Blogging is HARD. Seriously. But these are the best blog resources and tools for you to use, most of which are free!
Blogging is one job or hobby that requires you to be a master of all trades: writing, photography, social media, web and graphic design, information technology, SEO, marketing, partnership manager, customer service, accounting, CEO, and MORE!
Below is an updated list of the best blog resources and tools I use to blog efficiently and effectively.
But first, I also love sharing resources for Instagrammers (especially ones that focus on books, like me), such as:
I'm all about saving time, but I am also about doing things the "right" way (which, in my opinion, ends up being more time-saving in the long run), so you will see a lot of that kind of stuff on my list.
How to Blog For Profit Without Selling Your Soul by Ruth Soukup
Since this is primarily a book blog, I am pleased to share my recommendation for the best book about blogging -- How to Blog For Profit Without Selling Your Soul by Ruth Soukup. Most blogging books out there are older, and newer books are more geared towards social media.
How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul is older, but it has been updated, and it's great for people who are more serious about blogging. Ruth Soukup is a businesswoman who works hard, and she keeps it real about what it takes to successfully blog, and how to stop wasting your time on unsuccessful strategies.
This book is for people who are willing to "put their time in" and continually pivot. Blogging is simply not a get-rich-quick scheme. But, the way I look at it, it takes a lot of time to blog, so why not set yourself up the right way. As far as I'm concerned, this book is one of the best blog resources and tools.
And if you are interested in books about social media, check out these really popular books written by social media guru Gary Vanyerchuk.
Branding & Design
Namecheckr is a free website that allows you to check whether a name is available for use as a URL as well as all social media platforms in one search. You can use it to brainstorm the best name for your brand and see whether it's available for use.
Design Seeds is a free website that shares beautiful color palettes, drawing inspiration from photographs. You can search by color and by collection, like "seasons" to find the perfect color palette for your brand. I chose my own color palette on Design Seeds and use it to design my blog, social media graphics, etc.
I also use Canva to create photo collages. There are both free and paid versions. I'm on the paid plan now but there's a lot you can do on the free version. I simply couldn't blog without it -- it is unquestionably one of the best blog resources and tools.
Creative Market is a website where you can buy all kinds of digital design products. I purchased presets for the free Adobe Lightroom App, where I edit my photos in one click!
Presets help give your Instagram feed and blog the same "vibe" throughout. I encourage you to choose presets, fonts, and color palettes with intention, so they tell a cohesive story.
Etsy is another great place to purchase, among other handmade items, digital goods. I purchased some cheap photo presets here as well. I have about twenty presets total, and I made sure they are all similar before purchasing them so my photos maintained the same look and feel.
If you run out of time or inspiration to take beautiful photographs, Unsplash has got you covered. It's a website with TONS of free, professional photographs that you can use on the web without violating any copyrights. I check it out when I really want a certain type of photo I can't create myself (i.e., a sunny picture on a rainy day).
A Color Story App
A Color Story is another great app for editing photos. I love their tools, especially the ones that allow you to edit certain areas of photos. I can brighten a dark corner or add detail to food on a plate really easily. They also have packs of filters that are really beautiful, and the app allows you to make really stunning color edits, like adding a certain tint to the sky.
The TouchRetouch app is really helpful for easily eliminating unwanted objects from photos, like electrical wires in the sky, by filling in the area you highlight with the colors surrounding it. Some objects are easier to remove than others, but it's still a great tool. I use it at least a few times a week.
Time Saving Tools
Evernote is one of my favorite tools for life and blogging, so it's definitely one of the best blog resources and tools. It allows you to create notes in various notebooks you create, which you can edit and access on the web or the app.
I first purchased it to create a web-based compilation of recipes. I organized notebooks by category, then created notes with text recipes, URLs of recipes, and pictures of recipes from books I loaned from the library. The app can "read" photos, so if I search something like "cupcakes" it will read not just the word cupcake in writing, but also photos of recipes that contain the word "cupcake." It allows me to easily access ALL my recipes in one spot.
Now that I have a blog, I have multiple notebooks for blogging with notes containing everything from to-do lists to checklists to strategies and tips I have learned.
Tech & Web Design
WordPress with BlueHost hosting
If you want to create a website, you need to do so on a "platform." There are a few different platforms out there, like Blogger (free but owned by Google, not you, and limited in what you can do), SquareSpace (paid but easy to use to create beautiful websites; limited in technical capabilities); and WordPress (which definitely has a learning curve, but provides unlimited technical capabilities and allows you to maintain ownership of your content).
