Must-Have Tools for Bloggers
Learning how to build and grow your blog is exhilarating. It’s also totally overwhelming. You could spend years consuming advice and shopping for tools without publishing a single word. Don’t do that! Our list of essential tools for bloggers will help you get the apps and resources you need and move on to more important parts of growing your website!
The beauty of digital media is that you can revise and improve it anytime you want. Nothing is written in stone.
For the most part, the same is true of the tools you use to build your business. You shouldn’t worry too much about having the perfect web host, WordPress theme, email provider, or SEO plugin. You want to find something that works, that you like, and that fits your budget.
To help you in this arena, I’ve compiled what I consider the essential tools for bloggers. To do this, I draw on over 10 years as a professional blogger.
In full disclosure, some of these products are affiliates of Hit Publish (see Ashley’s full disclosure statement).
Content Management Systems
WordPress is a free, open-source content management system that is the world’s most popular platform for blogs and content websites. I can’t recommend anything else because I’ve never used anything else.
WordPress is user-friendly enough so that almost anyone can become comfortable writing and publishing content after a few hours of use. It’s also powerful enough to run websites serving tens of millions of monthly page views.
If you’re wary of learning new software, I understand that commercial “website builder” products like SquareSpace may seem compelling for their simplicity. In the long run, these services will cost you a lot more money and allow you less control over your own website.
As long as your primary goal isn’t to sell physical products on your website (e-commerce), just use WordPress!
Note: You actually don't set this up on the WordPress site. You'll set up your domain and hosting first, and then add WordPress to your site via your host.
If you’re going to have a blog, you’re going to need somewhere to put it. That’s your web host. The hosting company of your choice will lease you server space and handle all of the technical details to keep your server secure and online.
You can quickly be overwhelmed by the number of options for web hosting. If you dig deep, you may also be confused as to why some companies charge as little as $10 a month (or less) while you can spend $100 a month at others.
If you are just starting out or run a blog with up to 100,000 monthly page views, we recommend SiteGround managed WordPress hosting.
What’s managed WordPress hosting?
Managed hosting is a service in which the hosting company “manages” your server for you. With managed WordPress hosting, the company goes a step further and managers your installation of WordPress of you, too. That means they’ll handle WordPress installation, updates, back-ups, and more. For 99% of WordPress users, managed hosting is the way to go.
SiteGround provides three levels of service starting at just $6.99 a month for a single website or $9.99 for multiple websites.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet; a blog by any other name would never be found!
Your domain name is not only your address on the web, it’s also an essential part of your brand. You’ll need at least one, but most online entrepreneurs purchase their domain in multiple extensions (for example, .com, .net, .info, .org and so on). Some also buy up close variations of their domain to account for typos or to avoid competitors snatching those domains.
You’ll need to use a domain name registrar to purchase and renew your domain. We recommend namecheap. .COM domains are only $8.88 and namecheap excels at making it easy to manage your domain portfolio and keeping them secure.
One of the most important tools for any website is completely free: Google Analytics.
Analytics gives you a trove of data about visitors to your site:
- How many there are
- Where they’re coming from
- Where they live
- What pages they visit on your site, and for how long
It can also be configured to show you information like:
- Where on your site they opt-in to your email list or buy a product
- Ad profitability
- The differences between two versions of a page (A/B testing)
- And much more!
Setup is easy and involves placing one snippet of code in your site’s header tag. In most WordPress themes, there is a box to place this code.
Is building an email list on your radar? If not, it should be.
You might think that living in the social media age has made email less important or even obsolete. To the contrary, the social media age has made email more effective – and more essential to your business – than ever.
You can use social media to attract followers. But you’ll need a big advertising budget to acquire customers on social media. What converts your readers and followers into paying customers? Email!
An email subscriber is at least 10x more valuable than a social media follower. We all get too much email. We all struggle from attention overload. Hitting a subscribe or follow button is easy and low-risk. Giving out our email address is higher stakes. When someone gives you their email address, it means they like you. (Or, at least, they’re curious to learn more about you!)
It’s a good idea to begin collecting email addresses as soon as have traffic to your website. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to send them yet. (You should send them something occasionally to stay on their mind. What you send them actually matters less than you think!)
Now, collecting addresses and sending emails requires the help of an email marketing service. These services:
- Make it simple to drop a sign-up form into your website.
- Help you comply with anti-SPAM laws.
- Design and send emails.
- Track response rates.
- Segment your lists by demographic and interest to better serve your customers.
For email marketing, we recommend ConvertKit. The best part? A ConvertKit account is free for up to 1,000 subscribers!
Stock Photography & Design
Regardless of your blog’s topic, you’ll need visual elements to break up text and make your site inviting to readers. And it goes without saying that graphics, and videos are also instrumental to any social media strategy.
In the past, most bloggers have had two options: Hire a designer or spend hours scouring the web for public-use photos and hours more wrangling photo software to add text or other elements.
Important! If you’re new to blogging, be VERY careful about the photos you publish on your website. ONLY publish photos that you’ve taken, purchased, or verified are in the public domain. If you publish another photographer’s work without rights, their agencies can and will come after you for copyright damages that can be in the thousands of dollars. This is a big business and you won’t have many options except to pay up!
Today, there’s a tool that almost every blogger I know is using to generate blog and social media images: Canva.
Canva is a web-based design studio. You can create everything from Instagram posts to flyers to videos using simple drag and drop interface and Canva’s library of stock photos.
Canva’s free version will get you 8,000 templates and thousands of free photos and graphics. For $9.95 a month, Canva Pro unlocks advanced features and more than 60 million stock images and photos.
