Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of different online services there are out there? We did too. With so many to choose from and so many conflicting reviews, it’s hard to know which ones offer the best value for money, and are worth spending your time learning to use.
We’ve listed all the online services that we currently use for the blog - any money we’ve spent on these, we’ve got back by revenue or from time saved. It's taken a lot of trial and error to find products that work for us, and we'll keep this list updated with whatever we're using at the time.
If you're specifically interested in how to grow your blog traffic, you may want to check out our FREE ebook about Ways to Grow Your Traffic Without an Established Audience. It features 8 tried and tested ways to significantly grow your blog traffic, which can be implemented right from the very beginning even before your get your very first page view or follower!
Note. Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, but all of these products are ones we actually use and highly recommend!
Before we begin, remember that the most important thing when blogging is to keep publishing quality content, the rest is just details. Onwards!
- WordPress Plugins
- Social Media
- Productivity & Utilities
Platform - Self-Hosted WordPress Site
A self-hosted WordPress website is the obvious choice of blogging platform for most users. Whilst there are some other great website platforms (such as Squarespace), none of the others offer such a variety of plugins (more about this below) that will help you scale your website up as your audience grows, and build in monetization strategies when the time is right. If you want to know how to start your own self-hosted WordPress blog, be sure to check out our guide.
So which host should you choose?
The first host we used for our blog was Bluehost (affiliate link). Bluehost is recommended by many others across the internet and for good reason - it's a cheap and convenient way to get started with a self-hosted WordPress site. We started with a shared hosting account, which is perfect if you're just starting out and still have a relatively small number of people visiting your site.
Here are the main reasons we recommend Bluehost (other than price):
- we found the customer service helpful as there's an online chat service that's available for 24 hours a day
- if you need to get help urgently, we recommend using their phone customer service, which we were happy with. If you're not in the US, you can use Skype to make sure you don't increase your phone bills!
- Bluehost gives you a free SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate, which means your site is marked as secure and is one of the factors that Google takes into account for search engine ranking!
Be sure to check out our guide on how start a self-hosted WordPress blog with Bluehost.
However, after our monthly page views and revenue started to increase, we decided to upgrade to a managed wordpress hosting plan with WPopt.
We did a lot of research about different hosting companies when making the switch, asked people for recommendations and asked each hosting company’s sales team a million questions. It actually took us about six months to decide which one to switch over to! We settled on wpopt because they ticked all the boxes of what we wanted from a hosting company. The thought of switching hosts made us incredibly anxious as we didn’t know what it would involve and were worried we’d have to spend a lot of time learning about the different steps required.
Here’s why we eventually decided to switch to WPopt:
- you get much faster speeds than a shared hosting account, which is better for site load time for readers especially with higher traffic, as well as Search Engine Optimisation
- you get automatic site back-ups for security and peace of mind
- you get an included SSL certificate (which means that your site is marked as "secure" by Google)
- there are different price tiers depending on how much traffic you have
- a managed hosting account may seem expensive, but you get exceptional customer support. Not only does the team respond really quickly even to tasks marked as ‘low priority’, they really go above and beyond for clients, and are there to answer questions about small tech problems you may have, and help out with small but important tasks such as removing dates from URLs.
- WPopt does a full site migration from your previous host as part of their package. There’s no site down-time, you don’t even have to lift a finger and you can have peace of mind that you’re not going to mess up the switchover!
- they also took care of switching over my domain name from my old host
- they took care of setting up a CDN for us with Cloudflare (see below)
We have been so happy with WPopt since switching, and would thoroughly recommend this once you're more established.
Theme - Genesis Framework (+ Foodie Pro)
Once you've set up your self-hosted WordPress website you'll need a theme to make it look nice, and that is where the Genesis Framework by StudioPress comes in. The Genesis Framework is a platform that underlies a variety of WordPress themes, which are all beautiful to look at, easily customizable and intuitive to build. We started off with cheaper themes but wish we'd invested in the Genesis Framework earlier - don't make the same mistake! We have a guide detailing how to install a Genesis theme on your WordPress blog so you can see just how simple it is.
