30 Free and Cheap Tools to Help You Blog Like a Pro on an Amateur’s Budget
Whatever your reason for starting a blog, you’re faced with an overwhelming number of options to do it.
You don’t want to go the cheap route and wind up with an amateur-looking blog.
And you don’t want to waste money on something you could get for free -- or do yourself.
You can practice first on a free blogging platform, but if you want to look professional, you’ll likely move on to self-hosting.
Here are the best budget-friendly tools I’ve discovered over five years of blogging with WordPress. Use these resources to blog on a budget -- without looking like an amateur.
Web Hosting for as Low as 99 Cents
You’ll find endless blog hosting options, but most blogs use one of these select few:
The Penny Hoarder special rate: $0.99 for your first domain (12 months).
Introductory rate is $5.95/month, paid for a three-year term ($214.20).
Introductory rate is $3.49/month, paid for a three-year term ($125.64).
WordPress Themes for Less Than $100
Unless you have a sweet hookup or an established brand and business, don’t waste money hiring someone to design your website from scratch.
To set yourself apart for a fraction of the cost, choose from thousands of WordPress themes. You’ll find them at any price point you want -- from FREE to hundreds of dollars.
Bloggers I love overwhelmingly use these themes, which you can buy for under $100 each:
This premier theme from Studiopress is the base of operations for a ton of additional designs called “child themes.”
The popular theme from DIYThemes uses a unique visual template editor that lets you control your site’s design and functionality without touching any code.
6. X Theme
This theme comes with four entirely different, yet totally customizable “Stacks.” Each one is easy to manipulate for a completely unique design.
I also found these simple themes from Paul Jarvis. They’re all simple to use and focused on content. And they come at a good price:
FREE! A theme that showcases your words -- and only those -- on the front page.
$39 as of this writing, but looks like it’ll increase to $49 soon. A visually appealing blog for writers.
$39 as of this writing, but looks like it’ll increase to $49 soon. A theme with no features -- easy to use and fast to load.
$39 as of this writing, but looks like it’ll increase to $49 soon. Designed for photographers.
Free WordPress Plugins to Customize Your Blog
Because WordPress is an open-source program, developers create plugins to add almost any function you need to your blog.
Most plugins are free, and you can install them with one click through WordPress -- an affordable alternative to hiring a developer.
These are my favorite free WordPress plugins:
Get a calendar view of your publishing schedule.
12. SEO by Yoast
Easily optimize each post with keywords, a title and a description to increase search traffic.
Use one of these to add text to each post. Encourage readers to subscribe, share or check out a certain page on your blog.
Because plugins add code to your site, they can affect the functionality of your theme and the loading time of your site. Choose tested plugins that will give you the most benefit -- and use them sparingly.
Free Graphic Design Tools
Customize your blog to showcase your personality or personal brand.
Use a custom header, buttons and logos.
If you want to create your own, use a free photo-editing site. These are my favorites:
Canva is a graphic design tool made especially for social media and blogging. Create and download your images for free, or add premium elements for $1 per download.
Touch up photos or create a design from scratch with this free tool. For more options, upgrade to PicMonkey Royale for $4.99 a month.
16. 99Designs or Crowdspring
Outsource the design through these online marketplaces to find quality, affordable designers.
On each site, designers will offer ideas, and you choose your favorite. Cost will vary, but this could be a smart way to save money by testing a number of lesser-known designers versus hiring someone outright.
Free Sources for High-Quality Images
You don’t have to be a photographer or dish out a lot of money to wow readers with the images on your blog. Here are some places to find free high-quality photos:
17. Creative Commons
Through this search engine, you can find photos licensed for free use around the web. Note the specific license of photos you choose, and attribute accordingly.
This free stock photo site has a limited selection, but you can download high-quality images for free without attribution.
All photos on this site are licensed under Creative Commons Zero -- you can use them however you want, for free, without attribution or permission.
20. Death to Stock
Subscribe for free for a pack of lifestyle imagery in your inbox each month.
Browse the archives for unique, high-quality free photos. You can also use this site as a search engine to find paid photos on a variety of sites.
Free Blog Writing Tools
One simple way to look professional without spending extra money is to write great blog posts.
These tools can help you do that:
Use this keyword tool to find the most-searched words and phrases. Include those in your headlines and content to help more readers find your blog.
This tool helps you find headlines and blog post ideas on what you want to write about.
Enter your headline idea into this tool to find out whether it’s strong enough to catch readers’ attention.
Install this browser extension to check your writing for small mistakes you and your spellcheck might miss.
This free editor helps you clear your writing of complicated, meandering sentences. Readers will appreciate your more concise posts!
Free and Easy Ways to Promote Your Blog
Whew! You have a blog.
Now you need readers. Building a website is challenging, but promotion is a never-ending feat.
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to cost any money -- just time. Use these free tools for blog promotion:
Use this service to set up an email list to communicate with your readers outside of your blog. It’s free up to 2,000 subscribers.
Save time by writing and scheduling social media posts all at once.
Hootsuite lets you schedule posts for Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and more. You can also read these platforms feeds all in one place.
Also for social media management, but limited compared to Hootsuite.
I love Buffer for its cleaner interface and integration with other apps. It’s great for sharing interesting posts and resources.
30. Google Docs, et. al.
Networking and guest blogging is your strongest promotional tool as a new blogger. Use Google Docs, Spreadsheets and Drive to keep track of your efforts and collaborate with people in your network.
Your Turn: What tools do you use to save money on your blog?
Disclosure: A toast to savings! Thanks for allowing us to place affiliate links in this post.
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more.