I’m often asked what tools I use for our blog and what I would recommend. With over 42,000 plugins for WordPress on the market, picking the right tools for your blog can be overwhelming. Over the years, I have researched, tested and used many blogging resources; so, I thought of listing all the tools, plugins, and resources that I personally use either on this very website or for my work websites. I’m fond of everything listed here and I would strongly recommend it to my best friends or my mum (if she was a blogger). This list features either free tools or the most affordable options on the market, keeping in mind quality/price ratio and value for money.
As tempting as free platforms can be, in my opinion, they’re only a good option for those who envisage their blog as a journal to share their thoughts or chronicle their journey for themselves or their family and friends.
But, for those who wish for their blog to have a professional look, be read by as many people as possible around the world, and/or planning to fully monetize their blog and make it profitable, I would only recommend two options:
- The industry standard: self-hosted WordPress – I mean the open source software WordPress.org (not WordPress.com)
- The up-and-comer: Squarespace.
While all my work websites are on WordPress.org, this very blog is on Squarespace. I made the informed decision to go with Squarespace because I didn’t want to deal myself with maintenance, anti-virus, SSL, and similar aspects for this blog. But contrary to a popular misconception, I do customise everything on Squarespace through CSS and HTML coding and I add java scripts and plugins to my website as I please.
I love Squarespace and I would strongly recommend it. However, it’s more expensive than any other platform out there.
So, if you’re on a tight budget, I would definitely recommend the mainstream option: self-hosted WordPress.
Plus, if you’re only starting out now, going with the mainstream option is a safer bet, as most – if not all - advice, posts, and tools around cater for and are targeted to self-hosted WordPress blogs. So, it will save you the headache of trying to figure out how to do things on a different platform or coming up with a turnaround when a feature or tool is not available on your platform. Even with Squarespace, if you don’t know how to code, what you can do to customise your website is quite limited.
Hosting & Domain
If you decide to go for self-hosted WordPress (and you should), you need a domain and a web hosting service (unless you have your own server where you could host your blog).
In choosing your web host you should look more at the reliability, the reputation, and the customer service of the hosting service than the price. I understand that when you’re starting out, the upfront initial investment may be a concern and you would like to keep the cost as low as possible, but the cheapest is not always the best. What’s the point of saving a few dollars a month if then your website is down most of the time and no one can access it, not even yourself?
So, I strongly recommend these two options which combine reliability and affordability:
On Namecheap domains are as cheap as 0.88 cents depending on availability and suffix. However, although a little bit more expensive, I would recommend getting a .com extension.
This option has the benefit of keeping the hosting and the domain on two separate providers which may be safer.
Alternatively, you could host with BlueHost which for the same cost would give you a domain for free included in the price.
This option has the benefit of being cheaper and easier (you will only have to deal with one provider). If you paid 3 years upfront, your cost would be down even further and you could start your blog for as little as $2.95 a month.
Bluehost is also the recommended hosting service by WordPress itself, so you can’t really go wrong there.
You could use a free WordPress one or you could get a premium one.
The first option has the advantage of being free, but free themes come with limited functionalities, no obligation or support and of course, they’re not so unique (as many users use the same ones).
If you want to have your own unique theme, here are my recommendations. They’re all very popular in the industry and offer many beautiful and affordable options. They’re fully customisable so you can make yours unique.
- Elegant Themes by Divi
- Theme Forest
- StudioPress Themes including the very famous Genesis and Pretty Chic Themes.
Authority Pro comes with a few remarkable features:
- A built-in area for a sign-up form
- A built-in section for recent content and latest posts
- A call-to-action message strip at the top of the page
- Two PSD files to create stylish e-book covers.
If your aim is to get your blog posts read by as many people around the world as possible, I recommend using catchy headlines and optimising your posts for search engines in order to drive organic traffic to your posts.
To pick the perfect headline, I use the free headline analyzer from CoShedule.
To optimise your posts for search engines, you can use the very popular and free WordPress plugin Yoast SEO.
This plugin is only available for WordPress.org and the free version is only limited to one keyword, so if you’re using another platform or you would like to do your own SEO optimization for multiple keywords or long tail keywords, I would recommend our FREE on-page SEO checklist.
I would also add a widget displaying related posts to all your blog posts in order to keep your readers engaged with your content and lower your bounce rate.
A good free WordPress plugin for this purpose is Yuzo.
Many bloggers use Grammarly to proofread their blog posts before publishing. However, I have tested it and found that while it’s okay to check your spelling and typos, it has too many limitations in understanding the context and applying the right grammar and syntax rules.
