UPDATED April 16, 2021 – Starting in early 2021 I slashed every unnecessary plugin in an effort to speed up my sites. Consequently, my list of blogging tools is much shorter. This is updated to reflect my “leaner” toolset.
While WordPress is dang good for building websites and it includes plenty of bells and whistles, it doesn’t quite do it all.
And while I’ve been publishing sites for a number of years, I still can’t code.
The bottom line is I have to spend a few bucks on tools and software to keep my online publishing biz humming along.
Chances are, you need a few tools too.
We all have preferences, but just in case you care to know what I use, I open the lid to my toolbox below.
In case you missed the affiliate disclaimer above, this post is littered with affiliate links for the various tools and software I use that offers an affiliate program. However, I also include everything I use that doesn’t have an affiliate program.
In some cases I may not use something currently, but have in the past and mention it because it’s worth mentioning.
Table of Contents
- Content sources
- Content Optimization
- Ad networks
- WordPress themes
- Plugins to help with speed
- Logo Design
- Gutenberg Page Design & Migration
- Keyword Research
- Affiliate Tools
- Infinite Scroll
- Productivity tools
- Social Media
- Coding and Tech Help
- Landing pages
- Title Testing in the SERPs
- Online course platform
- Ad Management plugin
- VA network for hiring VA’s
- Keyword research
- Random Important Plugins
- Recommended Courses
My content sources are about as important as ad networks. Content is the foundation of what I do. As much as I like writing (and I do still write quite a bit such as this brilliant sentence), I can’t type 3,000 words per minute so I hire writers to help.
Current content sources: WriterAccess (get $50 worth of free content).
Use occasionally (when want to hand off everything including keyword research): Content Refined (use “Fatstacks” coupon to save big).
Use once in a blue moon (when I need something pretty simple done fast and don’t want to spend much): Textbroker
A final word about content sources – while I’ve tried many article writing services and sources, I have not tried every content service out there. There are dozens – probably hundreds of them. And then you can hire in-house as well. Getting your content flowing smoothly is akin to setting up a widget factory. It’s tough and slow-going in the beginning, but once you hit upon a good system, life is good.
I’m all over the map with content analysis software lately but I tend to use MarketMuse by far the most.
SurferSEO is also good for the money.
Currently: I now use AdThrive for most sites. Ezoic is great once you hit the 10K monthly page views but because I have infinite scroll on my sites, I need an ad network that accommodates infinite scroll and that network is AdThrive (read my Ezoic review here and check out my income reports here).
- Recent past: In the recent past, I used AdSense, Monumetric, and Skimlinks.
- Resources: Check out my 47 ways to monetize a site article. Who knew you could squeeze a nickel out of a site in so many ways?
What kind of publishing toolbox would this be without a hosting suggestion? I’d be negligent failing to tell you which hosting service I use – to you and myself given the spectacular affiliate commissions hosting services pay. Yeah, it’s no accident the internet is polluted with website hosting suggestions, recommendations and reviews.
Just in case you want to know what I use, here it is:
I’ve been with Kinsta for years and love this hosting platform. Every site I own is with Kinsta. Ever since migrating I’ve had no need to consider anything else. BUT, Kinsta is only necessary when you have decent traffic (250K visits+ per month). Until then, go with the something like Bluehost (see below).
Less expensive hosting I started with: Bluehost
I used Bluehost exclusively for years until I started pulling in serious traffic. I liked Bluehost then and like them now for smaller sites. It’s easy to use, has decent support and does the job.
Unless you can code a theme from scratch, you need to buy a theme for your site’s design or use a free one. I prefer paying for themes because I like the support that it comes with. Fortunately, themes are pretty cheap. Here’s what I use:
Astra Theme: Recently I finally bit the bullet and swapped out Bimber for Astra in an effort to eke out a bit more speed and better scores. It worked. Actually it worked better than I expected. Had it been nominal improvement, I’d have stuck with Bimber, but the score improvements on every niche site (including Cyclebaron.com) was dramatic. This change pushed PageSpeed scores from high orange to green on mobile.
I even added Astra to Fat Stacks blog although I haven’t enjoyed quite the improvements yet because I have far more scripts and plugins running on Fat Stacks currently. I’m working on cleaning it up but FS took a backburner to my niche sites.
Plugins to help with speed
Perfmatters: I love Perfmatters. Great UI. Rich in features to help speed up sites. I have it and use it on every site.
Autoptimize: This minifies files. That’s all I use it for. It’s free.
What about a caching plugin? On all sites hosted with Kinsta, a caching plugin is not necessary. Kinsta offers page caching so a plugin would be useless. I do host Cyclebaron.com with Bluehost and for that site I use WP Rocket. If I did not get caching with my host for my other sites, I’d use WP Rocket for all sites. WP Rocket offers plenty of great features, is easy to set up and it works.
For most website logos I use this Fiverr Gig. I gave it a shot several years ago and really liked the design and never looked back. Since then I’ve ordered a good number of logos from them.
