UPDATE: A more up to date list of resources can be found on The Side Blogger Resources page.
Ever wonder how some newbie bloggers start making money right away and get hundreds of subscribers in just a couple of months? I’ve been wondering about that quite a lot lately as I try and grow this blog.
While I have yet to find that ‘a-ha’ moment, I do know one thing. Having the right tools makes for a much easier time when one is trying to figure out this blogging as a business thing. Because let’s face it, the true work is in writing stellar content that’s actually helpful to your readers, promoting the finished post to social media, creating strategies that work with the different algorithms of different social media platforms, keeping up with said algorithms as they continue to change, learning and then implementing SEO, and all the other jazz.
And then there’s real life. Most of the time you start a blog while juggling multiple things at a time. Maybe you have a full-time job. Or maybe you are a full-time mom/dad with eight kids to look after. I think we can both agree that it’s hard to take blogging seriously when we have so many different things going on.
But here’s the truth about blogging. It is hard work. Period. Anyone wanting to make a livable income out of a blog will need to dedicate at the very least 10-15 hours per week of solid work into blogging. And most of this will be used up taking care of the aforementioned tasks.
And so, the last thing you want to do is to worry about the tech or the tools. You want to set them up, put them in place, and then forget about them.
And that’s precisely why it’s so important to make sure that the tools you’re using are the right tools for you. Because once these are in place, you don’t want to have to worry about them ever again!
Such tools include choosing the right hosting company for your blog (and yes, you want a self-hosted blog, preferably with WordPress), the right social media scheduling platform, the right plugins, the right email marketing platform, etc.
And so, in this blog post, I have compiled a list of such tools that once they’re in place, you can just forget about them. These are quality tools that I have used myself either on this blog or on some of the other websites I have built over the years, either for myself or for clients (in case you didn’t know, I’m a bonafide WordPress designer and developer!)
And now, I can almost hear you thinking: “Yeah… another blog post on blogging tools that I don’t have time/money for”.
So, if you are screwing up your face at the title of this blog post, let me tell you something. These tools are there to make your life easy, and not the other way around. So, sit tight and continue reading, because, I am guaranteeing you that I have vetted these resources before I made this list for you. These are some of the cheapest (and a lot of these tools are actually free) yet most productive resources you, as a beginner blogger, can (and SHOULD) use.
Why You Need Blogging Tools
Now, there are bloggers who only want to blog about their lives and thoughts occasionally. If you belong to that category, you may stop right here. No need to read further because, in all honesty, you can just do whatever you want. However, if you are a serious blogger, and by serious I mean, SERIOUS blogger, then please go ahead and give the rest a read!
For a serious blogger, one needs to think of blogging as their job. Just like you cannot cut corners at your day job, you cannot and should not cut corners at blogging if you want to be successful. You need to approach blogging as though it is your business. And in business, one is expected to make some investments before they can hope to make a profit. Blogging is no different.
Now, before we go any further, I want to let you in on something. You see, I understand the dilemma that many of you have regarding blogging tools. You want to do the best you can, but there’s just too much information out there! It is so overwhelming! How do you know which tools to use, and does it even make sense to spend so much money when you are not making any money from blogging? Well, folks, I have good news!
Before I started to write this blog post, I made sure to give you only that which is necessary for a newbie blogger. So, rest assured, if you use the tools I mention here, you will have a blog that’s up there with the pros of the industry.
Now, let’s begin!
To all my serious bloggers out there, I implore you to use WordPress for your blogging platform. WordPress is the ONLY platform I would ever advise. There are Blogger, WIX, Weebly and what not… all kinds of free blogging platforms out there. But trust me on this, you DO NOT want to have a serious blog on any of these platforms.
The second platform that I will (albeit with some reservations) recommend is Squarespace. It’s a decent platform, and personally, I advise this platform to small business owners who need a website for their business, with little to no emphasis on blogging.
