One of the trickiest aspects of blogging is choosing which tools, resources and apps to use to help grow your blog. The choice is bewildering. I believe less is more when it comes to blogging tools. These are the resources I actually use and what I consider to be the best blogging tools to increase your productivity and traffic.
The best blogging tools to increase your productivity and traffic
As you know I am passionate about you guys, my lovely readers, and creating content that YOU want to read! One of the things you have been requesting from me is a resource guide listing all the blogging tools that I use to help grow my blog and be productive!
So ta-da! Here is a comprehensive list of all what I consider to be the best blogging tools/apps/resources for blogging…
These are all things I actually use on my blog and which I would strongly recommend. Full disclosure – some of these recommendations are affiliate links (highlighted with a *) and I would be delighted if you would use my affiliate link if you decide to purchase one or more of my suggestions, BUT I am not recommending them because they are affiliate links, I am recommending them because they are GOOD!!
Whilst I am a big advocate of not spending a fortune on blogging when you are just starting out, there are two things I would recommend spending a bit of money on to get your blog off to the best possible start, namely good quality web-hosting and a professional theme…
SiteGround (LOW COST)
This blog is hosted with SiteGround, as is my food blog Easy Peasy Foodie and I love them! I initially started with another hosting company which was terrible (and nearly lost my whole blog!) so buying good quality hosting is essential if you want your blog to be successful.
SiteGround have a number of must have features which will speed up your blog (important for SEO and growth) and keep your blog safe from hackers. But the best feature of SiteGround, in my opinion, is their amazing support team. They are just wonderful: helpful, kind, courteous – and they often go above and beyond what you would expect of a support team.
Get SiteGround Hosting*
READ MORE => How to choose the right host for your blog (and why I chose SiteGround)
Restored 316 Designs
A professional theme is super important if you want your blog to grow and not cause you headaches. A professional theme will help your blog look professional right from the get-go, but it does way more than that! Choosing the right theme can also boost your SEO, make your blog more user friendly, boost your traffic and help you make more money.
I use Restored 316 themes on both my blogs and I am super happy with them. I use Refined on this blog and Divine on my food blog, Easy Peasy Foodie. Not only are the themes themselves great, but they also have great set-up documents, great support from Lauren and her team and they are really well set up for security and SEO. They have a great quiz too to help you choose a theme that’s just right for your blog!
Get a Restored 316 theme*
READ MORE => How to choose the right theme for your blog
Blog Security is a hugely important area of blogging and one that is often overlooked… until it’s too late!
To ensure your blog is safe and secure you should always have a security plugin, to protect your site from hackers and an offsite backup of your blog ‘just in case’ the worst should happen.
I also recommend getting a couple of external hard drives to backup the entire contents of your computer, especially your photos and to also back up your files to the cloud – again just to make sure that if your laptop explodes or everything gets destroyed in a fire/flood/freak earthquake/hurricane, all your most precious files are still safe.
Finally I recommend having a good quality spam filter to protect your blog from spam comments.
All-in-One WP Security (FREE)
This is the security plugin I use and I love it: mostly because I have never been hacked! (*touches all the wood she can find*)
It has a whole host of great security features including a firewall, login lockdown, the ability to blacklist certain IP addresses, disable the ability to edit the PHP files, enable honeypot settings and more.
But my favourite security feature is the Rename Login Page Setting. This nifty little feature ‘hides’ the login page URL, so it is no longer the default URL ending in /wp-login.php but a URL of your choice. This stops hackers from even finding your blog in the first place.
It’s super easy to set up the All-in-One WP Security plugin – even for a non-techie like me and once it’s set up (less than 30 minutes) you can completely forget about it!
Get All-in-One WP Security
VaultPress (LOW COST)
You MUST back up your website. If you have not done so, do it right now! Just drop everything and back up!! Because if you don’t and you get hacked / your server explodes / the new guy at your hosting company accidentally deletes it (this actually happened to one of my friends!!) / your hosting company goes bust… you could lose EVERYTHING, and I mean EVERYTHING!!!