Being a food blog, we use the Foodie Pro theme, as it was designed specifically for food bloggers and allows for easy integration with a recipe index and other food-blog specific features. However, there are multiple other themes built on top of the Genesis Framework that suit a range of uses and tastes.
CDN - Cloudflare
A content delivery network (CDN) is a group of servers that is distributed across the globe. Using a CDN with your website means that it can be served to people nice and quickly, wherever in the world they might happen to be. We use Cloudflare as our CDN and noticed a dramatic increase in our website's performance as soon as we started using it. WPopt (our current website host) set this up for us when we switched over to them.
SEO - Yoast SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most important things to master as a blogger as a large portion of your traffic will come from search engines (mostly Google). Therefore, making your posts as Google-friendly as possible is crucial to keep driving visitors to your site.
Yoast SEO is a plugin which helps optimise your website for Google's algorithms by letting you choose keywords and allowing you to edit the snippets that show up on search results. It's really user-friendly and makes it easy for you to complete all the required elements to optimise your posts without any technical knowledge!
Website Caching - WP Rocket
Search engine algorithms also take site load times into account when deciding how high to rank your website, and a simple way to improve your site load time is to install a WordPress caching plugin. We use WP Rocket as it does a very good job of website caching, but also offers:
- images on request - images are only loaded when the visitor scrolls down, instead of all at the beginning, which improves load time and reader experience
We started off with free versions of this software from other companies, but investing in a proper caching service is definitely worth it and WP Rocket has worked great for us.
Image Compression - ShortPixel
Compressing the images on a website can also decrease the time it takes to load the page, which improves SEO and user experience. The plugin we use to compress images is ShortPixel, which we chose because:
- it's user-friendly as it allows you to compress all your previous images with a single click
- they have different tiers of plans depending on how many images you use on your blog, so there's something to suit a range of needs and budgets.
Analytics - Google Analytics & Search Console
Keeping track of how many people visit your site, where they're coming from, and what they're doing once they arrive will ensure you're creating content that people are interested in. Google Analytics and Google Search Console are the best options to serve this information.
All you need to do is make an account with Google, paste the code into your website, and prepare to have access to more information than you could ever hope to make sense of!
Recipe Indexing - WP Recipe Maker
This one is specific to food blogs. In order for Google to index a recipe correctly you'll need to use a recipe plugin.
We didn’t know anything about how to choose the right recipe card plugin when we started out, and made the terrible decision of choosing one that hadn’t been updated for a few years. Don’t make that mistake! We knew we had to switch recipe card plugins and settled on WP Recipe Maker after a lot of research. Here’s what we love about WP Recipe Maker:
- it contains all the features needed for Google and Pinterest to be able to read your recipes
- it allows you to enable rich pins on Pinterest, which is essential for making your pins look professional, and for your pins to show up in Pinterest search results
- it makes it really easy to switch recipes over from another recipe plugin, as WP Recipe Maker will automatically switch them all over for you
- you can copy and paste in an entire recipe and the plugin will automatically convert it into separate lines for ingredients, numbers, units and then separate lines for instructions. This makes it much easier and lets you write up your recipe first (we recommend using Byword for this - see below!) so that you can easily input it into your recipe card without having to fill in individual fields.
- it easily lets you customize the font, colour and size of the different elements of the recipe card so that the aesthetics blend in with your site
- the customer support is excellent - you can email any questions and they reply super quickly
- it lets you automatically add ‘jump to recipe’ and ‘print recipe’ buttons above your post content, which will improve reader experience and therefore your Search Engine Optimisation too. And the plugin lets you customize these buttons in a way that will fit in with your site’s aesthetic
- it doesn't crash and even if WordPress crashes (happens annoyingly often, right!), the information we've put into WP Recipe Maker has more often than not been automatically saved!
- it lets readers add recipe ratings so they let you know how they got on with the recipe!
We really recommend paying for the premium version because this offers so many benefits:
- ingredient links (which allow you to insert Amazon affiliate links as well as internal links to other recipes). Adding ingredient links is really easy as the plugin automates by allowing you to just add the links once per ingredient and it'll automatically be filled out every other time you mention that ingredient in other recipes. Essential for saving your time and sanity!
