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When I hit publish on my very first post over a year ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know that a blogging resources list was a must-have. I didn’t realize how much there was to blogging especially if you’d like to monetize at some point. There’s content to keep track of, social media, images, mailing lists, analytics, and that’s not even mentioning the actual writing. A year ago, I wasn’t really sure where I wanted the blog to go. I put almost all my effort into doing projects so I’d have something to write about.
When I decided this year to spend more time and see what I could do with it, one of the first things I did was see how other bloggers did it. I visited a lot of blogs and made notes. One thing that kept popping up over and over was their blog resources lists. This was a goldmine of information for me. Some of the things on my list I found through other bloggers resources pages but most are things I discovered during my own research. Once I really started looking into it, it dawned on me that I’d be so much farther along today if I’d started using some of these a year ago. You need tools for your blog and what’s better than free blog tools? Most of the blog resources in this post are free or have a free option.
I know this list will evolve over time but in an effort to pay it forward, here are the blogging resources that I just can’t live without. If you’re just starting out and are overwhelmed by everything that’s involved, I hope you’ll find this list useful. Or at least a starting point for you to begin building your own resources list.
And if you don’t have a blog yet, check out my tutorial on setting up a new blog.
SiteGround – I love SiteGround for my hosting services. If you’d like to read about why they’re so good, read my post on SiteGround here. Choosing a hosting company that you love, is reasonably priced but has room for you to grow and has great customer service is going to be key to your blogging success.
Bluehost – While my heart belongs to SiteGround now for my hosting, I have used Bluehost in the past and would still recommend them as a great option if you’re starting out. I still have domains with them as well.
Images/Photo Editing/Graphics Resources
Canva – Canva is probably my number one tool for blog graphics and printables. It’s easy to use and they have a few options available on the free version. Of course, upgrading to Canva for Work unlocks even more. If you don’t have Photoshop or another fancy graphic design program, Canva is a good choice to start with. The free version will give you the flexibility you need to create eye-catching graphics for social media. Canva provides templates for each platform that are already sized optimally so you only have to choose the correct template and add your images and text.
Ribbet – I did a post on using Ribbet to create a cute Halloween printable. In that post, I describe how Ribbet is now the new PicMonkey since PicMonkey went to a paid membership model only. PicMonkey will now only let you create new designs but you cannot download or save them. Which is completely pointless and a waste of your time. Ribbet is still free. Yeah, there’s a paid version of that too but the free version has plenty of options. And the best part? You can actually save your work and download it to your computer. What a novel concept.
GIMP – GIMP – which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program – is a completely free and open source editor. Each release of GIMP brings it closer and closer to the capabilities of PhotoShop and other licensed graphic design programs. If you’re not familiar with Photoshop there will be a learning curve with GIMP. It’s not as straightforward as just dragging and dropping. If you take the time to learn it, you will find you have much greater control and flexibility with your designs. Luckily, there are YouTube videos and tutorials online to help you master it. GIMP’s help library is a valuable resource, too.
Stencil – I’m not sure why but I’ve been experiencing performance issues with Canva lately. It will just lock up and the page freezes. I went looking for an alternative and found Stencil. I love it! There is a free option but you’re limited to only 10 images a month and not all of the cool options are available. You can still do some neat effects with the free version though like drop shadow for your text, different text outline, and background colors, and a color overlay you can use over your background.
The cheapest monthly plan is $9.00 a month and you can create 50 images plus have access to their image, fonts, graphics and templates library. You can also upload your own fonts and create logos and watermarks. Like Canva, Stencil allows you to choose an image type based on the platform and it will be sized correctly. Unlike Canva, you can change the platform type right in the editor.
If you’ve started with a Pinterest graphic and want to change it to Facebook you can just change the option within the image itself. I highly recommend Stencil for image and graphics. One of the keys to improving engagement and traffic is to have interest-grabbing images and Stencil will help you create stunning eye-catching graphics in a matter of minutes.
