How to blog on a (very small) budget (Part 1)

blog-on-a-budgetIt seems that “saving money” is the gossip subject of recent times. All over the world, the news tells us of recession, companies going into administration and massive cuts in jobs. Most of us are tightening the belt and keeping a close eye on our wallets, saving money and reducing spending wherever possible. And a great deal more people it seems are looking to the internet in the hope of earning an extra income.

While there are literally hundreds of sites and blogs dedicated to the subject of making money online, it seems there very few which explain how to save money online. Established bloggers and webmasters may well understand the concept of sites draining our pockets while new webpreneurs may feel overwhelmed by just how much money can be spent on creating, hosting and marketing a new venture.

In this short series of articles, I’ll explain how I have learned to build a successful blog on a very small, meager budget in the hope that my advices will be of benefit to you too! In this first installment, we’ll look at in detail at cheap (or free) web hosting and how to get the best price for your chosen domain name.

Overview

I first began blogging when I was a student at university. Back then I was a single parent and money was very tight, so when you bear in mind that my motivation was purely personal back then, I’m sure you’ll understand how saving money online was an important aspect of my ventures!

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The blogs I built back then did not stand the test of time, though the lessons I learned have served me well in my current projects and I can honestly say I’ve saved hundreds of dollars from having blogged to a budget from the start! My main site, Blogger Buster has grown to become one of the most popular niche meta-blogs on the net. I have barely any outgoing expenses from my site and have not spend a dime in advertising ehich effectively ensures any earnings are purely my own.

Provided you are able to put a lot of tie and effort into your blogging ventures, you should be able to develop your own successful and professional blog by spending only a few dollars a year, not the hundreds accumulated over the months from hosting, advertising and marketing which you could spend to achieve similar results.

Perhaps not all of my ideas will be appropriate for your own needs, especially if you have already established your site. Instead, you should take the advice most suitable for your own requirements, which I hope will help you save money over the long term.

Choosing a blog host

When you want to save money, choosing a blog host is probably the most important aspect of building a successful blog. For many bloggers, the costs of monthly or yearly hosting is something which must be built into our budgets. So first let me explain my preferred solution: one which is (almost) entirely free!

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Blogger.com

My preferred solution is to use Blogger.com for blog hosting. This is for two major reasons

  1. It is completely FREE
  2. It’s been the most reliable blog host I’ve ever encountered!

When using Blogger to host your blog, you will discover no restrictions on the amount of content (posts and images) you can host, and no restrictions on bandwidth whatsoever. Hosting with Blogger is free as in FREE. You will never be charged for hosting, your posts are safe and always available to visitors. The only cost involved with hosting your blog on Blogger is if you decide to use a custom domain for your site. In this case, you can purchase your domain for only $10 a year (and often far less as I’ll explain later).

There is far more which can be achieved when using Blogger than you may first think. While many believe that Blogger is incapable of producing a professional styled template, many experienced Blogger users have discovered new and exciting ways to customize their template to produce even magazine style layouts.

The key to success with Blogger relies on time, effort and patience. If you are prepared to work hard to create your perfect design, you can certainly host a professional and stylish blog for free with this host. On the other hand, of you prefer the functionality of plugins, a wider variety of “ready-made” templates and easier methods of customization, then you may find hosting WordPress, Joomla or Expression Engine on a reliable budget host to be a preferred solution for you.

Purchasing hosting for your “self-hosted” blog

If you choose not to use Blogger then you will need to find a reliable but cheap hosting provider with whom to host your venture.

I’ve found the best way to find cheap and reliable hosting is to ask around. Visit forums, such as Web Hosting Talk, the Blogging Tips forums and Web Hosting Advice to learn about which hosts are recommended and how much you can expect to pay each month.

Often you will find that the “cheapest” and most popular web hosts are not so reliable or reasonable as they seem. I’ve personally used several “budget” hosts whose service has proved extremely unreliable. Budget hosts offer “shared” hosting solutions which can often see hundreds of sites hosted on a single server. While your contract may offer a certain amount of web space and bandwidth, you could often find your site inaccessible at busy times as the servers are overwhelmed by requests from the other sites hosted upon it.