- adjustable serving sizes so that readers can adjust the amount of ingredients they need depending on how many servings they want to make
- an automatically generated nutrition label so you can add not only the number of calories but also protein, carbohydrates etc.
We're all about working efficiently, and WP Recipe Maker makes this so much easier to do!
Pinterest Sharing - jQuery Pin It Button For Images
It says on the Best Practices for success of Pinterest page on the Pinterest business website that adding a button that allows readers to save photos from your website to Pinterest "makes it easier and faster for people to save your content to Pinterest and can increase your saves up to 5x".
So, it’s clearly important to make sure you install a plugin that lets readers directly share the photographs on your site to Pinterest, which helps increase exposure and traffic.
We use the jQuery Pin It Button For Images plugin as it's really simple to use as you barely have to touch it once it's installed!
The premium version makes the ‘pin it’ button show up all the time, not just when readers hover over the photo, making it just that bit more visible and encouraging readers to pin your content. It also lets you customise the shape and size of the ‘pin it’ button.
Collages For Pinterest - Canva
You’ll get nowhere posting horizontal or square photos on Pinterest. Your pins must be vertical, because:
- they take up more space on the Pinterest feed as people are scrolling down
- vertical pins suit the general aesthetic of Pinterest much better, which means your content will instantly look more attractive laid out like this, which means people are more likely to re-pin them
- a lot of group boards (see below) only allow you to share vertical pins
The best way to make a vertical pin that will you must use some type of software to create collages. We use Canva, which can be downloaded as an app for iPad – it’s really simple to use and they offer a big range of fonts and colours.
Pinterest Scheduler - Tailwind
We have a post here about How To Successfully Use Pinterest As A Blogger, which goes in depth about how frequently you should be sharing your content on Pinterest, but in short, to see growth on Pinterest you need to be sharing a lot of content. However, it’s impossible to organise new pins going out 50-70 times a day, and, most importantly, you won’t know what the optimum times to pin are.
So, it can be super helpful to invest in a Pinterest scheduler. We use Tailwind and honestly can’t recommend it enough. It was one of our very first investments and was instrumental for our growth early on.
Here are just a few of the many reasons why we love it:
- it calculates what the optimum times to pin to which boards are, and will share your content accordingly
- just having Pinterest shares taken off your shoulders frees up time to create more great content!
- it's super easy to use, even if you're technically challenged
- you can join Tailwind Tribes (more on this below)
- the Analytics feature is really helpful. Why do you need Tailwind Analytics when you already have Google Analytics? Our favourite way to use Tailwind Analytics is to see which group boards are performing better than others, which lets us decide which ones to pin more frequently to and which ones to stay away from.
If you want to read more about a wider range of other Tailwind users' results with Tailwind, you can check out this guide here: Typical Results of Tailwind for Pinterest Members.
Pinterest Sharing - Tailwind Tribes
Tailwind also allows you to join Tailwind Tribes with other bloggers, which is really helpful for increasing your reach.
So here’s how Tribes work: you pin something to a tribe, and then each member will have to pin a set number of pins for each one that they add. This way, you have plenty of good content to share, and you will get yours shared too!
Just like with Pinterest group boards, you want to join tribes that are relevant to your niche. Luckily, Tailwind Tribes includes a feature that allows you to search for tribes, so you can easily find relevant ones that will allow you to mutually share content with like-minded bloggers.
Tribes are free for anyone to use, even if you don't have Tailwind!
Email Marketing Service - MailChimp
One of the best ways to keep people coming back to your blog is by encouraging visitors to sign up to your mailing list so they can receive your new posts into their inbox as soon as they are published. Building a strong email list has been the most important thing we did, and it’s one of the reasons why we’ve been able to maintain our high percentage of returning visitors (33%), a number that has stayed constant despite our number of pageviews continuously increasing.
We use MailChimp for email marketing, and this is what we use it for:
- sending automated emails to our email list when new posts are out
- designing one-off campaigns for selling a new product or engaging with our audience
- automatically sending new subscribers a free ebook and a welcome email - offering a free product is an essential tool for increasing email list subscribers, and sending a good welcome email is a great way to introduce readers to your site and to get to know you. This is a crucial first step in building up your "know, like and trust" factor, which will come in handy when marketing products and increase your influence over your audience which is valuable for working with brands!