Other Graphics Resources
Creative Market – If creating things from scratch isn’t your thing, Creative Market has fonts, themes, and graphics that you can purchase. This is not creative commons stuff so you will need to make sure that you’re getting the correct license type for your use of it. There are 2 license types. The standard license should be used when lifetime sales of the products won’t exceed 500 units. Most things you purchase will fall under standard licensing. The extended license would be for multiple instances or lifetime sales greater than 500. For more information on the differences between the 2 license types and when it’s appropriate to use each, visit the Creative Market FAQ section. Every Monday, Creative Market will offer 6 free items that you can download and use under standard licensing.
BeFunky – BeFunky is another graphics/image app. I’d say it’s a cross between Canva and Ribbet. This is a recurring theme but there’s a paid and free version. The free version is more limiting than either Canva or Ribbet but there are a few cool effects you can use for free.
Stock Photo Resources
Unsplash – When I started this blog, I knew about stock photos but I think I underestimated how powerful a great image could be. I’m still an amateur photographer. The photos I take are generally….not great. I use them when it’s one of my projects because I don’t have another choice. If it’s another type of post though, I look to stock photos to make my post and graphic really stand out. Unsplash is one of the sites I frequent for stock photos. There aren’t as many photos available as on other sites but what is available is fantastic.
Pixabay – I probably use Pixabay more than any other. In addition to photos, Pixabay also has vector graphics and illustrations available. I like the search capabilities too because you can also search for a specific orientation. This is handy when you’re creating a graphic that’s more suited to a specific orientation. Occasionally I’ll find the same pictures on both Pixabay and Unsplash. It makes sense that a photographer who’s trying to gain visibility would submit to more than one site.
PhotoPin – I just recently discovered PhotoPin. PhotoPin searches Creative Common databases based on the keywords you enter. Some of the images on PhotoPin are candid. I don’t always want to go for a “too-staged” look so this is a nice option. The database seems to be endless. No matter what type of imagery you’re searching for, you’re sure to find it on PhotoPin. There is an option to search only commercially-licensed images because there are both. Check each item prior to downloading to make sure you understand the rules regarding attribution.
Pin Scheduling Blog Resources
Tailwind – I’m planning on doing an entire post on Tailwind because there’s more to it than I have time for now. It’s more than just a pin scheduling app. Tailwind provides insight and analytics around the content you’re pinning which will ultimately be a driver in the traffic you receive. You can find out what is the best time to pin, which content is gaining the most traction and also get an accurate repin count!! Tailwind Tribes are awesome and if the rumors are true, will soon be replacing group boards on Pinterest. It’s similar to a Pinterest group board in that many members are sharing each other’s content. If you sign up using my link you’ll receive one free month and you can see for yourself how much of an asset it can be to you while growing your blog.
BoardBooster – Boardbooster is another Pinterest scheduling application. I use the basic version for $5 a month and get 500 pins that I can publish. I like the simplicity of Boardbooster because I can truly set it and forget it. The looping feature is awesome too. If you have boards with a lot of content, you tell Boardbooster to loop through it and repin. It will compare stats and the delete the least performing pin. It’s one of the best ways to get your older content in front of new eyes.
You can do either scheduled campaigns or random with Boardbooster. Random is just that – it randomly picks a pin from the source board you set and pins it to whichever boards you want to pin to. You have a little more control with scheduled campaigns. You choose what time and which boards you want to pin to and Boardbooster will pin starting with the most recent pin. This is a great option for new pins you want to promote.
Trello – I use Trello as my blog editorial calendar tool. It’s probably one of the top blog resources I have in my toolbox. I also have a post planned about how I use Trello because the history behind it is pretty interesting. If you’ve heard of Kanban or agile, then you’ll understand how Trello works. For the sake of brevity, Trello allows for the creation of projects. Each project has lists which correspond to the different stages on the way to project completion. Each list has a corresponding card representing tasks that move between the lists or stages until it reaches completion. I have lists set up for blog post ideas, posts in progress, posts scheduled and posts published. A card will start in the ideas list and eventually end up on the published list. It’s a fantastic visual tool that allows me to see at a glance what I have in progress.
