UPDATED August 21, 2022.
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 blogging tools and software to keep my online publishing biz humming along.
Chances are, you need a few tools too.
What are blogging tools?
Blogging tools are typically software that help you design, launch and maintain your blog so that it does what you want it to do. The types of software are many – SEO, design, writing, productivity, social media, etc.
We all have preferences when it comes to choosing the best blogging tools, 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
- What are blogging tools?
- Content sources
- Content Optimization and Quality Control
- Ad networks
- WordPress themes
- Gutenberg Block Libraries and Individual Gutenberg Blocks
- Plugins to help with speed
- Logo Design
- Gutenberg Page Design & Migration
- Outreach Link Building
- Keyword Research
- Affiliate Tools
- Productivity tools
- Legal – Trademark Service
- 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
- 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). I get 90% of my content from this platform. The rest is from in-house writers.
- Passion Posts: Get 10% off with coupon BWMZ0ZXDWK. Ordering a good chunk from PP for several websites – great quality. I stopped ordering from PP because the turnaround time was far too long. If you aren’t in a rush, the quality is very good.
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.
Content Optimization and Quality Control
AI detection and quality control: I use Originality.ai which is quite good at detecting pure AI content but also generating low originality scores for poorly written non-AI content. It’s an important part of my content process now. Read my Originality.ai review.
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 Mediavine for all sites. I was with AdThrive for a few years before this. I switched to Mediavine in early 2022. Ezoic is great until you qualify for Mediavine (read my Ezoic review here and check out my income reports here).
- 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 very recently switched to Rocket.net hosting and am very happy with it. I get better performance, it includes a ton of WordPress security, images are compressed and for all that I save over 50% in hosting fees.
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:
Currently using: Trellis
In early 2022, coinciding with my move to Mediavine for ad monetization, I switched all sites to Mediavine’s Trellis theme. I figured if I’m going to get the most out of Mediavine, I might as well go with their theme. Overall, I like Trellis. It’s very limited and expensive but it’s wicked fast. Yes, you can use Trellis if you’re with an ad network other than Mediavine.
Previous to Trellis, I used Astra Theme. Astra is a solid theme. I still recommend it if you don’t like Trellis’s lack of features and/or exorbitant cost.
I use Astra theme on Fat Stacks because I needed a theme that plays nice with landing page software. Trellis isn’t great for full-width pages.
Gutenberg Block Libraries and Individual Gutenberg Blocks
Now that I’ve switched to Gutenberg, I’ve also spent quite a bit of time playing around with various Gutenberg blocks and block libraries. My go-to block libraries are:
- WPStackable: There’s a free and premium version. I love the design library and the post grid.
- Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg (by the Astra Theme folks). I prefer WPStackable but this offers some nice block options that WPStackable doesn’t offer.
- PostX: The best post grid block when you really need to drill down your taxonomies.
- How-To schema: I use WP Recipe Maker which includes a “how-to” schema option that is absolutely amazing for how-to articles.
- Recipes: I use WP Recipe Maker which has Gutenbenberg blocks for your recipes. All in all, this is an amazing plugin.
Plugins to help with speed
I ditched all speed plugins because I don’t need them with Trellis theme. Trellis has all the speed optimizations built in.
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. I’ve also created logos myself with Canva.
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.
Outreach Link Building
The only link building I’ve done at any level of scale in recent years (many years actually) is what’s called outreach-based link building. Specifically, I used Niche Website Builders Shotgun Skyscraper service for this. It’s an outstanding service that did a great job for me attracting links with great content they produced via outreach. I used this service for one site fairly extensively.
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.
- KeywordChef: I love, love, love KC. It does what no other tool does. Most importantly, I’ve found so many great low competition keywords with it. It’s unique. It works. It’s pay as you go.
- 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.
- Answersocrates.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.
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.
- Google Sheets: I pretty much run everything with Google Sheets. I track content at every stage for every site and so much more. I have 20+ sheets I use on a regular basis. It’s free, fast and does the job.
- 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. I also use Loom for screenshots.
- 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.
Legal – Trademark Service
In 2020 I started the process to trademark my biggest site. I used a local corporate law firm. They are doing a very good job but it’s costly. For my second trademark application, I thought I’d try an online service.
In May 2021, I started chose the Plug and Law Trademark service which costs a fraction of what I paid a local law firm. This trademark application is underway. At these prices, it makes sense to trademark additional domains once they start earning good revenue.
I use Medivine’s Grow Social plugin. I tend to use as much of what Mediavine offers because the tech all works so well together.
Posting to Social Media
I’m currently using Social Pilot for posting to Facebook. I tried Buffer but Buffer pulled the wrong images which was weird. Social Pilot works great and offers reposting which makes reposting successful posts very easy and fast. So far I’m impressed with Social Pilot.
I also use MeetEdgar for one large FB page. I’ve loaded in hundreds of posts so it runs on auto-pilot via MeetEdgar.
Since Pinterest decided to pretty cut off clicks for pubs in 2021, I stopped creating and posting pins to Pinterest. It was a waste of time. I still get around 5,000 daily visits from Pinterest which is probably from website visitors pinning. The point here is I no longer use Tailwind.
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 libraries are WPStackable (freemium) and Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg (free).
- For Fat Stacks landing pages I use Divi page builder.
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.
- SEOTesting.com: I’m also using this great tool to track any SEO testing I do.
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.
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 Mediavine, I don’t need an ad management plugin. However, back when I did, I used Ad Inserter which I loved.
If I needed an ad management feature now, I’d use the Custom Layouts in the Astra theme. This would save me from having to install a separate plugin for it.
- 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.
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.
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 course of course. I offer one large, A to Z blogging course setting out everything I do to grow niche sites. 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.
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.