Tools That Will Help You Succeed
Whether you’re a complete newbie, or a veteran blogger wanting to take your blogging experience to the next level by adding features, functionalities, and improving performance quality, I have something for you!
Below you’ll find a list of services/products I personally recommend and guarantee will help you grow your blog.
[Affiliate Disclosure: This page has affiliate links. If you so choose to follow one of these links and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission paid to me by the company, and at no expense to you. The commission I make from affiliate sales help me run this blog and provide regular, quality value to you. So, thank you for your support!]
Resources Quick Links
Website / WordPress
As a fellow blogger as well as a web designer and developer, I come with a blogging approach based on performance, security and above all, BRANDING AND GROWTH. And with that in mind, my recommended blogging (and small business website) platform of choice is the one and only — WordPress; the self-hosted kind. Below you’ll find my recommended services for starting and maintaining a WordPress blog and/or small business website that will grow with you.
To all the beginner bloggers out there, my recommended hosting company is SiteGround, starting at only $3.95 per month (if paid annually) for first-time users. Among all the shared hosting solutions out there with comparable pricing, SiteGround by far and large exceeds my expectations. Some of the perks include: free SSL, free daily backup, unlimited emails, built in caching program to speed up site, CDN with Cloudflare, 24/7 phone and chat support (and what phenomenal support they have!)
WordPress Theme Builder / Templates
Elementor is a theme and page builder plugin. If you’re tired of the same look and feel on all the other blogs out there, and want to create something more unique without having to custom code everything, I highly recommend this plugin. I like the Astra Theme for WordPress, and pair it with Elementor Pro for the best of both worlds (in fact, The Side Blogger is running on this exact combo!).
Alternative Approach: If you want a traditional WordPress theme approach, then the Genesis framework is my preferred solution. Genesis is a WordPress theme framework and needs to be used with a child theme. My preferred child themes are available on StudioPress, and, if you’re looking for feminine themes, I highly recommend Restored316 child themes for Genesis.
WordPress Performance/Speed Optimization
Website speed is important when it comes to retaining users and readers, and keeping them on your website longer. Nobody likes to deal with a slow website! Also, did you know that Google takes page-speed into account when ranking? That’s where WP Rocket comes in. This plugin has all the features you need to optimize your site for speed and performance. Paired with a great hosting company such as SiteGround, this plugin is by far the best website optimization and caching plugin out there.
Other Resources for Your WordPress Website/Blog
NameCheap (for domains): When you sign up with SiteGround, you can register a domain with them, OR, you can purchase a domain from a different company, and then point it to SiteGround.
Now, why would you want to do that? Well, what if you have more than one domain? Or, better yet, what if you’re a security nerd like I am? Personally, I think it’s useful to have domain and hosting from two separate platforms. So, while I host all my sites on SiteGround, I purchase all my domains from NameCheap. On top of having everything neatly organized, it also adds an extra layer of security.
WordPress Essential Plugins
I’m of the mind that the less number of plugins you have, the better. That said, some plugins are essential for various reasons (performance, security, etc.) Below are some of my favorite plugins that I always install on my own sites as well as on my clients’ sites.
Anti-Spam – Detects spam and malicious comments and quarantines them. Free to use, and beats a paying plugin like Akismet by far and large.
Yoast SEO – A great plugin to insert metadata for pages and posts easily. It also polices SEO, short for Search Engine Optimization, practices. While you should take its recommendations with a pinch of salt, it doesn’t hurt to take note of the suggestions.
Image Optimization by Optimole – Images are one of the biggest culprits for slowing down your site load time. I’ve tried a few image optimization plugins, and by far this is my favorite.
Edit Author Slug – When you click on a user, the link adds the user’s username as the slug. Which can be a huge security issue for most WordPress sites. Edit Author Slug helps you mask the username with a custom slug.
Wordfence – This is a free WordPress security plugin. If you have a good WordPress hosting company like SiteGround, a free security plugin like WordFence should be sufficient for you.
WP Rocket – A good hosting company such as SiteGround paired with WP Rocket for performance and Optimole for image optimization can significantly improve your website speed and performance.
Related: How to Improve WordPress Speed and Performance with SiteGround and WP Rocket
UpDraft Plus – Most hosting companies offer daily backups for either free or an additional cost (it’s a free feature on my preferred hosting company — SiteGround). However, I still prefer to have a backup plugin in place just because! Also, UpDraft Plus saves a backups file locally, so, if something unexpectedly goes wrong (during a plugin update for example), as long as you can access the WordPress dashboard, you can restore to a previous backup with just a click.
Media Cleaner – Great plugin that can detect media files that are not being linked anywhere on your site, and gets rid of them with the click of a button. Useful plugin when you’ve had a blog for a while, assets have been switched around, and you’ve lost track of what’s linking where, and a bunch of unnecessary files are just sitting there on your media library. Use this plugin to do a bit of house-cleaning every month to keep your blog’s back-end clutter free.
An Alternate Approach
If you’re trying to build a brand and grow as a business owner, then I recommend absolutely nothing but WordPress. That said, if you’re a hobby blogger, or not sure if blogging is even for you, then there are some platforms that I prefer over others.
Medium: If all you want to do is write and you’re willing to write a lot without worrying about promoting your articles, then Medium can be a good alternative option. Or, maybe even an additional option!
Related: How to Start Writing and Making Money on Medium
Squarespace: Squarespace definitely has a lot of limitations compared to WordPress, and the platform is nowhere near as powerful, but if you want to give blogging a casual tryout, Squarespace is still a better option than some other platforms out there.
An email list is your best friend. Period. If you’re a blogger or a small business (or any size business) owner, freelancer, entrepreneur, whatever have you, you need to start an email list as soon as possible. In fact, I’d say that you need to start an email list even before you set up your website/blog!