So, if you’re not a native speaker or if grammar is not really your forte, I wouldn’t rely on a software. I would instead get “a pair of human eyes” to proofread your posts. You can find professional proof-readers on Fiverr with their rates starting as low as 5 dollars.
Design & Images
To create featured images, thumbnails, and pins for our blog posts, I use Pixabay to download high-quality public domain photos, illustrations and vector graphics for FREE and I then use Canva and Visme to edit them to create unique and branded images and graphics.
I have actually upgraded to Canva for work in order to use transparent backgrounds, resize images with just one click, and have access to thousands of additional free images, but otherwise, pretty much everything you need can be done with the free version.
The best place to find premium fonts, themes, graphics, photos, templates, add-ons, 3D assets, and more is Creative Marketing. Once you sign up for free, they regularly send you FREE goodies. Usually, 6 free goodies every Monday.
To let my readers share my blog posts on social media, I use the FREE share bar from Shareaholic.
If your blog is on WordPress.org, I recommend using the Social Warfare plugin.
In addition to providing you with social share buttons, Social Warfare lets you upload a custom Pinterest image together with a custom description so that when someone clicks on the pin button, the exact image (and only that image) and description will show up.
It also allows you to decide exactly which image, title, and description would appear when your post is shared on Facebook or Google+, and lets you pre-write a custom tweet when your post is shared on Twitter.
Social Warfare is also quite affordable at only US$ 29 a year.
A similar plugin which I equally recommend is Mashshare. It’s a little more expensive (US$ 39 a year) but it has the added bonus of being able to add a sign-up button amongst the share buttons in the share bar.
Unfortunately, these plugins are not available for Squarespace, otherwise it would have been a no-brainer for me to use them on this blog.
Many bloggers use either the CommentLuv plugin or Disqus as the comment system for their blog.
Although they both have their benefits, I personally don’t recommend either of them.
CommentLuv allows readers to include a link to their latest post in their comment. This definitely encourages people to leave comments which is good for your blog engagement but at the same time, 1. it attracts spam comments, 2. negatively affect your on-page SEO since most of these links (albeit no follow) are usually irrelevant to the content of your post.
I don’t like Disqus because it makes you go through so many hoops before being able to leave a comment that the whole process seems too ridiculously demanding to me.
So, for this website, I have chosen to have two different comment systems:
- Facebook Plugin with its mirroring feature. The way it works is that readers can leave a comment by logging into their Facebook account. Once they leave a comment under a blog post on this website, it will also appear under the corresponding post on Tinylovebug’s Facebook Page and vice versa. How many times have you shared your blog post on your Facebook Page only to see an amazing, insightful comment underneath and wonder why they didn’t comment on the actual blog?? This comment system solves the problem!
- For those shy readers who don’t like leaving comments through their Facebook account, I added a second comment system by which they can comment via their own blog URL or even anonymously.
If there is a thing I would recommend investing to boost your traffic is Pinterest and Tailwind.
Tailwind is a scheduler for Pinterest and Instagram.
Since we started using Tailwind, our Pinterest monthly views increased by + 339% and our traffic skyrocketed.
If you look at our stats, you can see that our monlthly views increased to 114K within the first three months of blogging thanks to using Tailwind, and they're still steadily growing.
So, I definitely recommend using Tailwind.
They have a FREE trial, so you can try it for yourself. They don’t even ask for your credit card details when you sign up for a trial.
In a nutshell, Tailwind's best features are:
- Scheduling pins: Tailwind lets you add all the pins you like at one time and it then publishes them for you at different times.
- Smart schedule: Tailwind calculates the best time to pin.
- Where to find content to re-pin: Pinning with Tailwind is easy and you can find content all over the web.
- How to pin: Tailwind makes pinning easy and fast.
- How to assess results: Tailwind offers analytics that are easy to understand and let you always know how your Pinterest strategy is going.
- Tailwind Tribes: Tailwind Tribes are community boards created within Tailwind. In other words, they’re a great place to share your pins for others to re-pin, and where to find high traffic content for you to re-pin.
Tribes are currently FREE to use. You can join our Facebook Group and you will find an invitation to our Tribes and Pinterest Group Boards in a pinned post.
Start a FREE trial with Tailwind today. I’m 100% sure you will love it!
If you want to know more about how to increase the traffic to your blog exponentially, I suggest purchasing the e-book The She Approach to Boosting Your Blog Traffic.
