Are Free Blog Sites Really a Good Deal for Freelancers?

Every freelancer should have a blog, or at least a website, to act as a portfolio to showcase his or her expertise. That’s because, for most freelancers, online marketing plays a huge role in how we get our customers.

Most freelancers understand this. But if you’re just getting started what is really the best way to go about getting a website for yourself?

You basically have two options when it comes to setting up your business blog:

  1. Host a website on your own domain that you either host yourself or pay an internet hosting service to host for you.
  2. Host a website on a free site using one of the many free blogging services such as Tumblr, Blogger, or WordPress.com.

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about free blogging services. Some prominent small business gurus have even recommended that a free blogging service might be the best option for a small business that is looking to create an online presence.

In this post, we’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using a free blogging service for your freelancing business blog.


Advantages of Free Blogging Sites

The biggest advantage of a free blogging site is just that–it’s free. There’s no hosting service to pay. A webhosting service may cost over $100 a year. For a new freelancer, that can be a lot of money. Here are some other advantages:

  • Free themes–most free blogging services offer many free themes and some are quite professional looking.
  • Free spam tracking–for my site I pay extra to my internet hosting service for top-notch spam protection, but with some free sites this is included.
  • Built-in community support–a lot of the free blogging services have huge communities.
  • Ease of set up–setting up your own domain on your own site can be quite a lot of work.

With all those advantages to using a free blogging site, a free blogging site might seem tempting–especially to a brand new freelancer with a very limited budget. However, it’s important to also consider the disadvantages of a free site.

Disadvantages of Free Blogging Sites

A lot of the disadvantages of using a free blogging service have to do with the terms that you agree to when you set up your site. Not all blogging services have the same terms, so it’s important to read through the terms of any service you are interested in using.

Some of the disadvantages of a free site may include:

  • Advertisting. The blogging service may place their ads on your site.
  • Extra fees. There may be an extra fee for some premium features such as having your own domain name or blocking the service’s advertisements from your site.
  • Limits. Your terms of service may place limits on how much actual business (such as selling your products or services) you can conduct.
  • Changes. The terms of service may change at any time at the discretion of the blogging service provider.
  • Selling your business. If you ever decide to sell your free blog to someone else (for example, if you sold your business and wanted to sell the business blog along with it) you may not be able to.

So, what’s the bottom line? What’s a freelancer to do?

My Take

The bottom line is that every freelancer needs to make this decision for themselves. Some very well-known brands use the free blogging services without any trouble at all. For example, here’s a list from Jason Keath writing on SocialFresh about 60 companies that use Tumblr.

In some cases, you can’t even tell that the blog is being hosted on a free blogging service. And, all of the blogging services have upgraded recently and are moving closer to offering the experience of hosting your own blog on your own site.

However, taking all of this into consideration, in my opinion it’s still best to pay for the webhosting and your own domain. When you own your site, you have better control over it. You can place ads on it if you like (or not). You can sell your products or services. You can sell the site. In fact, this is the option that I chose for my own freelancing business.

Whichever option you choose, it’s crucial to read the terms of the service carefully. Not all blogging service terms are the same. Plus, remember to read any updates to the terms of service once you have set up your blog.

Additional Information

Would you like to learn more about free blogging services versus hosting your own website? Here are some additional resources:

Your Turn

Do you have a blog or website? Do you pay to host it on your own domain, or do you use one of the free blogging services? Are you satisfied with the option that you chose?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image by rcade

Comments

  1. says

    Absolutely your own domain! If you want to use Tumblr and similar as an “outpost” fine (even the New York Times is using it for their delightful “Lively Morgue” photos).

    However, you can’t control it, you can’t do anything if the company discontinues the service or goes out of business, and you can’t fully customize or monetize it.

  2. says

    Thanks Jodi Kaplan!

    That’s my take on it too, but I know that some freelancers will never get around to setting up their own domain. In that case, they may find a free blog useful.

  3. says

    Blogs are great for learning the trade. For example I come here often and read up on Laura’s great choice of topics. However she is directing the blogs to freelancers, not mechanics, plumbers or dentists.

    For me to write my own blog and attract clients, I would have to write topics that would attract either that kind of trade/profession or write something that would relate to all of them, an example would be marketing which I am not an expert at and would do me no good as far as SEO goes.

    I also thing the reason many designers write about their profession is to educate the public to an extend but more so to get SEO ranking.

    So what I’m saying is that many designers spend hours writing to their own group of people. Sure it is a great but it does nothing to bring in clients and clients pay the bills, not my fellow designers.

  4. says

    Hi DesignFacet,

    Interesting comment. So, do you have a blog at all? In this post we are actually comparing free blogs (Tumblr, Blogger.com, etc.) to hosting a blog on your own domain. It sounds like you don’t see the value of a blog for a freelancer at all, though. I guess that’s one way of looking at it… :)

  5. says

    Great article Laura! What I dislike about free blogs is that they give you a subdomain, which doesn’t look professional at all, and their control over the mere blogger (Example, WordPress doesn’t allow theme customization, Blogger limits itself to a handful of widgets)

    What I recommend is that a freelancer starts using a free blog, when he learns about SEO and blogging, they move to a paid blog.

    To DesignFact, you are totally missing the point. You say that blogs don’t pay bills, when in fact advertising and affiliate revenue is a good earning to your business.

  6. says

    @Nama I am saying it is not my cup of tea. For copywriters it may be great but for what I do, I rather spend my time marketing by other means to my local businesses.

