Blogging can be an overwhelming task, especially when you’re first starting out. Running a successful blog requires a mixture of researching, writing, promoting, planning, designing, and analyzing. That’s a lot to take on by yourself, especially if you’re working a full-time job. Luckily for us, there are plenty of tools and services to help automate the process and save hours of tedious work. This is the list of tools and services behind my blog.
My Favorite Services
Web Hosting: Lyrical Host
I’ve jumped from host to host over the years, but I’ve finally settled in with a wonderful hosting company. They double as a trove of design resources, offering free stock photos, templates, and illustrations each month.
They also recently started offering one-on-one sessions to help customers with their sites, content, and affiliate sales. Lyrical Host does a lot to support their customers—not just with the technical things!
Content Management: WordPress
WordPress on its own is an absolute lifesaver. It’s one of the most widely used content management systems. (How widely used? Check out this post!)
While many people choose to build custom sites from the ground up or go the page-builder route, WordPress has taken its place in the DIY world and beyond. It’s even found a home with larger businesses and publications in recent years.
You’ll want to go the self-hosted routed, as WordPress.com gets expensive fast and doesn’t offer a ton of customization options.
Design: Elegant Themes Membership
Elegant Themes (Divi in particular) opens up tons of possibilities for those of us that aren’t familiar with web design. It adds a visual builder to WordPress, making it easy to build beautiful landing pages and portfolios.
But if you don’t want to get to into design and customization, they do have a library of other premade themes to choose from.
Design: Adobe Creative Cloud
Adobe CC has been much more affordable since they moved to their monthly subscription model. Rather than having to pay thousands every time a new version comes out, you can just sign up for a monthly subscription.
There’s still a lot of controversy surrounding this model, but as an individual who never wanted to pay for the constant release of new products—it’s worth it. Rather than having to eat the one-time cost of software that will have a replacement in 2-4 years, you pay monthly for the programs you use and get all updates. There are no longer different versions or features that users are locked out of using because they can’t afford the upgrade.
Adobe has also made it incredibly affordable for photographers. If you’re just looking for Photoshop and Lightroom, you can grab both for $9.99/month. As an added bonus, you get cloud storage (up to 1TB on the Lightroom plan) and a portfolio site. Click here to see all Adobe plans.
Note—if you haven’t tried Lightroom before (or if you haven’t used it since the CC update): They’ve updated it to include even more features from photoshop. There isn’t an option to “save” your images like in Photoshop, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally overwriting your RAW files if you haven’t copied them yet. All changes to the photos are stored in Lightroom and you can just export or publish the image when it looks the way you want it to. It took some getting used to, but I love using it for quick photo edits and actually prefer it to Photoshop for most things. It also works off of cloud storage, meaning less data stored on your computer and you can edit on the go from a tablet.
Social Management: Tailwind
If you haven’t heard of Tailwind, it’s a pin scheduler with Pinterest’s stamp of approval. I haven’t gotten around to writing a review yet, but I’m pleased with their software. I was a bit hesitant to drop manual pinning, but it has saved so much time in the long run. (And the important part—it delivers the same awesome results!)
The community is awesome, too. Tailwind Tribes are a great supplement to group boards, with an easy application process. This is the big thing that separates them from group boards on Pinterest. You can share your pins in groups without having to dig through an email or get in touch with someone over Pinterest. (Let’s be honest—it usually takes a while to see messages on Pinterest.)
In case you’re on the fence about getting a scheduler, try it out for yourself! They have a free trial available for your first 100 pins. Even if you decide it’s not for you, tribes are available to anyone for free.
Social Management: SocialBee
SocialBee is now my go-to social media scheduler—I think I’ve fallen in love.
While it is a bit pricier than other schedulers, it does so much more. You can schedule “evergreen” content on a loop from RSS feeds, Pocket, or manual posts. If you want to sit there and write out a bunch of posts, you can. If you’d rather have them import from a feed, you can do that, too.
You can divide content up into categories and schedule a post from each category to go out on the calendar. I’ve been using it for about a month now and I’ve only scratched the surface of what you can do with it. It is a little bit overwhelming when you first log in, but they’ve implemented a wizard to help guide you through the process.
My only complaint I have so far is that it does run a little slow. But that’s an improvement to make over time. Aside from that, everything runs nicely. Click here to check them out.
Bookkeeping: QuickBooks Self-Employed
QuickBooks was an absolute lifesaver the first year I had to file taxes from freelance income. I didn’t think ahead of time and sort of jumped right in, so I was scrambling to get all my transactions and invoices in.
If you set it up ahead of time, QuickBooks Self-Employed can link to your bank or credit card accounts and pull payment information. From there, you can set up rules to categorize your spending.