Todoist – If you missed my post on how I use Todoist, you can check it out here. I love that I can create different projects in Todoist and then assign tasks to them. I have projects for all the important areas that I need to focus on. Setting up recurring tasks is a snap too. And I have Zapier set up to work between Trello and Todoist so that I don’t need to separately set up blog to-do’s in Todoist that I’ve already added in Trello. It just happens automagically!
Asana – Asana is a project management tool. I primarily use Asana for bigger projects with a longer timeline and a lot of steps and tasks. It’s really geared more towards teams instead of individuals but I still find it useful for tracking a lot of different moving pieces. It’s similar to how Trello is designed but without as much flexibility and detail. Each project that you create in Asana has a main board where you add columns for the various workstreams. You create the specific tasks under each column, similar to Trello. There’s even some basic analytics built in where you can view reports that show progress or other filters you can set up. Asana also works with Zapier for automating certain tasks so that’s a plus too.
Google Analytics – Google Analytics will probably be the primary tool a new blogger uses to track traffic and other stats related to their site. If you apply for certain affiliate programs or ad networks, they’re going to want to see your Google Analytics data in order to determine if your site meets their minimum requirements. There’s a plugin that integrates with the WordPress dashboard so you can see at a glance what your numbers are for the metric you choose. The main interface though is really where the answers you seek are hiding. I’m a BI developer and I find GA a little hard to understand. I’d suggest a little research or a tutorial or two before really digging into the data in Google Analytics.
Blog Tools for Automation
Zapier – Times, they are a-changin. In today’s tech-savvy world, we have an ever-increasing number of apps available to help us with, well, pretty much everything. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way all those separate apps could somehow talk to each other so that we didn’t have to try and manage them all? Guess what? There is. Zapier itself is an app that automates workflows between other apps. Genius, right? You already know I use it to create items in Todoist for new blog tasks I create in Trello for my editorial content. At last count, Zapier was able to connect to more than 750 apps and more get added all the time. There are the most common ones like Gmail, Pinterest, Quickbooks, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, and Evernote to name a few. Just pick your apps, choose your trigger and let Zapier handle the rest.
Notes and Email Resources
Evernote – This is so much more than just a note-taking app. I use Evernote as my primary research tool for the blog. I create a new notebook for every post I start. Within the notebook, I can store outlines, article notes, screenshots, attach files and assign tags for easy retrieval. You can even group notebooks together in “stacks” for better organization. And Evernote is available across devices so no matter where you are you can access it or create new items. This is a must-have tool for me for sure.
eM Client – I like having an email account associated with the blog domain name. It adds legitimacy to my brand. eM Client is a free email client for Windows only. It’s got a similar feel to MS Outlook, which I use at work, so it was easy for me to pick up how to get it set up. Your web host will have instructions on how to set up an email client specific to your domain. You’ll need the incoming and outgoing email server info as well as your user id and password to get started.
Google Drive – Google drive is an awesome storage option for the average user. It’s synced with my phone so I can add to it from wherever. Honestly, I use it a lot for photos for the blog. Sometimes I can get a better shot with the camera on my phone than I can with the big camera. Then I can just upload it to Drive and it’s accessible from my laptop whenever I need to add it to a post or edit it. All you need is a Google account and the software installed on any device you want to use to access it.
DropBox – Dropbox is another cloud-based storage option. I use Dropbox primarily for storage of daily backups of the blog. I use the UpDraft Plus plugin to schedule backups and then upload the files to Dropbox. I’m on the basic free account which doesn’t have a ton of storage but it works for what I need. There are upgrades available if your storage needs are larger than 2 GB.
Mailing List/Subscriber Management
MailChimp – MailChimp was the first email marketing service I tried when I decided to work on building my email list. It seemed pretty straightforward but what did I know? I was able to get in and create my first signup form without too much difficulty. MailChimp does offer the “forever free” plan for less than 2000 subscribers and less than 12,000 emails. After you hit that point you’ll be required to upgrade to a paid plan. I’d say that MailChimp is a solid place to start for new bloggers.
