Tools, Themes, and tips to help you build a profitable blog
Use these products and conquer your market by getting a head start. These are the tools I use to build all of my websites and my clients’ sites, including several eCommerce stores, popular blogs, and service showcase websites. I endorse all of these products because I use them daily. As an incurable tinkerer and explorer of new stuff, I have tried thousands of pieces of software in my quest to build the best performing and converting websites. An insatiable curiosity will kill you if you’re a cat, but can help you make better decisions as a marketer.
Edison tried 1000 lightbulb designs before settling on one final design. So, to save you countless hours of experimentation, here is my selection of final ‘lightbulb’ software tools in the online business and marketing world.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you.
I build all of my WordPress websites and those of my clients using either the Genesis framework from StudioPress or one of two options from Elegant Themes.
Three of my favourites from StudioPress are
- Altitude theme, a clean, modern, and fast theme.
- Infinity Pro theme, an eCommerce theme that integrates perfectly with WooCommerce. Beautiful, clean design.
- Smart Passive Income theme, a theme built around the idea of Pat Flynn’s SPI website. A must for fans of the passive income lifestyle.
Elegant Themes offer many themes to choose from, just like StudioPress, but two I use almost exclusively are
- Divi theme, which comes with a very handy website builder called Divi builder and superb widgets.
- Extra theme, a very professional looking magazine style theme. Wonderful typefaces, layouts, and UX.
Email Opt-in Plugins
Building your email list is super important. I’m sure you know so I’ll get straight to the point. Use one of these two options.
- Bloom from Elegant Themes, an easy to use plugin with many different styles to choose from, A/B testing options, and more. Amazing value.
- Thrive Leads from Thrive Themes. One of the most accomplished plugins in the email opt-in arena. More expensive, in the long-term, than Bloom but a very capable piece of software.
URL Shorteners and Cloaking Software
I use Pretty Link Pro exclusively. It works extremely well and is very flexible. Tracking clicks, masking affiliate links, pretty bars, and public URL shortener services are all possible with this little power pack. The Pro version is worth every penny, but there’s a free version also.
If you need an explanation of why redirecting your links is important, read this from Pretty Link.
Analytics and Webmaster Tools
Google Analytics is the big daddy of website (and app) analytics software. It’s an excellent tool. Easy to get started with but if you want to get more than the basic reports you will need to invest some time in properly learning the software. It’s way more complex and complete than most people realise. Try the (free) Google Analytics Academy or the (paid) Jeffalytics courses.
Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) could be considered a companion product to Google Analytics. It performs a different purpose but both are intricately tied and anyone with a website they care about should have Search Console installed. It’s free and will improve your search ranking just by having it installed and performing basic tasks.
I also use Bing Webmaster Tools, which takes care of Bing and Yahoo search monitoring, URL submission, and reporting. Although Bing searches are tiny compared to Google, the market share owned by Bing is actually growing. It accounts for 10-20% of some of my sites’ organic traffic. At the higher end, that’s one our of every 5 people. Nothing to be sniffed at.
The bonus of having Bing Webmaster tools is the complete reporting of all search tools. Unlike Google’s frustrating ‘not set’ keywords (due to searches being encrypted with HTTPS between client and server for logged-in Gmail users), Bing allows you to view all search keywords. These keywords can be used to improve your overall search strategy.
The other analytics tool I use is Clicky, an excellent real-time analytics software that’s easy to use and super-powerful. Clicky allows you to set up goals, implement domain validation (for more accurate reporting), bot filtering, and more. Clicky’s bounce rate measurement is more realistic than Google’s, in my opinion. A joy to use.
(full reviews coming soon)
Not to harp on a point, but I’ve tried them all. Every keyword research tool, backlink checker, website auditor, and rank checker available has been given a full examination over a period of months (or even years) in my hands. Each tool has its pros and cons. There’s no one tool that does every SEO-type job. Don’t let them tell you that there is!
These are the SEO software tools I use on a daily basis (I will highlight tools I no longer use but wholeheartedly recommend).
- KeySearch – I love KeySearch and spend hours running keyword checks and viewing the competition. It’s one of the newer products on the market and has become my favourite tool in a few months. Use code KSDISC with this link for a 20% discount
- SEMrush – One of the originals in the backlink checker & keyword research tool arena. SEMrush’s database is extensive and they have the support of some of the biggest names in the digital marketing space
- SEO Powersuite – Probably the most complete package. Containing 4 separate desktop tools for rank tracking, website auditing, backlink checking, and link opportunity discovery, Link-Assistant’s SEO Powersuite is a powerful SEO suite of tools
- KWFinder – One of the slickest looking keyword research tools. KWFinder is fast, accurate, and a pleasure to use (which is important when you spend hours on one tool alone). There’s also a companion SERP results-checker called SERPchecker, which gives deeper information about search results
- Ahrefs – An excellent backlink checking and monitoring tool. Ahrefs has a great interface which packs a lot of information in without appearing cluttered. The companies database is growing extremely fast and they have mapped out a large portion of the web, which helps users find more accurate information
- SpyFu – Great for checking your competitors’ most profitable keywords and PPC ads. Want to know how much a website spends on Google Ads? Use this tool
- Serpstat – One of the newest SEO tools around and a potential challenger for King of all-in-one SEO platforms. The team are building up their database and improving the tools all the time. Serpstat is also one of the more economical options. Give the keyword research, backlink checker, and site auditor a try.