I actually have two backups – one is done automatically (and for free!) by my lovely hosting company*. But, for the reasons above, I have a second offsite backup with VaultPress.
VaultPress comes from the same company that operates (and backs up!) millions of sites on WordPress.com and they offer a very simple to set up system (no faffing around with a 3rd party like Google Drive or Dropbox) which backs up your site every single day and has a one click restore option, giving you massive peace of mind! It also comes with priority support from WordPress experts.
It’s not free, but at less than £3** per month it’s worth it. As someone who nearly lost everything, paying the price of one cup of coffee a month seems a small price to pay for security!
Toshiba Canvio Basics 500GB external hard drive (LOW COST)
These are cheap and really worth having. You can simply and easily backup everything you have on your computer to your external hard drive and know that if your laptop breaks, all your files are safe and sound.
It’s also great to have if you plan on getting a new computer ever. You can simply and easily transfer all your files from one computer to the other.
I use two 500GB external hard drives which I bought from Amazon. If you don’t have one, get one today and backup everything you wouldn’t want to lose!
Get Toshiba Canvio Basics 500GB external hard drive*
Of course, the trouble with an external hard drive is if both your laptop AND your hard drive get destroyed! Hopefully that will never happen. But if it did, you’d really want all your files to be safe! I use OneDrive to back up all my files automatically to the cloud.
It has the added advantage of meaning that all my files are both on my laptop AND in the cloud. It means that I can access all my files offline (e.g. on the train) and on someone else’s computer, if I need too. Great for security AND productivity.
Uuurgh SPAM! You don’t want to be wasting ANY precious blogging time dealing with spam comments. You NEED a good spam filter. I use Akismet, which is a free tool and considered one of the best. It automatically filters all my blog comments and puts anything it considers spam into a separate file for me to check.
It also allows me to moderate comments before they go live on my blog, so if anything does slip through the filter, it still won’t appear on my blog. BUT it also has the ability to allow previously approved commenters to comment freely without their comments ‘disappearing’ until approved.
SG SiteScanner (LOW COST)
One of the problems with hacks is sometimes it’s not always immediately apparent that your site has been hacked. Sometimes hackers insert malicious code into your website which isn’t immediately obvious so, your site can be breached an you won’t know anything about it…for a while!
For this reason you need some way of checking to make sure all is as it should be. My host SiteGround* have a rather nifty tool that will scan your site and let you know if anything is untoward.
They email you once a week to let you know your site has been scanned and is clean. For me it’s really worth a couple of pounds a month for the peace of mind that all is well on my site and the knowledge that problems will be picked up quickly.
Get SG SiteScanner*
To make your site look professional you really don’t have to pay a fortune. I do all the design side of my two blogs myself using two simple tools: PicMonkey and Canva.
PicMonkey (LOW COST)
This nifty little design tool is great for making simple graphics. I use it to make all my social media graphics, my pinable images and collages. It’s super quick and easy to use and you can also use it to edit photos. You can save all your work in PicMonkey to go back and edit at a later date, or you can export the files to your computer, and you can create your own templates so it’s a 2 minute job to go in and create a new graphic in your house style/colours.
I must say I don’t find Canva as easy to use as PicMonkey, but there is one area where I think it is better than PicMonkey and that is logo design. I have used Canva to design both my logos and frequently get asked who my logo ‘designer’ is! Canva is also really great for designing infographics quickly and easily using its vast collection of templates.
I’ve said this many times on this website, but I’ll say it again… Every blogger NEEDS an email list! It’s super important for growth, community AND making money! I actually use two different email marketing services. I use MailChimp on Easy Peasy Foodie and ConvertKit on Productive Blogging.
