Starting a blog is so confusing. There’s so much you know you don’t know and there’s even more that you don’t know that you don’t know.
I’ve been there.
What I wanted more than anything was to be able to perch behind an established blogger’s shoulder for a while and watch what they do. See what kind of plugins they have, what tools they used, and how.
That never happened for me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make it happen for you guys!
Now, before we jump in, I must make a disclaimer here – not all of these tools are free. I’m a bootstrapper and I get that you probably don’t want to spend money on tools unless you have to. Well, these are the ones that I just had to have 🙂
Here’s the tools I use for This Mama Learns:
1. My Platform – WordPress
Does this even count as a tool? I don’t know. But I’m using WordPress. I didn’t even know Squarespace was a thing until recently.
There’s a bit of a learning curve (I’ve got something in the works to help with this…) but once you get used to the interface and learn where everything is, it’s not that difficult.
If you’re on the fence about WordPress, it’s what most bloggers are using. So if you’re considering a side hustle in Virtual Assisting or Freelance Writing, it’s good to get on WordPress and develop your skills.
2. My Hosting – Wealthy Affiliate
I get my hosting through Wealthy Affiliate. It’s somewhat pricey as far as hosting comes. But, it’s comparable in quality to the best plans in the market, so I deal.
It comes as part of a membership site with loads and loads of free training, weekly webinars and a buzzing community of up and coming affiliate marketers.
Did I mention that they also have a very generous affiliate program and, oh yeah, you actually get paid for producing quality tutorials?
3. Divi WordPress Theme
Are you using a free theme or a paid theme? I used a free theme for the longest time. However, it just wasn’t customizable enough and it was driving me crazy that I couldn’t make my theme do what I wanted it to, or be the colors that I wanted it to be.
I definitely recommend getting a paid theme asap, because the amount of work it takes to set up and rejig everything after you change themes is a serious pain. No really. I’m not kidding.
When you change theme, featured images that were once square are now rectangles, widgets that were in your sidebar go awol and appear in your footer, and some widgets just give up and stop working entirely.
Divi is great because it’s super customizable and it also comes with a full suite of specialized plugins built specifically for the theme. Most notable of these are the Divi Builder and Bloom.
You can just do so much with Divi. I love it.
4. My Email Service Provider – MailChimp
I started out using Aweber back in 2011, so… MailChimp is NOT that hard to use in comparison. That being said, it isn’t very intuitive. We’re getting acquainted though and I can make it do most things I want now.
You need to have an email service provider, preferably from the get go. Yes, you may not get too many people signing up straight away (that’s why you need to offer them tasty content upgrades they can’t resist), but you should not wait. I repeat (because it’s that important), do NOT WAIT to start your email list.
Number 1 regret of most bloggers? Not starting their email list sooner. Click To Tweet
MailChimp is great. Unless you want to put on some fancy automation (like for an e-course), it’s free for your first 2,000 subscribers. And, it starts at $10/month for the automation features.
Update: I now use ConvertKit – read why here!
5. Google Analytics
Wow. I can’t live without my Analytics. Ok. That might be a little bit dramatic but I do enjoy them a lot. I check them way too often (can any new blogger stop themselves? Especially when your blog is growing?)
There’s so much you can learn from them. Where your traffic comes from, what posts people visit, even what they click on your site. It’s invaluable information that can help you boost your blog and capitalize on your best posts.
6. Social Warfare
I started out using SumoMe, but I kept getting reports that my share buttons were over the top of text and annoying people. (Might be something to check, if you’re using them.)
And, I kept hearing about Social Warfare like it was the best thing since sliced bread, so I decided to get it (it’s reasonably priced.)
Why Social Warfare? There’s a couple of things that make Social Warfare amazing. Firstly, you can customize your share buttons in so many different ways so that you get the right fit for your brand.
Secondly, you can prefill all the little social media blurbs so that when someone shares your post, you get to control (somewhat) the message that goes out. And thirdly, it’s excellent for Pinterest because you get to select the image and hitting the share button takes you straight to Pinterest. There’s no just hoping that someone will choose the right image to share.
Bloom is amazing.
That is all.
Ok. Well, it comes packaged with Divi and it is a fantastic email opt-in plugin with features you don’t find in most other tools without paying for their premium version per month.
My favorite thing to do with Bloom is the content lockers. You can see them all around the blog. I like this method of delivering my content upgrades because:
- I’m lazy. And,
- It’s easier for you guys too.
What do I mean? Ok. To set up a freebie in the content locker all I have to do is upload my pdf document into WordPress and add an image with a link to it into the content locker. Super simple.
As opposed to the traditional way of doing a freebie which would involve logging into MailChimp, stuffing around with emails (see I don’t quite have a handle on MailChimp’s features…)
And it’s much easier for you, because as soon as you input your email address, you can download the freebie. No stuffing about with your email. Win – win!
What else can I do with Bloom? Well, I’ve just managed to make CSS work to call pop-ups. That’s pretty special. And the opt-in boxes are extremely customizable.
I recently discovered this plugin (thanks Raelyn!) and it’s partly the cause of my drastically reduced bounce rate. (It’s in the low 70’s). What it does is creates a small popup from the corner of the screen once you reach a certain percentage of the page. You can change the percentage. The popup suggests the post immediately prior to the one they’re on, you’ll run into it pretty soon if you haven’t already – right on this page.
