So you want to start a blog… but you’re overwhelmed by its technicalities and buzzwords that surround blogging? Here are all the useful tools that a blogger can find handy – I tested them all, and decided to give them an honest recommendation to make it easy for others who are just starting out. Most of them are just regular links, although I do get a couple of pennies shed off my hosting subscription if you decide to tag along. Enjoy!
Setting up your website
- 1and1 Hosting – there’s a handful of website providers out there, but I’ve been using 1&1 for a while and I’m very happy with them. They give you a free SSL certificate for your website, sometimes a free domain in your chosen package, and a professional email inbox. There are more services that they provide (such as an online shop – you can keep everything in one place without juggling multiple platforms).
- WordPress – it’s one of the most popular and versatile blogging platforms. You can decide to have it hosted for you on WordPress.com which will take away all your hosting worries and give you a chance to interact with a broad community, but you’ll also miss out on many customisation options. That’s why I encourage everyone to invest in a self-hosted platform; it’s super easy to learn and can be adapted to serve any of your needs. You can download WordPress and follow the installation process (you’ll have to understand where to get your MySQL database data, for instance, so I wouldn’t recommend that unless you understand what you’re doing) or have it set up in a couple of clicks with most of the hosting providers.
- ThemeForest – to make sure your website looks its best, it’s the easiest to buy a professionally-looking theme. Mine comes from this online market, which hosts an abundance of themes for different purposes. If you ever need help with setting it up for a small fee, get in touch!
- Canva – although I use my trusty Photoshop and Illustrator for the images I edit, not everyone has the time to learn how to use them (although there’s plenty of tutorials and it’s not as scary as it seems!). Here’s where Canva comes in – with a multitude of presets, you can have your images ready in minutes by just dragging-and-dropping stuff.
- Grammarly – it goes without saying, but it’s worth it to go that extra mile and edit your posts a little before you hit “Publish”. Grammarly is my favourite: it works as a browser add-on that checks everything you type in, making sure that the most common typos stay away from your writing.
- Trello – as you go along, you’ll have more post ideas and tasks to manage; Trello is a phenomenal tool to do this. By setting a set of cards that can act as your editorial calendar or a collection of moodboards, you’re keeping your ideas in one place which you can access on the go. You can easily set the deadlines, or share the boards with someone else if you’re not the sole writer, too.
- Google Analytics – if you want to understand your audience better and tailor your content, see which social media platforms work best for you or solidify your content ideas, Google Analytics is an absolute must. It’s not difficult to set up if you use a WordPress plugin, either. Although it might look confusing at the beginning, it is extremely user-friendly, and Google offers a comprehensive course to help you get started and understand this powerhouse. You can even certify yourself if you wish – an add-on to a resume never hurt anyone.
- VSCO – for a quick and easy photo edit on the go, there’s nothing better than this handy little app. It will allow you to fix the pictures before you upload them, it’s not difficult to use, and it can really work its magic splendidly!
- Compressor.io – with the times when a lot of blogs are accessed on mobile devices, sometimes with connections that leave a lot to be desired, it’s important to optimise your website as much as possible. One small step you can take to make your website faster is to optimise the images. And you don’t have to compromise on quality: just upload your picture to Compressor.io and it’ll result in a much smaller image that will take less time to appear on the website. Alternatively, use TinyPNG – it offers exactly the same functionality.
- Dropbox – it’s a great tool for backing up your drafts, or saving the files that you’ll have to access on the go (hence, you can be productive even during your lunch break or while commuting!) You can also set up a plug-in that backs up your website weekly, which is a phenomenal solution to make sure your website can be restored without much damage if something goes wrong.
- Buffer – my absolute favourite when it comes to social media scheduling. For $10, you get to manage 10 accounts (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Buffer, Google Plus and Pinterest among them). Particularly Pinterest scheduling got me convinced that I should use it – I didn’t want to pay for any extra platforms to do that, and Buffer does absolutely fine! There’s also a free version you can use if you don’t need some of the platforms mentioned above or if you don’t need to manage heaps of accounts.
- HiPlay – a small Buffer add-on, it allows you to reschedule the posts that have been doing particularly well and help you to auto-populate your feed and showcase the evergreen content to new audiences. As much as $5 can get you 100 evergreens for each account, and for a beginner that’s more than enough.
- TweetDeck – if you’re a massive Twitter fan, or if you share the content that will do particularly well on that social media platform, it’s one of the best free tools available. You can arrange your dashboard to see your timeline with the tweets as they come in, schedule posts, and perform specific Twitter searches.
- Bit.ly – have you seen these neat little links in tweets and Facebook posts that don’t take up a lot of space? Although the times when the links counted into the character limit are long gone for most platforms, and a lot of them offer analytics which allow you to see how many clicks they got, these clean shortlinks didn’t disappear. You can easily organise your links into a handful of categories, too, and preview analytics in one place, and if you use Buffer, you can integrate Bit.ly with your account, too.
- Hashtagify – to discover the best hashtags that will help you to promote yourself, you can use this little tool. It helps you discover related hashtags for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and identifies the profile of the audiences that use them to help you make sure your posts don’t disappear into the social media vortex.