Mailchimp is a great place to start as it’s FREE for the first 2,000 subscribers – yay! It’s pretty simple to set up, you can make your emails super pretty and you can automate everything…so a newsletter will go out every time you post, once a week or once a month, depending on how you set things up.
READ MORE => How to get started with email marketing and get your first subscribers
Convertkit, on the other hand, has a lot more bells and whistles – you can do a lot more with it and it was made with bloggers in mind, and it’s particularly good if you want to create automated sales funnel sequences… But you have to pay for it…even if you only have one subscriber, and the emails are less pretty (though, this does mean they are more likely to actually get to your intended recipient). It’s also perhaps a little harder to set up in the beginning.
Having said that, I think once you’ve learnt how to do it, it’s easier to run in the long run…and you can do amazing things with automated sequences, landing pages, sales funnels and content upgrades!
READ MORE => A beginner’s guide to ConvertKit
Want to skyrocket your email signups without annoying your readers? Lots of email providers will allow you create popups, but they can be suuuper annoying, not to mention bad for SEO.
However you can use OptinMonster to create smart popups with rules about when the popup pops up! For example, you can set it to pop up only when a reader has been on your site for a certain period of time or has scrolled a certain amount.
But the two really special features of OptinMonster are that it will allow you to create Exit-Intent popups which will only appear if someone goes to leave your site AND MonsterLinks: popups that only appear if a reader clicks on a link. These two kinds of popups are much less intrusive than traditional popups, are much better for SEO purposes and have great conversion rates!
READ MORE => How to grow your email list with a free opt-in offer
Social Media and Pinterest
Consistency is the key to growing your social media following and engagement, but posting the number of times you need to for social media growth would eat up your entire day if you let it!
Using social media scheduling and automation tools are key to growing your social media and referral traffic without having to spend ALL your time on social media.
Freeing yourself from hours of social media boredom everyday allows you to spend time on the things you really enjoy and be more productive, but still keep control of what you are putting out on your social channels.
If you’are a regular reader of this blog you will know that I LOVE CoSchedule. It is no exaggeration to say CoSchedule has revolutionised my life. I used to spend A LOT of time manually creating social media posts not just for my new blog content, but for my old content too.
It used to take me HOURS! Now, using CoSchedule, I can quickly and easily create multiple social media posts and have them automatically go out at the best possible times for engagement.
Using the requeue tool I can also choose which of my social media posts I’d like sent out again: either once a fortnight or once a month. I can also quickly and easily replicate old social media posts and create templates and so much more!!
TRY COSCHEDULE FOR FREE!*
READ MORE => How to schedule and automate social media with CoSchedule
Tailwind is hands down the best tool I have found for Pinterest. It allows you to schedule a pin to multiple boards at the click of a button.
It allows you to quickly and easily schedule pins to be shared over a specific time frame, with a specific interval (so all your pins don’t go out at the same time) and it allows you to schedule pins to go out at the best possible time.
Tailwind also has great analytics to help you keep track of which pins, boards and group boards are performing best.
TRY TAILWIND FOR FREE!*
Social Warfare (FREEMIUM)
A good social media strategy is not just about sharing posts, it’s also about getting your readers to share posts too. I’ve tried a few social sharing plugins and Social Warfare is the best I’ve found by a mile.
The free version gives you smart professional looking share buttons, social share counts, click to tweet quotes and a frame buster to protect your content and pageviews!
The pro version of Social Warfare gives you all that plus a greater number of share buttons to choose from, hover pin buttons on all your images (if you want them), tweet counts, recovered counts if you change the URL (for example if you changed your blog name, moved from http to https or moved from Blogger to WordPress), customisable buttons, the ability to only show counts after a certain minimum number of shares has been met (to avoid negative social proof) and loads more! In short, it’s brilliant!
Get Social Warfare*
Keywords and SEO
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is vital if you want to grow your blog traffic with good long-term, sustainable traffic from search engines. Unlike the traffic generated by social media, search engine traffic grows consistently and much more predictably and can often continue to grow even if you don’t touch your blog or social media accounts for a while!