There are a lot of email marketing platforms out there. My favorite, however, is ConvertKit, especially for bloggers, because this platform makes creating multiple forms, multiple sequences or automation for different opt-in freebies, super easy! As a blogger, you’ll likely want to offer more than one opt-in incentive scattered across different blog posts. The ConvertKit platform is super intuitive and makes offering these different incentives simple and stress-free.
And now, through my special affiliate link only, you get to enjoy 30 days of ConvertKit, totally FREE! (Typically they offer 14-day free trial, but with my special link, you now get to enjoy this free trial for a whole month!)
Alternative Approach: An alternative to ConvertKit is Constant Contact. It’s a super powerful platform, and if you feel that ConvertKit isn’t enough for all your marketing automation, Constant Contact is your next level upgrade.
Once you have a decent amount of exposure, a couple of hundred visitors a day, and a few hundred email list subscribers, you may decide to create online courses to add to your monthly revenue. Online courses are also a great way to emphasize your authority in a field.
When I decided to create online courses, I tried out a couple of platforms. They are all powerful and intuitive platforms, but I chose Thinkific for two reasons:
– Their free plan offered unlimited student enrollment.
– They did not change an additional transaction fee on sales, and they also offered instant payout.
So far, my experience with the platform, as well as their customer support, has been top notch! If you’re thinking of creating an online course, Thinkific is a great platform to build it on.
Alternative Approach: Another platform I considered was Teachable. Teachable is a super popular and powerful online course platform, and whether you choose Thinkific or Teachable depends on your personal preference. As far as the functionalities go, the two platforms are similar with a few exceptions. They both offer free plans, so I encourage you to try out both to see which you prefer.
Graphics, Info Products, Videos, Etc.
A blogger always needs images, graphics, videos, etc., such as blog featured images, social media graphics, opt-in freebies and lead magnets, eBooks, mini-guides, videos for webinars, workshops, online courses, and much more.
Having the right tool to create graphics and digital collaterals can make you a much more efficient blogger. Canva can be a one-stop platform for all your graphics needs. Stock photo companies such as Pexels and Pixabay are integrated seamlessly within Canva, so you do not even have to switch your browser tab while you pick your stock photos. And with Canva Pro, you have access to millions of premium images and graphic elements from Canva’s own image library or assets. Pretty neat, right?
Related: Check out the Blog Shop for Canva templates for social media and Pinterest graphics, eBooks, workbooks, media kits, and more!
Creative Market: This marketplace is full of high-quality graphic design elements, as well as templates and custom fonts. If you want to add some jazz in your designs, Creative Market is the place to go looking for unique design resources.
Buzzsprout: My podcast platform of choice is Buzzsprout. It offers a clean and easy-to-use interface, and a nifty WordPress plugin to embed your episodes on your blog with a simple click. Getting your show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and other platforms is also easy-peasy!
Sign up for Buzzsprout with my affiliate link. Clicking this link lets Buzzsprout know that I sent you, gets you a $20 Amazon gift card if you sign up for a paid plan, and helps support The Side Blogger.
Pinterest & Social Media Scheduling
Tailwind: Pinterest is by far the most effective way to drive a lot of traffic for bloggers, especially newer bloggers. Tailwind can help you batch schedule Pins in advance.
Related: How to Triple Your Monthly Pinterest Engagement in 30 Days
CoSchedule: This is a high end social media scheduling platform that’s best for those who schedule a lot of content. It has a pretty nifty content calendar that I find useful as it visually lays out what the month will look like.
Canva: If you use Canva to create social media graphics, then you could use the same platform to schedule them to your social platforms as well. Canva integrates with Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and more!
Facebook Creator Studio: Facebook has a built-in content publisher and scheduler for both Facebook and Instagram, which you could check out as well.
Writing, Editing, Organizing
CoSchedule Headline Studio: This tool analyzes your headline based off of the type of headline (how-to and list post types score higher), and also the type of words used, such as power words, emotional words, common words and uncommon words. Using more power and emotional words will make your score go higher.
Reedsy: I love Reedsy for writing articles as well as eBooks. It’s a gorgeous and minimalist platform for writers, and it’s free!
Grammarly: Nothing I write would be the same if I didn’t have the assistance of Grammarly. I have Grammarly extension for my browser to make sure everything I write makes sense and free of stupid spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. I highly recommend the paid Grammarly plan to everyone who finds themselves writing a lot.
Hemingway Editor: This is another amazing tool to help you edit your articles. This one polices use of passive voice, adverbs, difficult sentences, etc. If you haven’t signed up for Grammarly paid plan yet, then this tool can help you refine your articles in addition to the Grammarly free plan.
Milanote: I use Milanote as a virtual desktop that I can access from both of my laptop. I can use it to create different “boards” which I use as separate folders for different projects. And it makes it so much easier to keep track of all my different types of writing and business-related projects at the same time, at the same place, without getting overwhelmed.
Notion: While I use Milanote as a virtual desktop and a way to visualize, organize, and track my projects and their respective progress, Notion is what I use to jot down quick ideas and outlines for my various writing projects.
CoSchedule Marketing Calendar: I love CoSchedule Marketing Calendar to keep all my blogging and related tasks in one place. With this tool you can create projects to keep track of your progress; be that a blog post, an online course, or some other task. It has both a forever-free version as well as a paid version that you can choose depending on your needs. Added bonus: You can use CoSchedule to automate your social media posting too!
[Please note: Some of the links above are affiliate links, as in, if you choose to make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission. This is at no cost to you, but paid for by the companies as a “thank-you” for the referral. Please understand that I have experience with these products or I have done thorough research and have come to the conclusion that these are all high-quality tools that will be of benefit to you. Please purchase these products only if you feel that you need them.]