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One of the toughest things about creating a blog is choosing the right blogging tools to get everything up and running. I’m a bit of a nerd in that I love technology. I learned BASIC way back when, HTML when the Internet became a thing (thus my ‘hobby’ of hoarding AOL CD’s), computer science in college, etc. The point is, I love looking for easy to use tech that also gives me the ability to customize to the way I like things and to maximize my time.
There are many blog articles out there with what platforms and apps to use. Here’s my list of what works for me, including suggestions for ones I’ve used before, but just wasn’t as right for me. Added some explanations of the different options as well.
Don’t forget to check out the Main Tools and Resources that I use on a daily basis.
Here we go with Blogging Tools:
1. Domain Registration
Once you know what you want to name your blog, you’ll need to get that domain. These are the two domain registrars that I use now. Both are good and have different looks to them. When I first started out with buying domains, GoDaddy was the place to go. They had good deals and those great Super Bowl commercials! The service was good and easy to use, but as I quickly became more comfortable with domains and understanding how to manage them myself, I switched over to other registrars. GoDaddy became more expensive, even as competitors popped up.
- Namesilo, Use Code “producerinyou” for $1 OFF, regularly $8.99 per .com Domain – This is the main domain registrar I use. It’s cheap annually, not just for the first year. Other places (like the next one) will have a similar 1st year price to Namesilo, but the next year could be 50%+ for the subsequent years. Namesilo is the same price every year. Why is that? It’s a no-frills type of registrar, but still offers everything I need to manage my domain and DNS. The design and feel of the website feels “old school” too, but it’s easy to navigate. It seems like Namesilo is updating their site in pieces too, because it jumps back and forth with designs. Because they’re always low-priced and don’t jack up the prices every year, they rarely have discounts. $1 Off with the code “producerinyou” is usually the max discount you’ll get. Googling for coupons / discounts send you to many discount code sites with non-working codes.
- Namecheap, $8.88 per .com Domain Registration, $12.98 Renewal – If Namesilo’s look and feel is “old school,” Namecheap is the “new school.” There’re more guides and support here, so this might be a better option for beginners when it comes to domains. Near the end of the first year, you can transfer to Namesilo and pay a lower price for next year’s registration. Namecheap offers more products and services related to hosting and website creation, but I usually do those on other platforms.
If all you need is a domain registrar, Namesilo is the way to go.
The hosting provider decision depends on the amount of traffic your website or blog receives daily. If you have less than 500 visitors per day, a shared hosting site like Bluehost is perfect for you. If you have more, you might want to look at VPS hosting (Virtual Private Server) like DigitalOcean. For those less technically inclined, you can look at a Managed VPS like Cloudways if you want VPS hosting. I think I may need to write another post on the differences to be able to get into the advantages and disadvantages I’ve experienced myself.
- Bluehost, Shared Hosting, $3.95/month – The simplest and cheapest form of web hosting available, because you’re sharing one server box and IP with multiple accounts / domains, thus the name ‘shared hosting.’ This is what people usually start out with when looking to host their own websites. Bluehost also offers a free domain name for the first year, so you don’t need to register your own domain. The biggest advantage with Bluehost is ease of use, and getting up and running quickly. The biggest disadvantages for me are the site going down due to receiving decent traffic, lack of server customizations, and the potential for one bad site from another account taking down your shared server. As I learned more about hosting, I switched over to VPS hosting for various reasons, but the main reasons were more traffic and server customizations.
- DigitalOcean, VPS, $5/month – Similar to shared hosting, you’d still be sharing a server with others, but their sites won’t affect your sites, because you have your own IP address. There’s more stability, reliability, space and bandwidth overall. You can also select where you want your server to be located in the world, from San Francisco to London to Singapore. If your audience is mainly in Asia, picking a Singapore server allows your target audience to have quicker load times for your website. Starting at $5 per month, the price is cheap for all the extras. The only issue is you need to manage the technical aspects yourself.