The interface is simple to use and you can easily customise the look of the emails to fit with your brand's aesthetic. It has allowed us to customise our Rhian's Recipes RSS feed (this means the emails that go out every time a new post is published) in the following ways:
- our logo is at the top so readers can see who the email is from with just one glance
- link to social media channels at the bottom
- include an advert for our Easy Dinner Recipes cookbook - having an ad for a product at the bottom of an email is a great way to make sure that your target audience (people who love your content so much they've let you into the sanctity of their inbox) is made aware of your product!
MailChimp also includes analytics which will let you see who has subscribed or unsubscribed to your email list, as well as your open and click rates.
MailChimp is completely free for the first 2000 subscribers, which is great if you're just starting out because it lets you get a feel for the service to see if you like it or not!
To learn more about how to set up and grow your blog's email list, check out our post here.
Email Sign-Up Forms - OptinMonster
Since we started using OptinMonster, our number of email subscribers has dramatically increased.
OptinMonster allows you to create attractive sign up forms and decide when you want them to appear to the visitor. For example, our email sign-up form appears when OptinMonster detects that someone is about to leave the site, when they have been inactive on the website for a period of time, or when they click on a "subscribe now" button.
A service like this is really worth it as an email subscriber is often one of your most loyal audience members. This is another product we regret not investing in earlier, as we've missed out on all those people we could have kept had we had it in place sooner.
Remember - traffic and pageviews don't mean anything if you don't have a good strategy to convert those people into loyal readers and customers!
To learn more about how to set up and grow your blog's email list, check out our post here.
Email Provider - G Suite
G Suite is Google's selection of business-oriented applications, including Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive. We use G Suite for our fancy @rhiansrecipes custom email addresses, and would recommend you do the same. Having a custom email address makes you look more professional and makes it easy to add more team members too.
Surveys - Google Forms
One of the ways we love to interact with our email subscribers is by sending them surveys. This allows us to:
- gauge interest for future products we plan on creating
- gather reviews of products people have already bought.
Google Forms are quick and easy to create, and present the results in a simple and legible way.
For a blog to evolve from a hobby to your full-time occupation at some point it will have to start earning you money. This section deals with some of the services we use that has made this possible for us.
Ads - AdThrive
A good ad network will take care of all the advertisements on your blog, ensuring there is a custom ad layout for your website to optimise revenue. We use AdThrive at the moment and are very happy with the service they provide:
- they have great customer service (we almost always get emails back within a day)
- an easy-to-read dashboard where you can keep track of your earnings
- they make it easy to enable or disable ads on particulary posts or pages.
Affiliates - Amazon Associates
Another way to earn money through your website is to link to products that you like and endorse through your website, and earn a commision fee for the referral. Amazon has a great programme set up for this. We use the Amazon Associates Link Builder WordPress Plugin to build links that will take people to products we recommend in either the US or UK store based on their location.
Selling Digital Products - Gumroad
Selling digital resources such as ebooks can offer an alternative stream of income (very important in the blogging world - the more income streams the better!). We use Gumroad to sell our electronic cookbook Easy Dinner Recipes.
Gumroad makes it easy to sell almost anything, and you can embed their code onto your blog so customers can buy your products without even leaving your website!
Our favourite feature of Gumroad is that they let you automatically send customers an email after purchase to say thank you for buying, which is very useful if you want them to answer a survey about what they thought of the book. You can even set it so that the email automatically goes out at a certain time after the customer has purchased the book so you can give them some time to use your product before you ask them to review it.
Getting Paid Overseas - TransferWise
Getting paid online is usually as simple as filling in your PayPal username. However, on some platforms (such as Amazon Associates) you need a bank account in the country where you're getting paid. TransferWise is a service that provides a set of bank details for a chosen country, and then easily lets you convert that money to your own currency and transfer that money back to the country you live in. We use it to transfer the dollars that we make in the US amazon store to the UK in pounds sterling.
Productivity & Utilities
Task Management - Todoist
Struggling to stay focused because there are so many different things you need to do as a blogger? It can be overwhelming having to keep track of your editorial calendar, changes to the website, responding to your audience, company finances, new projects and many more. It's all too easy to fall behind and loose track of the many jobs you need to accomplish. For this reason, we think having some dedicated task management software is very important!
