Over the years, I’ve tried many different blogging tools. Sometimes it was love at first try (Easy Product Displays) and other times it was, “This is way too complicated and not worth it even though other people love it” (Tailwind). Every committed blogger has her favorite tools and the list will vary based on her objectives, goals, audience, individual skill set, etc. I’ve compiled in this post a list of my essential blogging tools in 2020.
I’ve included tools I am either currently using or have used in the past until I had to upgrade for various reasons. I won’t recommend companies I don’t trust and use (unlike some bloggers who will recommend cheap hosting despite the widely known costs and problems with cheap website hosting). So if it’s in this post, I stand by my recommendation because I use it all the time or, in a very few cases, I have many blogger friends who rave about the service/company so I have no doubts about recommending it.
Blogging Platform: WordPress
There’s no discussion with this. If you are a blogger who is at all serious about what you are doing, you need a self-hosted website. WordPress is a free, open source platform located at WordPress.org.
Please do not use a free site such a Blogger, Weebly, or WordPress.com. I know it seems so much easier, but there are many potential pitfalls to blogging on a space you don’t own.
One thing that many Blogger users don’t understand is that you do not own your Blogger blog. Google owns it and can delete your blog at any time with no warning. If you think it doesn’t happen, think again. It does happen and you have no recourse if Google decides to shut you down. If you haven’t backed it up somewhere, you are done. It’s all gone.
The best and safest course of action is to use WordPress with your own hosting.
WordPress Theme and Genesis Framework
When you download the free WordPress program, a free default theme will be included with it. However, you will in all likelihood want to choose another WordPress theme that fits your personality and what you envision for your site.
I highly recommend using a Genesis theme. The Genesis Framework is purchased from Studio Press. For a one time fee, you can use the Genesis framework forever. You can then use any Genesis theme available online such as the StudioPress Themes. They also offer two free downloads if you want to understand more about the Genesis Framework:
- The Genesis Guide for Absolute Beginners (PDF)
- Why Genesis is the Foundation of Any Smart WordPress Design
Genesis is a wise choice because it has more flexible features and optimizes the WordPress experience. It is worth spending the little extra to get it. My only regret is that I didn’t purchase it sooner.
One theme creator I have not had the opportunity to use but have no problem recommending is Restored 316. I have MANY blogging friends who have used these themes and love them. If you would like to check them out, here are a few links.
The only downside of using a theme from someplace like Restored 316 is that your site will look a lot like other sites, even if you personalize it a bit with the options they include with the purchase. If you want a custom design or extensive changes made to a theme you already have, my husband has extensive experience in this area.
Website Domain Registration and Hosting: InMotion Hosting
In order to set up your own website, you will need a domain. This will be your online address. For years we purchased our domains through GoDaddy and still have a few sitting there because we haven’t moved them over yet.
If you purchase WordPress hosting with InMotion, the domain registration is included for free. This makes way more sense than having things spread out everywhere among different companies just to save a few dollars.
I wrote extensively about my experiences with cheap hosting and why you should avoid it. Don’t be swayed by bloggers who are pushing cheap web hosting to make huge referral fees, but do not use it for themselves. Most of those cheap services have terrible customer service, terrible up-times, etc.
(Yes, this is my little soapbox. It drives me nuts to see new bloggers directed toward bad hosting by people who should know better!)
InMotion Hosting offers many different plans for all sizes of blogs and websites:
- The have reasonably priced WordPress plans for new bloggers.
- If you are a medium-sized blogger like me, you can move to a Virtual Private Server.
- Or if you have a large and busy website, you can move to a dedicated server.
Each step of the way as your website or blog grows, you can easily grow with InMotion. You will save yourself a lot of frustration and time to do it once and do it right.
Domain Based Email Address
It’s not enough to have a gmail, hotmail, or aol email account for your blogging work. Spam filters are attacking those domains relentlessly and many subscriber services (that we’ll discuss below) won’t let you use them.
Fortunately, if you buy your domain and get your hosting through InMotion Hosting you will automatically be able to set up an email with your domain name. (See how easy it gets when you do it all in one place?) It is included in the price of your plan.
Backing Up Your Website
You would be amazed how many bloggers do not back up their website to an offsite service. Hundreds and thousands of hours spent writing, creating, etc. can all be gone in an instant.
It’s not enough to back up your information on an external hard drive that sits on your desk. Why? There are so many things that can happen. What if one of these things occurs when you aren’t there to grab your back-up and keep it safe?
- Mechanical failure
- Spilled drink
It is tragic how many times I’ve heard of someone who has lost everything because they haven’t backed up their information to anything other than a basic hard drive that sits on their desk or a thumb drive.
You MUST have a way to back up your information off-site. We currently use a combination of:
- iDrive – Backs up our computers
- Amazon S3 – Direct backup of our website content via Updraft WordPress plugin
You can also hire someone to keep up with your website maintenance, plugin updates, and backups. I highly recommend David, my husband, who does WordPress Website Maintenance Packages and Support Plans.
