I’ve only been at this whole blogging thing for a few years so I am by no means an expert, seasoned blogger and believe me, there’s a ton of learning and changing that I’m constantly working on myself. But there’s been SO much I’ve learned that has helped this blog immensely. Blogging can be overwhelming, confusing, and is a ton of work, so it is my hope that this roundup of resources I’ve found will help others navigate the crazy world of blogging just a little bit better.
If there’s something I’ve missed that you want to add, tell us about it in the comments so we can keep building on this list!
**affiliate links included for your convenience, click here to see my full disclosure policy.
- Platform – This is where you run your blog from. There are a handful of options, but the main two are Blogger and WordPress. I started out on Blogger then moved to WordPress on January 1st this year. Blogger was great, but it is run by Google so you don’t have full ownership of your site. Wordpress, however, is not so you don’t ever have to worry about your site being taken down. I cannot recommend WordPress enough, it completely changed the way I blog and it is SO much more user-friendly than Blogger. I had to teach myself how to insert all sorts of code when I was on Blogger, but in WordPress there are plugins and widgets that accomplish these tasks code-free (we’ll talk more about that later). If you haven’t started your blog yet, I highly recommend starting out on WordPress. If you have, and you’re on Blogger, I also highly recommend migrating over. I hired my original designer to migrate me over so that the graphics would all be the same and everything would be ready to go, but there are numerous tutorials on how to do it yourself.
- Hosting – I started out on a non-hosted Blogger site (xxx.blogspot.com) but became self-hosted about six months into it so that I could get rid of the standard blogspot address and become www.tableandhearth.com. I went with BlueHost and it was much more inexpensive than I expected, about $5/month. I left BlueHost in November 2015, not because of massive traffic, but because I was experiencing frequent outages and was fed up with less-than-stellar customer service with BH (email me if you’re curious about it all). I am now with SiteGround and have been absolutely blown away by their customer service! I will also be moving my domains over to SiteGround soon so I can be completely out of BlueHost.
- Templates/Themes – Themes are like your blog’s skin, it’s is your site’s general appearance. The possibilities are endless for themes on both Blogger and WordPress, from free to complete custom designs. When I was on Blogger I had one of the standard designs for a few weeks (I wish I had a picture of my page then), then bought a template on Etsy to make it look a little more unique and interesting. When I moved over to WordPress, I used the free Foodie Pro theme on the Genesis Framework and just switched to a new them from AngieMakes this summer which I LOVE!!! It’s so nice to be able to customize absolutely everything and their customer service can’t be beat. I’ve also heard great things about Restored 316 themes.
- Google Analytics – Once your site is up and running, you’ll want to set up Google Analytics as soon as possible. This is the industry standard for reporting your pageviews, referrals, demographics, and all kinds of other information surrounding your site.
WordPress allows you to use things called plugins for a number of tasks and gadgets for your site. They are extensions you install on the backend of your site which enable certain functions and graphics without having to mess with coding like you do on Blogger. There are endless plugins out there but these are some of my favorites.
- RSS Image Feed – Adds the featured image to your post excerpts in RSS feeds (like automatic emails).
- Signup Form Popups – You want to build your email list as much as you can, so an attention-grabbing popup can help. Both PopupAlly and Sumo are super easy to use popular options. I had PopupAlly and loved it but switched over to Sumo’s slide-in recently to be a bit less-intrusive. I love that both of these you can completely customize and set to show at different times (immediately, after 30 seconds, on exit intent, after scrolling 40% of the page, etc.).
- Nofollow Plugin – If you use any kind of sponsored or affiliated links in your posts, those links are required to be “No Follow”. It took me forever to really pay attention to and understand this, but there are plugins you can install so that all you have to do is check the box when you insert the link and you’re done. Be sure to check that the plugin is working with this Chrome extension (nofollow links are outlined in red) as I’ve had an issue with some of them. I now use Rel Nofollow Checkbox and it has been working well. To read more about no follow links, read this.
- J Query Pin It Button for Images – Allows you to upload a custom Pin It button graphic to show over your images so that readers can easily pin your post.
- WP Gallery Custom Links – This is the plugin I use for all my galleries. I like that you can enter code for no follow links the code for it to make affiliate link product galleries. All my project galleries are with it, and you can see it used for affiliates on this page.
- WPsmush – Yet another way to further optimize your images. This automatically reduces the file size of your images when you upload them.
- EasyRecipe – For food bloggers, this allows you to create printable recipes within your post. Customizable to match the look of your site.
