience, or whatever other reason you wanted to start the blog in the first place. Even if you're taking baby steps in that direction, you're taking steps. Don't let the "free blog" be a stigma to you.
Third, there are plenty of free themes and templates to use on your blog or website. You can pay for some themes on WordPress.com, but they're not necessary. There are plenty of great-looking themes available. Just pick one you like and install it. If you want to customize it further, you'll either have to figure it out yourself or pay to have it done. So pick one you can live with and focus more on the quality of your content.
You can also mask thee free-ness of your blog if you buy a domain name from a place like GoDaddy for $9.95 for a year. Don't forget to Google "GoDaddy promo codes" to see if you can get an even lower price or special offer.
The domain lets you more easily tell people what your site is called. If your name is Carrie and you sell candles, you'd much rather tell people "Carrie's Candles dot com" than "Carrie's dash candles dot wordpress dot com" over and over.
I started my humor blog in 2003 at laughing-stalk.blogspot.com and after about three months, I got tired of this conversation:
Me: My website is at laughing dash stalk dot blogspot—
Punctuation nerd: You mean a hyphen?
Me: *In my head* Goddammit so much. *Out loud* Sure, whatever.
So I bought ErikDeckers.com and forwarded that domain to my website. Now I can tell people "Erik Deckers dot com" and not have to worry about those stupid hyphens/dashes.
Finally, DON'T get an exact keyword match for your domain name. Google cracks down on exact match domains as spam, so you may be harming yourself more if you get homemade-handmade-candles.com than if you just bought Carriescandles.com. Worry more about the brand you're trying to create and promote than the SEO benefits of a particular domain.
Then just start writing your blog posts about whatever subject you want to share. The point is to get content up there and get Google to notice. The best way to get the search engine bots to start noticing you is to link to it from other locations.
Put your domain in your social media bios, especially Twitter and LinkedIn.
Share articles you wrote on Twitter and in different discussion groups and forums you belong to.
Ask friends if you can write guest posts on their blog.
There are other methods available, but unless you want to play with Google WebMaster Tools, use these three methods to get the ball rolling and start pumping out content once or twice a week.
Once your site starts gaining some traction and you're seeing real traffic come in, you don't have to switch over to a fully-hosted professional site. WordPress' paid options will do things like get rid of the ads on the bottom of the page, give you access to Google Analytics (you don't get that in the free version), and even access to more plugins which add functionality to your site.
There are several professional agencies, writers, and even newspapers that are operating on the paid version of WordPress.com. The alternative is a fully operational (but free) version on your own server or a hosting service. This method gives you full control over your blog, which is great (you're not paying for additional features), but at the same time, you're fully responsible for your own maintenance and security. At least with the paid version, the WordPress staff covers that for you.
And this DIY option requires a lot of technical expertise or patience to keep it running. You're more vulnerable to hacking and security breaches than something on WordPress.com. To be fair, you have more freedom and options on the DIY method, but you're paying for that with heightened vigilance and extra security steps.
Bottom line, if you're not putting a lot of money into your website right away, don't wait until you can get the funds before you start it. Even six months of a free website will do you a lot more good than setting up a great website later. So don't wait, set up your free blog, write some articles, and start promoting them. When the site starts making you some money, then you can upgrade.
Erik Deckers is the owner of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and ghost blogging agency, in Orlando, Florida. He is the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself and No Bullshit Social Media. He has been a newspaper humor columnist for 24 years and a blogger since 1997.
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