It makes a lot of sense to shortcut the learning curve. I mean, who has time to research every little thing to create an amazing, money making blog, right? But at the same time, no one wants to waste money on something that won’t work. And wouldn’t it just be SO, SO nice if someone would give you the honest to goodness truth? Just tell you the courses and products they REALLY love without some ulterior money making motive behind the recommend?
I’m here to help cut through the crazy.
And of course, I’m not going to tell you that you will love everything I love either. But I CAN tell you that I’ve tried oodles of products and bought many ebooks and courses over the years. Some of them I loved. But there are also others that were a waste of money and a time suck.
So here is my ultimate list of favorite blogging tools and resources for bloggers so that you can catapult yourself to success!
When you’re just starting down the road of blogging, things can get overwhelming fast! What you really need is a good friend who is going to tell it to you straight. One who will help you get off to the best start possible, without a bunch of detours and unnecessary spending! Let’s dive into the basics first:
Hosting Tools And Resources
WordPress: Wordpress is hands down the best platform to run your blog on. It’s the #1 most widely used platform. It has the most plugins and as I covered in everything you need to Start A Blog, it is really the best way to go if you want to build a sustainable and profitable online business. WordPress is something that is installed when you choose your hosting, so let’s move on to hosting options.
Bluehost: I recommend Bluehost to beginners (be sure to read my complete guide on How to Start a Blog with Bluehost.) Bluehost is a very affordable way when you’re just getting started to test the blogging waters.
SiteGround: I recommend Siteground to Intermediate bloggers. It’s a bit more robust and less prone to down time than Bluehost. And, of course, you can start right with SiteGround from the get-go too, if you’d rather. Be sure to read my guide on How to Start A Blog with Siteground for more details.
BigScoots: BigScoots is the hosting company I use on Crochet 365 Knit Too as well as here on Creative Blogger Blueprint. I recommend it for intermediate to advanced bloggers. It is much more expensive than Bluehost, but it offers some very valuable features such as amazing customer support, almost zero downtime and fast site speed. If you’ve been blogging for awhile and feel like you’ve outgrown your current hosting plan and/or if you’ve got more money to invest in your blog and are willing to pay for a top notch hosting plan, then be sure to check out BigScoots plans here. I love them like nobody’s business. Nothing but praise for them in the almost 2 years I’ve been with them.
Genesis Theme: The Genesis Framework is the #1 fastest website theme. It basically consists of a framework/parent theme and a child theme. This can add to your blogging costs ($150+ to start). I found it easy to customize and make “my own” with it’s own look and feel. I currently use child themes from Feast Design. Crochet 365 Knit Too runs on Foodie Pro theme and Creative Blogger Blueprint uses the Seasoned Pro theme. The downside to Genesis themes is that they can be expensive. Some bloggers enjoy some of the free themes out there or other products~so you might do some research in that area. I can tell you I love my choice in themes. They are robust, work great for SEO and function very well.
Best Getting Started Blogging Course: You can learn the ins and outs of blogging on your own. But if you’d like to shortcut it a bit, I love Suzi Whitford’s, Blog By Number course for beginners. Suzi is a phenomenal teacher, showing you exactly what you need to know in a fun, easy to follow way. She also has a slew of other blogging products and I highly recommend anything in the Start A Mom Blog School.
Images, Image Optimization and Editing Tools
Images can make or break the success of your website, in my opinion. On Crochet 365 Knit Too, almost every single photo was taken by me. Thank goodness for photo cropping options because you’d see what a lousy housekeeper I can be at times! On Creative Blogger Blueprint I use a combination of stock images and my own photos. So this section is a mixed bag of things I use and love.
I personally use a DSLR camera and Nikon is my preferred brand, so that is what I recommend. Canon is also a very good brand. If a DSLR camera is out of reach, many get acceptable results from a good phone camera and it definitely can be a good place to start. Here is what I use.
I currently shoot with a Nikon D750 with a prime Nikkor 50mm 1.8 lens. The D750 is a full frame sensor camera. Prior to that, I used a Nikon 5600 which has a cropped frame sensor. I used the same lens on both cameras.
For most of my blog life, I shot with my Nikon close to a window with natural light. You can see my DIY set up in this post. I made (and still use) a photo backdrop out of PVC pipe. I use and love backdrops from Ink and Elm and Swanky Prints. I use foam core board (think posters for science fairs) under my backdrops for support and I partially slice one in half (not all the way through) to form a bendable light reflector. Yup.. I’m resourceful!
Lately I’ve ventured into artificial light photography and it’s completely changed. I added a speed light similar to this one, triggers (note these are camera specific so get some for your particular camera), a tripod, a light stand, mount and a light soft box to my photography repertoire and no one would ever know the soft sunshine-like light is not from mother nature herself. I love the easy learning style of Artificial Light Academy and how food photography transcends the food niche!
For all around great photography, check out, The Food Photography ebook by Recipe Tin Eats. So many easy ways to create amazing photos. If a traditionally printed book is more your style, I love Plate to Pixel with Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots my next favorite.
My latest favorite course is Artificial Light Academy. It’s totally opened my eyes to a new way of photography! A must check out, for sure!
For stock photography, I love Deposit Photos. Don’t be fooled into free images. Protect yourself by purchasing the rights to the images on your website. Deposit Photos frequently runs sales around holidays, making that a great time to stock up on image credits.
Editing and Optimizing Images:
A free Canva account is your gateway to pin creation and all sorts of image and graphic design possibilities. I upgraded to a PRO account, but there’s much that can be done on the free version.
I also use Lightroom and Photoshop Elements for editing my images.
One thing I didn’t realize when I started my blog was that image size matters and it’s super important to have good images that are optimized and compressed properly. ShortPixel saved the day by automatically optimizing all my photos–past, present and as I go along. What a lifesaver! You can check out ShortPixel here.