Another way to reduce bounce rate is the Yet Another Related Post Plugin. I don’t have this one set up quite how I want it – I really like how it looks on other bloggers’ sites, with nice thumbnails, but I found that it was cutting off the title text of my post. I figured the title was probably the more important part of it. You can see a demonstration of what it looks like at the bottom of this page.
10. All in One SEO
A lot of people use Yoast. I use All in One SEO simply because it’s what I’m used to.
What I like about All in One SEO (not saying Yoast doesn’t have these features because I frankly haven’t used it) is that the Google Analytics, Pinterest verification and rich pin verification is all in the one plugin. I also like that it does the site map too. Saves having 10 million plugins.
I struggle with organization. You know why? I’ve been in a several jobs where maintaining the organizational system was more of a time impost than actually doing the work. And, I never want to have that happen again.
I’m trying to get into using Trello. I think this is one of those moments where I just NEED to see how another blogger uses their Trello. Preferably in video form. I’ve downloaded a couple of template boards, which are interesting, but nothing beats seeing it in action.
Here’s a sneak peak into my blog’s Trello board:
Cost: Free (basic account)
12. Google Docs/Sheets/Slides
I’m a huge fan of Google docs. And Google Sheets. And Google Slides. Google Drive. I guess I kind of like Google.
The Google suite of office tools is great if you don’t have a subscription to Microsoft Office.
I type up my blog posts into a Google Doc. I keep my Freelancing financey stuff organized in a Google Sheet. I will do my webinar slides in Google Slides. (Did I just say webinar? Shh… don’t tell anyone but I think I might have made a commitment to myself to do one this month.)
Isn’t it nice when technology works for a change? I’ve put off making screen capture video for ever because I thought it’d be too hard, too draining on my computer and too expensive. Nu uh. So wrong.
I started using Screen-Cast-O-Matic the other day for a guest post and it was sooo easy.
So. Expect more screen cap videos from me.
Cost: Free, but leaves a watermark in the video. Upgrade to pro to remove it.
Ooh I love Buzzsumo. This is one easy way to spy on your competition and work out what blog topics might be popular.
I only use the free version, so you get limited searches per day. If you search on a topic, it will show you what the most shared content is in that topic. You can sort by shares – total shares, Facebook shares… etc.
Or, if you’re in a ninja-spy mood, you can type in your favorite blogger’s url and see which of their posts has the most shares.
PS. This is not unethical. Most bloggers display their share count – prominently – and often have a list of their most popular posts on their website. Proceed at will!
Cost: Free (pro version available)
Canva helps bloggers look like professional designers. It’s really an amazing tool for editing your images for all those social media posts (you know what I’m talking about right – the landscape image for Twitter, the square image for Instagram, the tall image for Pinterest… the list goes on.)
Canva has over 1 million images available for you to use, or you can upload your own. The best thing about it is all the different templates and layouts you can use.
I use Canva for all the images on the blog. I love the fact that I can save the images and keep it as a template for next time. So, creating the blog images doesn’t take very long now – just a few clicks to swap the background image over and add the new headline.
16. Tailwind for Pinterest
Tailwind is my favorite tool right now. It’s single-handedly responsible for the majority of my blog’s growth over the last month.
But do you really need a Pinterest scheduler? If you want to make Pinterest a serious part of your marketing plan, then I would say yes.
The key to growth on Pinterest is activity. Tailwind makes it possible for your account to be very active without having to be on Pinterest all day (and night).
Tailwind is a great option for a scheduler – it is continually adding new awesome features, like Tribes and an app for the iOS (I’m looking forward to the Android version.)
Cost: Free trial, $10/month paid annually or $15/month
17. Hootsuite for Twitter
I’m using Hootsuite simply as a viewer for Twitter right now. I don’t know how anyone actually uses Twitter without something to interface with the feed, there’s simply too much going on.
I like to split my feed using the Lists feature on Twitter. I have a list of Influencers and a list of freelance writing jobs. This helps to separate things out of the general torrent that is Twitter.
I can’t not use this now that I’ve discovered an amazing use combined with IFTTT. Ok Ok. Wait for it.
Twitter / Facebook on complete autopilot. Hands off autopilot. Not just repeating the same stuff over and over autopilot.
Oh yes, my friend. It’s possible to do this by combining the power of Buffer with the power of IFTTT.
And it’s fantastic!
I’ve talked about IFTTT a little bit before. But honestly, the more I use it, the more I love it. The more amazing things I work out for it to do. It honestly deserves it’s own post!
IFTTT works like a recipe: if THIS happens, then THAT happens. And the THIS and the THAT can be from the huge number of things IFTTT has in their options. I know that might be a little confusing, so I’ll just tell you my recipes:
IF a new post appears in the ThisMamaLearns RSS feed THEN it posts to my Facebook page.
IF a calendar entry begins with #Twitter THEN use the information in the calendar entry to send a Tweet.
And my new favorite:
IF a new post appears in my favorite blogger’s RSS feed THEN Buffer it to be tweeted out.
Yes. IFTTT is great for automating social media. And I LOVE that last recipe because your Twitter is constantly being updated with brand new blog posts, it’s not just retweeting the same stuff over and over like the calendar method. It works like the Feeds function of Buffer (which is a paid feature.)
And it’s free. What’s not to love about that?
(Note – some apps won’t integrate with IFTTT unless you pay for the upgraded version of that app.)
Wrapping it Up
So those are the tools that I’m using right now. Are you using any of the same? Do you have a great tool you’d love to recommend?