Blogging Course – Project 24
I’ve often been asked over the years which blogging courses I’ve taken and recommend. The truth of the matter is that the answer was none until just recently. Most seemed too focused on things that didn’t matter to me (vanity numbers, multiple social media channels, etc.). I finally found a course that I felt was worth the money and that I expected would bring the kind of results I was looking for.
I recommend Income School and their Project 24. It is designed for people starting a niche website from scratch, but I am taking it with an already established site. I’ve watched many of their YouTube videos over the months and truly believe that Ricky and Jim want their course members to succeed. Their approach is very different from other website guru types, but that is what I like about it.
And they are funny. That’s important as well.
Just to reiterate – their focus is on building a niche website. If you are interested in a purely blogging course, this might not be the thing for you. They have a very definite formula and steps to take. It’s not a quick get it done in a month type program. It’s a steady and methodical process. But that is what appealed to me. I needed something to help me organize all of the massive amounts of material on my site.
Free WordPress Plugins
There are so many excellent free WordPress plugins. Some of them are necessary as soon as you set up your site. Ones that I would not be without include:
- Admin Columns – Choose how your columns look in your admin panel
- Akismet – Anti spam
- Anti-Malware Security and Brute-Force Firewall – Searches for malware and other virus-like threats on the server and removes them
- Black Studio Tiny MCE Widget – Adds a visual editor widget to widget areas
- Contact Form 7 – Very popular contact form plugin
- Cookie Notice – GDPR compliance
- Custom Related Posts – Promote related posts you choose at the end of individual posts
- Easy Fancy Box – Makes pictures pop up for better viewing when a reader clicks on an image
- Genesis Custom Footer – Adds a footer section to the settings in Genesis
- Genesis Simple Sidebars – Allows you to add custom sidebars to your site
- Image Widget – Allows you to add images to your sidebar widgets
- Simple Custom CSS – Allows you to add custom CSS code right in the dashboard without having to code on template files
- To Top – Adds a small icon that allows reader to instantly return to the top of the site
- Updraft Plus – Backup/Restore – Backs up your site to an external service (such as Amazon S3, Dropbox, Google Drive)
- WordFence Security – Web security
- Yoast SEO – SEO tool
Once you set up your WordPress site, you can easily search for these plugins and add them.
Social Warfare Pro
There are also some paid WordPress plugins that are worth every penny. The primary one for me is Social Warfare Pro. This is the plugin that keeps track of my Pinterest, Facebook, and other shares. It is the bar with the colored links that people can use to share my posts and product. It also makes it possible to assign particular images for each post to be automatically shared on social media.
MadMimi for Email List
Over the years, I have tried several different services for managing my email lists. I’ve tried Active Campaign, Convert Kit, and was a MadMimi customer for many years. I then moved to MailerLite. MailerLite was good for a season. But when I needed more features for SallieBorrink.com, I went to BirdSend. However, BirdSend had too many features that I really didn’t need to be paying for.
So I went back to MadMimi and have no intention of switching again.
WooCommerce is a free WordPress plugin for creating a shop on your website such as my printables shop. The basic plugin is free and there are many free and paid plugins to add on as needed. I will write about WooCommerce in detail in another post.
Easy Product Displays
This is the most amazing service I pay for and I’m not exaggerating! Using Easy Product Displays makes it possible for me to create pages with my products, book recommendations, etc. that all line up nice neatly without going insane with complicated coding. I wish I had found this years ago!
I really cannot recommend this highly enough for people who sell their own printable products, promote Amazon affiliate products, etc. It is amazing and worth every single penny!
Deposit Photos is my favorite place to purchase stock photos. They have a huge selection of photos and offer excellent packages that make them affordable.
The Hungry JPEG
The Hungry JPEG is a fantastic place to look for fonts and art. They run amazing specials each week with bundles that are heavily discounted. The have a Dollars Deal section that always has nice offerings. The quality of everything is excellent. Highly recommended!
Lumen5 is what I recommend for video creation. It is easy enough even for someone like me. LOL! I’ve played around with it a bit and it’s easy to use. At the same time, it has a lot of features so you can make some great videos.
The hang up for me is that I think every video I do needs to be worthy of an Oscar or an Emmy or something. I’m trying to learn how to just use it and not obsess about it. If you want to see a video I made using a combination of their video library and images I purchased elsewhere, you can see it in My Christmas Grettings to You.
David & Sallie – Your Partners for Small Business Success
The most essential part of my blogging is my web designer and graphic designer husband, David.
Arts & Letters, Inc. is our fulltime business and you can find him at David and Sallie. He thoroughly enjoys helping other small businesses succeed! Whether it is a solopreneur, work-at-home mom, or small business, he has the experience to help people grow their business.
David is a professional web designer and graphic designer with extensive experience in web design, advertising, marketing, package design, and publishing. He also offers WordPress Website Maintenance Packages and Support Plans for all sizes of businesses. I invite you to click over and view our portfolio!