Using Canva free is a no-brainer. And, honestly, if you’re serious about building a unique and engaging blog, Canva Pro would be high on my list of initial tool investments.
Technical Support for Bloggers
The technical side of WordPress has gotten easier since I started using the software in 2005. I had to install WordPress on the server, set up mySQL databases, and troubleshoot bugs with every upgrade. Today, with the right managed WordPress host like SiteGround, all of this is automatic. Most of the time, you shouldn’t have to worry about much.
Still, there will be times when something on your site breaks or you want to do something and technically don’t know how. If you’re not comfortable with server technology, it’s good to have someone on your team who is.
We recommend the Wordpress Support Plans from iMark Interactive. Ashley and I have known the owner, Grayson Bell, personally for years and are completely confident your website is in good hands with Grayson.
His monthly support plans start at $27 per month. That may be too much if you’re just starting out. In that case, he also offers a “quick fix” package to handle immediate issues for just $47 a piece. If you begin making any kind of money from your website, however, the peace of mind a technical support plan provides just makes sense.
Social Media Management
Just as you’ll need email marketing to convert your followers into buyers; you’ll need social media to acquire followers and stay engaged. It can be tempting to spend a lot of time on many different social media accounts creating posts and interacting with others.
But, as a creator and entrepreneur, you want to own and control the content you create. Every hour you spend on social media is an hour you’re not spending building your own platform. You don’t own what you put onto Instagram or Twitter. You own what you publish on your own website.
A social media management app can help you run an effective social media strategy that doesn’t overburden you. We like SocialBee, which allows you to:
- Publish a single post to multiple platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and more)
- Schedule posts ahead of time
- Automate reposting of evergreen content at specified intervals
- Track views and engagements across multiple platforms in one place
- Collaborate with multiple users (for example, require approval on posts)
- Create post variations and test results
- A whole lot more
SocialBee isn’t inexpensive, with plans starting at $19 per month for one user and up to 5 social media profiles. If you spend a lot of time on social media already or plan to make social media a large part of your marketing strategy, SocialBee might be worth the cost.
Otherwise, it’s not a must-have.
While we use SocialBee to run our LinkedIn, Facebook page, and Facebook group, (and would use it to run Twitter too but we are actually not on Twitter — gasp!) I lean on Tailwind to schedule our Pinterest and Instagram posts.
Tailwind specializes in Pinterest and also has a robust Instagram scheduling tool as well.
My two favorite features for the Pinterest scheduler are:
- Tailwind Communities
Tailwind Communities are what group boards were supposed to be. The idea is that you pin your content there and the other members will repin it – expanding your reach. And while that is great and does work, what I actually like about the communities is that it makes it super easy to fill the holes in your pinning schedule with relevant content.
After all, you can't just pin your own stuff all day over and over.
SmartLoops allow you to automatically repin your best stuff on a schedule that makes sense and isn't spammy. Talk about a time saver!
Here's our full Tailwind review.
Project Management/ To-Do List
I like to say that the first law of online business is that there will always be more things to do than you can possibly accomplish.
This is true whether you’re in the early stages of generating ideas and writing content or busy with sales and growth.
The first step is to acknowledge that you simply must say no to a lot of ideas (even most of them!) The second step is to find an efficient way to manage your to-do list!
Now, this is a deeply personal decision. I’ve probably tried dozens of ways to organize my tasks and track my productivity over the years. There’s no shortage of tools on the market for this! Of all of them I’ve tried, however, Marvin is my favorite thus far for organizing personal to-dos and projects.
The tool uses the latest psychology on human behavior and procrastination to help us get more done. It’s also highly customizable so you can organize tasks in the way the works best for you.
There’s a free 30-day trial (no payment info required). After that, pricing starts at $8 a month.
Legal issues may not be the first thing your mind when you launch a business – especially if you’re starting small. But there are certain legal elements you must have in place if you either:
- Plan to sell anything on your website or
- Collect any information from your website visitors
You don’t even have to use email marketing; if you install any kind of analytics on your website, you’re collecting visitors’ IP address, and that counts!
As a small website, the odds of a lawsuit or fine for one of these issues is small. If it were to occur, however, the cost could be thousands – if not tens of thousands – of dollars in fines and legal fees. To quote wise old Ben Franklin: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
There are different ways you can approach legal planning for your blog. Hiring your own attorney is the safest bet. But even though setting these things up is not an enormous task, lawyers charge by the hour. You can expect the bill to be at least $500, if not more.
You can take the time to try to do things yourself. But that takes time and – unless you’re a lawyer yourself – you run a big risk of missing something and leaving yourself open to liability.
The option we used is a website legal template bundle created by Elizabeth Stapleton, a lawyer and blogger herself. For $167 – less than half the cost of hiring your own attorney – you get templates for all of the various legal texts you’ll need when running your own website.
These are the essential tools for bloggers and website owners. But, as you'll soon discover, you will need a few more and you will find yourself wanting many more!
Let me leave you with a piece of parting advice from my years of experience.
You can reach an audience and even make money with nothing more than WordPress, a domain name, and a webhost. It gets easier if you add e-mail marketing and analytics.
Every plugin or app that you layer on top of this foundation comes with certain costs. Unless the tool is free, there's the financial cost. But there's also the cost of complexity. Personally, a new app needs to add an overwhelming amount of value for me to consider adding it into my life. And — when it comes to WordPress plugins — it's wise to limit the number of plugins you use and to use plugins supported by larger, reputable developers. Plugins can slow down your website, leave it vulnerable to hacking, or even crash it. The more plugins you add, the greater the risk one or more won't play nicely with each other.
Keep it simple, especially in the beginning!