THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.
I’ve previously mentioned how I started blogging a couple of years ago, and am finally taking it seriously. It’s been quite a journey that I think other bloggers can learn from.
Many teachers entertain the thought of starting a blog, but it seems overwhelming and time-consuming. While it can definitely be tough to start out, it doesn’t have to be impossible. It’s also incredibly rewarding, which is why I do my best to show up each week.
I’ve compiled this list of services I use (or have used) to grow my blog. The information here comes from a couple of years of exhaustive research and sometimes expensive trial and error. I’ve indicated if it offers a free, paid, and/or premium service, which means limited free.
There are some affiliate links for which I receive a small commission, but I have paid and currently use or have used those particular services when starting out, and vouch for them.
- Siteground (paid) – If you’re even a little serious about blogging, you will have more of a presence and authority if you have your own self-hosted blog. You’ll have to put some money up front, but this means you get to have plugins (ESSENTIAL!), your own URL, and unlimited theme options.
- GoDaddy (paid) – I recommend that you not only purchase your own domain name, but you do it separately from your web host. That way, if you ever leave for another host, there won’t be any complications.
- Starting out: MailChimp – The easiest email automation tool to start out with. It’s easy to use with pre-built templates, and the free version offers plenty of features. I would use this until you have more of a following and want to start getting complicated.
- Advanced: Convertkit – When you’re ready to start sending specific emails to specific groups in your list (segments), want to have a more detailed autoresponder sequence when someone subscribes, have multiple content upgrades, and are doing things like webinars, it’s time to upgrade to Convertkit. There is more of a learning curve, but they have a robust knowledge base library to help you out!
Lead capture (getting those emails)
- Starting out: MailMunch (free and premium) – MailMunch offers just the perfect amount of lead capture tools for starting out. You can collect subscriber emails and easily send those emails to MailChimp.
- Starting out: SumoMe (free and premium) – SumoMe also offers even more options than MailMunch…maybe too much. You also have to install their plugin, and the last time I checked, it hadn’t been tested with the latest version of WordPress.
- Advanced: Leadpages (paid) – This is definitely the gold standard for lead captures. Do you need this when starting out? No. But when you’re more serious about selling or offering an eBook, hosting webinars, want something fully customizable, etc., then it’s time to upgrade to Leadpages.
- Advanced: OptinMonster (paid) – If Leadpages is too much of an investment, then OptinMonster is another great alternative. Their pricing plans start low compared to Leadpages, but they also have similar lead capture options.
Social Media Scheduling (because who has time?)
- Smarterqueue (paid, extended trial with link) – Schedule your Facebook (page and personal), Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. This is the most affordable option that allows you to automatically repost your evergreen content, a.k.a. your blog posts. This will drive more traffic to those posts and result in more subscribers. You can also pull articles from your favorite sites and those those post as well (because sharing is caring!).
- Tailwind (free trial, paid) – This is my go-to Pinterest scheduler. I love the collaborative boards, or tribes, which allow me to contribute my own pins, as well as find quality pins within my niche to share. Remember that Pinterest wants you to be a regular pinner, so if you don’t have many of your own pins, sharing others’ will get you noticed.
- Canva (free and premium) – I use this to create social media photos for all platforms. I just tend to duplicate old images with my branding and formatting and then add new text and images. They have templates for literally every social media platform out there.
- Pexels (free) – Good place for royalty-free stock images.
- Pixabay (free) – Another great place for royalty-free stock images.
- Bigstockphoto (paid) – I did a 1-month subscription, which allowed me to download 5 images every 24-hours. I was able to grow my library with images that can be used for most blog posts.
- DeathtoStock (paid) – I just signed up for this because they have a cheaper subscription plan, plus their images look less…”stocky.”
Website and blog analysis
- Google Webmaster Tools (free) – This tracks your site’s performance and make it more Google-friendly. You’ll need to submit a sitemap, which is a list of all your posts, pages, categories, etc. If you want to rank higher and get more traffic, you’ll want to learn more about this tool.
- Google Analytics (free) – This tracks and reports your website traffic. It shows you what’s working, what’s not, and can inform you on how to improve your site’s performance. It even tells you where your traffic is coming from (like social media, searching, etc.), demographics about your audience, how long people spend on your site, and much, much more.