- Cloudways, Managed VPS, $11/month – This is a nice combination of the advantages of shared hosting with someone else managing and VPS hosting customization controls. You can select what type of VPS server you want with various providers (eg., DigitalOcean, AWS, Vultr, and more) and they will manage it for you. Their monthly prices are roughly twice the cost of the same server if you were to do everything yourself. For example, a $5/month DigitalOcean server would be $10/month with Cloudways.
3. Blogging Platform
This is the platform you use to build your blog.
- WordPress, FREE – I’m sure everyone who has ever looked up “how to blog” knows of WordPress. I’ve tried CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla!, as well as other blogging platforms like Blogger and Medium, but I keep coming back to WordPress. It’s ease of use, ability to expand for multiple purposes and it’s widely-used. The advantage of its popularity is if you have any issues, you can Google for a solution. Many of the web hosts like Bluehost and DigitalOcean offer ‘one-click’ WordPress installations that get you up and running quickly.There’re also many third-party plugins, Free and Paid, that extend your website’s functions.
- Ghost, FREE – This was made specifically for blogging and a newer platform that’s enticing. It promotes speed and simplicity. I haven’t done a full run through of Ghost, because it lacked some things I used, like more advanced ecommerce functionality. I’m sure now, it might have something, so it’s on my list of things to check out again.
4. Blog Design Themes – WordPress
Now that all the technical stuff is out of the way, the fun begins with designing and making your blog look the way you want it to. Both of the themes below offer customizations and are easy to use.
- GeneratePress Premium, $49.95/first year + 40% renewal discount – Producer in You’s site uses the GeneratePress Premium theme. GeneratePress does have a Free version and you can use it, but it’s not as customizable. The Paid version comes with templates that will get you started quickly and cut down your ‘launch time’ significantly.
- Divi Theme, $249/Lifetime or $89/year – This is a go-to theme for me as well on other sites that are not centered around blogging and regularly needs updating. The great thing about Divi is being able to create great looking sites easily. Divi has hundreds of layouts that can be imported and get you started quickly as well. It is a paid theme, but it comes with many extras, like the elegant Bloom opt-in plugin to collect email addresses (yes, I’m using it on this site).
- A Self Guru, Paid – She offers a Starter Legal Bundle with 3 legal templates for those 3 sites above. There are other bonus templates and clauses, plus lifetime free updates. The free updates are a big plus as different countries continue to change regulations surrounding privacy concerns. Her templates are really to use. Fill in the blanks, remove unnecessary sections, really simple.
6. WordPress Plugins
There are 55,000+ WordPress plugins. Yes, wow. I’d buy a fat steak for anyone who’s actually tried every single one of those plugins. I can find a plugin for almost anything I want to do. Here’re the top ones I’ll usually install with any new WordPress site.
- Yoast SEO, Free or $89 – Helps you bring more visitors to your website by giving you the ability to optimize your SEO with keywords, keyphrases, and more. Another nice feature is it gives you suggestions for how to improve your content through word and sentence adjustments. The Free version still gives a good amount of insight, so no need to purchase it if you’re just starting out.
- UpdraftPlus Backup, Free or Paid – A simple backup and restoration option. The Free plan allows you to back up to a number of cloud storage platforms like Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon S3 and more. I personally use Wasabi myself. I backup daily and I have peace of mind that I always have a backup that I can restore from if there’re any issues. If you use Bluehost’s Choice Plus plan, there are automatic backups included as part of that plan, so you don’t need UpdraftPlus.
- All In One WP Security & Firewall, Free – This plugin is a must-have to add extra security to your site. There’re many nefarious bots (and humans) out there programmed to hack WordPress sites and this will help with securing your site. The biggest things to do with this are to Rename the Login Page and adjusting the login attempts to trigger locking out the IP address of the ones trying to guess a username and password.
