Essential Blogging Tools for Beginners • Blog to Biz Strategies

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Essential Blogging Tools for Beginners

Make money and change lives blogging about something you love.

With a million and one different tools to choose from, how on earth do you figure out which ones are the "must-haves" and which ones are simply "nice-to-haves"? And how do you decide if you need to invest in a paid tool, or if the free version is good enough?

In this post, I walk beginning bloggers through the essential blogging tools they'll need in order to build a profitable blog. This post is part of my How To Start a Blog series which includes step-by-step photo and video tutorials on all aspects of setting up a brand new self-hosted WordPress blog.

Blog to Biz Strategies | Essential Blogging Tools For Beginners

For a lot of bloggers and would-be bloggers, the worst part of blogging is getting everything all set up.

In other words, trying to figure out what blogging tools are essential.

How do you know which tools are the “must-haves” and which ones are the “nice to haves”?

It’s overwhelming, confusing, and sometimes, downright frustrating.

It can also be expensive… if you don’t know what you’re doing.

The good news is, I’m here to help.

In this post, I’m going to walk you through the essential blogging tools that you’ll need to set up your blog.

Please keep in mind that these are what I would consider being essential blogging tools for beginners.

In other words, those bloggers just starting out. Or bloggers who have an email list of less than 1000 and/or are making less than $1K a month.

Where possible, I’m going to point you to either free tools or tools that have a free version.

Just know that you can’t build a money-making blog on free blogging tools alone.

There are some things that you just can’t get for free.

In other cases, the free tools will only get you so far. They may be good enough to start, but as your blog and business grow, you will need to upgrade.

That’s actually good news because if you get to the point where you have to upgrade your blogging tools, it means your blog is doing well.

As this is essentially a “round-up” of the main blogging tools you need. I’m not going to go through every single tool that COULD be helpful, as I don’t want to overwhelm you.

Also, I’m only going to talk about each tool briefly.

I’ll be digging deeper into many of the tools I recommend in future posts.

Essential Blogging Tools For Beginners

Technically the first two items on my list below are not blogging tools per se – rather they are things that every blogger needs in order to actually have a money-making blog.

1. A domain.

Every blog needs a domain.

Your domain name is your blog’s address on the web.

It’s also known as your URL.

Generally, your domain name is the same as your blog name. For example, the name of my blog is Blog to Biz Strategies and my domain name is https://blogtobizstrategies.com.

Keep in mind here that your domain is a reflection of your blog and business. It’s the “first clue” for your readers on what your blog is about.

For that reason, I strongly recommend that you don’t rush into registering your domain name until you’ve done the following things:

  • Make sure you know that the niche you have chosen is profitable.
  • Know your tribe (i.e. ideal audience) and what they are interested in and more importantly, struggling with.
  • Decide on how you will be helping your tribe with their issues.

From there you can look for keywords and keyphrases that represent one or more of these things.

Keywords or keyphrases are the search terms that your audience uses when searching online for the kind of information you will be providing.

Try to use one or more of those keywords or keyphrases in your domain name.

If you look at my domain Blog to Biz Strategies, you can see that I have included the keyword “blog” and the key phrases “blog strategies” and “biz strategies.”

The biggest word of advice I can give you is: don’t get clever and don’t get fancy.

Keep your domain clear, simple, and descriptive.

And whatever you do, don’t pick something obscure, or in another language.

You don’t want to be the only one who knows what your domain means.

Or worse, choose a domain that means something other than what you intend. A great illustration of this is ConvertKit. Not too long ago ConvertKit decided that they wanted to change their name to Seva.  Seva is a word that originates from ancient Sanskrit. ConvertKit thought that the word meant “selfless service.”  It turns out that the word actually had much deeper religious connotations and ended up offending many. This led to ConvertKit reversing their decision and reverting back to ConvertKit.

The other tip I have for you is to try and get a .com domain if you can.  Although there are many different domain extensions you can choose from .com is still the one that most people automatically think of.

A word of caution when choosing your domain – make sure that the name you want is not already in use, and that the social media platforms are available.

So where do you purchase your domain?

My favorite place for purchasing domains is GoDaddy.  NameCheap also comes highly recommended.