Todoist is our favourite task manager because:
- it's free
- you can categorise different task lists
- it lets you customise the priority and due date of individual tasks
- you can create shared task lists so you can allocate tasks to different members of the team
There are many other great services such as Things, Omnifocus, or even the one that comes pre-installed on your phone such as Apple Reminders or Google Keep. Whatever you use, keeping track of your to-do list means you can stay focused and efficient and makes the whole blogging process much more satisfying and enjoyable!
Writing - Byword
While you could just write your blog posts in the WordPress editor, you'll have a remarkably better experience if you use dedicated writing software. We love Byword, a simple yet beautiful application that's available on mac, iPhone and iPad.
Here’s why we love byword:
- the simple, minimalist interface takes the distraction out of writing
- it integrates very well with Dropbox, and creates plain text files instead of word documents, which take up a lot less space.
- it works without internet - Rhian originally downloaded Byword just for her laptop, but then ended up downloading it for her phone too, as it lets her write blog posts on the go without internet. This is particularly useful if you're doing your blog as a side hustle and you're working in the margins of your day - writing blog posts makes the commute go by in no time!
- you only need to pay a one-off fee to buy the app rather than an ongoing subscription
Another great option for writing using plain text files is Ulysses (although you'll have to pay a monthly subscription). Microsoft Word and Google Docs are of course both good options too.
Using cloud storage is a no-brainer nowadays and we store all the text files we create in Byword in shared Dropbox folders, which lets both of us view and edit them whenever we want. All our photos are stored in iCloud.
Accounting - FreshBooks
Keeping track of expenses, receipts and invoices is often the most difficult part of running a small business, and good accounting software can be a life-saver when tax season comes around. Here are the main benefits of FreshBooks:
- there's a dashboard where you can see an overview and breakdowns of your income, expenses and profit
- it allows you to input expenses and income in different currencies which is especially useful if you've got an online business and are receiving payment or buying things from different countries
- it allows you to invoice clients directly from FreshBooks which not only makes your invoice look more professional but also lets you set a deadline for payment which means they're more likely to pay you on time! It also shows you exactly who’s already paid you and who still hasn’t so you can keep track of who to chase up
- each expense/income allows you to upload a receipt next to it so it's an excellent way of storing all your receipts in an organised way.
Password Management - LastPass
With so many different logins needed for all these services it can be tempting to just re-use the same password for them all! However, this is extremely dangerous. If someone manages to get hold of just one of your passwords they will have access to all of your other accounts too, and this can be potentially disastrous for your business. We would therefore thoroughly recommend that you use a password manager to generate unique alphanumeric passwords for each one of the accounts you have. You can also use the password manager to store other pieces of important information, like bank, insurance and identity details.
LastPass has served us well as it’s free, allows you to share passwords between members of the team, and is about as secure as they get.
Phone Network - giffgaff
This one isn't really specific to blogs, and it is specific to the UK (sorry), but you can't have an online business without a phone! I HATE being locked into long-term phone contracts and giffgaff changes all this by allowing you to have a phone contract which updates on a month by month basis. This means you can:
- cancel your contract whenever you want
- pause your contract whenever you want for as long as you want (which is great if you're abroad and don't need it)
- change your data allowance whenever you want
It's competitively priced and has a simple online set-up process. Also, calls between fellow giffgaff members are free which is great as Rhian and I are both with giffgaff and can discuss things over the phone without worrying about using up our allowance!
Wow! So many online services and so much time looking at a computer. For the more creative aspects of the job, such as brainstorming new ideas for posts and sketching out ideas and goals for the future, it’s nice to take a break from technology and go back to basics! In this domain, pen and paper still reign supreme. I currently use this notebook, and these pens.
If you have any questions about anything we've covered, you can get in touch with me anytime at [email protected]!
If you're interested in growing your blog traffic, you may want to check out our FREE ebook about Ways to Grow Your Traffic Without an Established Audience. It features 8 tried and tested ways to significantly grow your blog traffic, which can be implemented right from the very beginning even before your get your very first page view or follower!