Yoast Plugin (FREEMIUM)
If you don’t have Yoast on your blog, get it now! It’s widely regarded as the best SEO plugin around and will help you generate sitemaps, be found quicker by search engines, optimise your site and individual posts for search engines and more!
While the free version is quite adequate for most bloggers’ needs, the premium version offers a few extra bells and whistles, for example: the ability to optimise your blog posts for secondary keywords and synonyms, the ability to get suggestions for links to other pages on your website as you write, insights into the words and phrases you’ve used most in your blog post, a redirect manager to help you redirect old URLs to new ones, a focus keyword report and a 24/7 support desk.
GET Yoast Premium
READ MORE => How to use the Yoast SEO Plugin to grow your blog
KW Finder (FREEMIUM)
A great tool for helping you with keyword research. The basic version is free and allows you 5 searches per day. The premium version allows 100+ keyword searches per day and gives 200+ suggestions for each search. It will track keywords, domains and rank updates and will give you insights on website traffic, backlinks, competitors of any website.
Get KW Finder
READ MORE => How to do keyword research for bloggers
SEO Book Keyword Tool (FREE)
If you’ve run out of free searches on KW finder and want more without having to pay, you can use the SEO book Keyword Tool. It’s not quite as comprehensive as KW finder, but it is free for as many searches as you wish. I usually start with this tool to narrow down my keyword research and then flip over to KW finder to get more in depth keyword analysis on my top picks.
Get SEO Book Keyword Tool
Broken Link Checker (FREE)
One thing that can affect your SEO is broken links. If your site is littered with broken links it can bring you down in search rankings. Regularly schedule some ‘admin’ time to fix or delete broken links on your site. This free tool will help you to find where they are!
Get Broken Link Checker
WP Recipe Maker (FREEMIUM)
If you have recipes on your website, then having a good recipe card plugin is a MUST! Not only will it look smart and professional to your readers and allow them to print off your recipes easily, but it will also do AMAZING things for your SEO.
A good recipe plugin will speak Google’s language, through ‘structured data’, and tell Google that your post contains a recipe as well as facts about that recipe, such as cook time, calorie content and star rating that will appear in search results. It will also mean Google will show a photograph of your recipe next to your recipe is search results.
Not only does this mean your SEO will be better, but your % click-throughs will increase too – meaning more blog traffic!
I did a lot of research when I moved to WP Recipe Maker and it seems to be the best recipe plugin by some way. I have been super happy with it since I got it and I’ve noticed a significant increase in search engine traffic as a result.
The free version is great and does almost everything you will ever need, however if budget will stretch I really recommend getting the premium version which will automatically calculate nutrition info for you and allow your readers to easily switch between different measurements, for example I write all of my blog posts in metric units (grams, kilograms etc.) but at the flick of a button, my readers can see all the measurements in US customary units (cups, lbs, oz…).
Get WP Recipe Maker*
Good quality photography is essential for driving readers to your website and keeping them on there! For certain types of blogs (like this one!) you can get away with just using stock images. If on the other hand you have a food blog, fashion blog, DIY blog or any other kind of blog that needs original photography, you really do need to think about investing in proper photography equipment: at the very least a DSLR camera and a good lens.
Canon 1200D DSLR Camera
This was my first DSLR camera and the camera I still do most of my photography with. It’s very simple to use and takes really good quality images. Though not cheap, it’s worth it and if you shop around you can usually find a good second hand one for not much more than the price of a compact camera. The difference between the quality of the images on a DSLR and those on a basic camera/phone is HUGE!
Get the Canon 1200D DSLR Camera*
Canon EOS 77D DSLR Camera
I bought this camera primarily for video work (particularly as it has a flip out screen), however it is an all-round great camera for photography too. The learning curve is a little steeper than with the 1200D but the pictures are better quality. I’d say if you are just starting out then go for a 1200D, but if you want to step up to the next level, then get this one.