- Pingdom (free) – Having a fast website is MUST! Pingdom is a free tool that not only tells you how fast your website is, but also what’s slowing it down. Just be sure that after typing in your blog’s URL, you choose the closest location to test from.
- Headline analyzer (free) – You want to always write headlines that grab your readers’ attention, is SEO-friendly, and communicates what your post is about. This tool determines if your headlines are good enough to rank well and get traffic
- Social Warfare (paid) – You want to give your readers the option to share seamlessly your post on social media. If it takes too much work, they won’t share it! What I love about this plugin is that it’s lightweight (won’t slow down your site), customizable, hides Pinterest and images, you can include custom tweets or Click to Tweet, has the option for social proof (the number of people that have shared your post), and analytics. The option to hide Pinterest images was a game-changer for me because it allows you to include a custom Pin with your branding, as well as the description and keywords, WITHOUT having to post it awkwardly in your post. When someone clicks the pin button, your Pin will be an obvious option for the reader!
- WP Rocket (paid) – For optimal website speed and performance, you need a tool that does powerful and lightweight website caching, optimization, page preloading, lazyload, minification, and much more. In addition to increasing your website speed, it helps you rank better in Google! You could get free plugins for each of these features, but the more plugins you have, the slower your site. This has it all and is easy to use.
- Akismet Anti-spam (free) – You don’t want random spammy comments on your blog, and you can definitely expect them once your site gets traction. This is the most popular anti-spam plugin, and I only get one to two spam comments, which are held in moderation for me to trash.
- Convertkit (or any plugin associated with your email marketing system) (free) – Since I use Convertkit, I naturally have the plugin that integrates with my account. This allows me to add a form to your posts and have the information directly sent to Convertkit. I have it set so that the plugin places a small lead capture form at the end of each post.
- Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (free) – This plugin pulls data from your Google Analytics account. I love that I don’t need to login to Google Analytics every day, although I still do it regularly to monitor my traffic.
- Search Exclude (free) – If you have any password-protected content (such as my Downloads and Resources), you don’t want them to be searchable on Google. For my site, if you want to access my Downloads and Resources, you need to subscribe. Without this plugin, someone can stumble upon the actual link for my Downloads and Resources without subscribing! Rude!
- Updraft (free) – My web host, Siteground, does regular backups. However, it doesn’t hurt to have a second backup that also allows you to restore your WordPress site.
- WPFront Scroll Top (free) – I tend to write very long blog posts, so it can be difficult (especially on mobile) to scroll to the top. This plugin inserts a customizable icon in the lower right corner that allows the reader to quickly scroll to the top of the page
- Yoast SEO (free and premium) – The best Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plugin. You really should do research and learn everything about SEO, because it will be EVERYTHING for the success of your blog! While there’s a free version for this plugin, the premium version is well worth the cost to get search traffic to your site. In addition to helping you write SEO-friendly blog posts, it also handles redirects (when the URL of a page changes, or if you have broken links), and much, much more.
- Imagify plugin (limited free) – if you already have an established site and have a LOT of images to optimize, or you want more automation, then the paid version of this is your best best. I had HUNDREDS of images to compress, and for $5, this will compress up to 1GB a month.
- StudioPress Themes(paid) – I added this last because there are so many theme options out there, and choosing a theme is wholly based on personal style and functionality. I chose to use the Genesis Framework because it’s easy to customize, is amazing for SEO, has additional widgets, is mobile friendly, is known for being fast-loading, and overall has a lot of options that I wanted for my site. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t like the initial look of the Genesis Framework. When you purchase it, you also need to get a child theme, which is where a lot of the customization comes in. Think of the Genesis Framework as the amazing engine that powers the child theme, which makes it attractive! Luckily there are a TON of child themes to choose from!If you’re just starting out, I’d still recommend purchasing a WordPress theme. You may change it down the line, but paid themes give you so many options to make your theme look exactly how you want without having to pay big bucks for a web developer. Over time the look of my blog has changed, and I’ve learned how to make tweaks and changes that free themes don’t really offer.