2. Web hosting.

Whatever you do, do not go with a free blogging platform.

This is super important.

Free blogging platforms are for hobby bloggers.

You can’t customize them the way you want.  You won’t be about to integrate the software and tools you’ll need for your blogging biz. And, they’ll severely limit what you are “allowed” to do on your blog.

By far, the best platform to build a blog on is a self-hosted WordPress site.

It is the most widely used biz blogging platform on the internet and used by many of the biggest names online.

WordPress is what’s called an open source website creation tool. It was designed for bloggers but has evolved to allow you to do so much more than just blog.

Self-hosted simply means that you are paying a web hosting company for your blog’s “online space.”

Essentially, you are renting online space for your blog.

Kinda like renting a condo.

The building would be the web host, the condo would be the space you are renting, and the contents of your condo would be your blog.

The contents of your home are yours (in this case, your blog), but the location isn’t. You are paying for its use. You can up and move your home (aka your blog) anytime you want to.

Not all web hosts are created equal, and you can’t just choose a web host based on price. There are a lot of things to consider when choosing a web host, which I will go into, in a more in-depth post.

In the meantime, my top recommended web host for those willing to DIY it is SiteGround.

For people who would like a little more help, I recommend Webs By Amy. I have been on Amy’s hosting since about 2008 and it’s been amazing. She’s amazing.  She has a special package just for my students. So if this is something that interests you, please reach out to me via my contact form and I’ll give you more info.

Once you have your domain and your host, you need to connect the two so that the domain points to your site.

Now, something that I want to mention here, is that you can purchase your domain name through your web hosting provider, however, I don’t recommend it. It’s better not to have all your eggs in one basket. If your hosting provider ticks you off and you want to switch, you don’t want to have the hassle of transferring your domain.

So now that we’ve covered that, let’s transition into the actual blogging tools.

3. Blogging software.

As I mentioned in the previous step, WordPress is by far the best blogging software for building your blog.

It’s free and it’s highly customizable. More so than any other blogging platform out there.

Anything that you want to do with WordPress can pretty much be done, and usually without needing to have any special coding knowledge.

Because so many people use WordPress – both for blogs AND regular ol’ websites – there is a lot of help to be found online.

It’s super easy to install WordPress on your web host. In most cases they have it set up so that it’s a one-click install.

It also “plays nice” with pretty much every software or service you’ll ever need.

4. A theme and page builder.

Your website design is all about how your blog looks.

You can make your blog look just about any way you want simply by choosing the right theme.

The theme is essentially an “outfit” for your blog.

There are thousands of themes that you can choose from – free and paid.

The vast majority of themes have a set style. What you see is what you get, and the only way you can make changes is to either know how to code or hire someone who does.

The exception to this are special themes that are designed to make customization easy, with no knowledge of coding required.

Most of these customizable themes come with a price tag attached.

The exception is the Astra theme.

Of all the customizable themes I’ve tried, this is by far my favorite. I especially love the fact that there is a free version of this theme.

Astra is easy to use and gives you a ton of customization options. Then for even more options, you can upgrade to Astra Pro (a paid theme).

Astra and Astra Pro are my preferred themes and the ones that I use in my tutorials. Astra Pro is the one that I use on this site.

The other thing that you are going to want is what’s called a page builder.

Most blog themes have pretty limited options when it comes to designing pages.

They don’t give you the ability to design pages that sell. In other words, good looking pages with you information displayed in an eye-catching way.

A page builder is essentially a software that plugs into your blog and gives you the ability to design your page to look exactly the way you want.  It’s actually called a plugin.

My page builder of preference is Elementor.  It is the only good free page builder there is. They also have a pro version which, for a price, gives you even more features.

I have built every single page on this blog with Elementor.

5. Plugins

Plugins are little pieces of software that allow you to add features and functions your self-hosted WordPress blog.

As with themes, there are millions of plugins ranging from free to paid that you could choose.

Once you start to work with plugins and understand their power, it can be very tempting to add a whole bunch of different plugins to your site.

Don’t! 

Too many plugins and the wrong plugins can really slow down your site, and in some cases, break your site.

There are several plugins that I would consider to be essential.

Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode

The easiest way to work on your blog is with it being “live” – also known as “published.”  The problem, of course, is that as soon as you publish anything on your site, it immediately becomes viewable to the general public.

This is where this plugin comes in. Once installed it will allow you to put up a “coming soon” page that will essentially hide your entire site (and all the published content) from public view.  You, however, will be able to see everything as long as you are logged in.  

Once you have this plugin set up, you then want to turn on the coming soon mode before going any further with anything else. The one that I use is Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode by Seedprod.

Anti-spam plugin

 This basically catches spam and keeps it from being posted in the comments section of your site.  The one I use on this site is Antispam Bee.

Backup Plugin

This backs up your site and makes sure that there is a copy of your site available in case something goes wrong and your site crashes or gets “broken.”  

Although most hosting providers will back up their servers, they’ll all tell you that their backups are for “emergencies” and it’s on you to make sure your site content is backed up.

Most hosting providers don’t back up their sites as often as you would.  What that means is that if you rely on them, and you added a whole bunch of content AFTER their last backup, but BEFORE their next backup – you’ll lose it!

A free back up plugin I recommend is Updraft. On this site, I used a paid backup plugin called BackupBuddy.  It’s $80 a year, but totally worth it.  If your hosting is with Webs by Amy, it’s included in your hosting.

Security Plugin  

This is different than an SSL certificate (site security certificate). Websites and blogs get hacked into every single day.  You want to make sure that your site is protected from hackers. 

The security plugin I use on this site is iThemes Security.

Image Optimizer

Earlier you heard me mention that the speed at which your blog loads for people is critical.  If your blog loads too slowly, people will get impatient and leave.

Images can be a huge factor in how fast your site loads.  Large pictures will slow down you site dramatically.

 An image optimizer will decrease the file size of your image. The one that I use is called Imagify. 

An SEO Plugin    

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s not enough to just post your content on your blog. You have to optimize it for search engines. Your content is much more likely to show up in organic search results, when it is properly optimized.

The plugin that I use is Yoast SEO Premium (there is a free version you can use).

Cookie Notice Plugin  

The online world is super strict about how much information we are allowed to collect from our users.

As we set up our blog with analytics and an email list our blog will just automatically collect information from our readers.

Some of this information is referred to as “cookies” (not the chocolate chip kind).

There are many countries that have strict regulations about this.  Which is why it is important that you let your visitors know that your site uses cookies.

That’s what a cookie plugin does. The one that I use is called Cookie Notice.

Google Analytics  

Once your blog is live, one of the first things you are going to start wondering about, is whether or not anyone is actually visiting your site.  That is what analytics plugins do.  

They track how many visitors come to your site, where they come from and how long they stay.  All information that is essential for you to know as a blogger.

The plugin that I use on this site is called Google Analytics Dashboard for WP.

Other Plugins as Needed  

The plugins I listed above are what I consider to be the essential plugins that every WordPress blog needs. That’s not to say however that those are ALL the plugins that you’ll want and need.

There are other plugins that I use on my site, but I’m not going to go through them all here because they are not essentials, and I’m really trying to keep this post from becoming a book LOL. I will, however, go into plugins in an upcoming post.

6. An email marketing service.

If you want to make money with your blog, you NEED an email list. It’s the biggest asset that you have as a blogger, and you should start building that asset from day one.

In order to do so, you are going to need to sign up for an email marketing service.

An email marketing service is an online tool that allows you to collect and organize the email addresses of your readers as well as send them emails.

Among other things, a good email marketing service will ensure that your emails do not end up in the spam folder.

MailChimp has a great free plan that allows you to have up to 2000 subscribers and send up to 12,000 emails a month.

Their paid plans start at $10 per month for up to 500 subscribers. If you’re wondering why that’s less than then 2000 subscribers they give you on the free plan, it’s because their paid plans offer more features.

While you can definitely start with MailChimp’s free plan, I actually recommend that you start with Active Campaign.

I have used just about every big email service provider that is out there – AWeber, Constant Contact, Drip, ConvertKit, Infusionsoft and MailChimp. Active Campaign is by far, my favorite.