Hang around the blogging sphere for any length of time and you’ll hear this phrase often: “the money is in the list”. And it’s true. Because your list is an asset you own and control. It’s not affected by algorithms that change every other minute. And when you cultivate a relationship with your readers, through amazing emails, everyone wins. Your reader gets access to your amazing content and by helping them, it helps you make money. Read more about list building here.
A reliable email list provider is a key component to a successful email list. A reputable company with a proven track record of deliverability is so important. Here are the two email list providers I recommend:
Convertkit: Convertkit is my current email provider. I love the deliverability, the great forms and the ability to tag and customize my readers and my messaging. Start out with their free plan here.
Mailerlite: Mailerlite is a less expensive and robust email provider. Users love the customer service and deliverability is comparable to Convertkit.
If you can’t decide between the two, I wrote an entire post comparing Convertkit vs Mailerlite here.
Blog Growth Tools
Once you have the basics in place, it’s time to kick it up a notch to focus on growing your business! Here are my favorite courses and resources!
SEO and Keyword Research
Before you target keywords for SEO (Search Engine Optimization), you need to decide what those keywords even are! You can shoot in the dark by searching on Google but it’s hard to tell the best keyword to target. A great place to start is with the free Yoast Plugin. It gives you the bare bones basics to structuring your post for SEO. Search for it in the plugin area of your WordPress Dashboard and start optimizing every post.
When you’re ready to dive in deeper check out my favorite keyword tool, courses and ebooks.
Best Keyword Tool
Mangools is my favorite tool for researching keywords. Keyword tools can be super expensive, but Mangools is more reasonably priced and just as effective. Learn more about Mangools here.
Best SEO Ebook
Easy On Page SEO is a great start to your SEO education. It’s an affordable easy read with actionable steps you can implement right now to improve your SEO. Debbie also has a few other SEO resources and this bundle is a great deal if you want them all at a low price.
Best SEO Courses
If you want a deeper immersion into all things SEO, you might enjoy taking a course. I have two favorites:
Sticky SEO: This easy to follow course focuses on building your website in a methodical, interconnecting way. You’ll come away with a great strategy and overall game plan. Kelly is an excellent, engaging writer and you’ll find this is an easy to get through course that you’ll actually finish (if you struggle with that like I do). Good, solid info at an affordable price.
Simple Stupid SEO: “Stupid” as I like to call it (because.. hey.. it seems a little sassy to refer to it that way) blows the lid off SEO with a completely different and refreshing strategy. Instead of starting from ground zero, you’ll research your niche in a completely different way and come up with solid strategies for targeting keywords your reader is looking for. Then you’ll learn how to put together a plan to get it all done. Many bloggers consider this the one best course they’ve ever taken. Yes. It’s THAT good. Mike also offers a free one hour SEO training that’s pretty amazing too. You can check that out here.
In the blogging sphere you will quickly find out you can’t be everywhere posting and sharing in real time. Enter schedulers… Often I will use the built in scheduler for the platform, such as on Facebook. Other times I put a 3rd party scheduler to work, freeing up my valuable time.
Tailwind: I love using Tailwind to schedule my Pinterest Pins. Fast, fun and the easy to drop in style works like a charm. There is also a statistic component for those that want to dive deep into the data to improve future pins and processes.
Later: I really like the free plan on Later for scheduling out Instagram posts. I can schedule up to 30 posts per social profile per month, save hashtags and more. It’s a great way to automate a task that’s not my favorite.
Skyrocket Your Blog Business
The sky is really the limit in the blogging business. Once you’ve mastered the basics it’s time to methodically work through other areas of your business to ratchet up your income! I recommend diving into these blogging gems, focusing on what you think will give you the greatest ROI and/or appeals to your personal strengths and interests.
In my opinion, this is when the blogging gig starts to get really fun and you can see the results of your hard work. Here are my favorite gems:
Many bloggers make a significant amount of revenue as an Amazon Affiliate. Start with this Free Guide of Insider Tips to Amazon Associate Income. When you’re ready, Journey to the Center of Amazon is the best resource I’ve found on Amazon. Learn everything from the basics to the unique ways to make even more as an Amazon Affiliate. One of my favorite courses.
Up Your Blogging Game
SEO Revamp: If you have content on your site and are just not getting traction from Google, SEO Revamp is the perfect tool for leveraging your great content to better rank on Google.
6 Figure Blogger: If you’re just looking to learn all the things at once, 6 Figure Blogger is a great all-around course. It covers basics for a 6 figure blog, digital products and marketing.
How to Create Ebooks, Courses and Other Digital Content
Simplifying DIY Design: Kara’s done for you templates are seriously the best kept secret in the blogging realm. She has packages on anything from Canva pins, to funnel templates to workbooks, gift guides and planner templates. All easy to implement across various creative software (read the details on each). Seriously a gold mine.
Ebook by Number and Course by Number are two courses by Suzi at Start a Mom Blog. I love her easy to understand and implement style. Her courses were the first I took and I circle back from them time and time again to discover new gems!
All Things Tech
iMark Interactive Tech Plans: If you’re uneasy handling all the back-end website things.. knowing what plug ins are good, bad or ugly, wondering if it’s ok to update this or that or just need an all around tech person in your corner, I highly recommend Grayson Bell and his team at iMark Interactive. I’ve been on their Insure plan for quite some time and pay them for additional jobs as needed. They are phenomenal and it’s the best money I spend every month.
I hope this resource guide has been helpful. I’ve tried to include all my favorites with no-fluff so you can get down to the business of blogging in the most efficient way possible! As I run into new little gems, I will add them to this list, so bookmark or save this page to refer to later.
Enjoy and Blog On!