A successful blog requires a variety of tools and services. On this page, I’ll share a list of recommended blogging tools that I personally use, or have used, when mentoring other bloggers. I will save you time by skipping the 300 possible options and instead recommend the best blogging tools I know of.
Before we get started, I recommend that you sign up for a great VPN service to protect yourself online.
Domain Name Registration
- Domains bot: Use it to find available domain names. Once you find an available domain name to buy, go with…
- Namecheap: Do not use GoDaddy. There are far too many horror stories out there about them. Namecheap is a trustworthy domain registration service that’s quite affordable, to boot.
Recommended Blogging Platform
- WordPress.org: The king of blogging platforms. It offers endless customization options, regardless of your technical skills. You’ll need to set it up on your server or shared hosting service.
- Blogger: Select this option if you’re not tech-savvy or don’t want to bother with server and software maintenance.
- Medium: A hosted solution that’s much like Blogger. It offers a better community / social component at the cost of somewhat limited customization options. Some of the cool kids prefer it over Blogger. It’s not a bad option, but I’m still partial to the first two options for the much greater degree of control they leave you with.
Recommended WordPress Hosting
- Shared hosting: When you use this type of hosting service to run WordPress (or an alternative self-hosted blogging software), you get two advantages and two disadvantage. The first advantage of shared hosting is that it requires less maintenance on your part. The hosting company takes care of running and updating the server, which is shared between yourself and a bevy of other clients. The second advantage is that shared hosting tends to be cheap (typically just a few dollars a month). The downside is that you don’t have as much freedom in terms of configuring the server (e.g., you might have to email customer support to have a certain library installed) and your performance, being a shared environment, will not be as good as those of a dedicated server. Nevertheless, it’s a good beginner choice.
Recommended option: HostGator
- VPS hosting: Virtual Private Servers cost a little more than shared hosting, and require you to set up the server yourself. Very few limitations are in place and performance is better than shared hosting because your server might be shared with, say, eight other sites instead of a hundred.
Recommended option: Digital Ocean ($10 off when you sign up with my link.)
- Dedicated hosting: This is the best option if you have serious performance requirements and/or if you intend to host multiple blogs. It’s what I’ve been using for as long as I’ve been running my own websites, some of which have relatively large followings.
Recommended option: Namecheap
- Managed WordPress Hosting: Hosting specifically tailored for WordPress, care of people who specialize in optimizing performance, security, etc. Probably the best option out there – though certainly not the cheapest.
Recommended option: WP Engine (use the coupon code SPEEDUP for 20% off your first month.)
Mailing List management
The following three mailing list management services are all equally good. Pick your poison. They can handle your email list for you – from signup to automated updates – when you post new content (and they have much more advanced options as well).
Your mailing list is your most important asset as a blogger. This is not fly-by traffic that we’re talking about here. No, these are your regulars. Your mailing list is “where everybody knows your name”. Nurture and grow it accordingly.
- MailChimp: The most popular service among “normal” people. They offer users the ability to have up to 2,000 free subscribers before they ask you to pay.
- Aweber: The most popular service among questionable affiliate marketers. 😉 Roughly equivalent to MailChimp in other regards, their policies are significantly more lax than MailChimp when it comes to affiliate marketing. In theory, MailChimp doesn’t even allow affiliate marketing, but in practice they don’t really enforce their policy against affiliate marketing provided you don’t do shady stuff. Nevertheless, the fact that text directly against affiliate marketers appears in their policy makes more than a few people nervous. Your choice. Either way, it’s always best to stay clear of doing anything that isn’t on the level.
- ConvertKit: A less popular service, but they absolutely nail drip content. For those who may be new to this term, drip content is when you want to automatically send a series of emails to your new subscribers. For example, it’s one way to deliver an email course over a few subsequent weeks to your new subscribers. ConvertKit makes the process considerably nicer and easier to handle. (Although it’s more cumbersome, it is possible to do drip content with both MailChimp and Aweber.)
Technically, FeedBurner also offers a completely automated email service, but I don’t recommend it. You have zero control over your list, so it’s not really your list. Avoid it unless you are really opposed to investing in a better system.
Recommended Comment Systems
- WordPress or Blogger native comments are just fine and offer SEO (Search Engine Optimization) advantages since the content within the comments is hosted on your site (so there is more content for search engines to find).
- Facebook comments: I like Facebook comments because they lead to fewer trolls (anonymity foments misbehavior). They also end up further promoting your content on Facebook, because commenters have the option to share their comments with friends and friends of friends. I think it might be worth the SEO trade-off for many people.
I’m not a fan of Disqus and similar services. Whenever I see it on blogs, more often than not, I find myself not willing to login so as to leave a comment. With Facebook, I’m already logged in so I don’t have the same psychological barrier to taking action. They are a valid choice, nevertheless.
Recommended WordPress Themes
There are a zillion WordPress themes to choose from. Some free, some premium. In general, however, it pays to pick a well designed professional theme. So skip the free option and go straight for premium. (If you’re really serious and can afford the investment, you could even commission a custom design.)
I’m partial to the following two, each of which is amongst the best premium options in the industry (though many more exist, too, of course):
- Genesis Themes (used by this blog)
- Elegant Themes (I use these in other blogs of mine)
- MyThemeShop (I recently started using these as well)
No list of recommended blogging tools can ignore the WordPress ecosystem. The following list of recommended WordPress plugins is by no means complete. Depending on what you need your blog to do, the plugins you’ll require will vary vastly. So here I recommend a few staple plugins that most WordPress blogs may want to have.
- Akismet: It helps filter out a lot of spam comments if you use native comments. If however, you still get loads of spam anyway, add Anti-spam.
