Setting up a basic WordPress site is simplicity itself; new bloggers do it every day.
However if you’re serious about becoming a successful blogger you’re going to need a lot more than just the standard, plain old WordPress installation.
Pro bloggers – those who we all long to emulate – use an assortment of tools and services to help them market their blogs better, build more community and monetize their sites better.
And it’s these that can make the difference between a beginner and a professional blogger.
The goal of this article is to discuss these services in some depth. You should use the information below not only as a educational resource on how to grow, expand and improve your blog, but also as a “shopping list” of future purchases.
I would recommend that you bookmark this resource to refer back to in the future. Take your time to understand what these services are and how they work.
Then, over time, as you have a little cash to spare from your online business activities, consider investing a little of that income into one or more of the services here.
You certainly won’t want to splash out on them all at once; realistically most blogs evolve and improve over time, and each tool or service will make your blog that little bit better.
Eventually, though, you’ll probably want to invest in them all if you’re serious about turning your blog into a full-time business rather than just a passing hobby.
The number one goal of your blog or website should be to gather an email mailing list.
Once you’ve (ethically) gathered a prospects email address you then have the ability to repeatedly send this visitor back to your blog, each time you publish a new article. Just as good, this “repeated exposure” provides more opportunities for you to make sales, earn commissions and so on.
Indeed, most bloggers claim that their email newsletter is their number one business asset, and is responsible for producing the majority of their income. The importance of building your mailing list simply cannot therefore be ignored.
In order to start your email newsletter you’re going to need an autoresponder account. These autoresponders securely store your subscriber database, and allow you to send out emails to your whole subscriber list at the push of a button.
There are a number of popular autoresponders on the market but I personally use, and recommend, Aweber.
2) Email Opt-In Plugin
When it comes to building an email list having an autoresponder account is better than nothing, but you’ll get much better results when you combine your autoresonder with an opt-in plugin.
These WordPress plugins allow you to create lead capture forms like popups, slide-ins and header boxes, to split test your designs for the very highest responses, and so build your email list much quicker. In essence, a solid opt-in plugin puts your list building on steroids.
At present I’m using two plugins that I strongly recommend. Thrive Leads is the most “complete” list-building plugin around and allows you to quickly and easily produce popups, slide-ins, in-content optin forms and more. Best of all it’ll also let you split-test your forms to get the best response possible.
The second is called Feature Box and allows you to add those impressive optin forms at the top of your blog. These feature-boxes can get incredible sign-up rates, so I typically combine both plugins for maximum results..
3) Content Delivery Network (CDNs)
As your visitor numbers start to grow, so your web hosting account will start to come under strain.
Over time, your site will normally start to load more slowly. There are two downsides to this situation. For one, a slow loading website frustrates and annoys visitors. After all, why would anyone want to visit your blog if it takes forever for your posts to load?
Secondly, Google has openly stated that they are taking page load speed into account when it comes to how they rank websites In other words, a faster site equals higher rankings.
There are a number of ways to speed up how quickly your website loads, but the easiest and most powerful way is through the use of so-called “content delivery network” – or CDN for short.
A content delivery network stores multiple copies of your website in locations all around the world, and when someone visits your site, they’re shown the nearest version to them. As a result your site loads faster and everyone is happy.
The most well-respected CDN on the market is MaxCDN.
4) WordPress Backup Plugin
It’s a sad fact of life that sooner or later something will likely go wrong with your blog. Whether your web host goes down or your site gets hacked, it’s never nice when the unthinkable happens.
However the problem is a hundred times worse if you don’t have a backup anywhere that you can rely on. Just imagine for a moment what it would feel like to spend months – even years – diligently working on your blog, only for it to go up in smoke one day thanks to a faulty plugin or suchlike. It just doesn’t bear thinking about.
5) Cloud Storage Account
Of course it’s not just websites that can suffer from data loss; our own home computers too suffer from more faults than we’d like to believe. .
If you’re anything like me then half your life can be found on your computer, from personal files like vacation photos and family videos, to business-related files like new blog posts I’m working on, all my various passwords and account details, not to mention plans for future sites.