It’s an e-book that I would recommend to any bloggers, regardless of their level, because it’s quite affordable but its value transcend its price enormously. It really is an incredibly valuable resource jam-packed with actionable tips.
You can get your copy here for only US$ 25, and start skyrocketing your traffic today!
ConvertKit is an email marketing provider specifically designed for bloggers. So, you can be sure that your newsletter “10 easy ways to earn money from home” won’t get your account suspended as spammy because, unlike most other email marketing out there, ConvertKit knows exactly what you mean.
Another reason to choose ConvertKit is its awesome segmenting feature by which you can send different newsletters to your subscribers depending on their interests.
Other great features include opt-in forms you can add within your posts, time zone based email scheduling, and automated email sequences.
The opening rate with ConvertKit is very high and if you want to take your blog to the next level, ConvertKit is definitely the way to go!
They offer a 14-day FREE trial so give ConvertKit a try now and see for yourself!
If you’re already with a different email marketing provider, no problem, you can import your previous list within seconds.
If you’re on a tight budget and don’t have many subscribers as yet, an excellent FREE alternative is Mailerlite.
It’s a very easy to use drag and drop email marketing services FREE up to 1000 subscribers.
The free version comes with all the premium features including
- Double opt-in ON/OFF switch
- Automated email sequences
- Time zone based email scheduling
- Opt-in forms for your posts and social media
- Pop up forms
- Landing pages and customised unsubscribe pages
- High opening rate
- Easy importing feature for email list from previous email marketing service
- 24h support
However, it doesn’t have a segmenting feature. You want to target your newsletter depending on your subscribers’ interests or you may lose subscribers that would be otherwise engaged with your content. So, the lack of a tagging/segmenting option is a bit of a bummer!
In terms of affiliate programs, most bloggers start with Amazon Associates. That’s not only because Amazon is one of the most popular and trusted brands but also because they have so many products that it would be impossible not to find something relevant to your niche to promote.
However, their affiliate commission is not very high, and they have so many rules and restrictions on how, what, where, and to whom you can promote your affiliate links.
So, in addition to - or instead of - Amazon Associates, I recommend joining these amazing affiliate programs.
- It gives you access to thousands of merchants
- It’s popular and has a great reputation
- It’s FREE to join
- The process to get accepted as an affiliate is very easy and straightforward
- The payout threshold is only $50 (compared to $100 of most affiliate programs out there including Amazon)
- They pay on time
- You can get paid directly to your bank account via a direct deposit or to your PayPal account
- It doesn’t require minimum traffic
- The earnings from different merchants are consolidated in only one account, instead of having money sitting in different accounts waiting to reach the payout threshold.
Unlike any other affiliate network, you don’t need to apply for each affiliate program individually. Once you join Skimlinks, you automatically become an affiliate for over 20,000 merchants, including Amazon and e-bay, but all your earnings will be consolidated in your Skimlinks account.
Unlike any other affiliate network, you don’t need to use specific affiliate links but Skimlinks will make regular links your affiliate links.
Other great features include:
- It’s FREE to join
- The payout threshold is only $10 (yes, that’s right, ONLY 10 DOLLARS)
- Long-lasting cookies
- Commission on the whole shopping cart, not the single item linked
- You can get paid directly to your bank account via a direct deposit or to your PayPal account
- Your traffic needs to mostly come from the US, UK or Australia
- Skimilinks does get a commission on your earnings but due to a volume of their sales, they were able to negotiate with their merchants a way higher commission than what you would get if you flew solo so the fact that they retain a commission doesn’t really affect your earnings.
With over 6,000 merchants covering every niche, this is another great affiliate program to join. The only catch is that they require a $5 admission fee but you will get it back with your first payout.
Ultimate Bundles are collections of online resources sold at the whooping discount of 90-98% OFF the original price. Some bundles are open for sale for limited amount of time (usually 5 days) while others are evergreen and are available all year around.
Here are a few reasons why I love it:
- Their affiliate program is FREE to join
- A generous commission of 40% for every sale you refer
- As an affiliate, you get access to a further 40% discount on the bundles’ price
- The bundles are absolutely awesome, they’re affordable, they’re basically a bargain and they sell like hot cakes
- There are bundles for many different niches so you would definitely find some that are interesting and valuable to your readers and yourself
- When you join the affiliate program, you also get FREE marketing training from the insightful and resourceful Ultimate Bundles Team.
This a very useful plugin to manage and track all your affiliate links.
First of all, Pretty Links converts your long and ugly affiliate links into nice and short links of your choice.
