Ten tools every successful blogger must use. I know this sounds grandiose but I mean it. This is not a guide on how to write better content or how to get one billion followers in three hours, this is considerably more important–the definitive guide for the ten most important tools you will ever use for your blog, helpful for both new and experienced bloggers. Tools to keep your site clean and fast, tools to keep your site and business safe, and tools to optimize your Google and Moz ranking. Even if you are a novice at working on back-end of your site, most are easy to implement, and even the tools that take a bit more skill are not difficult to learn. I promise, there is nothing here you can’t handle!
This post contains affiliate links but opinions are 100% mine.
There is more to being a successful blogger than writing content, getting followers, and making money. (Can you believe I said that out loud?!?) You are an artist and your website is your canvas…in order to create beautiful art, you need to know more than just how to paint–you need to know which brushes to use, which medium to use with your canvas, and the technique to apply the paints. You need tools to create the ultimate masterpiece, and these tools are the most important you will use as a blogger. Without these tools, you have nothing. Don’t believe me? Read on. I’ve labeled each tool with a category for how often you should use it, if there is a cost, and a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being most difficult) on how easy the tool is to set up and use.
Ten Tools Every Successful Blogger Should Know
I have been blogging for over eight years, and in that time have gone through some of the most life-changing situations a blogger can go through. I successfully moved from Blogger to Word Press, changed hosting companies (twice), maneuvered through Google Panda and Google Penguin, and survived Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram algorithm changes, doing 98% of the work myself.
I’ve also struggled a lot with my site. Plugin glitches, broken links, server and hosting problems, and WordPress errors. In trying to fix things on my own, I’ve successfully (ha!) broken or almost broken my site at least three times. Fortunately, I never broke anything permanently so I learned from my mistakes, including how to fix my site to be better than ever and how to find problems before they escalate. Because of this knowledge, I’ve also helped other bloggers with problems on their sites, some in pretty dire situations. In every one of these circumstances, it was one or several of the following tools that saved the day. Trust me when I say I have seen it all, done it all. These tools are critical to the long term survival of your blog.
1. Great Hosting
Bottom line, you need to go with a great hosting company. Notice I did not say cheap hosting company. There are so many hosting companies that offer low rates to get you to sign up, but once the traffic starts to roll in, they slow down the server or lock your bandwidth until you pay a higher rate for the added traffic. They also charge extra for the fundamental things you need to run your site, such as SSL certificate, email, parked domains, tech support, and domain privacy. That low rate usually turns out not to be such a great bargain after all, but you don’t realize it until you’ve signed up. Start off with a good foundation and invest in good hosting from the very beginning, a company you can have confidence in and who will be with you every step of the way of your growth. If you do none of the other suggestions I offer here, at least invest in yourself and get a SiteGround hosted account.
SiteGround is lightning fast, with servers located in the US and several areas of the world. They also have friendly online tech service, available 24 hours a day to help with hosting and CPanel issues. (I have chatted with them at 3 a.m., so I know this is true!) I have a Go Geek account with Site Ground, and have never had a problem with my site being throttled due to traffic, plus my SSL certificate upgrade was not only free (more on this later) but they have their own plugin to make the SSL transition even easier. I was with two other hosting companies before SiteGround, both popular companies, but since being a SiteGround customer, I have never looked back. They are a little more expensive, but worth it in the long run.
Note: If you sign up for SiteGround service, invest in more than one year while you have the introductory rate. Their rates go up after the initial sign-up period. However, even with a 30% increase for my renewal, I was still completely confident I wanted to remain a SiteGround member, and signed up for an additional two-year plan.
- Frequency: Yearly or by-yearly based on hosting plan
- Difficulty: 8 (but SiteGround offers free site transfer services)
- Cost: $3.95 – $495 per month depending on whether it is shared or VPS hosting with SiteGround.
2. Update Plugins & Themes
Updating plugins is not difficult, yet is one of the more difficult things to get a blogger to do. You may think it is not very important task, but if you care about your ranking with Google and Moz, you absolutely have to. Why? If a plugin becomes outdated, nefarious evil people (hackers) on the internet can change the coding of the plugin and break into your site through the back door. Guess what? It may happen and you may not even notice right away. I recently had a friend who had over 235 404’s (not found error messages) where the hackers used an outdated plugin to install malware that changed the end of her url to include spammy pay day loan information. Those 404 url’s looked like this (but there were 235 of them) :
She never even knew they were there, and the only reason we found them was because she had linked to me in a post, and her site came up as a 5 for spam in Moz in my domain authority (DA) ranking (which for a travel/lifestyle bloggers is very important). Since she is one of my best friends, I knew her site was not spam, and something had to be wrong with her site. Yep. Someone had broken into one of her plug-ins and inserted those spam url’s which, when I updated the plugin for her, became 404’s. She was penalized by Google and Moz because of it, and I was penalized too, because she linked to me. Fortunately, we are able to fix the 404’s and in about 40 days her site should rank higher (and mine too).
