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Every blog has its own requirements, and every blogger has their own set of favourite tools and resources. I’ve tried out various different blogger tools over the years that I’ve been blogging, and these are the resources that I currently use and recommend.
Some of them are premium tools and plugins which you will need to pay a fee to use. But sometimes there’s no need to pay out for a great piece of software that does just what you need it to do.
Some of the links are affiliate links – they’re the ones marked with a *. I will receive a small fee if you place an order or sign up through these links. But please be assured that I have only included tools and services that I use and can personally recommend.
So here are my current blog resource recommendations:
Of course, hosting is the first thing you need to sort out for a self-hosted blog. There are many different options for this, and it’s a good idea to ask friends and bloggers for their recommendations.
Some things to look out for are the standard of customer service, as well as how often they have downtime issues, and how fast their servers are. I would suggest asking a few blogging friends who they use, and testing the site loading speed on Pingdom. If their host’s servers take a long time to react, then you are never going to get a fast loading site.
Also make sure that your hosting package will cope with the level of traffic you have now, and allow for growth as well. The last thing you want is your site going offline because it’s attracting too many visitors!
I moved my sites to SiteGround* at the beginning of October and was really impressed with the customer service. They moved my first blog over for free, and charged a small fee for moving the second site over. I was able to chat with their customer service team really quickly and easily to resolve some of the teething problems you inevitably get when moving hosts.
They offer a really great discount for your first year of hosting, but be aware that this discount doesn’t apply for the second year. I’ve been really pleased with the experience that I’ve had with SiteGround so far, and I’m happy to recommend them as a web host.
Worth the Money: Click here to check out the hosting packages at SiteGround*.
Blogging Platform: WordPress
WordPress currently powers nearly 30% of the world’s websites, including some major news sites. So it’s a great choice for your blog as well.
WordPress is a powerful piece of blog software that’s really easy to use. You can customise your site’s look by changing the theme, and add functionality through plugins.
You may be able to get your webhost to set up a WordPress installation for you. But it’s pretty easy to do yourself if you have a little techy knowledge. The website walks you through the process in their famous 5 Minute Installation. It usually takes me a little longer than 5 minutes to install, but not much!
Get it for free: Click here to download WordPress.
Blog Theme: Newspaper by TagDiv
Until recently I used the Genesis Framework* from StudioPress with the Magazine Theme*. Genesis is highly recommended by many bloggers, and is very easy to set up. With a little CSS, you can easily tweak the appearance of the theme.
At the start of 2018, I changed to the Newspaper theme* from TagDiv, which I bought from ThemeForest. I really like the flexibility of this theme, which allows me to change the page layout and add custom sidebars for every category and even for individual blog posts.
It’s also really lightweight, and I was able to reduce my page loading time considerably.
Click here to visit ThemeForest* and see their wide range of WordPress themes.
Back Up Solution: VaultPress
Making sure you take regular backups is vital, I really can’t stress that too much.
It’s so easy to find out that a piece of software has corrupted, your host has had technical problems, or even worse, your blog has been hacked. Without a good back up routine, all your hard work has been lost, and you face an uphill struggle to get it all back. I know people who have literally turned their back on an established blog when this has happened.
But if you are taking regular backups, you can simply wind your blog back to the latest backup and work from there. If you’re adding just one post a week, you can probably get away with backing up once or twice a week, and you could even do that manually.
If you post several times a week, or have lots of comments, you might want to set up automatic backups. You can do this using a plugin like Backup Buddy, backing up to Google Drive or Dropbox. Be sure that you are backing up your full site regularly, and not just the database, especially if you make changes to your layout and CSS files.
I use VaultPress to back up my site. For just a few pounds a month, I get peace of mind from regular backups stored off site. It also means that if the worst happens, I can easily restore and can access expert help if needed.
By the way, SiteGround* do back up my sites automatically as part of my web hosting package. But I prefer the security of keeping my own copy as well.
Worth the Money: Click here to sign up for VaultPress backups.
Document Storage: Google Drive
Images are a really important part of a successful blog, as they attract the reader’s eye and help to break up long chunks of text. So most bloggers will quickly find that they need to organise storage for their files and photos.
And if you start producing video content as well, your data requirement will grow quickly.
The simplest option is to buy an external hard drive to store all of your data on, like this Seagate 1TB external hard drive*.
But I store my data on my Google Drive so that it’s easily accessible on my phone or from any PC when I log into my Google account. I also don’t have to worry about the drive being damaged or failing – I assume Google have a good back up routine!
You can get 15GB of storage for free, or pay a small amount per month for 100GB storage.
Get it for Free AND Worth the Money: Click here to get started with Google Drive.
Spam Capture: Akismet
When you open up a brand new WordPress installation, you’ll see that the Akismet Spam Protection plugin is already on your blog. There are millions of blogs who use Akismet to catch spam comments.
It’s really easy to set up – you just sign up on the website, and then enter the API key you receive to activate the plugin on your blog. Then the software automatically moves any comments which look like spam into a separate folder.
You may occasionally find that some do get through, or that some real comments slip into your spam folder. But it is a great way to save time rather than having to moderate dozens of spam comments.
There are three pricing plans, and if you are running a non-commercial blog, you can run Akismet for free. But if you are monetizing your blog, the time saved by using Akismet is well worth a few pounds per month.
Worth the Money: Click here to sign up for Akismet.
Blog Security: WordFence
Another important aspect of running a blog is protecting your site from hackers and malware attacks.