Gutenberg Page Design & Migration
Once upon a time I had about 70 landing pages across my sites built with Elementor. I wanted to migrate those to Gutenberg, which I wasn’t terribly familiar with. The designs were more involved than a regular blog post so I needed help.
I decided to hire this Gutenberg Migration Service. They did all 70 landing pages in 3 weeks. The designs were identical to what I had with Elementor. I can’t recommend this service highly enough.
I use a number of tools and software for keyword research. Here they are:
- Ahrefs: Other than hosting and WP theme, Ahrefs should be your first purchase to help in this business. It’s critically important for me as a publisher. I use it daily.
- Frase.io: While Frase optimizes content, where it really shines is helping in crafting article outlines and generating questions for your article. I use Frase more and more. The team behind Frase is committed to making it better and better.
- Answerthepublic.com: Every writer I have uses this tool. It’s really good for speeding up Google autosuggest research for question-oriented keywords.
- Keywordshitter.com: This is a free tool that is also very good at speeding up Google autosuggest keyword research.
In late 2019, I launched an e-commerce enterprise as part of my biggest niche site. Currently, I (along with a partner) sell 4 low-priced products on Amazon and on our site devoted to selling those products.
While much of our sales are on Amazon, building our own e-commerce site will contribute to sales and increase the brands value in the long run.
For our e-commerce site, we use Shopify. As an e-commerce platform, I love Shopify and strongly recommend it.
These days I create all content in Gutenberg which gives me plenty of control for creating some nice product promos. However, I still need a plugin to display Amazon product images via Amazon’s API. For that I use AMZ Image.
I love AMZImage because it makes it easy and fast for inserting large Amazon product images into content. I use this daily across all my niche sites. If you want to use Amazon product images, check this out.
I’m having some fun with infinite scroll on one site.
I’ve mucked around with many plugins as well as a theme with built-in infinite scroll (Bimber).
Bimber theme is great but it’s bloated (I’m told it’s more bloated than GeneratePress). So, I switched to GeneratePress and deployed Ajax Load More (Paid version which you need for individual posts to infinitely scroll).
- Grammarly: Helps me, my VAs and writing team with proper spelling and grammar.
- Loom: For training videos, I use Loom. They render almost instantly making it extremely efficient. You can create folders for your team giving them access. It’s an amazing tool that I use weekly.
- Jing: I use Jing for screenshots. I used to use it for training videos, but they take too long to render. I switched to Loom. I may ditch Jing.
- Apple Notes: Apple Notes is almost worth the price of a Macbook Pro. It’s the best platform or app I’ve ever used for to do lists and jotting down notes in generally. It syncs across all my Apple devices. If loads almost instantly. It auto-saves. It’s searchable. Let’s just say I have about 400 notes that pretty much runs my business.
- Google Docs: Microsoft Office what? I’m so done with MS Office. If I never have to wait for Word to load again it’ll be too soon. Google Docs are the bomb. I use Sheets mostly but also Docs. I love how it auto-saves everything and I can access it almost immediately from any device anywhere with an internet connection. The price is right too – it’s free.
I’ve removed all social sharing buttons on all sites. I don’t think they do much other than weigh down websites.
Posting to Social Media
Is there nothing worse than posting manually to social media accounts? I think not. Especially now that most social media doesn’t really do all that much for most sites. They do just enough to warrant barfing up posts from new content.
In an effort to help me keep my sanity, I use two social media software platforms. Here they are:
- Tailwind: If you pin regularly this is a must-have tool. Load ’em up by the hundreds and take the rest of the month off. I also use it to crank out Instagram posts. Pinterest now has a scheduling option so I would NOT pay for Tailwind unless you have people pinning for you. With Tailwind you can invite users but you can’t do that inside your Pinterest account. I would NOT give access to anyone to your Pinterest account.
- MeetEdgar: I auto-post to Facebook and Twitter with this easy-to-use platform.
Coding and Tech Help
I’m many things but a coder I am not. I know enough CSS and PHP to ruin things. I’ve white-screened my sites too many times to count. I decided it was time to bring in the pros when I needed some coding. My go-to coding service is Codeable. They have vetted pros who know what they’re doing. Often they can do in minutes what would take me days and even then I tend to botch it.
If you need any tech help with your WordPress site, save yourself hours and hours of frustration and blowing up your site by hiring a pro coder at Codeable.
Site clean up
When I onboarded with AdThrive they provided me a free SEO site audit. I took them up on because I knew they’d find some things to clean up. Big sites over time get messy (broken links, bad redirects, etc.).
Sure enough, the audit service provided me spreadsheets of little problems like this. The worst issues were broken links.
However, the last thing I want to do is fix dozens or hundreds of such issues. Fortunately, the audit service referred me to the BlogFixer.com who does all this site clean up stuff for very reasonable fees. I hired them to do it. Huge time saver with big improvements.