The images you use on a website can make or break it. Especially if the website is in a visually-oriented niche, such as photography, travel, art, graphic design, etc. With the sheer number of stock image sites available these days, there is no excuse for putting low-quality images on your website. Whether you pay for images or use free photos, is your choice. Whatever your choice, don’t use photos that you are not legally permitted to do so. Always check the licence agreement and the creative commons details.
The following are some of the very best free stock image directories that I use on a regular basis. My full list numbers almost 100 sites. If you’d like the list please click here.
If you need higher-quality, specialized images or simply a larger database of photos, I recommend Depositphotos.com. Almost all of my client websites and personal business websites contain images from this stock photo site.
Your logo is very important to the branding of your blog. Your business can live and die on the strength of your branding. Make sure your logo either represents your business or is interesting enough to be memorable. Getting a good logo is difficult. Buying cheap logos, while not always a bad thing, can be problematic. You might be getting a copy of another logo. The logo might not be suitable for print or marketing purposes.
Here are some options for buying a logo for your blog
99 Designs is one of the best options for finding good logo designers. The company has gone from strength to strength thanks to the excellent business model where designers and clients both win. Check it out.
Fiverr is another avenue worth exploring but I’d recommend spending more than the $5 minimum on a logo. Quality doesn’t come cheap. You can find excellent freelancers on the site for almost anything but you should know that the good ones charge more.
If you care about organic traffic then it’s worth investing in a rank tracker to see how your website appears in the search engine results for certain keywords. Many Rank Trackers perform some or all of the following functions
- Track your website’s page ranking for individual keywords
- Track rankings across different search engines and geographical locations
- Monitor search ranking fluctuations and historical data
- Track competitor rankings for keywords
- Every year there seems to be a new batch of keyword tracking apps and I always have to give the new ones a try. The statistics and tracking part of blogging and SEO always fascinates me so finding the ultimate rank tracker is an ongoing mission. I use rank trackers to see which pages and keywords are underperforming so that I can prioritize new blog posts and editing tasks to these.
These are some of the best apps you can use today to track your website’s performance based on your target keywords:
- Microsite Masters Sporting a very clean, easy-to-use interface, MSM is one of the newest additions to my toolbox of rank tracking apps but it has become one of my favourites. The dashboard gives you a nice overview of your keyword performance. Viewing individual keyword changes and volumes is easily accessed and well presented. MSM offers a free plan with a limited number of keywords so you can trial the software.
- Pro Rank Tracker. A powerful rank tracker package that uniquely tries to identify keywords that your site might be ranking for. This useful feature alone makes this tool worth checking out. PRT offers a mobile app and covers almost every search engine available.
- Rank Tracker from SEO Powersuite. This is and has been, for most of the time I have tracked keywords, my favourite tool. It’s a desktop only tool which has its advantages and disadvantages. The keyword research tools are an added bonus and the reporting feature is excellent. I use Rank Tracker to monitor every keyword for every single website I manage. With most other products this would cost thousands of dollars. Rank Tracker costs just a fraction of that.
- I consider Ahrefs to be more of a keyword research tool and backlink checker but it also works very well as a rank tracker.
- SEMrush falls into the same category as Ahrefs. A keyword research tool at heart but it’s also a great keyword ranking tracker.
- Authority Labs – One of the slickest Rank Tracker apps out there. Authority Labs offers a 30-day trial so there’s no reason not to give it a try.
If you’re going to write content that gets attention and converts readers to buyers, then you’re going to need one of two things:
- An exceptionally good command English.
- Writing tools that help you create content that is informative, entertaining, and well-written.
I hate to be presumptuous, but I estimate that most people reading this will require the writing tools in the second scenario.
I don’t write anything without the help of my trusted writing apps. What’s the point? The app sees the text from a clinical point of view and can spot the mistakes that I never would. When you’re attached to a piece of writing (as I usually am, having spent hours working on it) the mistakes become hard to spot. That’s why I like to have some software to make me look good.
- Grammarly. Probably the most important tool in the shed. This free app is a life-saver. Grammarly has a free and paid for version. I use the free one but I will eventually move to the full version (just as soon as that big writing contract comes in). Grammarly can work on text in any app while you write, making it a great way to fix up content as you go along. There’s also an app that you can copy and paste content into for analysis. A must have.
- Hemmingway App. A great free web based tool which also has a paid desktop app version. Hemmingway App is great at telling me that I use the passive voice too much, that I write long sentences (like this one), and that I use too many adverbs. Yes, it’s like your old school teacher but it’s very effective and makes your writing shine.
- Pro Writing Aid. I discovered this app in 2017 and have been infatuated with it ever since. It’s so good. For me, Pro Writing Aid is like Grammarly and HemmingwayApp fused into one excellent tool. Check it out.
Social Media and Outreach Tools
Blogging and online business success require some form of social media interaction, whether you like it or not. I’m not the biggest fan of any social network but I’m pragmatic. I know that it works and I know what I have to do. Use these social media tools to make your life easier, less cluttered, and more productive.
- Ninja Outreach. I’ve been using Ninja Outreach for a long time and it’s always been very useful. You can perform a lot of the tasks yourself but N.O. gives you a lot more power and flexibility with your outreach campaigns. Find social media influencers, shareable content, networking leads, and more.
- Epic Beat. A new tool on my list but one that’s fast becoming an important part of my social media strategy. Epic Beat works much like BuzzSumo, the viral content discovery app. It’s a great tool for finding highly-shared content relevant to your industry.