Outdated plug-ins and themes are one of the top methods for spammers to break into WordPress sites. My friend was lucky that this is the only thing that happened to her site, as I have seen worse. Update your plugins at least once a week. If you really know you are not going to be good about updating your plugins, get a plugin like Easy Updates Manager, which will automatically update plugins and themes for you. Better yet, if you do not use a plugin or theme anymore, just delete it to minimize the problem.
- Frequency: Daily or at least weekly
- Difficulty: 1 (Click the whirly symbol in the top of your dashboard.)
- Cost: Free
3. Set up Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools)
If you have not done so already, make sure your site is set up with Search Console. Because this is a Google product, you have a clear window into exactly what Google sees when it scans your site. It can tell you what your robot.txt (crawler file) looks like, if you have any crawl errors (usually broken link/404 problems), and if your site map is working correctly. It can also show you were your search traffic is coming from and how you rank on Google for that search. Once you have added your site to Search Console, give it 48 hours to scan your site. Make sure you also set up your Sitemap in Search Console, so Google can properly index your site, also giving 48 hours for it to index. If you see a lot of crawl errors, you know exactly what you you have to clean up so you can rank higher with Google, and you can use the next tool to clean up those errors.
- Frequency: 48 hours to set up Search Console and Site Map; then once a week to check for errors.
- Difficulty: 6 – Google directions are fairly easy to follow.
- Cost: Free ( I can help you for $20)
4. Secondary Authentication
With the increase in website hacking and ransomware, it is more important than ever to block people from getting into your site. A strong password is just not enough anymore, plus you would not believe the number of people who do not have a strong password! A secondary sign-in is extra code that is either texted to you or is available as a phone app, usually only good for about 2 minutes, that you insert with your password when you sign into your site. Some great secondary authentication plugins include Google Authenticator, Two Factor Authentication, and Rublon. Clef used to be great but they don’t support the plugin anymore.
- Frequency: Use it every time you sign into the administrator login for your WordPress site.
- Difficulty: 5- Follow the directions exactly to set-up.
- Cost: Free
5. SSL Certificate
An SSL or secure sockets layer, is an internet protocol certificate that establishes a secure connection between a website and an internet browser. (Did your head just explode?) In a nutshell, it is a more secure handshake between your website and the browser your readers use, limiting the ability for someone to view the information transferred. It is the S in https. Google has stated that they are using SSL as a factor in site ranking, with the push in 2017 to get all sites SSL certified. Most hosting companies offer SSL certificate upgrades, usually for a fee. Some hosting companies, such as SiteGround offer Encrypt SSL certification for free, plus a dedicated plugin to help with the URL change. If you do not use SiteGround to upgrade your SSL certificate, make sure you install the plugins Easy HTTPS Redirection and Really Simple SSL to help transition your site.
- Frequency: Update once and you are done.
- Difficulty: 7- Your hosting company should be able to help, especially if you have to pay to upgrade.
- Cost: Depends on your hosting. Let’s Encrypt is free on SiteGround.
Remember when I said that the #1 thing you need to do with your site was to have good hosting? This is tied for #1. You must, must, must have a security plugin on your site. Are you familiar with brute force attacks? A brute force attack is when attackers use computers to blitz attack a website with different passwords to try to find the right one to hack into a site. Three years ago my site was under attack and I had over 3,000 attempts in one hour to get into my site. It was at that moment I was thankful I had a secondary authenticator and a security plugin on my site, protecting me. They control how often someone can access your site, make sure the robots scraping your site are Google approved, protect from brute force and login attempts, and warn you if someone tries to install hacking code into a plugin. The top two companies I recommend, Wordfence and Sucuri, have free versions that work just dandy and protect you from all the nasties of the world.
- Frequency: Update once and then watch for alerts.
- Difficulty: 5- Follow the directions after you activate the plugin.
- Cost: Free unless you upgrade the plugin, but upgrading is not necessary in most cases.
7. Broken Link Checker
Did you know that every time you change the title and/or URL of a blog post, it generates a new URL and if you do not redirect (301) the old URL to the new one, you will have a broken link? Or…remember all those people who commented on your blog 3-4 years ago, including their own blog URL in the comment? 60% of those blogs are gone, and their websites are 404ing on your site, dragging your site down in Google ranking. Broken Link Checker finds all those old outdated 404’s clogging up your site and gives you options to fix the link (redirect), unlink, or dismiss the error, or recheck it. I recently helped a friend with her site and she had over 900 broken links, most from dead sites. If you have a lot of broken links, don’t panic! Take a big sip of coffee (or a swig of whiskey if it is over 500), plan to spend about 30-45 minutes, and get down to business.