When I started my blog, I researched everything I could to avoid creating it on WordPress. I had created websites in the past, and I know it takes time and effort to get up and running on WordPress. At the end of my research aimed directly at avoiding WordPress, I came to the conclusion that I must bite the bullet and use it.
Without getting too deep, the ease of other platforms simply does not outweigh the benefits of WordPress. The biggest benefit to me was that WordPress is the best platform on which you can optimize your blog posts to actually appear in Google searches, which I knew was going to be one of my top blog traffic strategies.
And while WordPress is where you will design your blog and write your blog posts, with WordPress, you need a separate "host" which is how your blog or website actually makes it onto the web.
BlueHost is a really cheap option for newbies, and over the years, BlueHost has become SO much easier for a non-techie to use to get your website off the ground. I simply signed up and followed the prompts to get my site on the web.
Genesis Framework with Brunch Pro Theme
Genesis is a widely used and highly recognized framework theme that provides really strong bones for a website that functions well from a technical perspective. It's a really easy and cheap way to get a website that functions really well from a technical standpoint (Who wants to deal with a site that is constantly slow or malfunctioning?!) without hiring an expensive website designer.
Once you install Genesis, you then need to install a theme that is compatible with it, which is what makes your website look the way it looks (i.e., how the menu is laid out, what pages have sidebars, how blog posts appear on the home page). I saw another website that I liked used Brunch Pro theme, and I just went with it, but you can browse the options.
Plug-Ins are things you can install for a specific purpose on your WordPress blog that your theme does not already do. They can do things the reader can't see (like make your website run faster) or things they do see (like change the way links appear).
Since plug-ins can really slow down your site (and Google is less likely to recommend a slow site), I try to limit mine to ones that improve site performance and not ones that just offer some extra flash to my site.
A few "back end" plug-ins I use are WP Fastest Cache, Wordfence Security, and Smush, and a few "front end plug-ins I use are Related Posts for WordPress, Simple Social Icons and Smash Balloon Instagram Feed.
SEO is "search engine optimization." It's the process by which you do things in order to get your website to appear in Google searches. It can be very expensive and time-consuming -- which I know from personal experience, from when my husband owned an eCommerce business. But, there are still things the everyday blogger can do to improve their SEO.
I use the free tool Ubersuggest to search "keywords" I want to write about -- like "Best Books for Spring." You can see how many searches are made for that keyword a month, how hard it is to get on the first page of Google for that keyword and get other ideas for keywords.
I could write a whole article about how I decide on a keyword and how I optimize my posts for that keyword, and I'm not even a pro, so I will leave it at that for now. Just know that Ubersuggest is a great way to get started on free keyword research and see where one of the best blog resources and tools takes you!
Google / Keywords Everywhere
When writing blog posts, I like to use Google, with the Keywords Everywhere Chrome extension, to search by keyword to see how what's coming up on page one for it. This can help me try to figure out how to make my post and my headline better and perhaps rank well.
The Keywords Everywhere extension also shows you related terms people are also searching for, to give you even more keyword ideas.
Pinterest is a search engine, and so it's another great place to get keyword ideas. If I search a keyword, it gives me additional suggestions for keywords that people are searching to really hone in on a keyword. For example, "Best Books for Spring" may become "Best Books for Spring for Adults."
Affiliate programs allow bloggers to create links whereby, if a reader clicks on them and makes a purchase, the blogger gets a small commission from the retailer (at no extra cost to the reader).
In years past, creating links like this was a very cumbersome process. First, you had to apply to each and every retailer. It can take days to even find out if you are accepted. Then, you had to search deep into the affiliate program to find a link for a product. It could take a half-hour to create one link.
The programs I share below are the best blog tools and resources that make it easy for you to create links. Also, many of them don't even require you to have your own blog -- which is great for Instagrammers!
Skimlinks is a major affiliate conglomerate. By signing up with them you instantly have access to thousands of retailers' affiliate programs. Further, you can easily create links in one click all around the web, with a Google Chrome button.
While Skimlinks keeps part of your commission in exchange for making this process so easy, it's worth it to me. I would gladly exchange a few cents for a half-hour of my time (up to a few days, if I have to apply to a retailer's program on my own and wait to see if I am accepted), to immediately be able to create a link in one click.