- Bloom, part of the Divi Theme License $89 – An email opt-in plugin to gain more subscribers for your email list. What I like about this is the display versatility of the plugin as it allows me to create pop-ups, fly-ins, in-line forms, below content forms, widget forms, unlock content forms and more. This one also connects to multiple email marketing platforms like Sendinblue and Mailchimp (more on those below). For other opt-in plugins, I haven’t really used any others I’d recommend, but maybe new ones have popped up recently and are free. Searching the WordPress plugin page for ‘opt-in’ should provide plenty of options.
- Contact Form 7, Free – Great plugin that does what the name says, it creates a simple Contact Form that just works. If you don’t want to leave your email address on your website for website crawlers to find and spam you, put up a contact form. There are spam bots that will spam contact forms, so do be sure to setup Google’s reCAPTCHA in the plugin’s ‘Integration’ settings.
Depending on the site you decide to create and design, there are many more plugins that could be important to you. There are plugins like WooCommerce, WP Fastest Cache, Google’s Site Kit, Simple Author Box, Redirection and more that I use. I think plugins and a specific How to Setup WordPress type of article may be useful in the future.
7. Email Marketing
- ConvertKit, Free or Paid – A popular email marketing software that’s built for bloggers and great with email automations. It’s on the higher side of costs, but it’s also worth the price if you have a larger subscriber list. If you’re just starting out, you may want to try one of the other options like MailerLite or MailChimp that have better Free plans. For those who do want to try it, ConvertiKit just started a free plan and if you sign up through the referral link above, you’ll unlock the ability to send emails to 100 subscribers for free to start with. Otherwise you’ll need to refer someone else first, before you can send to 100 subscribers.
- MailerLite, Free or Paid – MailerLite is simplified email marketing, but ‘simplified’ doesn’t mean it’s not packed with features. They have a good Free plan with up to 1,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails/month. It’s a user friendly site. They have many email templates you can use. The only thing I don’t like with it is you need to apply for their free plan and unless you have some content already, they won’t approve you. So make sure you set up your site first before applying.
- Sendinblue, Free or Paid – A full email and sms marketing solution. Sendinblue offers a free plan that gives you 300 emails/day. There’s also a WordPress plugin that integrates directly with Sendinblue’s platform. Sendinblue and the others here do give you the ability to create email opt-in forms that you can integrate into your WordPress site as well. There’re less options for style and design on the website, but it allows the basic functionality of collecting emails and adding to your email lists. In order to activate their Free plan, you’ll need to send them a message through their contact form and ask them to activate your free plan. One thing I don’t like is that their site is a bit slow. Not sure if that’s because I’m currently in Asia as I write this, but I would’ve imagined they’d have servers worldwide serving up their site.
- MailChimp, Free or Paid – MailChimp is now the ‘old guy’ in the email marketing game. I remember when they first came out and I immediately signed up with them (many, many years ago). They have a nice Free plan too with up to 2,000 subscribers and 10,000 emails/month. Their site is easy to use like MailerLite. I haven’t used it in awhile after I switched to others like Sendinblue and Convertkit for more advanced automation functionalities.
8. Blog Writing Tools
- Ulysses, $39.99/year or $4.99/month – This is a Mac-only writing app and great for just writing and organizing your writings. There’s also the iOS app that cleanly syncs through iCloud, so I can start a blog article on my phone by jotting down ideas and finishing it off on my Macbook when I get home. There’re themes with this too, some user-created, giving me the ability to adjust the various background and text colors for a better visual experience as I write. It is a markdown text editor, so it takes a little getting used to if you’ve never used markdown before. I like it though, because it’s a bit more like programming in that it’s just text-based without the need to press buttons for different visual adjustments on the text. The learning curve actually isn’t that steep, since the most used for me are things like bold, italics, lists and different headers. Those are easy just by typing some symbols, instead of going back to my mouse/trackpad, highlighting and clicking a button / searching through a menu.
- Grammarly, Free or Paid – Double check your grammar and spelling as you write. They have a Google Chrome extension and desktop apps that I’ve used. I’ve only used the Free plan, but the grammar, spelling and punctuation check is good.
