Since starting out EasyTweaks.com few years ago, we got multiple questions from readers about our recommended blogging toolkit.
So we decided to take a stab at that and put together this comprehensive guide which includes over 100 resources, tools and applications that you should consider when starting a blog on WordPress.
Over 95% of the tools that we have included in the list are free (or have a free version). Practically, it means that you can start a website with a very limited budget of $100 or less and scale it as you go.
How did we build the list?
First off, we jotted down the typical key activities associated with setting up and maintaining a blog. Then, for each key task, we went ahead and detailed a list of must have and nice to have tools.
- Setting up and maintaining your website
- Researching your content
- Writing your content
- Working with rich media
- Connecting with readers and fellow bloggers
- Getting things done (focus and productivity)
- Monetizing your website
We came out with quite a long list of blogging tools, which can be a bit daunting if you are just starting out. Our advice is to go ahead and use the must have tools first. You can later add more goodies to your blogging toolkit as your website gains popularity and your earnings increase.
A key assumption is that you’ll be using WordPress to build your site.
With circa 100 million installs and an active ecosystem of service providers to support site owners; WordPress is the world’s most popular blogging platform and your best bet to make your blog a winner.
So with no further ado, let’s get started.
Setting up and maintaining your WordPress site
- Unless you own a domain already, you’ll first step would be registering one. There are several registrars out there, we typically work with Namecheap.
- Your next step would be to find a reliable website hosting company. If you are not expecting significant traffic initially, you’ll be alright with a shared hosting account. As your site gains traction you will be able to upgrade to a virtual private server (VPS). We have pretty good experience with Bluehost and Stablehost. Just as a heads up, consider a monthly cost of $6-$9 to cover your hosting expenses.
- Next, you’ll need to install WordPress. The major hosting companies have automated the installation procedure so also people with little technical knowledge can setup WordPress in minutes.
- Next, you’ll need a WordPress theme. Many people get stuck at this step due to the abundance of great themes. Our recommendation is to get started with a free theme. You can always upgrade to a more sophisticated theme as you figure out your user experience requirements and monetization strategy.
- Unless you are very technical, you’ll want to ensure that your host has CPanel available for you. This will allow you to easily interact with your website files, database and email settings if needed.
- Once you’re site is up, ensure that you have enabled the Akismet plugin (extremely useful for comment SPAM filtering).
- Next you would like to take care of your website performance. Upload and configure the W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache to supercharge your site pages loading time.
- Once you are done, go ahead and create yourself a Google Analytics account and add the tracking code to WordPress using a plugin.
- As you’ll be investing plenty of effort developing your content, you want to ensure periodic backups. There are several plugins for backing up your WordPress database and files as well as restore if something goes wrong. We use and recommend on Wp-backup.
- Lastly, you might want to ensure your website is search engine friendly. Luckily, there are a couple of very good WordPress plugins that take care optimizing your website for search engines. So go ahead and upload either the All in One SEO Pack or the Yoast SEO plugin to your site. On top of that, you can improve your site crawling process by using the Google XML Sitemaps plugin.
Nice to Have:
- A Contact page helps streamline communication with your readers. The Contact Form 7 plugin can help you setup a simple contact page in a few minutes. If you need a more fancy contact page check the contact form builder plugin.
- If you need to create a forum for your website, you might want to try bbPress.
- VaultPress is a premium service that automatically backup your site files and database, as well as restore its content if needed.
- Although you can upload files, media, themes and plugins via the WordPress administrator interface or using your host CPanel, i still prefer to use an FTP (File Tranfer Protocol) application. Sounds quite technical but it’s in essence quite similar to Windows Explorer. Our recommended FTP clients are first and foremost Filezilla and WinSCP.
- If you are proficient with website design basics and want to customize your WordPress theme you might want to use Firebug. It’s a great Firefox addon that allows you to tweak your HTML and CSS before implementing any changes in your theme.
- Obviously a no-brainer, but Google Search is the go-to place for content research. Mastering the Search operators syntax goes a long way in improving your productivity when using Google.
- Quora is a great questions and answer website, which you can use in order to get a good perspective on topics. The content quality varies, but definitely a great research resource.
- Wikipedia and YouTube are two other great resources we use for conducting more in depth search on many topics.
- Spending time reading other blogs is something we spend (too much :-)) time doing. My feed reader of choice is Feedly.
- Evernote is amazing for research related note taking and collaboration with colleagues. The basic version absolutely rocks. You m ight also want to look into the web version of Microsoft OneNote.