- Frequency: Check once a month for broken links.
- Difficulty: 3- Install the plugin and then plan to spend 15-45 minutes cleaning up your links.
- Cost: Free
8. Page Speed
You want your website to be as fast as possible, so people can get to your “stuff” faster, right? Slower sites rank lower in Google, plus potential readers may get annoyed at the slow response time of your site and just give up on you. Here are three quick things you can do to help speed up your site with minimal effort.
- A caching tool: A caching tool helps refresh your site so your readers see the up-to-date information, when needed, and when there is no new information, it stores the old info and regenerates it so moves quicker to a returning reader. WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache are the top two free cache plugins and they are both great, although I prefer the easy and plugin compatibility of WP Super Cache. Install and setup are pretty easy and then you just let it do it’s thing. If you update your site in any way (new photos in an old post etc.) make sure you clear your cache so your content is refreshed.
- Image Compression: The images you upload are pretty bulky, and with 1000+ images on an established site, that is a lot of image weight to be carrying on your site. You need an image compression tool that will optimize your photos without losing quality. WP Smush It and Imsanity are the top two choices for image compression to speed up your site. I’ve used both and prefer Smush It because the image quality is just a touch better. Note: Smush It does offer an upgraded version but the free version is fine for most bloggers needs, including automatically optimizing photos at upload.
- Lazy Load: When your site has to load all the images on a page at one time, it can slow down your site. Lazy loading only loads the images currently being viewed above the fold, then slowly options the other images as needed. Ajax Load More or BJ Lazy Load are two great options.
- Frequency: Install and setup the plugin, then let it do it’s thing.
- Difficulty: 5 ( Follow directions exactly)
- Cost: Free unless you upgrade a plugin
9. Verify RSS Feed
Do you know where your RSS feed is hiding? If you have been blogging for several years, you likely hosted your feed on Google’s Feedburner. Guess what? Feedburner is been dead since 2014? Yep. Dead and buried. If you are still using Feedburner to deliver your new posts to subscribers, you need to get a new, improved content delivery system ASAP. My friend Lisa from The Daily Pinch, who is a a blogging goddess, swears by Feedblitz, but there is a cost. Mail Chimp is good too + free for up to 2,000 subscribers. Whichever method you use, make sure you capture the CSV file with your existing subscribers to transfer to your new RSS delivery sytem. Note: You could just leave your RSS alone as a WordPress only feed, but Chrome and Safari browser subscribers will have trouble following your feed, and you cannot keep track of how many subscribers you have.
- Frequency: Every day
- Difficulty: 5 – Transfer subscribers and set up then add a subscribe widget to your site.
- Cost: Free – $50 per month depending on RSS delivery system.
One of the best plugins for your WordPress site, Jetpack has a ton of great features to amplify and secure your site and is so easy to use. Bloggers can keep track of site stats, share posts to social media, protect against spam comments, and share related posts. Jetpack also has upgraded packages available, with site backup through VaultPress, added security, easy site migration if you switch hosting, and the ability to monetize your site through Jetpack. I use the free version, but am considering the personal version ($39 per year) which includes VaultPress daily backups.
- Frequency: Every single day
- Difficulty: 3 Super user friendly for set up
- Cost: Free – $299 per year, depending on package (Most bloggers can use free or $39 personal package)
I could not end this without mentioning Yoast SEO Premium. I’ve been using the Yoast SEO free plugin for five years and have loved it, but took the plunge earlier this year and invested in the Yoast Premium. OMG, it is life changing for improving SEO! Remember those broken links I mentioned above, the ones that form 404’s? Yoast Premium prevents 404’s from occurring when you change the title or URL of a blog post by automatically 301ing it. It also helps fix old 404’s that can be re-directed to new content. Yoast premium helps with finding better keywords, setting up your blog post for SEO, and can suggest other internal blog posts to use for internal linking (which is very important for both Google and Moz ranking).
- Frequency: I use every single day
- Difficulty: 2 Set up is easy
- Cost: $69 for one site – $1000+ for many sites
Most of these tools are fairly easy to set up, but if you run into any issues or have questions about these tools, please leave me a message in comments. I can try to make a few suggestions, or if you site needs more help, I can assist for $25 per hour.
PS: You have cleaned the ghost spam out of your Google Analytics, right? if you want to lower your bounce rate, you need to find out if you have a problem!