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If you’re a blogger, you’ll find that the number of “recommended” plugins, hosting, etc. is vast. Frankly, if you do a web search for something like “best SEO plugin,” most of the results you’ll find will actually be sponsored posts. To help cut down on some of the noise, below you’ll find some of the blog resources and best blogging tools that I recommend and use myself, or, in some cases, that others have recommended to me.
Recommended Blogging Tools
Good writing will make your blog appear more professional. Take your writing skills to the next level with these tools.
Blogging is a written platform, so it’s important for bloggers to pay special emphasis to things like grammar. I don’t profess to know all of the writing rules, but Grammarly is a HUGE help on this front! I use the free version, which corrects 250+ mistakes (such as spelling, incorrect word usage, and grammar) and works on any web-based program, including WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter.
Web Hosting for Bloggers
When I first started FantabulouslyFrugal.com I was hosting it through Blogger, but after about a year I made the migration to WordPress. Blogger vs WordPress is a big debate in the blogging world, but if you choose to go the self-hosted WordPress route, here is a short list of recommended web hosting for bloggers.
If you’re looking for an affordable web host that’s not affiliated with EIG, GreenGeeks is a fantastic option! Packages start at $3.96 per month, and that includes web hosting, email, unlimited space, a transfer to their servers and more.
SiteGround has been getting a lot of buzz as being one of the most stable and affordable web hosts for bloggers. Prices start as low as $3.95 per month for your first year and you also get a free domain name for one year. One great thing about SiteGround is that you can scale your service so you’re not paying for server space that you’re not using. For instance, the cheapest plan works until you’re receiving 10,000 visitors per month, at which case you may want to upgrade to prevent downtime. Having options like this is rare, but great for new bloggers!
My preferred web host is currently WiredTree, which is a Chicago-based company. The cost is higher than what I was paying at Bluehost, but I’ve found that the amount of downtime has decreased significantly. Plus, I can always get a response from someone at WiredTree if I am having issues… usually within minutes. I highly recommend them for more personalized service and increased server speeds.
Since we weren’t all born with – or taught – graphic design skills, it’s great to have a few design resources that you can turn to when you need something like a new font, a background, graphics or templates. These are the design resources I turn to on a regular basis.
Whether you’re looking for new fonts, or website templates, or maybe even Photoshop tools or stock images, Creative Market is a great place to look. It has become one of my go-to destinations when I am looking for anything related to graphic design.
Tip: Every Monday Creative Market releases six free design tools! I obsessively check for their newsletter on Monday mornings!
I have found that Creative Market and The Hungry JPEG are very similar but I use them both. The prices at The Hungry JPEG are a little better overall, but more importantly, you never know what will be on sale or offered for free at either site. Another thing I love about this site is that they have a large selection of $1 deals, which is mostly filled with fonts.
Email Newsletter Options for Bloggers
If you’re new to blogging, one of the things you’re going to constantly hear is that you need a “list.” A “list” means an email list of people who subscribe to your blog. It’s a long-held belief that you need a “list” to be successful but I’m going to call it like I see it: I think this is mostly BS. Is it nice to get your blog posts directly in front of people who subscribe to your list? Sure. But only 20-30 percent of people open those emails so I would tell you to carefully consider your budget and goals before paying to set up an email newsletter. Honestly, with ShopGirlDaily.com I really wish I had gone the route of sending out a *free* daily newsletter via my RSS feed. It would have been 10x easier and saved me hundreds of dollars.
Note: I do not in any way think email lists are bad but I don’t think they’re the end all be all that some suggest.
Most RSS feed burners will allow you to send out an email newsletter of your feed for free, but if you’re looking for something with more formatting options I highly recommend Mad Mimi as one of the best email newsletter provider for bloggers. It’s one of the most reliable and affordable newsletter options out there. Get started with their free plan to see if it’s right for your needs!
Mail Chimp is what I personally use on most of my websites. It’s reliable, fairly easy to use, and there are tons of theme options. For ShopGirlDaily.com I use the RSS newsletter option, so everyday at 5 p.m. CT an email goes out with the posts I wrote that day. You can also manually send newsletters, among a score of other options. Mail Chimp is free if you send less than 12,000 emails per month, however you will need to pay to upgrade for some of their advanced features. Paid plans start at $10 per month.
