“What do you use for [fill in the blank]?”
It’s one of the most asked questions in the blogosphere. That blank could be a blogging platform, hosting service, blog graphics, you name it. It’s always helpful, especially when starting out, to know what others use to run their blog. As much as it may appear that bloggers sprinkle unicorn dust to create a great blog, sadly that’s not true. I know that I put Blog Clarity together with lots of sweat and a few frustrated tears. Magic it is not!
To save you hours of searching for this and for that, here’s a peek behind the curtain to see all the tools, resources, plugins, and STUFF I use to run Blog Clarity. I pinky swear you’ll find something useful in here.
Just a note that a handful of these links are affiliate links but I use and recommend everything in here.
Setting Up Your Blog
WordPress.org is the self-hosted platform of WordPress, meaning that I pay to have it hosted somewhere as opposed to having WordPress host it for me (WordPress.com). You’ll get the most control with self-hosting your blog.
Siteground is FINALLY a web host I can fully recommend. They have a reputation for excellent customer service AND they’re not part of the EIG hosting groups like
HostGator (bad experience), A Small Orange (bad experience), and others.
Genesis is the gold standard of frameworks. You can use as-is or add a “child theme” to it (I use their Metro Theme). Genesis is cleanly-coded and you can customize the heck out of it. Bonus- it’s super easy to add Rich Pins for Pinterest with Genesis.
Google Analytics: I don’t need to tell you that knowing how much traffic you have and where it’s coming from is important (unless you’re just writing for yourself and don’t care about growing- if that’s the case, carry on). See pageviews, top referral sources, and more.
Making Blog Life Easier
Tailwind: I have an app crush on Tailwind. Not only does it schedule pins, it gives you WAY better analytics than Pinterest itself. With Tailwind, you can even schedule repins straight from Pinterest!
ConvertKit: One of the biggest drivers of income for me has been my email list. And I couldn’t have grown it to what it is without ConvertKit. In fact, with just one content upgrade for my main email list and a couple of other content upgrades, I’ve gone from an average of 25 subscribers a month to 250-300 a month! Unlike Mailchimp, you pay per person no matter how many “lists” they are on. Worth every single penny.
Co-Schedule: A must have for any blogger. I hesitated for a long time, but I love my Content Brew editorial calendar, but I use them together for maximum awesomeness. CoSchedule is an all-in-one marketing calendar that brings your content and social media in the same place. It integrates with WordPress, Evernote, Google Docs, Google Analytics and major social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Buffer, and even Google+ Pages.
HootSuite: I’ve been a HootSuite user since about 2009- it’s my favorite way to post to manage Twitter! You can also use it to post to multiple accounts and schedule posts or tweets as well. There’s so much power in this app (I use the free version). For example, these streams will make you go ooooh. And if you don’t know what streams are, then you can start here with a HootSuite primer.
Buffer: You ever find an article you want to share with your followers, but it’s at midnight and you know few people will see it? Buffer it! Buffer sends posts out at times you designate. I use Buffer to schedule articles to Facebook and Twitter as well, but it can be used for so much more.
Evernote: So I can remember ALL the things! I can’t live without Evernote. CAN’T. I use it to save articles, ideas, and even memories of funny things my kids say. I use the free version, but you can get space and features with their premium account if you need it.
Backblaze: What would you do if you lost all your blogging files… the spreadsheets, the images, the handout files, etc? Crawl in a hole, most likely! I backup my computer using Backblaze so I never have to worry about losing all my files. And it so happens I’ve saved over pinnable image designs only to need to revert back to an older version. Not a problem! Just go to their website and find a previous version. BAM.
Tools I Use to Create Online Courses
Some of the most-asked questions I get revolve around the things I use to teach online courses. Here are my faves.
Thinkific: I moved to Thinkific and couldn’t be happier. If you wanna read all about why I moved and why I love it, I’ve got an entire post about it. Short story? It’s easy to use, has a good student interface, and doesn’t hold your funds on the lower plans like Teachable.
Screencast-o-Matic: Screencast-O-Matic rocks my socks. Want to make screencast tutorials? Then use it. I use it for all my Blog Clarity e-course videos. There’s a FREE version and you basically use it online so there’s nothing to install. Easy peasy. While there’s a free version, I pay just $15/year for the PRO version. Two big benefits? No watermark on videos and you can upload directly to Vimeo.