Once you get it set up, it’s easy to use and you can manage everything from your phone. Aside from purchases from new companies, everything is pretty much on autopilot.
Apart from helping you track spending and income, it makes filing taxes a breeze. Minimal paperwork so you have more time to work on your business!
I use the free version of Trello to help keep track of my blog posts and tasks. It’s useful if you’re the only one using it. It’s really useful if you’re dealing with a group of writers and editors.
Since I’ve started using Trello, I have fewer sticky notes on my desktop. (Yes, the Windows 10 app. I know. I should feel bad.) Gone are the days of notes plastered everywhere as I try to sort through and find everything.
Editing: Hemingway Editor
As someone who used to write lots of long sentences, Hemingway helped with a lot of style issues.
That’s not to say it should have the final say in your editing process!
If you’re struggling with clarity, this is a great tool to help clean up your sentences. It checks adverbs, passive voice, complicated phrases, and readability. If your writing looks like it has too many words, it probably does. Run your posts through this editor before you do your final edits.
Grammar checkers still have a long way to go, especially with things like passive voice. Use your own proofreading skills and judgment (or an editor) as your final check.
Grammarly is a great tool for checking spelling and grammar. (I typically run posts through Hemingway, then Grammarly, and do my final edits last.
Grammarly has a free version that checks basic spelling and grammar issues. (It also checks passive voice, which I turn off.) The paid version offers advanced grammar checking, vocabulary, style, and a “plagiarism” checker.
There have been tons of improvements and features added since I last tried premium, so I plan to try it out again and write a review on it. In the meantime, register for an account and install the browser extension if you haven’t already tried Grammarly.
Bonus Toolkit: WordPress Plugins
I don’t run many plugins on my sites, so I wanted to include a short list of what I work with. Some of these are situational, so you may not even need everything!
WPForms: WPForms does have a free plugin, WPForms Lite. It’s simple, clean, and really easy to use. If you’re starting out and find the advanced functionality of other contact forms overwhelming, this one is quick and easy to set up.
Their paid version offers everything you’d need in a contact form. You can set up basic contact forms, but it also covers email list integration, user registration, guest post submissions, and more. You can view a full list of features here.
Yoast SEO: Every blog should use some sort of SEO plugin. While it’s more of a guideline than “law,” it’s incredibly handy when optimizing your posts for both search and social. They also have a paid version available, but I’ve found all the functionality I need in their free version.
They do have some premium features that look appealing, like being able to see what your social media posts will look like and the ability to optimize for multiple keywords. But for what it offers right now, most new bloggers might not be able to justify the up-front cost. You can get some of the functionality from other free plugins.
(Like link redirects—I don’t think that should be a paid feature. It’s pretty basic. And things like content insights? I hate to say it, but I feel you shouldn’t leave that in the hands of a plugin. I could be wrong—this is coming from someone who hasn’t tried it out. And being honest, their wording on the plugin features page also makes me trust them a little less.)
Redirection: Redirection is an awesome tool that lets you…
Yep! Redirect your links.
It puts a tab in the Tools menu, where you can add in different types of link redirects. Typically, you won’t need a tool like this. But if you delete a blog post and want to make sure you’re not getting 404s, it comes in handy. (Unless you want to manually set up redirects on the server, which you may or may not feel comfortable doing.)
ElegantThemes Plugins: If you use Divi or another ET design, you’ve probably noticed they have their own suite of plugins. Monarch is a social sharing bar that you can post inline or as a hover bar. Bloom takes care of making beautiful email opt-in forms. And of course, the Divi Builder, which goes hand-in-hand with themes like Divi and Extra.
Click here to check out their theme and plugin library.
Google Analytics Dashboard for WP: While this isn’t a must-have, it’s definitely a nice-to-have. This gives you a quick view of your basic analytics report right on the WordPress Dashboard. You should already have Google Analytics set up beforehand, so you can just install the plugin and verify it.
Disqus: This comes at the same time I’m implementing Disqus on my sites, as it has been somewhat of a headache in the past—particularly with the ads.
I’m giving them another go, as I love their “community” aspect. Disqus itself is a social community—you can follow people and view discussions across thousands of sites.
It’s cool—but readers either love or hate it. So, I’m split-testing on a few different sites. (It’s early enough in the game that this site hasn’t gotten enough traffic to worry about comments, so I’m implementing Disqus from the start.) Specifically, I’m testing with the ability to comment anonymously, so that readers don’t have to sign in. (Opinions/insights welcome—I’ve only used this on one site and it was years ago!)
This about sums up my list of tools I use to run my blog—I’m interested to hear what everyone else uses. Feel free to share and link back to your site in the comments below!