When you are first starting a blog or website, you can easily spend hundreds of hours doing research on hosting, themes, domain names, plugins, etc. I know I did. There is so much information and so many resources out there, and just trying to figure out where to begin can be enough to put you in “information overload paralysis”. To help prevent that from happening, I have put together a list of the products and services I use and highly recommend.
If you are brand new to blogging, check out the “getting started” posts I wrote for Animal Wellness Guide.
Platform: WordPress. The #1 Blog Publishing Platform. Easily customizable, and what I use for this blog. I’m on WordPress.org, the self-hosted version that allows for a lot more customization (and monetization).
Domain names: I use GoDaddy, their site is super easy to use, there is lots of support documentation available, and I have always been happy with their customer service.
Web Hosting: I am using Hostgator and have been very happy with both their product and customer service. When I accidentally crashed the entire blog by changing something that shouldn’t have been changed, they got it up and running again in no time (and stayed on the phone with me to make sure things were working properly). They have 3 different options, with prices starting at under $4/month for the basic “Hatchling” plan.
Email Subscriptions: Constant Contact. I don’t publish a newsletter for this site (yet), but I do on Animal Massage Guide. It is a great way to build a customer base and stay in touch with your customers / clients, and I use Constant Contact. They have lots of templates that are easy to customize, great subscriber management, and it’s really easy to set everything up and design a newsletter that looks good and professional.
I love everything from StudioPress. All their themes are SEO optimized, responsive (meaning your site automatically looks good on all mobile devices) and come with a bunch of different layout options. And if you get stuck trying to set up your site, their support and forum is great. Or if you prefer to have someone else set things up, they have a list of designers who are all experts on customizing these themes. This blog is running on the Genesis Framework using the Modern Blogger child theme, both from StudioPress.
ThemeForest is a part of the Australian-based Envato Marketplace. It’s a set of eight online shops where you can buy and sell digital goods for different creative specialties. It’s sort of like an Etsy for designers, so when you buy a theme, logo, photo, etc. here, you purchase it directly from the creator. The quality of products varies quite a bit, so you need to do your research before buying. I have bought fonts, themes, plugins etc. here and have mostly been happy with what I got. When browsing this site, I sort the items by rating, and look for those that have great ratings and lots of sales.
The Thesis Theme from DIY Themes is an easy drag-and-drop design, so even if you don’t know anything about code, you can still set up and easily customize your site. They have four different “skins” (the basic layout) to choose from, and you can easily control and change everything, including colors and fonts (usually when you want to change the font on a theme, you have to go into the CSS stylesheet and edit the base code of the site – not fun and it’s very easy to mess up your site this way). They are all SEO optimized and responsive (i.e. works on all mobile devices).
Advanced YouTube Embed
Have you ever embedded a YouTube video on your site, everything’s working fine, you publish the post, it looks great, but when you go back to that post later, the video isn’t there? All that shows up is a blank space in the post? So annoying! Thankfully, this plugin fixes that. After you have activated it, you’ll see this new symbol on your post and page menu, and when you click on it, a window opens where you copy and paste the URL of the YouTube video you want to embed. A new window opens where you can adjust some settings, and when you click “get code” another window with the code opens. Copy that code and paste it into your post (in Text view) and that’s it. The video stays in place. The basic version of this plugin is free, and there is also a paid PRO version that has extra features, such as an analytics dashboard with stats on for example which part of the video is viewed the most, how your site compares to others, etc. Install from the Plugins page on your blog.
Akismet is a spam blocker and comes with most WordPress themes. It makes a huge difference when it comes to the amount of spam you receive (and if you have a blog, you will receive spam messages). In order to activate Akismet, you need an API key, which is a set of numbers that you get from WordPress.com. So even if you don’t want to set up a blog on WordPress.com, you need to go to their site and create an account. Akismet has free and paid plan options called personal, pro and enterprise. If you select personal, you choose the price, from nothing to $120/year. If you go with $0, you’ll get a sad smiley face and just two boxes where you fill out your first and last name. Enter them and click on continue. A new window with your API key and instructions for what to do next opens. Go back to your blog and follow those instructions, and you are all set. If you select to pay something for the plugin, or go with the business plan, you will also need to enter credit card information in that first window. Install from Plugins page.
Great, free plugin that puts a calendar right on your site (once you have installed and activated it, it shows up in the menu under Posts) that lets you put in all your planned posts so you remember when to post what. If you install it on a blog that already has posts, it auto-populates with them, which is pretty impressive. Install from Plugins page.