9. Blog Media
Nowadays, visuals are a top priority for all blogs, websites, social media and any other platform you plan to promote your content. Luckily, there are lots of Free tools out there.
- Stock Photos, Free and Paid – Unless you have a bunch of photos you’ve taken yourself, stock photos are vital. They bring an air of professionalism to your site. Royalty Free ones are ones where you don’t have to worry about copyright issues. Paid sites could offer more variety of photos, but I’d say to take a look at some of the Free ones out there first, before going to paid ones. Whatever you do, just don’t Google and download those photos as those are often copyrighted photos.
- Canva, Free or $9.95/month – Great, free web-based design software that’ll help you create any graphics and marketing collateral you’ll need. They have an amazing Free plan with thousands of templates, but their first Paid plan at $9.95/month gives even more. Definitely one to check out, because they offer thousands of templates that will allow you to create designs even faster.
- Affinity Designer, $49.99 One-time – Great replacement for the Adobe Creative Suite of graphic design software. The really great thing about Designer is you’re able to switch between Vector and Raster designing with the click of a button. It’s like you have Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop all-in-one. It’s really freeing. They also have Affinity Publisher for professional publishing and Affinity Photo for photo editing. I use Affinity Designer all the time to create graphics.
- Placeit.net, Free or Paid – Great site to create mockups and see what your logo or design looks like on a variety of products. They have templates for graphic designs, logos and videos too. I signed up for an Annual plan.
- Viddyoze, Free Trial or Paid – Video animation in the cloud. You’ll have to check out some of the stuff you can do on their site with live action videos or full animations. They have a couple packages, $77 for Personal use and $97 if you might use it for clients and sell video services. It’s easy to use, so who knows, you might be able to start a video animation / editing service yourself.
- Wondershare Filmora9, Free Trial or Paid – An easy to use video editor. iMovie is free, but it’s not enough for what I need with editing. Filmora9 is easy to pick up and it’s a nice blend of functionalities without the complexity of Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro. The Free Trial here seems to allow for full functionality, except when you export the video, there’s a watermark. I paid for the Lifetime Plan for $59.99, because it’s only $15 more than the Annual Plan.
10. Social Media Marketing
After setting up your accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, you need to be able to manage all the posts that you get out there.
- Later, Free or Paid – This is currently my go-to social media management platform. It allows posting to the main four platforms. The Free plan allows you to post to all four sites, but does impose a limit per month. Try and out and see if you like it. I like the design of the site and the calendar scheduling feature. The calendar scheduling makes it really easy to schedule posts visually.
- Hootsuite, Free or Paid – Hootsuite used to be my main social media platform, but I’ve grown to like Later’s UI more. Hootsuite feels outdated. Hootsuite does offer more app integrations though, so if you’re looking to integrate with apps that you already use, Hootsuite could be for you. They also have a URL shortener with analytics that’s handy when looking to see what posts had the most clicks.
11. Business Tools
If you’re going to start making an online business out of thin
- Fiverr, Free to Sign Up, Freelancer Fees Vary – Various Services – Logos, website designers, developers, copywriters, video editors, photographers, social media marketers for Instagram / Youtube / Facebook, and many other freelancers are available on Fiverr. There are freelancers available for all budget sizes. I’ve used Fiverr freelancers for all sorts of gigs. I have a few favorite freelancers that I use on a regular basis. You’ll definitely want to go through all the work and if they don’t have enough samples on the website, ask them to share samples and/or their portfolios, so you can review their work. Make sure you vet them. With Fiverr acting as an escrow, it gives me peace of mind that I can be refunded if the freelancer does not do the work.
- Freshbooks, Paid with 30 Day Free Trial – Accounting – Collect payments, track the money coming in and going out, create invoices / proposals and much more. Freshbooks is one of the top business tools out there as it handles anything related to getting paid. If you’re going to be starting any business, you’re going to need accounting software and Freshbooks is one of the best out there. if you’re a freelancer / soloproneur with a service business, you’ll definitely want to check it out. I do a deep-dive into what they offer in this review.