You need a few tools to run websites and blogs. Those tools include the platform for the website (WordPress) as well as plugins to add extra functionality.
Some of the tools are free, but a lot of tools aimed at webmaster and bloggers have a one-off, monthly or annual fee.
Keep reading to learn more about the tools I use to run this website and the two other active sites currently in my portfolio. I try to keep everything as low key as possible and use very few plugins and external tools.
Website and blog building software
I use WordPress to build websites and blogs and can’t see that changing any time soon. The two available formats are listed below.
- WordPress.org – This is where you download the standalone version of WordPress. It’s the world’s most popular choice for building self-hosted websites and blogs and currently powers 39% of the sites you see online. You can download and install it manually, but the easiest way to set it up is through your web hosting company.
- WordPress.com – This is the place to go if you want to try WordPress for free. You can set up a basic account with nothing more than an email address. I recommend creating an account if you want to see what WordPress looks like and see how it works before setting up the standalone version on its own server.
Domain names and web hosting
Before you launch a website, you’ll need a domain name and hosting.
- Namecheap – My main domain name registrar these days. They also offer a shared hosting service which starts at a few dollars per month, as well as a dedicated WordPress hosting service.
- Guru – This is my current host for this site. They’re based in the UK and I’m really happy with the service and site speed. It’s worth noting that email is sold as an addon for £5 + VAT per month if you choose the shared hosting package. It’s included in the dedicated and reseller packages. (I use G Suite for email.)
- WPX Hosting – These guys are creating an awesome reputation for themselves by providing outstanding tech support and fast servers. The price of the basic package, holding up to five sites (including a staging option, which counts as one of your sites), is $24.99 per month. I have used them in the past but the price-point is a little too expensive (based on the yearly cost and including taxes).
- Bluehost – Cheaper shared hosting and a good place for beginners to gain some experience. Bluehost gets mixed reviews so I recommend keeping things simple if you choose to host a site with them. By that I mean don’t add loads of plugins that use lots of server resources. Content based websites should focus on content and not the bells and whistles you’d expect to see on a corporate or portfolio site. So, no sliders, no photograph galleries, no complicated page layouts, no direct video embeds etc etc. All these things will hinder your site’s performance.
WordPress themes come in two flavours – free or paid. The free ones are generally okay, but the paid are much better.
- Genesis Framework by StudioPress – This, for many years (from about 2010 when it launched to 2020) was my theme of choice. I’ve fallen out of love with it recently and now prefer to use a free theme (mentioned below). The framework used to cost $59.95, but now you can get it for free.
- Kadence – This is the theme I’m using for this site and the others in my portfolio. I made the switch from Genesis to Kadence just because it’s easier to customize. The options inside the WordPress customizer let me change layout, color scheme and fonts quickly and easily. There is a pro version available, which comes with additional addons and functionality, but for now, I’m finding the free version does everything I need.
If you want to capture email addresses so you can send people a newsletter, you’ll need to use a mailing list provider.
- AWeber – There are a lot of options for mailing list software/systems, but this one is a good option. The cheapest plan is priced at $19 per month and you get the first thirty days free.
Affiliate programs and ad networks
There are loads of opportunities to make money from your blog. Take a look at some of these networks or explore affiliate marketing opportunities.
- Mediavine (requires your website to have at least 50,000 sessions per month)
- AdThrive (requires your website to have at least 100,000 sessions per month – mainly US traffic)
- Affiliate Window
- Amazon Associates – (US), (UK)
Check out the sites listed below to find suitable images for your blog posts and web pages. If you’re looking for paid images, check out Shutterstock.
- Pixabay – The first place we visit when we need an image.
- Death to Stock – New themed pack available each month.
- Unsplash – Very similar to Pixabay.
- Flickr – Not a service I use very often these days but when I do, I only use photos with a Creative Commons license that can be used commercially.
Social media automation
To reach people who are online when you’re not, you’ll need to automate your social media updates. Here are a few of the more popular products and services.
- Buffer – Buffer’s a great solution for automating tweets
- Tailwind – Perfect for Pinterest
- Hootsuite – Handy for viewing and managing multiple Twitter accounts
Business tools and software
Take a look at some of the tools and software listed below to help you run the business and admin side of your blog.
- G Suite – Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Drive and email
- FileZilla – FTP program for accessing web servers
- Asana – Project management software that’s simple to use, packed with features and easy on the eye
- Trello – Board-based project management software
- LastPass – Password management app
- Google Analytics
To make a basic WordPress blog more powerful and useful, you’ll need plugins. Once again, they come in two formats – free and paid (premium). Some people believe that too many plugins can slow down your website or cause other problems. This is kinda true, but really it depends on how well the plugins are coded and how they get on with each other.
You could have hundreds of well-coded plugins without any issues, and you could have far fewer badly coded or conflicting plugins that cause all sorts of problems.
I use as few plugins as possible on my websites. Usually around 15-20 per site. Here’s a list of the ones I typically use across my sites.
- AAWP – My favorite Amazon plugin
- Ad Inserter – This one handles AdSense ads and the affiliate disclosure at the top of each post
- All in One SEO – The SEO plugin I use on this site (I’ve used Yoast in the past but I don’t like it)
- Helpful – A nice and simple plugin that adds a couple of feedback buttons at the end of each post giving readers the chance to say whether or not they liked the post.
- Insert Headers and Footers – Used for adding code such as Google Analytics to the head section of your pages
- Kadence Blocks – Gutenberg blocks for the Kadence theme I mentioned earlier
- LiteSpeed Cache – Caching plugin for LiteSpeed servers
- Link Whisper – For managing internal links across the site
- ManageWP Worker – Offsite backup service provide by ManageWP
- Post Type Switcher – Convert a post to a page or a page to a post*
- Pretty Links Lite – I use it for making affiliate links look prettier than the naked links provided by affiliate partners
- Redirection – Handles redirects from one page or one site to another
- Remove Category URL – Automatically removes the /category/ section of WordPress permalinks
- The SEO Framework – Alternative SEO plugin I use on one of my sites.
- WP Broken Link Status Checker – For checking the status of internal and external links*
- WP Word Count – Tracks the number of published and unpublished words across the site
- WPForms Lite – Creates nice contact forms
- XML Sitemaps – Used on a site that doesn’t have an SEO plugin installed