My favorite tools as a start-up blogger to save TIME and MONEY.
What I use
- Squarespace ($, with free trial option) - www.squarespace.com These folks serve as both my website platform and host. Excellent for bloggers who don't have much coding knowledge or time for the learning curve on other platforms (such as Wordpress). Squarespace has beautiful design and makes it easy to create a gorgeous site. They also have a dedicated customer support team. I love Squarespace because it has allowed me to focus on creating great content and marketing my blog rather than the technicalities of keeping it running correctly.
- Free Training On Squarespace: A blogger I follow, Megan Minns, put together this free Squarespace course!
- GoDaddy ($) - www.godaddy.com I found the best deal for my domain name with these guys. Coupon codes are common so just Google for one before placing your order.
- Wordpress ($, with free options) - www.wordpress.org This platform is highly recommended by many mommy bloggers. If you don't mind the learning curve (1-3 months before you're comfortable) and want more room for customization, this may be the best option for you. You would need to a separate host. The one I've heard most highly praised is Blue Host (www.bluehost.com).
What I use
- BoardBooster ($, free trial option) - www.boardbooster.com For Pinterest pin scheduling. THE tool to start with for Pinterest. Boardbooster alone has increased my blog traffic by 70% per month (and that's passive on my part!). It has a unique tool to "loop" your pins without creating duplicates, in addition to easy scheduling tools to spread your blog pins across your boards or group boards throughout the day. I spend no more than an hour or two on Pinterest a week. Boardbooster does the rest. First 100 pins free. Plans start at $5/month. Get 100 pins free by using this link.
- Tailwind ($, free trial option) - Pinterest-endorsed scheduler for pins. Easy to set up a schedule that includes optimal pinning times (based on their algorithms) and keep your pinning schedule full. Get a 1 month free trial by using this link.
- Buffer (Free, with $ option) - www.bufferapp.com The free plan allows you to schedule up to ten posts per social media account (except Pinterest). It's intuitive and easy to use! The free 7-day trial allows you the use of the "Awesome Plan," which truly is awesome if you are in the place to pay $10/month. The free version has still been great for me at this early stage in blogging.
- IFTTT (Free) - www.ifttt.com You can use this site (stands for If This, Then That) to schedule LOOPING posts on your Facebook and Twitter accounts for FREE. It's a bit of a work around, but if you're needing to save money on subscriptions, this is the way to go! Suzi from Start a Mom Blog explains it step-by-step!
- Crowdfire app ($, with free features) - https://web.crowdfireapp.com Awesome tool (app and web-based) for growing your Twitter and Instagram following. Use it to track followers, unfollowers, and find new people in your target audience. As low as $3.99/month and can be a game changer in growing your list. Posts on growing your Instagram following: Living for Naptime, Simply Every
- Pin Groupie (Free) - http://pingroupie.com/ Use this online tool to find Pinterest group boards in your niche to join. The easy formula to request to join any group board: follow the group board, follow the creator/admin of the group board (first image in row of pinners), provide your Pinterest email to the board admin (you can email them, message them on Facebook if their account is provided, or comment on one of their pins.) I am a part of a couple dozen boards which bring me the most traffic by using Boardbooster Campaign to schedule my blog post pins throughout the day.
- Hootsuite (Free, with $ option) - www.hootsuite.com A great way to start being smart about scheduling out your posts on to social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Wordpress, LinkedIn). I find it quite intuitive and easy to use. It can also be your go-to dashboard for viewing updates from the various social media sites, saving you time from opening each site individually and allowing you to instantly share content across different platforms.
- Edgar ($, 1 month free option) - www.meetedgar.com Although I don't subscribe to this service yet, it is top on my list as soon as I feel my blog income substantiates it. I've heard nothing but good things about its unique ability to keep a library of your blog updates and post them to social media on a rotating basis forever and ever. So many bloggers have seen their blog traffic increase substantially thanks to the way Edgar helps keep old content fresh and on the radar. Check this post out for a great interview with the owner of Edgar.
- ViralWoot (Free, with $ option) - www.viralwoot.com A free tool for scheduling pins on Pinterest.
Stock Images/Image Editing
What I use
- Canva (Free, with $1 options) - www.canva.com I'm in love with this website. It is where I put together all my blog and Pinterest graphics whether I'm importing my own photos or buying one. Oh, and everything costs just $1. But I almost never buy anything. So much is free. You gotta check them out.
- TinyJPG (Free) - https://tinyjpg.com/ Run your images through this smart compressor before uploading them to your website to optimize your blog's load times. This tool compresses the image without compromising the visual quality. This step of optimizing your image sizes is highly recommended by Google's page speed analyzer.
- Pixaby (Free) - www.pixaby.com A collection of free images in the creative commons (you can do anything with them).
- Unsplash (Free) - www.unsplash.com A small, but beautiful collection of free images.
- AllTheFreeStock (Free) - www.allthefreestock.com A great go-to site for finding free-to-use images.
- PicMonkey (Free, with $ option) - www.picmonkey.com Lots of bloggers rave about this site. It's similar to Canva.com. I tried both and felt that Canva was more streamlined for my own processes. I also found that PicMonkey ran slowly on my browser. Having said that, PicMonkey definitely has lots to offer and might be the right fit for you.