Get the Canon EOS 77D DSLR Camera*
Canon EF 50 mm 1.8 STM Lens
The general wisdom is if you can only afford a good camera OR a good lens, then get a good lens! But lenses can cost an absolute fortune! If you shoot food, flatlays, still-life etc. and can only afford one lens get a 50mm lens – this one from Canon is more than adequate. Again, if you shop around you can find these second hand too.
Get the Canon EF 50 mm 1.8 STM Lens*
Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ 263AB100 Tripod
I actually don’t use a tripod much, but when I need one this is AWESOME. It’s very flexible (great for using in awkward spaces like my conservatory) and one of the few tripods on the market that allows you to shoot perfectly downwards (for flatlays etc.) You can also use it for shooting low down – great if you’ve set up on the floor and want an eye-level shot!
Get the Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ 263AB100 Tripod*
Adobe Creative Cloud
For editing photos and videos you really can’t beat Adobe. I use the new Lightroom CC for editing my photos and Premiere Pro for video editing.
Get Adobe Creative Cloud
For some types of blog/blog posts you can get away with using stock photos instead of your own photos.
These days there are some really great websites offering a good selection of royalty free stock photos on a CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) license. This means you don’t have to credit the photographer and you can use the images how you want (though there are a few restrictions – see here for more info).
My favourite free site for stock photos is Pexels. The photos are good quality and there is a wide variety of images available. Pretty much all the stock photos you see on this website are from Pexels.
If you want to improve your blog you need to understand which blog posts are performing well and which have flopped, you also need to know where your traffic is coming from and where it’s going to next. Spending time each month analysing your blog stats is crucial to creating better content and promoting it more effectively.
Hands down the best and most trusted blog stats are from Google Analytics. If you haven’t already, hook your blog up to Google Analytics and start looking at what insights it gives you.
If you find the main Google Analytics screen a bit daunting, you might like to try using the Google Analytics App which is available on iPhone and Android.
It is great for giving a little snapshot of your blog’s performance throughout the day and being able to compare day on day, week on week, month on month etc.
Get Google Analytics
You can also get good blog stat reports from Jetpack. The thing I like about Jetpack stats is that they are right there on your blog dashboard. I usually check these first thing every morning just to see how the previous day went.
You can see at a glance where your readers are coming from, which pages they are looking at, what search terms they are using, and which links they are coming from. It’s a lot less in-depth than Google analytics, but that also means it’s a lot simpler to understand!
CoSchedule & Tailwind
I’ve written a lot about CoSchedule and Tailwind above so I won’t repeat myself, but they both have great analytics build into them too. One feature I particularly like is that CoSchedule will show you stats on all connected social media, even if you didn’t post through CoSchedule!
Given that this blog is all about productivity, I actually use surprisingly few tools specifically for productivity (though I have carefully chosen all the tools I use for other functions to help me do things in the most productive way possible).
I am all about simplicity and streamlining processes, and I believe you don’t have to use a lot of different apps and tools to get things done more productively.
In fact, the majority of my planning, goal setting, to-do list writing etc. takes place on good old-fashioned paper – or in beautifully colour coded notebooks!
There are, however, two things I could not do without: Office 365 and CoSchedule.
Office 365 (LOW COST)
I use this everyday and I love it. It took me weeks of research to decide if I wanted Office 365 or G Suite, but in the end Office 365 won. Mainly because I LOVE Outlook and also because Word, Excel and Powerpoint have more bells and whistles than their Google Docs/Sheets/Slides equivalents.
I use Word for writing my draft posts. I use Excel for my content calendars and project planning (colour coded of course!). And I use Powerpoint for some of my design work (it’s great for making a professional-looking media kit, for example) and Outlook for my emails.
