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.
I use BigScoots and I have been very happy with them. They use cPanel, are very nice, and have great and fast support. Their plans start at $3.55/month.
Another very good option is Bluehost. They also use cPanel, setup is quick and super easy, their support is available 24/7, and their plans come with a free domain name. Plans start at $3.95/month.
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).
Plugins are a great and easy way to add more functionality to your site, but they can also cause problems. Sometimes, one plugin clashes with another, and there are many that slow down your site. If you are having strange issues with your site and can’t figure out how to fix them, try deactivating all your plugins and then activate them one by one and see if a one of them is causing the problem.
Blog / Website Pre-Launch Plugin
SeedProd Coming Soon Pro
If you are building a new site, or need to do construction work on your current one and want to do it behind the scenes, it is a good idea to have a landing page with an email signup window on your site’s home page. That way, your visitors know what’s happening and can still sign up. SeedProd’s Coming Soon is really easy to set up, has lots of customization features, works with all the major email marketing services, and looks nice and professional. It is a paid plugin, but it is absolutely worth the investment (I have tried a couple of free “coming soon” plugins but gave up on them fast). SeedProd
Recommended Live Site Plugins
Contact Form 7
Free plugin that creates a new Contact menu item on your dashboard where you can set up the signup form the way you want it. Install from the plugins page.
Genesis eNews Extended
Genesis eNews Extended is a free plugin that creates a widget for your mailing list signup. It’s super easy to set up and works with the most common email marketing services (including MailChimp).
Another free plugin (that also comes in a paid version) which helps with load times, security, and showing related content. Jetpack.com
Images can really slow down your site, and ShortPixel is a great little plugin that compresses them (as well as pdfs) while still keeping the original image quality. You honestly can’t tell the difference. There is a free version that lets you compress 100 images / month, plus they have several paid plans to choose from as well. Or you can just pay a one-time fee if you are compressing a back log of images on a site and know you’re not going to need more than the free version after that. Highly recommended.
Social Warfare is an amazing plugin that puts several important functions into one product. It lets you:
- Set up social sharing buttons that don’t slow your site down (unlike many others)
- Choose which images you want readers to share on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, etc. (so that you control what gets shared from your site)
- Easily add custom “Tweet this” quotes in your posts
- Add a widget that shows your most popular posts based on how many social shares they have
and more. It comes in free and paid versions and I highly recommend it!
I love this plugin, it a must on every blog. It tweaks a lot of stuff behind the scenes that helps your site get found by the search engines. And my favorite feature is that it puts small status buttons in every post and page that tells what you are doing right and what you can improve on, both when it comes to SEO and readability. So helpful! This plugin also comes in free and paid versions.
Additional Plugins to Consider
Depending on which features that your theme comes with, you might also want to check out:
Contextual Related Posts
This plugin automatically displays related posts at the end of each post. Looks nice, and great for getting readers to stick around a bit longer.
Genesis Simple Edits
For users of the Genesis framework. This free plugin lets you easily modify the post info (byline), post meta, and footer area without having to mess with code.
Limit Login Attempts
This free plugin helps prevent someone hacking your site. You set the number of login attempts you allow, and if whoever tries to get in fails, that IP address gets locked out and you get a notification email.
A great spam blocker, and an absolute necessity. It really helps to cut down on all types of spam on your site.