I don’t create custom landers much, but sometimes it’s necessary. They’re a pain to create, but can look fabulous if you use the right software. Here’s what I’m using these days.
- Guttenberg: I now create most landers with Gutenberg. My favorite block library is Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg (free). I like it because it includes a table of contents block and FAQ schema block.
- Leadpages: I still use Leadpages on a few pages on Fatstacks. I like it for pages where I collect email addresses.
Title Testing in the SERPs
- SEO Scout: If you want software that tells you which titles get the most clicks in Google search, this is the best software. I used it for a few months to figure out better title formations. It worked like a charm. I discovered some great ways to write better titles. I don’t use this all the time because once I figured out the best formats for titles, I was all set.
Stock photo sources
- Shutterstock: Few publishers should pay for stock photos given Pexels and other free stock photo sites, but if you rely on a lot of images for your blog, Shutterstock is the best-of-the-best.
- Canva: If you need to make an image all prettied up with text and overlays, Canva is a great option. You can do tons of stuff with the free version. It should be part of your arsenal since it costs nothing and can make a big difference with your images.
Amazon image embedding via API
- AMZ Image Plugin: If you use Amazon images in your site, you need to use the Amazon API. What that all entails is way beyond my paygrade. What I do know is that AMZ Image Plugin makes it super easy to emebed Amazon images into my posts so that I comply with Amazon TOS. It’s fast, easy and best of all, all my VAs can use it so I don’t have to.
Both display WebP format. Both compress. Both are great. I just think Optimole is better.
Online course platform
- Teachable: If you’re selling courses and need a great online course platform, Teachable is a good option. I only sell courses via Fatstacks and do so on Teachable. It’s easy, fast and offers most of the features you’ll need. It’s not perfect but for me it’s good enough. What’s not perfect? One beef is I have to use Zapier to add customers to AWeber. I loathe Zapier.
Ad Management plugin
Now that I monetize with AdThrive, I don’t need an ad management plugin. However, back when I did, I used Ad Inserter which I loved.
- I recently switched from AWeber to Convertkit. I wanted to be like all the other cool bloggers and use Convertkit. Haha, I jest. Actually, I wanted an email autoresponder that natively integrated with Teachable (instead of using Zapier). So far I like Convertkit.
Email optin forms
- ConvertBox: I recently switched to ConvertBox for my sign up forms on my niche sites (the two that I use such forms) plus Fat Stacks. It’s easy to use and inexpensive. Leadpages landers are great too.
Email formatting software:
- Elink.io: If you’re sick and tired of manually creating email newsletters with links to multiple articles, you will be so happy I told you about Elink.io here. It costs a few bucks every month, but the time I save using this nifty little cloud-software service is worth far more than it costs.
Create evergreen deadlines
If you sell anything, you can create evergreen deadlines with Deadline Funnel. How it works is you can create time-limited promotions that trigger when a new email subscriber joins your email list. This way you can run promotions 24/7 without actually setting up promotions.
VA network for hiring VA’s
- Onlinejobs.ph: A time comes in every online publisher’s life (at least you hope it does) where you have a few extra bucks and need to hire some help. There is a lot of boring, tedious, repetitive and recurring tasks involved with blogging that can easily be handled by other people. Moreover, you don’t need to hire some high-priced American coder or designer to do much of this work. Instead, look to the Philippines which has a huge VA industry with many very capable and hardworking folks who can make your life so much easier. The trick is finding them; that’s where Onlinejobs comes in. They get employers and Filipino VAs connected. I’ve hired dozens of great folks there over the years and expect to continue doing so for many years ahead.
- I’ve also hired folks on Craigslist and Upwork.
- Currently using: Ahrefs, SEOScout, Answerthepublic.com and Keywordshitter.com
- Have used and worth trying the free trial: SEMrush
I’m a real original and use Quickbooks on the advice of my accountants. After all, it’s my accountants who have to deal with it.
3 years ago my books were a disaster. I changed accounting firms who told me to get Quickbooks. They assigned a terrific bookkeeper to set it up and now I know at any given point every financial facet of my business. While I paid some hefty accounting and bookkeeping fees to get it set up, I’m now saving money because Quickbooks streamlines the entire process with many automation features including syncing with all my bank accounts and business credit cards such as American Express.
While this type of fancy set up isn’t necessary when starting out, when the bucks start rolling in, get a handle on your finances because it’ll make your life and lot better in the long run.
Random Important Plugins
- The SEO Framework: I used Yoast SEO plugin for years. In 2021 when I started reading up on speeding up websites, I learned Yoast is pretty bulky. I also read that The SEO Framework plugin is pretty lean yet still offers pretty much everything Yoast offers.
I recommend my courses of course. I offer several concentrated courses covering all aspects of blogging based on my actually earning a very good full time living as a blogger. I teach what I do. I keep the courses updated. Each course includes access to the private Fat Stacks forum.
If you have my course(s) or don’t like me, here’s a list of some other great blogging courses (my faves).
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.