I decided to upgrade to a heftier email system for this site because I wanted to add the option of landing pages and also have the ability to easily set up multiple automated emails. I love ConvertKit and think it’s great, but the service starts at $29 per month so I don’t recommend this as an ideal option for beginning bloggers.
Photo Editing & Graphic Design Tools
Photoshop is the original photo editor and if you want to get close to that, but for a much lower price, then Adobe Photoshop Elements might be a great option for you. It’s basically a pared-down version of the original. My guess is that you likely won’t miss the tools that aren’t there since Photoshop is so feature-filled. Elements will give you everything you need and then some. Elements costs a one-time fee of $99.99.
Adobe Spark is a new free option from Adobe that seems like a direct competitor to Canva. You can use their tools to easily create graphics, web pages and videos.
Canva is one of the most popular photo editing programs with bloggers because it is so easy to use. Canva is free to use, although power users may wish to upgrade to the subscription-based Canva for Work version, which costs $12.95 per month.
PicMonkey is a fantastic photo editing and design tool that is quite easy for beginners to learn and use. Whether you’re editing the photos you take on your phone or DSLR, or creating collages for your blog posts (and Pinterest), PicMonkey is a great all-around tool. The basic edition of PicMonkey is free, or you can upgrade to the premium version that includes all of the bells and whistles for $4.99 per month (or less if you pre-pay for a year).
You can use Pixlr in one of three ways: via the web app, via their website, or you can download it to your computer. If you download it the cost is just $14.99 per year or $1.99 per month. This is a powerful yet budget-friendly photo editor. Pixlr is more of a typical photo editor and is probably not ideal for collages, although I’m sure it can be done.
Bloggers frequently need graphic design tools to help them quickly and easily create graphics for Pinterest. This can be tough if you don’t have a background in graphic design, but Relay makes it surprisingly easy to design the graphics you need. Not only that, but they can quickly resize the graphics you make into the sizes needed for Facebook and Twitter, too! This program even helps you create infographics quickly and easily. One other fab feature of Relay is that it lets you schedule your social media posts from within the program! Relay is free, although a Pro version, which includes more features, is available for $8 per month.
If you’re going to be taking a lot of detailed shots of products – for instance books, jewelry, or makeup – and you don’t have a lot of natural sunlight at your disposal, I highly recommend investing in this Photography Shooting Tent Kit. You get the enormous tent as well as the two lights, which will help you almost perfectly replicate sunlight. Believe me when I say that this will make your photos that much brighter and cleaner, which will in turn help you to look more professional. I’ve found this especially helpful on Instagram photos and now nearly all of the photos on my Shop Girl Daily account are taken inside this photo tent. At just $49.60, it’s one of the best purchases I’ve made.
Recommended WordPress Plug-Ins for Bloggers
Coming Soon Pro (paid)
If you’re setting up a website that you don’t want the outside world to see yet, then Coming Soon Pro is definitely worth purchasing. It’s the plugin I used on this site and I loved that it let me completely customize a landing page that had an email newsletter sign-up form and also shared our social media links. At $29, this plug-in probably isn’t necessary for new bloggers but it can be great in certain situations.
CoSchedule is a must-have for bloggers who are looking for an all-in-one solution that will help you keep and manage an editorial calendar but also schedule social media posts to Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and G+… for years in advance, if you want to do so. Check out our full CoSchedule review for all of the details.
Pretty Link Lite (free) or Thirsty Affiliates (free)
All bloggers that are using affiliate links should use a link cloaker like Pretty Link Lite or Thirsty Affiliates. What these plug-ins do is mask your ugly affiliate links (or long links in general). For instance, this is the link to our list of sites that will pay you to blog:
That’s pretty long and ugly, right? I’m currently using Thirsty Affiliates on this site (because I wanted to try something new) so the cloaked link now looks like this:
In addition to being “prettier,” link cloaking makes it so that I can change out the original link in a pinch without needing to change every single link on my website. In other words, if I changed the URL to my spreadsheet, I would only need to change the link within the link cloaking program and it would change across my entire site. Since affiliate links can change, this can be a very beneficial tool so that you one day don’t get stuck manually changing hundreds of links!
Social Warfare (paid)
I’ve tried quite a few different plug-ins to show social media buttons on my site, including SumoMe (which is also great), but I recently became a convert to Social Warfare. They have the typical social media buttons that you can place wherever you want on your site, but the reason I LOVE Social Warfare is because of its Pinterest integration. The general consensus is that Pinterest images should be long and skinny, which usually don’t look too great in blog posts. Thanks to Social Warfare you can “hide” those images so that they don’t show up in your post but when people click the Pinterest link on your page they will be prompted to pin the special Pinterest-friendly image! You can also create a special image that’s optimized for Twitter and Facebook shares as well. Social Warfare costs $24 per year.