- Google Keep allows me to write short reminders and to-dos for later follow ups.
- This list won’t be complete without mentioning web browsers. We have used them all, and decided to stick with Chrome and Firefox.
Nice to Have:
- We often use different keyword suggestion tools to find interesting content ideas. Google Suggest would be the right place to start. Bing has also a suggest tool.
- Soovle allows you to access keyword ideas from the major internet authorities including Amazon.
- Ubersuggest is Google Suggest on steroids and has an option to install a Chrome addin to calculate search volume.
- Keywordtool.io has also also a free version that can generate hundreds of keywords in seconds.
- Google Trends is where we go to better understand search popularity trends of specific topics and technologies we cover.
- Pocket is a super-useful app and browser addin that allows you to save web pages for later viewing and reference.
- Similar Web and Alexa can help you assess the level of popularity and trustworthiness of a resource you might want to link to in your posts.
Writing your posts
- Google Docs is my blogging tool of choice. It’s available on any device i use and allows me to share content with colleagues for getting quick feedback and comments. Once done i copy and paste the content to my WordPress editor for final touches.
- Open Live Writer and Blog Desk are also recommended blogging editors. If you work on a Windows PC and prefer a desktop blogging tool, you might want to give them a try.
- Several bloggers prefer to develop your content using a clean and simple notepad. If you do as well, head for Notepad++ or TextPad. Both could also be used as HTML and CSS editors if you decide to customize your theme.
- Ensuring that your content is bold and clear is a top priority. For fast and easy proofreading we use the amazing Hemingway Editor. It allows to spot difficult to read sentences and helps to streamline your writing style.
Nice to Have:
- Crafting amazing titles and headlines is a gift. If you are not the creative type and still want to come up with great titles that will help you attract more reader through social media and search, use the Portent title maker.
- As you blog grows, you might want to start outsourcing some of your content creation. Before publishing outsourced content always check it through Copyscape to ensure it doesn’t contain already published content.
- Using tables helps you to deliver content in a more structured way. TablePress allows you to easily create great looking tables as part of your blog posts or pages.
- Running surveys is a great way for you to increase reader engagement. Google Forms is the tool we use to develop surveys and later analyze user feedback.
Working with Rich Media
- Greenshot is our favorite screenshot taking tool. It also has some basic markup capabilities that you can use to enrich your pictures before publishing.
- Picfont is a simple service that allows you to upload a pic and add text to it.
- If you prefer not to outsource Graphic design, you might need to pick up some skill in that area. Canva and Pixlr are good choices to create inexpensive logos, banners, book covers on your own. As you become a more proficient graphical design you might want to try Paint.Net.
- Need a perfect picture for your post? Head out to Pixabay and Unsplash. Ensure that your usage of photos is in line with copyrights.
Nice to have:
- If you’ll be including video content as part of your site or on YouTube, you’ll want to look into video capturing and editing software. CamStudio (for capturing video) and Windows Movie Maker (for editing) would be the recommended entry level tools for beginners. Camtasia and Screenflow would be the choice for more advanced users.
- If you are planning to record a Podcast or want to add audio to content posted in your blog, you might look into Audacity. It is an Open Source audio recording and editing tool suitable for beginners and advanced users alike.
- Sway lets you build interactive presentations, which you can then easily embed in your blog posts.
Connecting with your audience and other bloggers
- Social Networking is key to connect and follow up with your audience and will help you to build traffic to your new website until organic search ramps up. It’s simply overwhelming to build significant audiences in all major social networks in parallel. Therefore, our recommendation is to focus on one social network at the time. Facebook or Pinterest could be your best picks for starters. Pinterest is mostly effective if your content is in the Design, Travel, Lifestyle niches. Once you build a decent following and traffic, you could expand to Twitter or Instagram.
- In order to increase your visibility in social networks you’ll need a simple means to allow your content to be shared. The Share Buttons and Simple Share Button Adder, are two handy WordPress plugins that will make it easy for readers to share your content.
- Building an email list should be one of your priorities from day one. People opting into your list want to be in touch with your content and provided you have built trust with them, will consider purchasing products you will build or recommend.
- Feedburner helps you notify your subscribers on new content, but doesn’t allow you to proactively message your list.
- MailChimp is an email marketing service that has a free plan you might want to look into.
- ConvertKit and Aweber are other good mailing services, which you can consider as your mailing list grows
Nice to have:
- Skype will allow you to make inexpensive voice and video calls with your team mbmbers and blogging acquaintances.
- HootSuite and Buffer will allow you to easily manage your social networking posting and sharing.