- WP Edit – Adds more font appearance options that what is standard in WP
Photography & Graphics
- DSLR Camera – One of the best things I’ve gotten for the blog is my Nikon D3200 that was a birthday present from the husband. I shot in automatic mode for the first year I had it and even though I knew it wasn’t all it could do, it was a marked improvement from my phone which I had been using (example: this post, ugh!). This spring, I finally did some Shoot Fly Shoot trainings and learned how to use it in manual. As expected, it’s a game changer, even as beginner as I still am. Craftsy also offers photography courses.
- Tripod & Remote – Our house doesn’t get the greatest light inside so I have to really slow down my shutter speed to make shots work, which makes it impossible to get a non-blurry shot. A tripod is a must. I actually can’t remember what it was like before it. I also got a remote for the camera as well, so in conjunction with the tripod, I never have to worry about blurriness. I still do sharpen, that’s just cause bloggers are sharp-obsessed. Bonus too that now I can have my hands doing “action” shots without being in super weird Twister positions.
- Photoshop / Lightroom – Photoshop is the well-known, long time standard for graphic design and photo editing but it’s pretty daunting. I still plan on learning it someday but for now I am using Lightroom and LOVE IT. It’s so user-friendly and there’s a ton of great tutorials out there (here and here). It comes as a monthly subscription with other Creative Cloud products, but we bought the standalone because I don’t need all the other programs, plus after a year the subscription would be more expensive.
- Shoot Fly Shoot – Video courses to learn how to use your DSLR as well as how to work Photoshop and Lightroom. I’ve taken their two introductory courses as well as the Lightroom course and they do such an amazing job of explaining it all to you in simple, down-to-earth, non-technical jargon. And they don’t go too fast which is really nice. Your videos are forever available and you can watch them as many times as you need.
- PicMonkey – If you don’t want to delve into Photoshop or Lightroom yet and just need a quick and easy way to edit photos, PicMonkey is decent. I used the free version for a year or so and then upgraded to the Royal paid plan to get access to more fonts, gallery styles, and other options, until I switched over to Lightroom. I still use PicMonkey to do collages though. It’s not the most time-saving or high-quality method, but it’s free.
- Creative Market – An amazing marketplace for graphics, templates, themes, and fonts. I can get lost on there for hours.
- Canva – Another free image editing/designing website. I haven’t used it myself yet but I hear great things about it from other bloggers.
- Image-Maps – I just recently learned how to make Image Maps and now I’m obsessed with making them. It’s totally free and allows you to make a collage and have each image in that collage clickable. We use these for our group challenge projects and I used it to make the categories and posts over in my sidebar.
Now, a little PSA about Image-Maps:
– After you’re done assigning the images their URLs, you’ll click “Get Code” which will bring you to a tab that has a window like below.
– In red, there is a message that says “****WARNING – If you uploaded your image, you must change the image source – ALL NON HOSTED images will be removed within 24 hours.”
– Don’t ignore this message! I did up until recently, cause I didn’t really know what the heck they were talking about. It means they won’t continue to “host” the image you uploaded and you need to replace it with an image you host. Now, while it may not be 24-hours before they find it, they will eventually and you’ll get an ugly “404 missing” graphic instead like I started seeing.
– So, to fix it, first upload your original image to your WordPress media
– Then, grab the URL for that image (something like http://www.tableandhearth.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/IMG_0676.jpg)
– Paste that address over the section of code shown in red here:
– Now you’re image map is all yours and won’t disappear.
- DaFont – A wealth of free downloadable fonts. Many times you can find free versions of otherwise expensive fonts on here. Be forewarned, you’ll get sucked in and want all of them.
Trainings & Resources
- The Blogger’s Guide to Copyright and Trademark Law – While maybe not the most illustrious of topics, the legality issues that come with blogging are frequent and are something that every blogger should be familiar with. Thankfully, Bre from Average But Inspired, who is a copyright attorney by day, was kind and thoughtful enough to break down this daunting topic into layman’s terms to tell bloggers how to protect their content, and how to share content the right way. It is an absolute MUST for any blogger’s library IMO.
- Affiliate Marketing for Bloggers – Affiliate income can be a HUGE revenue source for a blog, but it’s a daunting task trying to figure out how and where to go about doing it. I didn’t even know what exactly it was until I had been blogging for a year :/ Thankfully, Tasha from Designer Trapped in a Lawyer’s Body put it all into an awesome eBook so there’s FINALLY one source to help get you set up. Her tips and tricks are awesome and implementing them on my site has finally allowed me to start bringing in affiliate income to help keep the blog sustainable. We’re already sharing with our readers the things we love, affiliate marketing is just a nice, simple way to bring in a little revenue while doing so.
- The Ultimate Photography Book for Bloggers – If there’s one area I’m really trying to push myself now it’s photography, and this book came HIGHLY recommended to me from bloggers whose photography I’ve always envied. One of them even said “if there’s only one ebook you ever purchase in your blogging life, this is it!!”. I haven’t gotten to sit down with it yet but I already know it’s going to be amazing because Aniko is amazing and so are her images.