I also used Word to create my ebook Blog Smarter Not Harder and I use OneDrive to keep a copy of everything I produce, including photos, in the cloud just in case the worst should the happen.
They do a range of different levels, but the level I went for was Office 365 Business Premium, which is £9.40** per month (Ex VAT). For that I get all the main office apps (both web and desktop versions), email hosting, unlimited aliases (i.e. I can have any number of email addresses I want ending @productiveblogging.com, but they all come into one mailbox) and a 50GB mailbox and 1TB of cloud storage on OneDrive, and 24/7 phone and web support (which is fantastic!).
Get Office 365
I know, I know I’ve mentioned CoSchedule TWICE already, but I really can’t not mention it here. CoSchedule has some great productivity tools built in. Not only will it help you streamline and automate your social media, create to do lists and reminders and you can even use it as your content calendar.
Whilst I don’t use all of these features, the one I like the most is the ability to create checklists for each blog post. You can create one master checklist, which you can apply to every blog posts and tick when you have done each step – great for keeping you on track and streamlining your blogging process!
READ MORE => How CoSchedule can help you get more done in less time on your blog
It feels wrong to create a list like this and not include my office essentials: my laptop, printer, notebooks and of course, my trusty highlighter pens!!
Dell Inspiron 7000 15.5-inch HD Laptop (Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 256 SSD + 1 TB HDD)
I have always used Dell laptops and I love them. They seem to go on forever and you can usually buy the perfect configuration for your needs. The model I am currently using is the Dell Inspiron 7000 15.5-inch HD Laptop.
It’s a step up from what I had before but I need something like this for all the big photo and video files I use and edit!
It is also super speedy and lightweight, perfect for carrying around to client events and conferences!
Get Dell Inspiron 7000 15.5-inch HD Laptop*
Epson XP-245 Wi-Fi Printer
As a blogger, I don’t actually print all that much. The main things I print are a hard copy of all my accounts stuff and travel details. This printer is more than adequate for those needs. The other thing I love is that it can also be used as a photocopier and a scanner. Perfect for when a client wants copies of receipts for expenses etc!
Get Epson XP-245 Wi-Fi Printer*
Essential if you are meeting clients or going to conferences, but also useful if you just get chatting to someone about your blog and they want to take a look! I got mine done pretty cheaply at Vistaprint. They are more than adequate, but I think later this year I am going to get some professionally done, as I know they will look much prettier!
Get Business Cards
Files, notebooks and highlighter pens!
I couldn’t finish without mentioning these 3 essentials! I use big lever arch files to organise my paperwork, such as accounts, client work etc. I use magazine files to store all my food magazines. I use notebooks for most of my planning and to do lists and I use highlighter pens to colour code everything – which makes me so HAPPY!!
Get lever arch files*
Get highlighter pens*
Phew – that sounds like a long list doesn’t it? But really each one only took me a few minutes to set up. And once they are in place they become part of my routine, saving me time and helping to increase my blog traffic.
I definitely don’t believe in having tools for the sake of it or because they are new and shiny! Everything you see listed here are things I actually use and highly recommend for making the whole blogging process easier, less stressful, more productive and ultimately more lucrative!
If you are a new blogger and you are feeling a bit daunted by this list, don’t be! I recommend just focusing initially on getting good hosting, a decent theme, security, Yoast, Social Warfare and Google Analytics. Then as soon as you can get a decent camera, an email marketing provider and Tailwind. Better still why not take a look at this blog post => How to start a successful WordPress blog – where I share my step by step guide to setting up a blog, guiding you through exactly what order to do everything in.
And if you are a seasoned blogger, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you agree with my list? Is there anything you think I’ve missed off? Is there anything you’ve spotted that you really need to add to your blogging toolkit?
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*This blog post contains affiliate links, this means if you click on a link and go on to buy the product I recommend, I will get a small commission, but you will not be charged a penny more – thanks in advance!
** prices correct as at 18/09/18