Resources for bloggers

Last updated 16 December 2014

I’d like to think that blogging since 2008 has taught me a thing or two about doing it well. In any case, this page will get updated as new resources come or old resources go.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase. Please understand that I have experience with all of these companies, and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something. Please do not spend any money on anything unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.

Website Hosting

Siteground

Siteground is where One Weird Globe has been hosted since November 2014. I chose their ‘GrowBig’ program because they store the site’s data on SSD’s (solid state drives), while one account can hold multiple websites. The kicker is their SuperCacher plugin, which caches your static and dynamic content along with the most commonly run queries. Be sure to activate all three levels for maximum awesomeness. Unless your site is quite small, I’d start with their mid-range ‘GrowBig’ plan.

A few other reasons I chose them:

  • Yearly uptime: 99.996%. That means in the past 365 days or 8,760 hours, their servers were down for about 20 minutes over the course of the year.
  • Spectacular live chat support – the few times I’ve needed to use them, the wait has been almost nil and the support easy to understand.
  • cPanel, a free domain name and free transfer of a site from another host – these are fairly standard amongst hosts these days, but they’re worthy of mention.
  • The GrowBig plan adds in an SSL certificate – great for you if you’re running a shopping section on your site – and up to 30 backup copies.

I used to host the website with Bluehost, but I can’t recommend them anymore. Between downtime issues and slow site speeds, I stuck with them for longer than I should have. A number of blogging friends have reported being hacked while on Bluehost servers as well.

Website builder / platform

WordPress

WordPress for the win! It’s the only platform I’ve used since 2010, and probably the platform I’ll be using for a long time to come. Most web hosts have a one-click installation process available from their back-end / cPanel, so there’s no need to download it from wordpress.org.

Why WordPress? With specialized, all-in-one tools like Squarespace and free tools like Tumblr, it’s a fair question.

In short, WordPress enables you to create a site of any complexity, while allowing customizations and configurations everywhere you look. There is nothing that is off-limits. The only limits to WordPress are your imagination, and possibly the laws of physics.

Note: there’s a huge difference between WordPress.com (which offers hosted blogs like Blogger and Tumblr) and WordPress.org (which offers software you put on your own server). Both have the WordPress name, but you’ll find a lot of limitations on the WordPress.com servers. Unless you intend to keep your blog as just a hobby, get yourself started on your own hosting as soon as possible. It’s an investment in yourself and what you’ll be creating, but one that offers you complete control over what you’ll be creating.

To be clear, I know bloggers that use other platforms and love them. The vast majority of serious bloggers find themselves on a WordPress blog, however, and those are the resources I know the best.

WordPress Themes

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Once you have a host and WordPress is installed, you’ll need a theme. Plenty of themes are available for free, but let’s consider a few things:

  • It needs to be responsive (adjusting to fit different screen sizes, including smartphones and tablets)
  • It needs to be efficient (load quickly for reader satisfaction and a boost in Google ranking)
  • It needs to be configurable (to avoid that awkward cookie-cutter look and give you more control)
  • It needs to be modern (so your site doesn’t look like it was built a decade ago – yuck!)

I’ve found a number of themes on ThemeForest in the past – arguably, this is the place to find professionally designed themes from professional designers. Most themes cost between $40 and $60 USD, but they’ll offer lots of customization options and tweaks in addition to the modern style.

A couple of my favorites from Themeforest:

Valenti – what One Weird Globe used to be on. I still like it, but opted to try something new to refresh the site. I loved the color scheme, the mega menu, and how it looked on mobile.

X The Theme – the more I read about X, the more intrigued I am by it. It’s one of Themeforest’s best-selling themes, yet you probably won’t realize you’re seeing it again and again because the looks are so different. A dozen extensions (e.g. plugins) come with the purchase as well – few are unique or earth-shattering, but they do the simple jobs necessary to save you time.

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I’ve found Elegant Themes to have an excellent subscription option, offering access to 87 distinct themes for the price of one membership. This includes one of their most powerful themes, Divi:

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Divi is what I use for One Weird Globe right now, primarily because I’ve learned exactly how to make it do what I want it to do =)

Teslathemes 300-250

I also like the themes available from TeslaThemes.com. It’s another membership sort of site, where one annual fees gives you access and updates to dozens of themes. They’re complete, responsive, speedy, and well-designed.

A couple of my favorites there include:

Magellan – specifically designed for travel blogs and businesses.

Hotelia – while designed for hotels, its flexibility makes it a great for most any sort of travel enterprise.