    @Laura another great article, I may bring up a few points contrary to what majority believes, yet I think some of the points that I may raise can bring about greater exploration into the topic. Looking forward to your future posts.

  7. says

    No, you were actually saying that it is useless, and the time occupied should be used for something more fruitful. This is absolutely false. You can go to any design blog, and see the amount of advertisement. A small-medium blogger can generate around 2000-4000$ easily, and it doesn’t take much time out of the day (1 week dedication to set everything up, though)

    Also, blogging gets your name out, which can attract potential clients. Even if it doesn’t, having a well known blog on your niche can get a deal signed.

  8. says

    Nice list. Control is another main issue with free sites – you think you are in control until you are not. I can name blogs of friends on blogspot that disappeared overnight and all the hardwork gone down the drain, and shattering the whole business. If you are big or at least think you can get big, I would suggest self-hosting.

  9. says

    DesignFacet & Namanyay Goel–There’s no one size fits all answer here. I think it’s important for a freelancer to have a web presence and a blog is *one* great way to do that. I appreciate you both taking the time to think about this so thoroughly.

    Sidney, Great point! Yes, control is an issue with a free blog. You never really know what changes the owner of the free site will make and how those changes will affect you.

  10. says

    Because I didn’t have the funds to host my blog yet, I stuck with a free blogging service. Eventually, I realized the same things you pointed out, such as having minimal control over my blog and the fact that my URL is a mere subdomain.

    In the end, I gave all of my major blogs their own domains and web hosting, and kept my personal blog on a free blogging service. Having your own domain makes you more professional and marketable.

    For those who would like to start with a free blogging service, my top choice is WordPress.com. Posterous used to be a favorite of mine, but ever since they were acquired by Twitter, the service plummeted and is now difficult to use.

  11. says

    Just for the control aspect you really need your own domain, especially for a site you’re using for showing to the public, call it your biz card or storefront for the web. That’s your home base and other services can be extended from it but in no way should replace it.

    Even for bands/musicians, cannot just have your MS, FB or other page, need a website, blog, where you can control the presentation and environment that’s the most appropriate for you and your audience. This can branch into other things, such as a separate newsletter or other communication with your different types of customers, readers, listeners, etc.

  12. says

    The value of a blog, like any tool, may vary from person to person. I mean, I just implemented a blog for my own business under a subdomain. I decided not to go with a free blogging solution because I like having fine control over my work. Personally, my blog is intended mostly as headspace. It’s mainly a place for me to chronicle my growth as a designer/developer. If it helps me connect with potential clients and other designers, I’ll consider that a plus. I also love the satisfaction of knowing that I built it with my own hands and learned a valuable skill to boot (WordPress).

  13. says

    I like the freedom you have when using your own domain. But, I do use sites like tumblr and blogger, mainly as a platform to gain backlinks to my main blog and to widen my audience. I don’t do this too often because I don’t believe in recycling content. Also, this is a lot of work to do since I write all my content from scratch.

    I have noticed that Seth Godin has his blog on a free site – I always thought that was interesting.

  14. says

    @Namanyay – You can actually have a subdomain re-routed (or whatever the technical terms is) and use your own domain name, so that it says “yourdomain.com” instead of bearing the hosts name as part of your URL. I understand exactly what you mean about it not looking professional. A colleague turned me on to that when I had a Blogger account.

  15. says

    @Stacey Yeah, I know, and using a custom domain is pretty easy.

    Sadly though, it only covers the professional part, you still don’t have much control over your blog.

  16. says

    Having and maintaining a blog on your Website, whether it be one that sits on your domain or a separate free blog solution linked to your main website, is extremely valuable.

    A Blog can Help:

    Improve and Boost your presence online
    Create awareness of your services/products
    Establishing yourself as an authority amongst your industry
    Improve your websites rankings within search
    Increase traffic to your website
    Increase the amount of sales/enquiries you have per month

    The list goes on, but are these not valuable factors in business?

    What I would say is that maintaining a blog is a full time job, it needs to be regularly updated with quality content that users will find relevant, interesting and sharable! You then need to utilise your Social Channels such as Twitter and Facebook to help draw the right audience to your blog.

    I found a great article that talks about the idea of Social Media for Business.

    http://www.ionicmedia.co.uk/blog/surviving-the-social-playground

    Maintain your blog regularly and combine it with successful Social Media engagement, and you will really see the benefits!

  17. says

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you for inspiring us bloggers.

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  18. says

    Own domain, paid domain, self-hosted domain — this should be the route of anyone who is serious about their business and want long-lasting credibility. If we own something or pay for something, it makes sense to take care of this more than having the freebie version. I have nothing against free sites — but it becomes harder each day to promote what you can offer when actually you are also promoting the “platform” or “venue” more. ;)

  19. says

    This is my first time here and I’d say your article gave me really good insights. I’m a freelancer and also owns a paid as well as free hosted sites. In both sites I use wordpress themes. I’d say its easier to get views with my free hosted site and difficult to get exposure for my paid site. Anyway, I just started two months ago and just have a little over 100 articles so I still have a lot of work to do.

    Thanks for your ideas. They’re really useful to me.

  20. says

    If we own something or pay for something, it makes sense to take care of this more than having the freebie version. I have nothing against free sites — but it becomes harder each day to promote what you can offer when actually you are also promoting the “platform” or “venue” more

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