UPDATED December 2, 2019
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
- Ad networks and platforms for monetizing niche sites
- Content sources
- WordPress themes
- Productivity tools
- Social Media Posting
- Landing pages
- Poll and Quiz Surveys
- Title Testing in the SERPs
- Online course platform
- Ad management plugin
- VA network for hiring VA’s
- Keyword research
- Random Important Plugins
- Recommended Courses
Ad networks and platforms for monetizing niche sites
- Currently: I use the Ezoic for the lion’s share of my ad revenue (read my Ezoic review here and check out my income reports here).
- Recent past: In the recent past, I used AdSense, Monumetric, and Skimlinks. I use this video ad platform for all sites.
- 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?
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.
99% of my content these days is from WriterAccess. I’m upping my content quality across the board and am paying more per word on WA. The results are good and worth the cost (at least I hope it is). I’m still very demanding and do require revisions but I’ve assembled a team of great writers.
As for the recently used content sources below, WordAgents is the best quality by far but you’ll pay for it. The other three sources are lower-quality but can be good for content that isn’t complex or needs all that much research.
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.
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:
- Current: Kinsta: 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:
- Current: MyThemeShop – Fast-loading themes that look great and come with super support. What else could you ask for from a theme provider. However, these themes are best used out of the box. If you want custom designs and like spending umpteen hours customizing your site, go with something like GeneratePress which provides a lot of built-in customizations. FYI, I’ve never used GeneratePress, but I know many publishers who do and they like them so I’m comfortable suggesting them. Besides, they’re based in Vancouver, BC where I live and work which is a bonus. If it wasn’t such a hassle changing themes, I’d consider switching just to support hometown business.
- Have used and worth looking into: StudioPress
- Link Whisper: Suggests and creates internal links quickly. I find this plugin is only really suitable on smaller sites (for now).
- Grammarly: Helps me, my VAs and writing team with proper spelling and grammar.
- Jing: For screenshots and quick video tutorials (I make a lot of training videos for VAs and writers)
- 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.
Social Media Posting
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.
- MeetEdgar: I auto-post to Facebook and Twitter with this easy-to-use platform.
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.
- Leadpages: If you need landers for any purpose, Leadpages is awesome. I love the designs, simplicity and support. These suckers load fast and is pretty easy to use.
Poll and Quiz Surveys
- Opinionstage: I love using polls, quizzes and surveys across my sites. Opinionstage does a great job. FYI, the free version is more than adequate for most needs.
Title Testing in the SERPs
- A/B Rankings: 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 and iStockphoto: 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 and iStock are best-of-the-best. If forced to choose one, I’d go with Shutterstocki.
- 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.
ShortPixel is a great on-site image optimizer, especially if you want your images in WebP format. It’s easy to use and not terribly expensive.
- ShortPixel: Best image optimization plugin/service I’ve ever used. Just started in July 2019. Deployed on all sites. Includes option to convert images to WebP format.
Online course platform
- Teachable: If you’re selling courses, 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
- Ad Inserter: I daresay that AdInserter plugin pretty much perfect. I use the pro version but many publishers can get with the free version. My two beefs with it is it doesn’t work on custom posts and it tops out at 96 placeholders. I wish I could create unlimited placeholders. Why? I use Ezoic for display ads and I load up my pages with ads so Ezoic can split test them. Yes, I actually use all 96 placeholders available in AdInserter. And yes, it was really boring setting all that up. On a positive note, I’m raking in the ad revenue so it was time well spent.
- AWeber and Mailchimp: I run some lists in AWeber and another list in Mailchimp. It’s a long story that I regale you with here.
Email optin forms:
- OptinMonster: OptinMonster is expensive so only use it if you’re making bank from email marketing. But if you’re making bank from email marketing OptinMonster is first-in-class when it comes to deploying email sign up forms on a website.
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.
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’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
- Yoast SEO: I use Yoast SEO plugin for on-site SEO. It does the job for a clueless technical SEO like yours truly. I have the Premium version on a couple of sites which I like for auto-redirects and other features. However, for most people, the free version is more than adequate.
- Table of Contents+: I use this free plugin on every website I publish and put tables of content in a lot of content. I love this plugin because it works and it’s easy. There are others but at this point, I’m not switching.
I’d be remiss to not link to my courses or a few other courses that I think are great for those of you who are green and want to learn some solid systems and strategies for creating a great blog.
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 that’s “the best blogging email newsletter around.”
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.