- Blog comments are great to develop reader engagement. There are several plugins that enhances the standard WordPress capability. You might decide to use Disqus for hosting your posts comments.
- If you decide not to use comments in your website, you can disable them altogether.
Staying focused and productive
- Keeping your personal computer safe from viruses and other malware is critical. If you are using Windows, install Microsoft Security Essentials. If you are using a MAC then the Avira antivirus would be your best bet.
- CCleaner is a simple PC cleaning tool that helps optimize your PC resources.
- StayFocused is a simple Chrome extension that helps you minimize the time you waste surfing the web. After installing it on Chrome or Android phone, you can easily set a list of sites you completely block or limit the time you spend at.
- Getting your priorities right is of prime importance, especially if you are a solopreneur. We use Trello boards to define and prioritize tasks and minimize multitasking.
- Email is essential for communication, we use GMail, but you might use another webmail service. You might want to append a custom signature with a link to your blog to email you write.
- Wunderlist is an easy to use task list that you can access from your PC and mobile devices. Other useful alternatives are Remember the Milk and Todoist.
- Google Calendar will help you to organize your schedule. It also connect seamlessly to Microsoft Outlook.
- Dropbox allows you to safeguard your files and access them on the go from all your devices. You might as well use it in order to store your website backups. You might as well look into Microsoft Skydrive.
Nice to have:
- Email is somewhat not effective in order to manage projects and tasks. Instead, we use Asana, which allows to track teamwork and streamline communication in the team.
- Toggl is a time tracking system that allows you to log time against tasks. You can then analyze time spent on specific projects and improve going forward.
- Google Sheets is a free Microsoft Excel alternative that we use for planning purposes.
- To supercharge your productivity, you might want to break down your working time to intervals and ensure you focus on ONE task during the entire duration of the session. From past experience, 20 minutes is my ideal work unit. We use eGG timer to define my work unit and get notified when done.
- Google Bookmarks is our favorite bookmark keeping tool. The benefit over the standard browser bookmarks is the fact you have your bookmarks available on multiple devices, irrespective of the browser you’re using.
- Clipping is a Firefox addon that allows you to clip, copy and save multiple text areas for easier reuse later on.
- We often use mind maps for planning and ideation processes. Xmind is a simple mind map tool to get started with.
- If you will be giving away or selling information products to your audience, you’ll need to use a universal format, like PDF. You could create PDF files from any of the Microsoft Office applications, or use the PDF forge tool.
- As your blog gains traction you might want to start outsourcing part of the work be it content creation, graphic design, proofreading etc’. Your best best would be to look into your social network for a suitable business partner. However, if that’s not an option you could head out to Upwork and find a suitable professional. Providing clear and concise explanations is of utmost important if you want to get stuff done right. If you are outsourcing a repetitive task, you might want to look into developing a standard operating procedure (SOP) to ensure delivery timeliness and quality.
Monetizing your website
We believe that you should tackle monetization only after developing some great content and figuring out a consistent method for getting traffic either by social, search or referrals from other sites.
If you are ready to start monetizing, you could use one or more of the following:
- Displaying Ads
- Promoting products made by others (affiliate/referrals)
- Selling your own products
- Services or Consulting
- Google Adsense ads would be your best for a simple entry level solution for content monetization.
- f you have a very significant amount of traffic, you might want to look into banner advertising. Tribal Fusion would be our first pick. Burst Media is an entry level solution you might want to check although CPM and fill rates could vary.
- Optimizing your ads placement could potentially improve ad revenue. The Post Adverts plugin allows you to implement your ads in your WordPress site. You’ll then could run simple A/B tests to find out what’s working out for you.
- The key benefit of affiliate marketing is that you don’t need to create a product before selling it. Think of it as a joint venture between you and the product creator. If you have significant traffic you might want to reach out to product owners and offer them to promote their products for a sales commission.If that’s not the case, head out to Clickbank or similar services to find suitable offers that add value to your audience.
Product or Service Sales:
- Paypal is the simplest way to accept payments for your product or service.
- If you are looking to sell information products you might want to look into GumRoad. They offer a simple platform that allows small website owners to collect payments for e-books or other information content you might be selling.
- If you thought of self publishing your own book, you could look into Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. Benefit is the huge reach of the Kindle platform.
Obviously, the list of monetization tools is much broader, but we want to give you the essentials to get you started.
We need your help
Are you using a great tool, service or app that should be listed in this page and it isn’t? Feel free to leave us a comment so we can update accordingly.