The issue is that, if you are a blogger and blogging IS your business, then WordPress is still the superior platform for you. WordPress was made for bloggers. Squarespace, while offers ease of use, has a lot of limitations that as you grow as a blogger, you’ll find will hinder your growth. Eventually, you’ll have to move to WordPress anyway, so why not just start with WordPress in the first place?
Domain for Your Blog
The first step to getting your blog off the ground is to get a domain name. A lot of newbie bloggers ask me the difference between domain and hosting. A domain is basically your website address, whereas hosting is where website files are stored. Now, often you can get a free domain with your hosting (more on hosting in the next section), but I prefer getting the domain separately. In the case that you decide to change your hosting, it’s a fairly simple process. However, switching domain from one provider to another is way more complicated.
Personally, I prefer NameCheap [affiliate link] for domain names. They come with basic domain privacy, so you do not have to pay for it. I have a couple of domain names from two other companies whose names shall not be mentioned here and trust me, it was a nightmare until I paid for privacy.
Hosting for WordPress
Now, WordPress has two different versions. One is the .com version which is free to use and does not require you to purchase hosting, translation: STAY AWAY!
The second one is the .org platform which is an open source platform. It is free to use, HOWEVER, you need a third party to host (store) your WordPress files and other resources, and you need to pay for your hosting provider. Now, there are no shortages of hosting providers out there, but my suggestion is that you go with a company that’s been around for a long time. There are newer companies popping up all the time and shutting down all the time. You don’t want that!
In my capacity as a web designer and developer, I have had the opportunity to work with a ton of web host companies. Out of all of these, the one that I prefer, and recommend is SiteGround [affiliate link]. I am also hosted by them and have had an amazing experience so far. I haven’t had much of a downtime since I started using them, and so far they have the best customer service! Their “GrowBig plan” is perfect for beginners and costs a little short of $6 per month for the first year if you purchase the annual plan.
There are, of course, free themes out there, but hardly any of them are of great quality. If you’re thinking of being a serious blogger, I’d suggest you invest in a good, premium theme from the very beginning.
Now, if you want to make your premium theme even more unique, you can hire a graphic designer to create a branding and logo for you, and a developer to tweak your theme and customize some of the features to meet your logo and branding.
One of the reasons I (and almost every other WordPress lovers out there) adore the WordPress platform is because of the plugins! Plugins are mini-software that perform various functionalities. Now, depending on features you need, and the theme you use, you may have a variety of plugins you need. But as a WordPress developer, I always ensure my clients start off with these 10 plugins (or their alternatives if a theme asks for a specific one):
- Anti-Spam – for detecting spam comments.
- WordFence Security – for securing your website from brute-force attacks and malware.
- UpDraft Plus – for automatically backing up your content and database.
- Yoast – for policing SEO
- WP Smush – for optimizing and compressing image files.
- WP-Optimize – for optimizing backend and database.
- Sassy Social Share – for sharing blog posts.
- Media Cleaner – for removing media files that are not in use.
- Contact Form 7 – for embedding forms.
- WP Super Cache – caching plugin to make your site load faster.
A blogger’s best friend is her/his email list. Chances are, if you’re a serious blogger, eventually you’ll want to create a product of your own. Whether it is a physical product, an e-book, an email course, or any other kind of online course, you need an audience if you wish to sell. And going by pro bloggers in the industry, you sell hardest to your list of subscribers than anywhere else. No amount of Facebook/Instagram/Twitter following will create as many sales as your email list. And therefore, if you are a blogger, I suggest you start building your email list from day one.
An email list is basically a list of emails provided to you by willing visitors who come to your website. Once you have their emails, you build a relationship with your audience. A relationship is built by communicating with your email list once a week. To collect email addresses and then send mass emails, you need a third party service. There are quite a few out there and as a beginner blogger, you can make use of MailChimp or MailerLite, both of which have free service available until you hit a certain number of subscribers.