Yoast SEO (free)
This is one of the most valuable plug-ins I have installed on my sites, it’s considered a must-have by virtually everyone and it is FREE! Yoast will help you optimize search engine optimization (SEO) for your entire site, as well as each individual post. Tip: Make sure you’re downloading the Yoast SEO plug-in, as there are quite a few SEO plug-ins available.
Social Media Tools for Bloggers
BoardBooster is a great tool for those looking to grow and automate their Pinterest accounts. It gives you the option of scheduling pins via secret boards, looping pins (aka repinning your pins to the same boards or other boards), and other powerful tools that heavy Pinterest users will love. Plans start at $5 per month for 500 pins and go up from there.
I use a lot of different scheduling tools to help minimize my workload and Buffer is the tool I use to schedule posts to Twitter, as well as my Facebook pages and groups. Once you install Buffer, you can basically schedule any webpage anywhere to be shared. You can also use Buffer to schedule your retweets. Or to share items you find on Pinterest (the link will go to the original post and NOT to Pinterest!). This is an easy and fast tool to use that costs $9.99 per month.
Grum is currently one of the only tools that will let you post directly to your Instagram account from your computer. You can schedule posts (that get published when you want them to without you needing to log back into Instagram after receiving a reminder). You can also access multiple accounts from the same dashboard. Grum is not a viewing platform, however. It is just for posting. Grum offers a 3-day free trial with unlimited photo sharing and no credit card required. After the trial is up the service costs $9.95 for 2 accounts; $3.95 each for 3-5 accounts; or $2.95 each for 6+ accounts per month.
One of the things that’s currently not very easy is posting affiliate links on Instagram since you can’t have live hyperlinks in your captions. The only “active” link is the one that goes to your website in your profile. Well, thanks to Link in Profile, it’s actually really easy to use affiliate links on Instagram. I’m currently using this service for one of my Instagram accounts, Plus Size Style Watch, and it works great. When I’m writing a post I just need to include an affiliate link in the caption of my post (it can even be buried at the bottom). Then, when people click the link in my profile they are taken to a new page where they can see all of my Instagram posts. From there, they can click on an image and be taken right to that product page via an affiliate link. I know that’s confusing. I don’t really understand the technology myself; It’s magic! Link in Profile costs $9.99 per month, which could be a bargain if you make a lot of sales via Instagram!
I talk more about Link in Profile int his post about how to make money from Instagram.
MassPlanner is my social media secret weapon as you can use it to follow, unfollow and like on Instagram and Twitter. You can also program it to leave comments! It will auto-follow and like boards on Pinterest, as well as repin whatever you ask of it. It will auto-post your blog posts in Google+ groups. This is a powerful tool that takes a bit of time to learn and understand. (I find that I’m still learning new things though I’ve been using it for months.) MassPlanner currently only works on Windows, though there’s a workaround for Macs that’s available. (I use the workaround.) You can get a free five-day MassPlanner trial and then it costs $9.95 per month or $44.95 for six months.
I didn’t want to believe all of the hubbub about Tailwind, but after a couple of days of using it I was sucked in and haven’t looked back. Like many bloggers, I’m often pulled in a hundred different directions and short on time so I’m always falling behind on something. Thanks to Tailwind that “something” isn’t Pinterest because it makes it SO easy to schedule Pinterest posts for weeks at a time. Not only that, but they offer better analytics than you will find anywhere else. Since using Tailwind I have only seen my repins and followers go up and up and up. With a $119 paid yearly subscription you can schedule an unlimited number of pins at a time. A $9.99 monthly subscription is also available but with that you can only schedule 400 pins at a time.
Beautiful & Easily Customizable WordPress Themes
A lot of new bloggers think that they need to hire someone to design an intricate site for them. Let me assure you that this is absolutely not the case, especially not these days. I am in no way a web designer. I am lucky enough that I know my way around Photoshop so I can design headers, but I cannot do intricate web design. I paid someone to design FantabulouslyFrugal.com, but I’ve been able to design and maintain every other site I have thanks to the following theme designers.