Losing this information would be catastrophic for my online business so I back up regularly.
Oh, and please don’t use Dropbox like everyone else – not only have they suffered regular security breaches over the years but they also don’t back up your computer automatically, meaning there are always unprotected files.
Instead, try using someone like Livedrive – a far more reliable option that offer more storage space, higher levels of security and better value for money.
6) SEO Tool
Getting to the top of the search engines doesn’t happen by accident (well, not normally, anyway).
There are professionals out there (like me, actually) who spend our whole lives working on SEO. We spend 40+ hours a week creating top quality content, learning about SEO, testing our hypotheses, learning from others and, we hope, hitting one top ranking after another.
No wonder that many smaller bloggers struggle to attract much search engine traffic when they’re up against a growing and highly educated network of SEO professionals.
In other words, you’re going to need all the help you can get if you want to grow your search engine traffic.
And this is where an SEO tool comes in handy. These tools will help you to optimize your website your website for the search engines, find keywords you can rank for and even provide link-building opportunities you can make use of.
7) Keyword Research Tool
Targeting the wrong keywords is like taking the wrong bait when you go fishing.
If you’re lucky you might catch the odd fish here and there, but if you want to catch the real monsters you’re going to need to be a lot more organized.
It is possible to build a blog without doing a single word of keyword research, but you will likely find it much harder to actually grow your blog than if you create content with purpose, written specifically to target the kinds of keywords that you can rank well for.
After all, once you start to pump out one blog post after another that sits at the top of keyword searches that are being carried out each day you’ll have a never-ending flow of readers and prospects landing on your site each day.
And once this is happening it’s only a matter of time until you turn your little blog into a successful profit-producing business.
I have been using Long Tail Pro for the best part of 5+ years and it’s still the tool I rely on more than any other. Over the years I tested out dozens of keyword research tools which promise to be the “latest thing” in keyword research, but sadly each one fails to match up to Long Tail Pro. Why?
Quite simply because Long Tail Pro contains everything necessary (and nothing unnecessary) to make quick, informed and educated decisions about exactly what keyword research phrases you should be targeting with your posts. Find out more here.
8) Image Optimization Tool
One factor which can have a major impact on how quickly your blog loads is the size of the images present.
We’re not just talking about the physical dimensions of a photo here, where bigger pictures typically take up more memory and load slower. In addition, images that haven’t been properly prepared for the web (yours?) also load far more slowly.
Kraken is possibly the most effective – yet simplest to use – tool that I have found for reducing the overall file size of the images on my blog.
With a very low-cost monthly subscription, I can rest safe in the knowledge that the Kraken imagine optimization toll will always be running in the background, making my photos (and website) loads as quickly as possible.
9) Editorial Calendar
The worst thing possible for a blogger is writers block.
You sit down at your computer, open up a Word processing document and… nothing.
You just sit there, staring blankly at the screen, getting more and more agitated at the lack of inspiration you feel.
An editorial calender helps to eliminate this problem by allowing you to map out future content. This means that not only will you have a long list of ideas to hand whenever you sit down to write, but you’ll also have a “plan of action” relating to exactly when each post needs to be written.
The simple act of having blog post ideas set to a calender makes producing content easier – as well as motivating me to achieve them on time.
There’s more. Creating a content calendar can also help you to create “better” content, not just “more”. How come?
When you sit down with your content calendar you’ll be able o plan out your content at your leisure. You’ll be able to factor in specific seasons, for example, and produce content that relates specifically to Valentines Day, Easter, Christmas and so on.
All of these “time sensitive” posts ensure that you’re producing the exact kind of content that people are searching for at these times of year. In essence, you’re making use of trending topics to grow your readership.
Editorial calendar plugin CoSchedule doesn’t just help you with all of this.
It also does something very handy; it allows you to pre-write and pre-schedule social media posts. What that means is that while your content is easier to create, it will also receive more traffic as CoSchedule works in the background, promoting your posts on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In and Google Plus.
10) Image Editing Software
Depending on the niche you’re in, Pinterest can be one of the best sources of traffic around. But high quality traffic on tap doesn’t happen by accident.