Mailerlite – There was a post in one of my Facebook groups related to blogging. Someone wanted to know which email marketing service people were using. I was surprised that so many people were using Mailerlite and not MailChimp. I’m currently testing Mailerlite and so far I’m really happy with it. The free plan is only good up to 1000 subscribers but the interface is really easy to navigate. There are more options for your forms too.
Blog Themes and Paid Plugins Resources
Genesis Framework – Genesis isn’t really a theme. You could use it as your theme but it would be pretty plain. Genesis is designed to be the foundation on which your customized child theme is built. Genesis provides features that are essential for successful blogs like SEO optimization, a mobile responsive layout, and top of the line security protection against hackers. Many of the top blogs are run on the Genesis Framework for the simple reason is that it’s the best. You can then purchase a customized theme from StudioPress or any other reputable theme designer to get the exact look you want for your blog or website.
Social Warfare – In my 2nd post on the best plugins for WordPress I shared why I switched to Social Warfare for my social media sharing tool. The main reason being that I was able to create a separate graphic for Pinterest that wasn’t visible from within the post itself. I had read a few complicated-sounding tutorials on how to accomplish this without Social Warfare but for me, it was worth it to pay the money and not have the hassle. Now I can upload separate images that are Pinterest and Facebook ready right in the post. When someone chooses to share a post of mine, that’s the image that gets pinned. Social Warfare tools are designed to help you increase your traffic and social media presence.
Pandora – When I’m in the zone, working hard on a post or doing some research, I need some tunes in the background. Too much quiet drives me crazy. I’ve been a Pandora user for years so I have quite the collection of thumbs up (thumb ups?). I know there are other, probably better, streaming music apps out there now but I stick with what works and it’s been working for me for almost 10 years.
Stitcher – If I’m not in the music kind of mood, I’ll turn to podcasts instead. My podcast “to listen to” list is huge. I’ll never get through it because I’m constantly finding new ones. I love Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist podcast and also the Young House Love podcast. If I’m at home, I’ll listen directly from the site but if it’s one of my days to be in the office at work I’ll use the app on my phone.
Noisli – There are times when both music and podcasts are too distracting. At those times, I’ll turn on Noisli, which is an ambient noise app. There supposedly are different combinations of sounds like running water, thunder or leaves blowing that help increase productivity or relaxation, depending on the combo you choose. Not sure if that’s a true thing or not but I do know that it’s nice to have something in the background that I don’t have to focus on.
Miscellaneous Blog Resources
Grammarly – As much as I try not to, I make mistakes when I write. I proofread multiple times and mistakes STILL get by me. And then there are grammatical mistakes I didn’t even realize were mistakes. High school English was a loooong time ago, kids. Nothing turns a potential reader off faster than a poorly written blog post so this is one of those must-have blog resources. Grammarly is an add-in and browser extension that checks your work for you. Once installed, it will validate anything you type and highlight any mistakes. The errors in my writing before I publish have been greatly reduced. And it’s also reminded me of a few rules I’d forgotten along the way. Hello, comma after an introductory clause. It’s been awhile.
Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) – Eventually I’m going to start including videos in the content on this blog. OBS is a free and open-source video editing and live streaming tool. I’m still in the learning stages but I can tell this one is going to be a keeper.
Bitly – Bitly is a link management app. You can provide a link and have it shortened. You can also check the performance of the link and track your highest performing links. This data will help you refine your marketing strategy going forward. This is helpful if you’re testing a new social media promotion style that’s including links.
VeryWell recipe calculator – One of the resources you need to provide when posting a recipe is nutrition information. Whenever I need to provide a calorie count for a recipe I can just paste the recipe ingredients and have it analyze the recipe for me. I can even embed a nutrition label by copying the provided HTML and pasting into my post. I do have to check the ingredients after they’ve been analyzed because it doesn’t always get it exactly right. But I haven’t found an easier way to create nutrition and calorie info for a recipe.
If you have a resource suggestion that’s not on this list, let us know in the comments and I’ll be happy to add it! Or shoot me an email at [email protected] If you like these blogging tips, be sure follow us on Pinterest where I’m constantly adding new tips and resources.