Adobe Creative Suite: In order to design my blog graphics and e-course handouts, I use the Adobe Creative Suite applications Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. I also do some of my pinnable images with Photoshop. Best part? With a subscription, you get access to both web and desktop versions of fonts via TypeKit. I might have jumped up and down when I learned that little fact.
If you don’t want the steep learning curve or cost of Adobe CS, try one of these:
Canva: I haven’t used Canva much because they didn’t offer custom fonts, but now they do! People RAVE about Canva and for good reason. It’s super easy to make your own awesome-looking graphics for blog and social media posts. You can use the free version or Canva Work, which I’m planning to test out.
Picmonkey: If you don’t do Canva or Adobe Creative Sweet, get these guys! With Picmonkey, it’s so easy to do so many things. Wondering the dimensions to design a Facebook cover photo? Just use their template and BAM! Want to make a collage? They already have loads of options to choose from. The program isn’t perfect, but overall it’s a great option to create graphics for your blog.
Favorite Places to Find Images and Fonts
Creative Market: I looooove me some Creative Market. Reasonable prices and high quality. I’ve purchased fonts, backgrounds, icons, textures, and Photoshop actions from here. Plus, check out their weekly freebies. I can’t tell you how many great things I’ve gotten there for free.
Fotolia: My current go-to place for photos (they have graphics and videos too). Reasonably priced and a good selection. They even have an iPad app for easy searching for images.
Deposit Photo: Another good place for illustrations or photos, but like many stock photo sites, beware of uber-cheesy stuff. Like many other sites, you buy credits and then purchase the size you need for x number of credits.
Unsplash (10 new photos every 10 days- save ones you like for future use!)
Equipment I Use (or WANT to Use) for Live Streaming
People often ask what equipment I use for my live streaming. The first three and what I currently use, and although a use a charger I got for free, you definitely need a charger if you’re going to be live streaming out and about!
Plugins Schmugins: My Faves
By now, you probably know that WordPress is the king of plugins. It’s kinda like iPhone commercials when they say “there’s an app for that.” There’s a plugin for everything!
Just know that too many plugins can slow down your site so chose them carefully. A wee bit of advice… Before you install a plugin, back up your site. And check your blog after installing a plugin to make sure it doesn’t make anything wonky.
Social sharing: Social Warefare Pro
Social Warfare is lightning fast (aka won’t slow down your site’s loading time), cleanly designed, and easy to set up. You can customize so many things and add social sharing friendly images that get displayed when people share your posts on social media. It’s inexpensive and WORTH it.
Easy-to-share affiliate links: Pretty Links Lite
I LOVE this plugin. You know how those affiliate links are like the longest ever? Well, don’t share those ugly links. Use pretty links! Instead of sending you this ugly link for Tailwind (http://www.shareasale.com/r.cfm?b=551332&u=394419&m=50947&urllink=&afftrack), I can just send you to http://www.blogclarity.com/tailwind! So great because they are easy to remember if you’re sharing them in a presentation or when live broadcasting, and you don’t have to go digging for the exact link to share on social because they’re easy to remember! Head to this post for details on how to use Pretty Links Lite.
Alerting commenter of new reply: Comment Reply Notification
(This plugin hasn’t been updated in a while, but it still works just fine!) Did you know that by default WordPress does NOT notify someone that they’ve received a reply to their comment? BAH, right? That’s why this plugin is one of the most useful plugins to keep the convo going within your comments. When someone replies to a comment on your blog (whether it’s you or another reader), it emails the original commenter to let them know. You can customize the email too, which just adds to the fun (my subject line says “Your fabulous comment at Blog Clarity has a new reply.”) Just note that you have to reply from the post or from within your WordPress admin. It won’t work if you do it from your WP phone app. While there’s no option like this for Blogger, if you install another commenting system like Disqus or Intense Debate, it will offer this functionality.
PinIt Buttons: jQuery PinIt Button for Images
Pinterest is my number one source of referral traffic so it’s important to make pinning my posts as simple as possible. In addition to having a PinIt button within my sharing buttons, I also have a PinIt button that appears when you hover over an image. You can even customize it to your own design (see how and grab my freebie PinIt buttons here). This jQuery PinIt Button for Images plugin is a cinch to set up. Plus, you can disable the feature on individual posts and pages too if you’d like.
For increasing tweets of your posts: Click to Tweet
Click to Tweet is brought to you by the same people who created Co-Schedule. It’s such a simple plugin to set up and use, and IT WORKS. I’ve noticed a drastic difference in the number of tweets an article gets just from this nifty feature.
Wanna see it in action? Just share the tweet below with your followers!
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