Many webmasters find that small local hosting companies offer a much more reliable service. Though the cost of their basic hosting packages may be higher than that of large international companies, you will often find a much friendlier customer services department which is more than willing to offer help, resolve issues and offer upgrades at a reasonable price when needed.

You should also search online for any discounts or coupon codes offered by your choice of hosting company. Dreamhost for example offer a fabulous affiliate scheme which enables affiliates to offer hosting at up to 50% off the regular price (and joining their affiliate scheme could also help you earn money to contribute towards this lessened cost of hosting your site!). Simply Google the name of any hosting companies you are interested in to see if any discounts or additional services may be available and be sure to use these when purchasing your package!

Find cheaper hosting when you already have an established blog

If you have already established a blog, you may still be able to save money in the long term by changing your blog host or asking your existing host for a discount (just make sure you are not bound to a length of time by your contract!).

Search around for competitive monthly prices and compare your existing hosting with what else is on offer. Hosting providers who offer a more personal approach could be persuaded to reduce their hosting costs if you email or telephone to explain why you are considering leaving; ensure you have details of competitive hosting plans to hand to strengthen your case. While this approach may not be as effective as bartering for goods in a shop face to face, it’s certainly worth a try and if successful this could save you a lot of money each year.

It is also possible to migrate your existing blog from WordPress to Blogger using BlogSync via Zeaster’s site. This tool is not yet as reliable as importing from Blogger to WordPress, though we can hope soon Blogger will improve the new Export/Import feature to accommodate blogs from other hosts and platforms.

Cheap Domains

domain-namesWhether you choose to host your blog on Blogger or purchase a hosting account for your blog platform, you’ll likely need your own domain name.

Many hosting packages offer a free domain name as part of a package deal, but if this isn’t the case you should be able to purchase a domain name for a maximum of $10 a year (and often far less!).

By far the cheapest domain name provider I know of is GoDaddy. The default price for dot.com domain names is $9.99 per year which surprisingly includes some free basic hosting and one domain based email address in the bargain. But if you search online for GoDaddy discount codes, you may even be able to purchase a domain for as little as $1.99!

Dot.info domains can be purchased for very low fees (often $0.99) though you should be aware that this price reflects the poor reputation of dot.info domains in general (many spam sites use this extension, and it is often inferred that sites on these domains rank less in search engine results because if this reputation).

You may also get a reduction in the cost of your domain name if you secure the domain for two or more years, rather than just the one.

If you choose a location based domain (eg: dot.co.uk or dot.co.nz for example) you may find it more economical to purchase a domain from a domain reseller based in your home country. However, do shop around and use a currency converter to ensure you get the best proce for your domain, especially if you plan on purchasing the domain for several years instead of just the one!

Here are a few more things to consider when purchasing your domain name to ensure you buy a true bargain rather than an unusable domain:

  • Ensure that you can modify the DNS settings without further charge. Some domain sellers charge (a lot) extra for the ability to alter DNS settings and you would need to modify these settings if you plan on associating your domain name with a different hosting provider.
  • Make sure that your domain is set to automatically renew. Otherwise if you forget to renew on the date your purchased domain registration ends, someone else could purchase your domain name (including the associated PageRank and “brand identity”) right under your nose!
  • Be sure to set up and make use of any freebies offered when you purchase a domain name. Many companies offer some free hosting, an email address or other software which could be useful to you as a blogger.

Conclusions

Web hosting and domain names can be the two greatest expenses of a successful blog. In this article I’ve offered advice based on my own experiences of how you could save money by finding cheap (or free) hosting for your blog and being savvy when it comes to purchasing your domain names.

In the next part of this series, I’ll expand upon these notions and offer some advice regarding image, script and application hosting which can help reduce bandwidth and hosting charges and even eradicate these altogether!

I hope you have enjoyed reading this series so far. Please feel free to add your comments and your own suggestions by leaving your message below.

Image credits

Empty wallet byJeff Keen; Thrifty buttons by Normanack; Hosting servers by Johnnie W@lker;  Domain names by
A. www.viajar24h.com. All via Flickr Creative Commons.

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Disclosure: In full disclosure, it is safe to assume that the site owner is benefiting financially or otherwise from everything you click on, read, or look at while on my website. This is not to say that is the case with all content, as all publications on the site are original and written to provide value and references to our audience.

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