WordFence is one of the most popular security plugins for WordPress blogs. It acts as a firewall to protect your site from attack, scans for malware, and shows you any failed login attempts. The plugin will also email you if there are any security problems with your blog. This could be something like plugins which need updating or ones which have been withdrawn from WordPress.
You can pay for the premium version, which gives you extra services and security. But the basic free plugin will be suitable for many blogs.
Get it for free: Click here to get started with WordFence.
Photo Editing Software: Adobe Lightroom
Unless you’re a fantastic photographer or incredibly lucky, you’ll probably want to edit your photos before you upload them to your blog.
I don’t mean extreme levels of editing, but altering the brightness, increasing the saturation, tweaking the colour balance. Adobe Lightroom is fantastic for all of these and much more.
The automatic edit function quickly gives me a starting point for my edits, and then I can adjust levels and change settings to get photos just as I want them.
I’m a big fan of working in the cloud, and using Adobe Creative Cloud means that I don’t need to install the software onto my PC. I can also log into the software wherever I am, which is great when I’m travelling and need to quickly make some edits. It also means that I always have access to the latest version of the software.
There are several different packages available, so it’s easy to get the right one for your needs. And paying monthly makes it really affordable to use this great software.
Worth the Money: Click here to get started with Adobe Creative Cloud.
Photo Resizing Software: Pixlr Editor
Once I’ve edited the photo in Adobe Lightroom, I next resize my photo using Pixlr Editor. It’s another cloud based application, and I can use it to quickly save my images in the various sizes I need.
You can also tweak the brightness, contrast and levels in this software, if you feel they aren’t quite right.
Pixlr Editor is a free piece of software which quickly and easily does what I need it to do!
Get it for Free: Click here to use Pixlr Editor.
Image Creation Software: Canva
You may also need to create additional images for your blog. For example, you’ll probably want to add text to a photo to make a Pin for Pinterest.
Canva is a brilliant website which allows you to do this really easily. It has many different templates, or you can set up your own design. You can use a wide range of fonts and graphic elements – some are free and others cost a small amount.
Another alternative is PicMonkey, which is particularly great for creating collages for gift guides. They have recently changed their pricing structure so that you have to pay a small monthly fee in order to download your finished images.
I use Canva for most of my pinnable images and adding text to other images. You can also use it for making up your media kit, or to create infographics. The basic software is free, or you can pay a monthly fee to access Canva for Work. I find the basic software is completely fine for my needs.
Get it for Free: Click here to get started with Canva.
Social Sharing: Social Warfare Pro
Once you’ve written your blog posts, you want people to come along and read them. And you also want them to share them so that you find new readers.
So it’s really important to make it as easy as possible for them to do share your post. And that’s where social sharing buttons come in.
Those buttons you see at the top and bottom of this post make it easy for people to share the content with their social networks. [clickToTweet tweet=”There are lots of options for social sharing buttons, find out why I really rate Social Warfare Pro” quote=”There are lots of different options for social sharing buttons, but having tried a few out, I really rate Social Warfare Pro.”]
It’s a lightweight plugin, so it doesn’t slow your site down like some social sharing plugins. And as well as the social sharing buttons, it has a few other nifty features. These include ‘click-to-tweet’ (see above!) and hidden Pins. I love this feature because it means that I can create a specific pinnable image, but I don’t have to include it in the post on screen.
Give it a try! Click on the Pinterest button at the top of this post to see my pinnable image.
The social sharing buttons are available in the free plugin, but you’ll need to upgrade to Social Warfare Pro for these features. It’s a small investment which is really worthwhile.
Worth the Money: Click here to buy Social Warfare Pro.
Social Media Scheduling: Buffer
If you’re promoting your site on social media, you probably know that it’s important to post when your audience is online.
So unless you are able to be online 24/7, you will need to use a scheduling service for the times when you are busy or asleep!
There are a number of different services available, but I have settled on using Buffer for scheduling Twitter and Instagram posts. I use a different service for scheduling my Pinterest posts – see below.
I find Buffer really easy to use, and I like how I can integrate it with Bit.ly to use my own shortened links. You can spot my shortened links on Twitter because they will have a sallyakins.uk url.
The free version of Buffer allows you to connect up to three social media accounts, and to schedule up to 10 posts. If you want to schedule more posts than that, or if you want to connect more social media accounts, you’ll need to use one of the paid services – they start from $10 per month. You’ll also need to use the paid services if you want to connect a Pinterest account.
By the way, Facebook doesn’t like external schedulers. So always use their own scheduling tool for posts on your Facebook page.
Get it for Free AND Worth the Money: Click here to get started with Buffer.
Pinterest Scheduling: Tailwind
As I mentioned before, I don’t use Buffer for scheduling my Pinterest posts. Instead I use Tailwind, which did take me a little while to get used to it initially, but now I find easier to use.
The Tailwind Chrome extension lets you easily save the Pins that you want to repin. You can then go through these Drafts and schedule them. Tailwind helps you to find the optimal times for pinning, and the drag and drop scheduler makes it easy to move Pins around.
Tailwind also give you analytics which are more indepth than the standard Pinterest tools. And Tailwind Tribes help you find more content for sharing, and new people to share your pins.
You can also use Tailwind for scheduling Instagram posts. I haven’t looked into that as I’m currently happy with Buffer as my scheduler for Instagram.
Worth the Money: Click here to sign up for Tailwind*