If you want to drive significant traffic to your site from Pinterest you’re going to need the kind of images that attract clicks (and repins).
There are many tools out there that will help you to create memorable images to add to your blog posts and share on Pinterest. Of these, my personal favorite is PicMonkey.
At first glance the tool can appear quite basic, but once you spend a little while getting to know it you’ll be surprised by just how many cool features the software really has.
11) Social Posting Tool
Posts on social media have a depressingly short life. That means that if you want to derive as much traffic as possible from social media you’re going to need to be posting your updates at the exact times when most of your followers and fans are online.
Two questions naturally arise from this statement; firstly, how do you know what the optimum posting times really are? And secondly, what can you do to ensure your updates get published at these exact times?
Buffer is a tool that lets you do just that. Simply queue up the content you want to share on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus and Buffer will automatically post them for you at the optimum time.
12) Pinterest Posting Tool
If you want to be effective on Pinterest then it’s important that you’re regularly active, sharing new pins throughout the day so as to maximize your visibility.
Broadly speaking, assuming you’re posting high quality pins, my own experience is quite simply “the more you pin, the more traffic you get” – plain and simple.
But how many of us have the time to be constantly on Pinterest, finding and pinning new images? Especially if, like me, you’re pinning some 25-50 pins every single day. It just isn’t time-efficient.
And this is where Pinterest posting tools come in; allowing you to schedule pins well in advance.
Indeed, my main pinning routine is now carried out just once a month now.
I spend a few hours one Saturday at the beginning of each month and manage to queue up enough images for the remainder of the month. From then on things are on autopilot and I simply sit back and enjoy the never-ending stream of visitors arriving at my site.
Of all the Pinterest posting tools, my personal favorite is Tailwind, which I have used for some months now with fantastic results.
13) Twitter Follower Tool
If you want to grow your Twitter followers as quickly as possible then the single most effective strategy is simply following others.
You find a group of people who are following someone similar to yourself, and then you follow their followers. Of these, a number will follow you back. Then, you just unfollow those people who never followed you and repeat the process.
Simple enough, but trying to accomplish this manually is far from efficient.
Fortunately there are a number of tools that will help you achieve this in a streamlined way. I personally spend literally 5 minutes per day now on my Twitter following for each niche I’m in.
The right tool will automate pretty much the whole process – you just click a couple of buttons and then get on with your day.
Over the years I’ve tested a huge number of these tools, with varying degrees of success, but the tool I now rely on is Tweepi.
Using this tool, my Twitter account for this blog has been growing consistently at around 50-100 followers a day and shows no sign of slowing down. Use it – it’ll transform your Twitter marketing.
14) Social Media Management Tool
If you’re active on a single social media site with a single profile then keeping on top of what’s going on is reasonably easy.
But as your social media accounts start to balloon, it becomes ever more challenging to effectively manage your social media time so as to ensure that you achieve the most possible in the minimum time.
Imagine, for example, what it is like trying to keep up with Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and Linked In. That’s four networks before you start.
On Facebook and Google Plus you may not only have a personal profile but also a business page, adding two more networks to keep track of. And that’s for a single blog; what happens if you start a second or third blog?
No, if you’re going to do social media right – and not spend all day on there for minimal return you’ll need some kind of social media management tool.
There are a number of popular tools around and everyone has their favorite; but for me, I have found Hootsuite to be a thoroughly reliable tool and one that really helps to streamline my social media activity.
It lets me quickly cut through the “white noise” and pay attention to only those messages that really matter. Try it; you social media time will never be the same again.
Find out more here.
15) Payment Processing Account
Depending on your blogging model it may or may not be necessary to accept online payments.
Many bloggers, though, find that sooner or later some way to accept credit cards is important; it makes it easier to accept private advertising deals, paid posts and even to sell your own products like ebooks, software and membership sites.
There are a huge range of these available. Paypal is the most common though I personally have a strong dislike for their lack of customer service (and trust me – I’m not alone). For a full run-down of the top payment processers available to small bloggers like you and me just click here.
What are your favorite blogging tools? Have you tried any of the tools mentioned above? Why leave your experiences (or review) in the comments section below?