Fanciest Author Box
This one is great for sites with multiple authors (we use it on Animal Massage Guide). It automatically creates “about” boxes at the end of each author’s post. There is a basic, free version called Fancier Author Box which has tabs for the author’s bio and latest posts, and a paid version called Fanciest Author Box, which also shows social media icons (and links to the author’s profile on each), provides automatic Google authorship verification, and comes with several other customization options as well. We use the “Fanciest box” on AMG; we love it and it’s a bargain at only $10. www.codecanyon.net
Fast Secure Contact Form
There are lots of contact form plugins available, and it took me a long time to find one I’m happy with. The one I use on this blog, Fast Secure Contact Form, is the best one I have tried and I really like it. It is free, easy to install, looks good right “out of the box” but also easy to customize, and best of all, has a “captcha” field which helps prevent spamming. Install from Plugins page.
Genesis Simple Edits
Great for those of us who use the Genesis framework and don’t want to mess with the code in the stylesheet. This free plugin adds a simple page under the Genesis settings where you can easily modify the post info (byline), post meta, and footer area. Once you have installed and activated the plugin, you’ll see it listed on the menu under Genesis. Install from Plugins page.
jQuery Pin It Button For Images
You know how when you mouse over an image on this blog, a little “Pin It” button appears? That’s what this plugin does. It makes it really easy for readers to pin anything from your blog, it’s free, and comes with lots of customization options. Install from Plugins page.
Limit Login Attempts
If you’re online, chances are that someone at some point will try to illegally access your site. Sad but true. This free plugin helps prevent that. If someone tries to log in to your site and fails after a certain number of times (you set the number), that IP address gets locked out and you get a notification email (so that you can permanently block that address). Install from Plugins page.
This plugin automatically creates those little images with the heading “You might also like” that you see at the end of the posts on this blog. It’s free, has a few customization options, and you set it up right on their site. www.linkwithin.com
Peter’s Random Anti Spam
This is another spam blocker, and I consider it an absolute necessity. It really helps cutting down on spam comments on your posts. Install from Plugins page.
SeedProd Coming Soon Pro
If you are building a new site, or need to do construction work on your current site and want to do it behind the scenes, it is a good idea to have a landing page on your site’s home URL to let your visitors know what’s going on (and ideally also have a sign up window so that you don’t lose potential subscribers just because your site is down). I am using it right now while I am building the new home of my animal health site and am very happy with it (go to animalwellnessguide.com to see it “in action”). It is super easy to set up, comes with lots of customization features, is integrated with all the major email marketing services providers, and looks great. SeedProd is a paid plugin, and totally worth the investment (I tried a few free “coming soon” plugins but gave up on those quickly). SeedProd
This is that floating bar with social media icons you see on the left side of the blog. It is a free tool that makes it really easy for your readers to share anything on your blog. You can install it right from your plugins page, and it comes with several good customization options. They have just added a tracking feature on their site, so you can get an easy overview of how much and where your content is shared (you need to have Google Analytics on your site for this to work). Install from Plugins page.
Use Google Libraries
Free plugin that can help your site run a lot faster by loading certain libraries from Google’s servers instead of the ones on your site. It works great and really increases the speed. When I installed it on my animal health blog, it went from taking 4.59 seconds to load to 2.32 – a huge improvement! (tested at http://tools.pingdom.com/). Install from Plugins page.
There are many, many backup plugins to choose from, some paid, some free. The WP-DB-Backup is free, and I have used it for many years now and have (so far) been very happy with it. You install it right from the plugin page, configure a few basic settings, and it’s ready to go. Install from Plugins page.
This free plugin helps you clean up your blog, manually or on an automatically scheduled basis, and removes things like post revisions, spam comments, unapproved comments, etc. Install from Plugins page.
W3 Total Cache
Another free plugin. This one helps your site load faster by creating html versions of previously visited pages rather than loading and compiling the whole PHP code and then building the page from the database. I use it on this blog and have been very happy with it. Install from Plugins page.
Yoast’s WordPress SEO
Genesis comes with great SEO features already built in, so you don’t necessarily NEED an additional plugin for SEO, but I highly recommend Yoast’s SEO plugin for a number of reasons. It automatically generates META tags, optimizes your titles and tweaks a lot of other stuff “behind the scenes” which helps the search engines find your blog. And my favorite feature is that you get a little status-button in each post that shows how that post is doing, SEO-wise, and a “checklist” of what you’re doing right and what you can do to improve it. Super easy and very helpful! Install from Plugins page.