It is an incredibly powerful platform, with an amazingly affordable starter package ($15 a month for up to 500 subscribers).

There are several reasons I recommend that you start with Active Campaign (beyond just the price).

The first is that you are going to be using your email service provider a lot. It’s going to take you time to set up, and you’re going to want to track your stats. It’s a real pain in the butt to have to up and move your contact list to another ESP and then go through the hassle of setting everything up again. Not to mention the fact that you’ll lose your stats (you can’t migrate them from one ESP to another).

The second reason is that even though your emails may be simple to start, as your business grows, your email marketing is going to get more sophisticated. You don’t want to have to switch (for the reasons above) because your first choice can’t handle it.

7. A payment processor

In order to make money, you need a way of collecting money.

That is what a payment processor is.

It allows you to collect payment from your customers.

When you are just starting out, I recommend Paypal.  Paypal is widely used and highly trusted.

A basic business account is free, you simply pay a small per transaction fee.

When you are just starting out, you can keep things super simple by selling your product using only a Paypal button.

I would also suggest that you sign up for a Stripe account so that you can collect payments by credit card from people who don’t have Paypal accounts.  Stripe is free (unlike a lot of other payment processors). All you pay for are per transaction fees (which is normal).

What you need to know about Stripe, is that you need  to integrate it with another software such as your shopping cart or LMS (see below), to use it.

8. Shopping Cart Software

Shopping cart software is a big step up from the simple one-click Paypal button. It gives you a LOT more control over the selling experience – both for yourself and your customers.

There is a great shopping cart software that integrates seamlessly with your WordPress blog called CartFlows.

What’s nice about CartFlows is that they offer a free version which you can use to start selling right away.  You simply download it from within the plugin dashboard on your blog.

Once you are ready to get more sophisticated with your sales, you can upgrade to the pro version which allows things like sales funnels, upsells etc.

There are a lot of other shopping carts out there, but most of them come with a pretty hefty price tag. Cartflows is one of the most affordable that I’ve seen.

9. Image Editor

You’re definitely going to want to include images on your blog.

Depending on your niche you’ll either need to use pictures that you take, or stock photos (or a combination).

If you are taking your own pictures then you will need a photo editing software.

PicMonkey is an online software that does have some limited free photo editing options. Their paid plan is also quite reasonable.

If you are only using stock photos (which is what I use on this blog) – then Canva (see below) should be all you need.

10. Graphic design software

Graphic design involves the creation of eye-catching visual media.

Things like images and PDF files.

My favorite online software for this is Canva.

They have a great free account.

But for even more options, I recommend their Canva for Work account as it allows you some additional features that the free account doesn’t.

I use both Canva for Work and the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of products. Adobe Creative Cloud is amazing, however, it’s pretty pricey. The reason I use it is because I design many of my own graphic images for my blog. And I just can’t create these types of images with less expensive software.

11. A learning management system (LMS)

The best way to monetize your blog is through digital information products. I’ll talk more about why in a future post.

Digital information products include things like ebooks, files, PDFs, and online courses.

Ebooks, files, PDFs, workbooks, templates – all of those things you can set up for delivery through your emails.  You upload them to a cloud-based service like AmazonS3, Dropbox or Google Drive and then include the download link in your post-purchase email.

If you want to get into online courses, I would recommend a learning management system (LMS).

They make putting together the course super easy, AND they create a great learning environment for your students.

An LMS that I have used that is great for beginners is Thinkific. They are easy to use and have a fabulous free plan to start.

How To Set Up The Tech For Your Blog

So now comes the part that most people dread – setting up the tech.

The good news is that it’s not as hard as you think.

I am currently working on building out the tutorials here on Blog to Biz Strategies. This will include step-by-step tutorials on how to set up the basic tech for your blog.

In the meantime, there are a lot of great tutorials online that you can find simply by using Google.

Now that you know what software, tools, and services you need, it’s simply a matter of Googling “how to register a domain on GoDaddy”  or “how to install WordPress on Siteground” etc.

If you have questions related to this post please leave them in the comments below.

Otherwise, if you have specific tech questions that you would like me to create a tutorial for then be sure to send them to me by filling out the form on the main tech tutorial page.

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