WordPress plugins (the top five, at least)

I’m working on a more extensive list of plug-ins – for now, these are the top five in my book:

Sumome

Sumome powers the sharing buttons to the left and the ‘smart bar’ showing the follow buttons on the top. I’ve customized it, naturally, but one plugin powers these and plenty of other options.

Sucuri Security

Sucuri is a great way to protect your site, whether you opt for their free plug-in or their paid ‘unhack my website’ service. I joined after a hack attack caused some crap to appear on my website. After spending days pulling my hair out, I handed it over to them and got a clean website back in hours. Since then, I’ve had no problems.

Akismet

Akismet is widely regarded as the best spam comment blocker out there – there’s a very good reason it comes bundled with WordPress. Once activated (and after you’ve pasted the API key!), it automagically marks spam as spam. You’ll never even see the spam unless you go to Comments > Spam.

Be sure to copy and paste the API key you get after registering on their site – simply activating the plug-in does nothing.

W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache is my preferred way to optimize a site. It’ll singlehandedly connect with your preferred CDN (Content Delivery Network) and otherwise get the site loading as fast as your servers can work. It’s not exactly novice-friendly, and what works for you will differ according to your host. Give it a whirl, though.

WordPress SEO by Yoast

WordPress SEO by Yoast makes the site more SEO-friendly, but it’s not a ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ sort of thing. Used properly, it can override defaults and use your custom-made titles and descriptions with ease. Be sure to add the metadata when you create a post!

Content Delivery Network

Amazon Cloudfront

For those not in the know, a Content Delivery Network (CDN) is an array of servers located around the world. The goal here is to reduce the amount of time it takes to load your website. CDN’s do that by sending data to the reader from the closest server in its network.

Amazon Cloudfront is part of the Amazon Web Services umbrella, and copies data from your ‘origin server’ (e.g. your web host) across its network. Note that while Cloudfront does cache your site, it doesn’t store that data for long. Instead, it’ll go back to the origin server and get a fresh copy of the data every so often.

In case this sounds like an expensive option, it’s not.  I’ve spent no more than a few dollars a month to make this site speedier for folks around the world. My last monthly bill was for $2.38 – there’s no minimum, and you only pay for the resources you use.

For the next step in this journey, you’ll want to have Amazon’s Cloud Services host your files as well. That’s most easily done with S3, and an excellent guide is over here.

E-book creation

 

 

google-docs-logo

Scrivener logo

I’ve made e-books in both Microsoft Word and PowerPoint in the past, but from 2015 on I’ll be using Google Docs and Scrivener exclusively.

Why Google Docs? I love that it backs everything up in the Cloud as I type. Layout tools are intuitive, and everything works in the browser. It’s less ideal for someone who isn’t constantly connected, but that’s where Scrivener comes in handy. Once you’ve created your book in Google Docs, download as PDF (quality check, then sell!) or a Word document (for conversion into Amazon’s proprietary format)

Why Scrivener? Beyond making conversions and the technical side less painless, it’s specifically designed to be used as a writing platform. There is a learning curve, however, and you’ll probably need to take some time to learn a new workflow. It’ll be time well-spent, though.

Get the downloadable program for Mac or for Windows:

Scrivener WindowsScrivener Mac

E-book sales

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Beyond Amazon, Gumroad is what I use to sell my e-books directly from my site. Have a look at my books and itineraries to see the Gumroad overlay in action. It’s the easiest to set up, and their overlay works on this site – you never feel like you’re leaving One Weird Globe to complete the transaction. Free to setup and takes a small percentage of each sale.

E-mail sending

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While it hasn’t been something I’ve spent a lot of time with, Mailchimp is what I use. It’s free to e-mail up to 2,000 subscribers, and you can send up to 12,000 e-mails a month from one account. There are pro plans as well, naturally, but I haven’t yet needed to try those as yet.

Photo sourcing

Flickr Creative Commons

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For those few cases where I don’t have a photo for a post, Flickr Creative Commons and MorgueFile are where I go for free photos. MorgueFile displays public-domain photos (meaning commercial use is no problem), but you’ll want to check for that with the Creative Commons. Note that Flickr doesn’t have a monopoly on Creative Commons photos, but it does have lots of photos that clearly emphasize what license the photographer has granted. These are both free sites.

Photo editing

Picasa

Google Picasa is free, powerful enough, and easy to use – no steep learning curve here. My only complaint is that there’s no way to select an area of the photo to edit – virtually all edits are global (e.g. for the whole photo) in nature. Available for PC or Mac.

What am I missing? What are you using? Comments are open.