I found Angie Makes when I was shopping for a new theme for ShopGirlDaily.com and her aesthetic really spoke to me so I’m now using their Jasmine Theme. They offer exceptional customer support – I had a question once and they not only responded to me within minutes but they also updated their general FAQ with my question and answer immediately so that others would have access to the same knowledge. Their “pretty, feminine” themes cost $70 each. For an additional $15 they will install it for you, too.
Creative Market is one of my favorite design resources but it is also a great place to shop for WordPress themes! They have a huge selection of themes available in a range of different styles.
This site right here, Oh, She Blogs! was designed by the amazing people at Station Seven Creative! Looking for more specifics? We’re using their Parker Theme, which cost all of $49 and was so easy to customize. Honestly, Parker is the easiest site I’ve customized, which is really saying something because there are a lot of bells and whistles. Whenever I got hung up on something I checked out the theme help section of their website, which was full of Q&As and general support topics. All of the themes from Station Seven Creative have a clean and minimalistic vibe that I love.
I’ve tried out lots of different WordPress themes over the years, but bar none I think Swift Themes is one of the absolute easiest for beginners to use. It’s fairly easy to design a site to look exactly how you want it to look without needing to know how to code. There is a free version of Swift, but the Personal License (which comes with support) costs $57 and then $10 per year. This is what I use.
While most of the sites in this list have a limited number of theme options available, Themeforest is the exact opposite. Themeforest has 22,000+ WordPress themes listed, with prices starting as low as $2. While you’re sure to find something you like, the sheer number of options is a bit daunting!
At the risk of sounding like a little old lady, it used to be a lot easier to start a blog. Now there’s so much competition that if you want to become a professional blogger you really need to go into it with a plan in place to help you be as successful as you can be. Everyone talks about SEO and one of the best ways to achieve good SEO on your site (aka get lots of love from Google) is to focus on the keywords in your post. A keyword is basically the general theme of your post, or the words someone would type into a search engine that would *hopefully* lead them to your site. Jaaxy is one of the best tools I’ve seen that will help you not only brainstorm keywords but also provide information about how much competition there is that will impact whether or not you can get on the first page of search results, how much traffic you could expect to receive for being on the first page of Google’s search results and more. Jaaxy is not a cheap tool – it costs $19 per month – but it could be worthwhile for those of you really focusing on organic growth through SEO and keyword research.
Blog Maintenance Tools
Check out how your blog is doing – for free – with QuickSprout.
How quickly your blog loads is important, and with GTmetrix you can check that out for free, and they’ll even provide specific suggestions that will help speed things up.
Want to know what a real user thinks of your site? Check out Peek, where you’ll receive a five minute video of someone using your site – for free! This is a great way to see what you might need to work on from someone else’s viewpoint.
Want to check your Instagram influence? Check it out here.
At some point you might want to take your blog styling into your own hands, at which point you might need a little bit of help. I’ve been doing this for quite a few years and I constantly need help with things like CSS! When the going gets tough, here are a few of my favorite resources.
How to Style Your Blog with CSS + Four Page CSS Worksheet – Creatives in Transit
CSS Tutorials – Code it Pretty (this site is no longer updating but the tutorials remain some of the best)
WordPress Help for Bloggers
I don’t think I’m alone in saying that over the years I have needed WordPress help for my blog but I never knew where to turn. I didn’t have any friends who had an interest in WordPress or blogging, so I was more or less on my own. Now, however, these are the sites I turn to when I have a WordPress problem that I can’t fix on my own.
I have nothing but good things to say about Fantasktic. For $99 they will help you fix almost any WordPress issue. $99 sounds like a lot of money, but sometimes there are things you just don’t know how to do. For instance, I recently spent a couple of weeks trying to get a plug-in installed on my site and it just wasn’t working. I spent probably a good 15-20 hours trying to figure out what was wrong, and even asked a couple of bloggers who were hosting the same plug-in for help to no avail. Finally I contacted Fantasktic and they were able to fix the problem within 24 hours.
For cheap wordpress help look no further than Fiverr! Yes, Fiverr! I’ve been able to get help with basic WordPress, CSS, and HTML issues for just $5 from this site and the turnaround time is super quick once they begin working on your site (the best people usually have a queue so it can take awhile to get started). I have found that you need to be VERY specific with your request though.
Do Tell: What blogging tools do you recommend? We’re always interested in giving new services a shot so please share your favorite blogging tools! It could become our favorite, too!
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