- All in One Schema.org Rich Snippets: It enables rich snippets in search engine results, including images, review ratings, etc.
- Clean Archives Reloaded: You can use it to create a table of contents of sorts for your site. See mine here.
- Contact Form 7: A great option to create and embed contact forms to let users reach you.
- CSS Hero: If you don’t know CSS, this plugin/service makes theme customization much easier and faster.
- Genesis Simple Edits and Genesis Simple Hooks: If you use a Genesis theme like I do, you’ll need this to customize your blog further. Simple Edits will allow you to edit things like the footer where the copyright line goes, and Simple Hooks will enable you to specify the custom code that should be executed after each post, page, etc.
- Google XML Sitemaps: For SEO reasons, you’ll want to have an up-to-date XML sitemap so that Google can easily find and index all of your pages.
- Header and Footer: If your theme doesn’t support post and page hooks, you can use this plugin to add custom code to your site in strategic spots.
- Jetpack: Overall, a ton of functionality directly from the makers of WordPress. Just select the options that you actually need for your blog.
- Limit Login Attempts: Limits the rate of login attempts. Even if malicious users don’t manage to log in by guessing your password, they still increase your server load for no good reason. As such, this plugin is quite handy to have.
- Prettify GC Syntax Highlighter: Use to quickly and easily prettify your code with language-specific syntax highlight within your posts.
- Pretty Link: A handy tool if you intend to shorten and prettify your URL – plus it tracks the number of clicks that each link receives.
- PubSubHubbub: Fun name aside, it’s a handy little plugin that tells the world that your blog has been updated.
- Optinmonster: A somewhat aggressive, but rather effective, popup plugin that converts more visitors into subscribers. I’d probably avoid it on programming blogs though, as programmers tend to be pretty sensitive to this type of marketing.
- Quick and Easy FAQs: A handy plugin to add frequently asked questions to WordPress.
- Really Simple CAPTCHA: If you start receiving spam from your contact form.
- Share Buttons by AddThis: One of the many options to prompt your users to share your content on social media.
- Sucuri Scanner: Good option for auditing, malware detection, and security hardening.
- The Slide by SimpleReach: It enables the display of related content at the bottom right-hand side of each of your posts. Useful to keep visitors engaged.
- WordPress Editorial Calendar: A handy tool to see scheduled posts and shuffle posts around to fit a set schedule.
- WP Authors: Add a list of authors to your sidebar. Useful only if you have a group blog or a substantial amount of guest bloggers who each post on a regular basis.
- WP-DBManager: To backup and manage your SQL database. Use with caution when running custom SQL queries.
- WP Greet Box: Useful to show a message to visitors that invites them to subscribe to your site. It can be configured to use custom messages for different users (e.g., Hi there fellow Redditor).
- WP-Optimize: Cleans your database up by removing old versions of your posts, as well as spam comments.
- WPtouch Mobile: Enables a mobile-friendly version of your site, so that your posts are readable on smartphones.
- WP-Rocket: The best caching plugin for WordPress, but it’s not free. A free, still decent alternative is WP Super Cache.
- Yet Another Related Posts Plugin: This plugin adds related posts to the bottom of your posts and RSS feeds. This too helps to keep readers engaged with your site.
- Yoast SEO: A great all-around SEO plugin. I particularly like that it visually indicates whether you covered your SEO basis for each post/page, and offers suggestions if you haven’t reached that point yet.
Reading lists of recommended blogging tools, you’ll find that editors are often overlooked. Perhaps because you don’t need a special editor to write content. That said, there are a couple of categories of tools that I like to use when it comes to this area.
- Byword: A great iOS and Mac Markdown editor. It’s my go-to tool when writing on the go. I can write on my iPhone or iPad and the text will automatically be synced to all my devices via iCloud or Dropbox.
- MarsEdit: Though it’s only for Mac OS X, it’s a great option for publishing posts once you’re back at your desk again.
If you use Windows, instead of Mac OS X, you’ll find Open Live Writer to be quite capable as well.
Other Recommended Blogging Tools
- Buffer: A great option to manage multiple social media properties and keep your queue of updates filled with interesting content. For a more flexible and advanced tool, consider Hootsuite.
- Evernote: I keep notes, ideas, and resources for future articles here.
- Email hosting by Namecheap: Use this if you want an affordable email inbox solution for your domain name without having to set up a mail server yourself.
- FeedBurner: I track my RSS subscribers via FeedBurner. It’s a free service by Google. The only downside is that Google has discontinued services of this nature before.
- Google Analytics: A free, powerful tool to analyze your site traffic.
- Google Forms or Typeform: Easily create surveys and quizzes for free.
- Grammarly: A spellchecker on steroids.
- ManageWP: Should you find yourself juggling a handful of different WordPress blogs, you’ll quickly find that keeping everything current, secured, backed up, etc, is quite a time waster. ManageWP takes care of all of that, for a small monthly fee. I find it invaluable.
- Market Samurai: A great SEO and digital marketing workbench. It’s my go-to tool when I’m trying to analyze a niche before I launch a new blog or researching ideas for new posts.
- MaxCDN: Your blog performance can drastically increase if you service your static assets via a content delivery network. MaxCND is a good, affordable choice.
- Skitch: A great screenshot and annotation tool for Mac and iOS. Unfortunately, it is no longer available for Windows (much to the chagrin of Windows users, my wife included).
- Vaultpress: If you don’t use the backup services offered by ManageWP or your hosting service, this is arguably the best solution for WordPress.
I hope you enjoyed my list of recommended blogging tools. If you think I missed something, please feel free to get in touch and I’ll consider its inclusion.