- What the Tech? – Lord knows the technical side of blogging is a daunting thing to learn, and do we really ever?? As much as plugins and platforms can help us avoid it, we all need to know some sort of HTML and coding to get done what we need to get done sometimes. Lesley is a huge wealth of knowledge when it comes to this and is always helping bloggers with their questions and issues on the technical side. So of course we were all stoked when she made an eBook for it!
Advertising & Affiliates
- Skimlinks – This has been a total game-changer in my affiliate marketing. I learned about it from Tasha’s eBook mentioned above, and it makes using affiliate links immensely easier. A simple widget allows any product links on your posts to be affiliate links, and there is a browser extension that makes it easy to grab an affiliate link from any page you’re on. It’s nice not to have to join a ton of networks but still get affiliate benefits from sites.
- Other Affiliate Networks – Various websites/stores offer their affiliate programs through various networks. Some of the larger examples include Share-A-Sale, PepperJam, AffiliateWindow, and Commission Junction. Through those, you can find your unique affiliate URL and link to product pages through that. Tasha’s affiliate marketing eBook breaks all of this down and even provides tracking spreadsheets and checklists to keep it all straight. If you’re on Commission Junction, definitely check out their Content Certified Program! RewardStyle is also an amazing program but just be warned, it can take a while to be accepted, but keep trying! If you would like a referral from me to RewardStyle, just shoot me an email :)
- MediaVine – I started with MediaVine in fall 2016 and absolutely love them. They are free to join and accept over 30K pageviews/month. You can tailor your ad settings as you wish and their customer service is phenomenal. I was with Monumetric before and experienced many issues and poor customer service so I was happy to find MediaVine. If you’re big enough to get on with AdThrive though, definitely go that route, but for smaller sites, MediaVine is amazing.
- Google Adsense – This is Google’s ad network and is pretty straightforward to implement although they don’t offer a ton of ad size/placement options. My earnings were pretty mediocre with it but many bloggers do really well with it. It’s a great place to start with, and is recommended, for your first ads. But I’d look into other networks as soon as you start to see growth.
- BlogHer – I am part of BlogHer’s influencer network. I was previously a publisher but their ad revenue was pretty variable and they have contracts which I was not a fan of. But I stayed on as an Influencer and occasionally will get relative sponsored opportunities but they are pretty few and far between. I would suggest their Influencer program over the Publisher (ad) network and use MediaVine or AdThrive for your ad network.
Staying on top of Things/Social Media
- BoardBooster – Game.changer. Seriously y’all. I implemented this in spring 2015 and by the end of the year, I over doubled my Pinterest followers and have Pinterest as a top referrer. It’s relatively user-friendly and there are a handful of great tutorials on how to get it all set up. I have my group boards set to a pretty moderate pinning schedule and have my personal boards set up on looping. There’s a free trial and then the plans start at only $5/month for 500 pins.
- CoSchedule – This is one of my favorites as well, and I use it mainly for sharing posts on Facebook and Twitter. It has a plugin that integrates with your dashboard so when you compose a post, CoSchedule is right at the bottom and you can easily make a handful of social shares from right there with the URL already integrated. It’s nice to see it in calendar view so I know what I’ve got scheduled to go out when. It’ll also pull up old posts to make them easy to share again.
- Blog Planner – There comes a point with a blog where there’s so many ideas and commitments that you’ve got to start jotting it down and keeping it all organized. I’m old-school and still prefer a paper planner but there are a ton of electronic planners and PDFs that you can customize and print as well (like this one). I have one from Plum Paper that is PERFECT but I’ve heard great things about Erin Condren too.
- Hootsuite – Another social media scheduling tool. I haven’t personally used it yet but I know many bloggers who do, mainly in conjunction with a few others as well.
- Mailchimp – This is what I use for my email subscriber list. Kirsten’s “Inbox of Opportunity” eBook walks you through setting up your lists and campaigns, and Corey from Tiny Sidekick has a great tutorial for how to offer a daily vs. weekly RSS option.
- Edgar – This seems to be the ultimate tool in social media scheduling. It comes at a price, $40/month, but Edgar can do some pretty awesome scheduling according to my blog friends who use it and they completely swear by it. I like that it has categories that you can add posts to, like affiliate links, blog posts, other’s projects, food, etc. It does have a free trial so you can give it a whirl before you commit.
- Leadpages – If you will be offering email incentives or ebooks, Leadpages is highly recommended to manage landing pages and signup forms. Again, I haven’t used it personally but I’ve seen it in action on friend’s blogs and it’s pretty awesome.