Secondly, it offers useful stats detailing the number of times a link was clicked and where from.
It’s always hard to keep track of your affiliate marketing, but this plugin makes your life much easier. It also gives you a boost since people are more likely to click on a nice and clean link containing your domain than a long and unreadable link that looks way too spammy.
If you’re new to affiliate marketing or if you’re not seeing great results from it, I strongly recommend enrolling in Michelle of Making Sense of Cents’ course Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.
Michelle is one of the most successful bloggers in the world. She is only in her late twenties and makes over $50K a month through affiliate marketing, and in her course, she shares all her winning strategies and secrets.
Her course is a bit pricey but she really goes through everything you need to know about affiliate marketing to be successful at it. So, if you take her course, you will make your initial investment through affiliate marketing in no time. No wonder why this is the most popular affiliate marketing course amongst bloggers.
Her comprehensive course consists of 6 modules, over 30 lessons, over 20 worksheets, plus several bonuses. It also comes with access to a very supportive exclusive Facebook group where you get the chance to get help and feedback from other students of the course and even Michelle herself.
You can read my review of Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing here.
If you’re a beginner on a tight budget but eager to start affiliate marketing the right way, in the meantime, I would recommend getting the From Zero to Superhero bundle from The She Approach. This bundle is a fantastic collection of resources and tutorials including a 50+ pages e-book, video tutorials and access to a private Facebook Group.
Outsourcing & Education
Blogging is a lot of work and can become overwhelming pretty easily. If there are things that you don’t know how to do or that take too much time for you to do on your own, I would suggest outsourcing some of your blogging tasks.
If you don't want to deal with the headache of building your self-hosted WordPress blog, I recommend getting in tough with EagleWP.
They have a team of experienced and knowledgeable WordPress developers and they offer different packages depending on your needs and budget.
You can also find web designers, social media managers, SEO experts, proof-readers, VAs, email marketers and any other kind of help and support on Fiverr.
The rates of the gigs are super affordable starting as low as US$ 5.
Fiverr offers a pretty good rating system which will help you pick the right gig for you. Plus, lots of reviews from other users are available for you to read before going ahead with a gig.
Many bloggers have had their logo made by someone on Fiverr or used other services from there.
If you’re not comfortable with outsourcing, you could learn new skills yourself without spending too much.
I recommend checking out Udemy.
They offer over 5,000 courses on a ton of topics relevant to blogging at very affordable prices. And, as if their prices weren’t already amazingly cheap, they regularly run 90-98% OFF discounts. So, you could enrol in a great course for as little as US$ 10!
Selling digital products
If you want to sell your own digital products from your blog, I recommend using SendOwl.
They have an easy integration with many online payment systems including Paypal and Stripe.
SendOwl will track everything for you and if you want to start your own affiliate program, it will track the sales and commissions of your affiliates too.
Best part is they don't charge a commission on your earnings but they offer a very affordable flat monthly fee.
If you're planning to run a giveaway or a competition, I recommend Gleam.io.
We used it for our own giveaway and absolutely loved it!
Here are some of its best features:
- It offers unlimited combinations of entry methods
- It lets you create your own custom entry methods
- It allows users to refer their friends for extra entries with referral links
- It integrates easily with all major email marketing providers
- It randomly select the winner for you.
They have a FREE version. We used the paid version but the great thing is they allow you to upgrade and downgrade monthly as you go, so if you wanted, you could just upgrade to the paid version for the time of the giveaway and then revert back to the free version once the competition ends.
I have researched other tools for giveaways, and those offering extra entries for referrals and integration with email marketing providers, were ridiculously expensive (something like US$ 150/200)!
Working from home
If you are a full-time blogger working from home, a part-time blogger looking for some side-hustles, or you just dream of working from home, I got some great resources for you at a super affordable price.
The Work at Home Super Bundle is a collection of 37 resources to turn your business and entrepreneurial dreams into a reality, by helping you
- Create simple work routines to balance work and family life
- Find work-from-home clients
- Discover 150 real companies that hire from home
- Learn legal and accounting best practices to keep you worry-free
And so much more!
There are some more tools that I use for this blog and absolutely love, so I will keep updating this post with additional tools that can be useful to other bloggers.
Let me know in the comments if you have tried the tools listed here and if there are some that were not included in this list but you would definitely recommend to others.
Some of the links contained in this post are affiliate links. I only endorse tools of the highest quality that I have verified/used myself. You can read our full disclosure on our Legalese page.