Widgets for The Blog
What I use
- SumoMe (Free) - https://sumome.com A MUST have for every blog. Many free tools are included, but my favorites are the social media sharing buttons, email list popups, and Google Analytics plugin (get analytics for each page in the corner of your screen!).
- Disqus (Free) - https://disqus.com/ A commenting platform you can use on your blog instead of the generic commenting system. Awesome at catching spam (none have come through for me), easy way to moderate/respond to comments. Encourages conversation because users are emailed when you respond. Sleek and bug-free. Also displays "recent comments" section at the bottom that can give you more pageviews.
- MiloTree (Free, with $ option) - www.milotree.com This tool will create a pretty (and unobtrusive) popup on the bottom right-hand corner of your blog displaying a preview of your Pinterest account and/or your Instagram account with the heading "Recommended Pinner" or "Recommended Instagram Account." The free version was totally sufficient for me and worked great! Definitely check these guys out to increase your Pinterest and Instagram followers. I currently am taking a break from it to test how bounce rates are affected by removing popups.
Blog Analysis & Statistics
What I use
- Google Analytics (Free) - https://analytics.google.com Set this up for your website as soon as you make your blog live to create a history of traffic growth and other statistics. Install the SumoMe Google Analytics app (https://sumome.com) on your website to get quick stats without having to open Google Analytics separately.
- Peek User Testing (Free) - http://peek.usertesting.com/ This invaluable service allow you to order up to 3 user tests a month, on mobile or desktop. The free version will assign a random tester to your site who will record a five minute video while he comments on various aspects of his/her experience while visiting your site. The first two tests I ordered helped me make several improvements which immediately caused my bounce rate to drop from 75% to 20%!
- Page Speed Tool (Free) - http://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights This free tool by Google will check your site's speed score and then suggest ways to improve it.
- Plug in SEO (Free) - https://www.pluginseo.com/ Get a free report on SEO and Speed problems with suggestions on how to fix it yourself.
What I use
- ShopStyle Collective (Free) - https://www.shopstylecollective.com For those new to fashion/beauty blogging, this affiliate tool is the way to start making money before you have the traffic required to join RewardStyle. Great searching tool to find clothing/beauty items and save them to lists. Then create widgets to add them to your blog or social media. You get paid per click, so you can make money even if your readers hardly ever order anything.
- Ebates (Free) - https://www.ebates.com/ Sign up for Ebates to start earning cashback when you order anything online and then use your link to invite others through your blog to earn awesome referral income. Depending on what incentives they are offering, you can earn anywhere from $25-$75 or more for just three successful referrals! And $5 for each individual referral. Try to weave the use of Ebates into your posts or include a link on your side bar like I do.
- TopCashBack (Free) - https://topcashback.com/ Just like Ebates, this is a cashback earning site and offers great referral credit.
- Swagbucks (Free) - http://www.swagbucks.com/ Another cashback earning site. Sign up for all three of these and promote them all on your blog. If one reader already uses Ebates (the most popular one) they may not have heard of the others.
- Google AdSense (Free) - https://www.google.com/adsense If new to blogging, start with Google Adsense as there are no traffic requirements.
- RewardStyle (Free) - https://www.rewardstyle.com/ You have to apply and there are traffic requirements, but this is the other main affiliate tool to join if you're a fashion/beauty blogger.
- Monumetric (Setup fee) - https://www.monumetric.com/ For those with traffic of 30,000 pageviews/month and more, sign up for this service to help optimize the ads on your site to bring you more money.
- MediaVine (unknown) - https://www.mediavine.com/ Another ad optimization service for those with 30,000 + pageviews/month.
- AdThrive (free) - http://www.adthrive.com/ The best ad optimization service, but requires 100,000+ pageviews/month
Other blogging tools
What I use
Grammerly (Free, $ option) - grammerly.com You can install this app on your toolbar to automatically provide spell check and grammar check on any text box you are using on the web. That means it will suggest corrections on your blog posts, social media updates, emails, you name it! You can also simply open Grammarly on a separate tab and copy/paste your blog post text into their checker if you prefer not to use the toolbar extension. I consider myself a pretty good writer and speller, but this program has caught silly errors on every single one of the posts I pass through it! I currently use the free version and it has been more than sufficient. But you can start out with a week of Premium for free by using this link.
Hemmingway App (Free) - http://www.hemingwayapp.com/ This intelligent tool will rate the readability of your writing and suggest which sentences you should simplify. Incredibly helpful.
Headline Analyzer (Free) - http://coschedule.com/headline-analyzer This free tool by CoSchedule helps you tweak your blog titles and headlines to increase social shares, encourage click-throughs, and improve SEO. It's pretty awesome. And so fun to use too!
Bitly (Free) - https://bitly.com/ - A quick tool for shortening hyperlinks to make them easier to share.
Google Drive (Free) - https://drive.google.com - I use this platform to draft my blog posts, track my expenses/income on a spreadsheet, and create forms. You can also use it to collaborate with others on the same document.
Google Calendar (Free) - https://calendar.google.com/ I use this on my phone and computer to schedule blogging tasks on repeat and keep track of deadlines. I also use it to schedule looping posts on Twitter/Facebook using IFTT. See Social Media section for more about IFTT.
PDF Escape (Free, with $ options) - http://www.pdfescape.com/ Awesome tool if you don't own Adobe Acrobat. With the free version I can turn a PDF into a digitally fillable PDF, making my printables more usable for my readers.