- Hellobar – Totally free, totally easy to use, and totally customizable. It puts that little banner at the top of your site which you can link to any outlet you wish such as your email list, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. They also offer popup boxes and little windows that slide in at the bottom too if you don’t want the banner. The only drawbacks are that for email subscriptions, you can’t offer anything but name and email fields, and lately they are running their own advertising on them so it’s not guaranteed readers will see your bar.
- Rafflecopter – Easy and user-friendly way to run giveaways. I love that you just have to add the code once and if you make any changes to links during the giveaway, it automatically updates and you don’t have to update the code. I use the free version and use the “Create Your Own Option” link to make entries that are normally under the paid version.
- Moo – I had some business cards made here before I went to a conference this summer and I was amazed at how practical they were, how good they looked, as well as how fast they showed up. I had 50 square custom-designed cards printed front and back and it was under $30 with free shipping and 10% off. And I received them just a couple days after ordering.
- Minted – Aside from having beautiful art, fabric, and event decor, Minted has some of the prettiest stationary and paper goods that I’ve seen. They’re a great source for business cards too.
- Etsy – Awesome marketplace for creatives. In addition to the arts and crafts Etsy offers, it’s also a great place to find graphics, themes, and connect with graphic designers for custom work like logos and media kits.
- Conferences – I can’t say enough how inspirational going to the Haven Conference was for me in 2015. The connections I made there, both with other bloggers as well as brands, were so real and encouraging and I plan to go every year that I can. You can read more about all that HERE. Others I’d like to go to someday are Snap and Alt Summit.
- FB tribes – The absolute best thing I’ve found in my blogging journey are Facebook tribes with fellow bloggers. It makes such a difference to have people you can ask questions to about blogging and people to promote each other’s posts and accomplishments with. Many of these blog friendships have become very close, true friendships that I cherish. Seek out similar bloggers who you follow and inquire about FB groups you can join, or see if they’d like to start one with you. Slack is also a great way to chat with bloggers you’re friends with.
- Gawker Sites – The suite of Gawker sites are easy and quick to submit to, although some are pretty discerning in the quality of photography they’ll accept. There’s Craft, Dwelling, Food, Wedding, and StyleGawker. It’s always worth a shot. I have the best luck at Craft and Dwelling Gawker and see a good amount of traffic from there when I get approved. FoodGawker seems to be the hardest to get approved.
- Link Parties – Link parties are a great way to share your posts, find awesome inspiration, and connect with other bloggers. They’re usually weekly or monthly and can drive a good amount of traffic when you get featured, particularly for ones that have bigtime hosts. Don’t go crazy linking up to each one you can find (unless you have time for all that) and just focus on the larger ones.
- Contributors/Guest Posting – Guest posting and/or becoming a contributor for another blogger is a great way to make connections and drive traffic as well. Reach out to fellow bloggers and bloggers who you admire and ask if they’d like to have you guest post. You can also subsequently see if they may be looking for regular contributors as well.
- Special Posts/Tours/Challenges – Us bloggers love to get together and do themed series. Home tours and blog hops are almost always game so see if other bloggers may be looking for participants, or even reach out to a handful and start your own. The upcoming holidays are always an excuse to do one. Additionally, we also like to challenge each other so come up with a task and ask other bloggers if they’d like to take part and post on a certain deadline. Examples are things like our Home Depot Gift Challenge, fabric DIY challenge, Monthly Ingredient Challenge, and the One Room Challenge which was a huge traffic driver for a bunch of bloggers. You can always make it more interesting with a giveaway too.
- Apartment Therapy – This is a huge traffic driver if you get featured here. I haven’t submitted yet but I know quite a few bloggers who are regulars around there. A really cool site for inspiration and ideas anyway too.
- Remodelaholic – I LOVE Remodelaholic and they are so great about supporting other bloggers and showcasing their projects. You can always tag your project photos with #imaremodelaholic for a chance for them to feature you, and you can submit an actual guest post too. I see big boosts in my traffic anytime I’m featured here.
- Hometalk – Hometalk has been widely used by bloggers to help get our projects featured and increase traffic. In our experience though, less than 1% of that traffic makes it to our blogs because they will share your HT post rather than your blog post, and hardly ever tag the blogger in their social shares. There was a ton of drama with them early in 2016 and since then they have been making small changes to help encourage traffic to our sites. I am very selective about what posts I will put on there, and am super selective about what photos I use for those posts. I only post there frequently enough to take part in their direct feature program. If you want to post there, I encourage you to read their terms of service carefully and look at their latest updates for blogger traffic.
Phew! I really hope some of the information here will help you in your blogging journey, and again, if there’s something I missed that you’d like to add please tell me about it in the comments below. I’ll be updating this page periodically as I find more nuggets that can help us.