However, I will say something that most others do not. Since an email list is THE MOST IMPORTANT audience building method a blogger has, I say, it’s worth investing money in it from day 1. My personal favorite email marketing solution is ConvertKit [affiliate link]. It is extremely easy to use, and by far, provides far superior service than the two I mentioned earlier. It is super easy to create new forms and sequences and the process is way less complicated. The only down-side is that it costs $29 per month right from the start!
Now, you may be thinking that you’re a brand new blogger, why do YOU need to spend $29 every month before you have even 1 subscriber? My answer to your question is this: When I had MailChimp I didn’t even feel motivated to do anything with my email list. I just had an opt-in form on the sidebar of my blog and that was it. But ever since I started using ConvertKit, the ease of it has motivated me to create multiple opt-in freebies and multiple opt-in forms. Because let’s be honest, different people are attracted to different things. Some of my visitors opt-in for my Resource Library, some others sign up for the Pinterest checklist, and others sign up for free opt-in freebie templates that I made with Canva.
Also, if you think about it, $29 is less than 5 latte from Starbucks. I’m sure most of you can handle that! And if not, no worries, having MailChimp or MailerLike or any other email marketing software is sufficient when just starting out. Just remember that you MUST have one!
Quality Graphics and other Visuals
You need great quality photos to create great quality graphics for your social media and Pinterest posts. Personally, I prefer Unsplash for quality images and Canva for creating these graphics. Canva is a really handy, internet-based software that has almost replaced Photoshop for bloggers. It is intuitive, easy to use, and just a very high-quality graphic design software, that’s totally free to use (unless you have a ton of team members and you need the premium features, in most cases, you don’t). You can also use Canva to create some simple but effective opt-in freebies for your email list (more on email list later).
Keywords and SEO
A blog is of no use without some eyeballs. Traffic is essential, and you need to think about how to get traffic to your blog from the very start. SEO or Search Engine Optimization is key to making sure people find your blog. One way to find keywords is by using Google Keyword Planner. Another essential piece of a good blog post (and SEO) is the title itself. My favorite tool to analyze the health of a post title is CoSchedule Headline Analyzer.
Aside from on-page SEO, Pinterest is essential when it comes to getting traffic to your blog. One of the things that gets Pinterest traffic is when you pin a lot and often. But let’s face it. A lot of beginner bloggers do not have the time to sit down and pin 50 quality posts, do they? And here’s where you need to automate the pinning process for you. My favorite tools to automate pinning is TailWind [affiliate]. It’s a great software that you can get for $15 a month, or $119 for a whole year. And if you use the link above to sign up, you get a free month worth $15, and I get a free month myself! As mentioned above, you need to create stellar graphics for your Pinterest boards, and that you can do with Canva.
Social Media Automation
Other than Pinterest, you also want to share your blog posts on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I do not use a scheduling tool for Instagram, but for Facebook and Twitter, I would suggest Buffer. It is free to use unless you have a certain number of team members and a great resource for beginner bloggers.
A blog MUST have a way to check analytics. It’s how you know how much traffic you are getting from where, which blog posts are trending, which posts get the most engagement, etc. My favorite for entry-level bloggers is Google Analytics. It is free to use and gives a relatively accurate data.
Blog Post Quality
Last but not least, a blogger must always pay attention to writing a great post with no spelling errors and grammar mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, but to limit them as much as possible is the goal. Grammarly [affiliate] and Hemingway Editor are a couple of my favorite tools to make sure my post is error free and easily readable with the best practices of English Language in place.
Well, this should do for a beginner blogger! Remember these main points:
- Your blog should be on WordPress, self-hosted.
- There are some essential Plugins you should have on your WordPress site.
- You MUST start an email list for your blog.
- You should have striking graphics (Created with Canva or Photoshop or any other graphic design tool you may be familiar with).
- Use SEO and Pinterest to drive traffic to your blog.
- Write quality posts free of silly spelling and grammar errors.
- Use social media for exposure to your blog.
- Use Google analytics to determine traffic health.
Now, tell me in the comments if you are using any of the resources I mention in this blog post or any other resources/tools that have made your life easier and you think I should include in this list.
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