Further, sometimes Skimlinks is able to negotiate higher commission rates than if you applied to a retailer's program on your own. Because it's so easy and accessible, it's great for new bloggers as well.
Amazon Associates is a great affiliate program because so many people shop on Amazon so frequently and because it provides access to so many types of products. The commission is lower than other retailers, but the conversion rate (how many people actually purchase after clicking a link), is usually much higher.
They also have banners you can put on your website like ads, as well as a tool called Site Stripe that allows you to easily create text and image links of products in just a few clicks on any Amazon page.
ShopStyle Collective / RewardStyle
Their programs allow you to use their search bar to pull up all matching products across the web that qualify for commissions. Then, you can easily create lists and collages to share on your website, among other things.
If you don't have a website, they allow you to host one for your "looks" on the Shopstyle site or LIKEtoKNOW.it app.
Referral Codes / Links
Lastly, you can use referral codes and links from smaller retailers to make money. Simply poke around your favorite smaller sites for referral links. A few I promote are:
- One month free at Libro.fm (audio books)
- Get your first Book of the Month book for $5
- Get 60 days of Scribd (ebooks and audio books) for free
- Get $10 cash when you join and make a purchase using Rakuten (formerly Ebates, a cash rebate site -- an amazing service I have made over $2k on, and an amazing affiliate program!)
Ads are a great way to earn money on your content simply for getting views on it. There are a few big players. Google AdSense can be installed by nearly any blogger but they only earn you 50 cents to $2 per every 1,000 page views, and you don't get a lot of support with tech issues and optimal placement on your site for increased revenue. I chose not to use them on my site as a result.
Once you hit 10,000 page views per month, you can sign up for ads hosted by Monumetric. There's an on-boarding fee of $99 (unless you have 80,000 or more page views), but they install everything for you and really work on making the ads optimal and non-invasive on your site for you. And the money you earn your first month will likely cover the onboarding fee.
Monumetric also provides rapid customer service and answer all your questions. I've been very pleased with this service so far.
Although I am new to it, my research has shown the average rate you may earn with Monumetric is $5 to $15 per every 1,000 page views (approximately $50 to $150 for every 10,000 page views per month).
When it comes to marketing my blog, I'm all about quick and easy. I already have a full-time job besides blogging! Below are some of my best blog resources and tools to "set it and forget it" ways to market your blog and/or Instagram.
If This Then That (IFTTT)
If This Then That is a free website that allows you to set up all kinds of "rules" whereby, if you do one thing, then it automatically does another thing for you.
I have "rules" a/k/a applets set to automatically tweet my Instagram posts with the Instagram picture (which Instagram does not do if you tell Instagram to share your post to Twitter upon posting it) and to pin all my new Instagram posts to Pinterest automatically. I also have "recurring tweets" sent out once a month at a given time for things like new blog posts, but you can tweet anything on a recurring basis.
That's really just the beginning though. There is a lot you can do, and it's all free.
Substack is the free platform I use for email marketing newsletters. It's not as fancy and customizable as some other email platforms, but I was more interested in something that was easy to use and less time-consuming, and Substack is an absolute breeze. They are also growing and doing a lot of cool things to help you grow and monetize your email lists as well.
Another cool thing about Substack is all your email newsletters are housed in an Archive on their website like blog posts with web links that you or others can find through their search bar, refer back to, read and share.
Tailwind is my holy grail marketing product. It comes at a cost, which varies based on how much you use it, but the results are unparalleled.
It allows you to schedule Pinterest posts automatically so that you are both making Pinterest happy and promoting your content at the same time. You join "tribes" where you share other people's content (because Pinterest likes when you do this every day), and Tailwind pins it for you at optimal times.
(And if you're interested in growing your blog traffic through Pinterest, you will definitely want to check out my Perfecting Pinterest Course Review by Sophia Lee.)
I usually schedule an entire month in one sitting. You can also share your own content to tribes, so other people re-Pin it. Lastly, you can "loop" your own pins to numerous boards and group boards repeatedly over the course of the year in one click. For just a few hours a month, I have exponentially multiplied my exposure on Pinterest (I'm talking by several hundred thousand views) and, as a result, my blog views.
After about six weeks of testing new strategies out with Tailwind, I more than 4x my blog page views. I simply cannot recommend Tailwind highly enough!
Those are the best blog resources and tools that I have used and do use to maximize my efficiency and effectiveness on my blog. I will continue to update it over time to provide you with only the best.
Pin this post to Pinterest because you can refer back to it later.