Start a Blog with These Must-Have Blogging Resources!
I decided to put together a page to share my must-have blogging tools and resources so that it’s easy for you to find everything you need to start a blog (or enhance your current one)! I talk about my favorite plugins, where to get amazing themes, what you need to keep your blog legal, and more!
Disclosure: Some links below are affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase via my link, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. This helps support my blog, and I’m so appreciative! More details here.
The basics that you need to start a blog today!
There are a lot of platforms out there to start a blog, and I know it can be overwhelming to choose. Most bloggers I know are on WordPress, which is also what I’ve used since the start and it’s what I would wholeheartedly recommend! Other ones out there are places like Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, Blogger… etc. but most bloggers I know who have started out with those platforms have ended up switching to WordPress in the end.
So what’s the deal with WordPress.com vs WordPress.org?
So if you’ve read a lot of other blog posts about how to start a blog, I’m sure you’ve come across the wordpress.com vs. wordpress.org dilemma. Which one should you use?
The answer is: it depends on what’s right for you.
Key Differences Between WordPress.com & WordPress.org
- WordPress.com is completely free because WordPress is doing the hosting for you. WordPress.org requires you to purchase a domain name and self-host, which means you pay a company to host your blog on their servers.
- If you use WordPress.com, your blog’s name will be yourname.wordpress.com. If you use WordPress.org, your blog’s name can be whatever you want, with the purchase of a domain name as long as it’s available.
- With WordPress.com, you are limited to the themes available on the WordPress platform. With WordPress.org, you can use custom themes from anywhere.
- You have to be using WordPress.org in order to use plugins on your blog. Plugins are snippets of code created by other developers that you can add to your blog with just a couple clicks. They can enhance your blog by adding elements that aren’t included in your theme. More about plugins in a later section!
It isn’t a requirement to self-host your blog from the start, especially if you aren’t sure you’re going to stick with blogging long-term and you just want to try it out for fun. Just be aware that it may be more expensive down the line if you don’t self-host immediately, because it tends to cost extra to transfer an existing free blog to a self-hosted one.
Also, if your goal is to make money blogging, it is more difficult to do so on a blog you don’t own because many blog providers do not allow affiliate links and can terminate your account for doing so! A blog that is yourdomain.wordpress.com is also not as professional as yourdomain.com. However, if you just want to start a blog for fun or a hobby then a free platform might be a good option for you!
What web host should you pick to start your blog?
I wanted complete and total ownership from day one, so I knew self-hosting was the right choice for me personally. After a lot research on which web host to use to start a blog, I decided to go with Siteground’s web hosting services. What really solidified them for me was their fast, consistent server uptimes and their 24/7 live chat support! When I locked myself out of my site at 1am trying to do stuff that was too technical for me, Siteground helped me fix the issue.
If you’re using WordPress.com but you aren’t self-hosted yet, Siteground will transfer your existing site for you at no extra cost when you purchase their Grow Big plan! You can purchase your blog’s domain name through Siteground as well when you sign up for hosting. All of their plans are billed annually, so bear that in mind when you sign up.
Looking for monthly billing instead?
There is a site called Namecheap that also offers web hosting for $2.88 per month… which is ACTUALLY billed monthly. A lot of why I procrastinated when I wanted to start my blog is that I got extremely discouraged at the fact that I had to purchase yearly hosting. I probably would have started way sooner if I could’ve tried monthly billing out at first.
If you want to start a blog and self-host on a budget, Namecheap is definitely something worth looking into. Just please be aware that I’ve never used Namecheap’s hosting, so I honestly can’t say how well their servers perform, but I wanted to provide an option that’s truly billed monthly because that may be more accessible when you’re first starting out.
Reviews I’ve read do say they tend to be a little slower and have more downtime in comparison to other sites; however, that’s not going to matter as much when you first start out and don’t have much traffic. If monthly billing is more important to you (which it may be in the beginning) you may want to consider it!
You can also get your domain through Namecheap. Most of the domain names I’ve seen on there are cheaper than Siteground’s for the year– they’re usually between $6-10. Some of the domain names are more expensive, though, but the vast majority I’ve seen are that price. I DID purchase this domain through Namecheap and I had a great experience! Just be aware that if you take this route, you’ll need to have your web host point the servers towards your new domain, which was super easy for me with the help of Siteground’s live chat.
Where to get WordPress themes
Note: If you’re on a budget or just aren’t sure about blogging in general, it is not a requirement to buy a theme to start a blog. WordPress.org has several free themes with a fair amount of customization options. But if you’re like me and want to customize EVERYTHING possible, paid themes are the way to go.
Etsy: A lot of people have no idea that Etsy sells affordable WordPress themes and media kit templates! I’ve seen cute themes as low as $7 on Etsy before!
Pipdig: The most beautiful themes I’ve ever seen are on Pipdig! You’ll pay a pretty penny for their themes (at least $59) BUT they’re expertly crafted to ensure your site is fast and optimized, and come with a TON of customization options. I was hesitant about buying one of these when I wanted to give my blog a makeover, but I’m so glad I did!! I am using their Culture Shock theme right now on my blog. If you want to save a little money, try to wait to purchase your Pipdig theme until they have a sale.
Creative Market: Your one-stop shop for all your blogging needs! Not only does Creative Market have a huge variety of WordPress themes, they also offer fonts, photos, graphics, overlays, media kit templates, and more! They also have free goods updated every Monday that you can download when you sign up for an account!
The best free WordPress plugins for your new blog
As I talked about earlier, plugins are snippets of code that you can add to your existing theme with a few clicks. When you’re self-hosted on WordPress.org, you’ll have an additional option called “plugins” on your WordPress dashboard where you can search for plugins. Here are some of my favorite plugins!
Pinterest Pin It: Allows you to add a “Save” option over images so that readers can pin them to their boards!
Social Warfare: Allows you to put social sharing links in your blog posts.
MailChimp for WordPress: Connects to your MailChimp account and lets you create a sign-up sheet form that you can put around your blog.
Contact Form 7: Provides users with an easy way to contact you– all they have to do is fill out the form and it goes straight to your email address.
WP Smush: “Smushes” images so they don’t take as long to load, which helps your site load faster!
Yoast: Provides tips for search engine optimization!
SG Optimizer: Integrates with SiteGround. If you do nothing else with this plugin, I recommend going into it and changing your site over to https. That will encrypt all information between your site and a visitor’s browser. This is A MUST if you plan on selling any products directly on your blog.
Wordfence Security: A security plugin that helps keep hackers from attacking your blog.
GDPR Cookie Consent: You need to give visitors to your site the option to opt-out of cookies. This plugin creates a banner that appears when viewers first access your site, that allows them to accept or reject cookies.
Jetpack: Integrates with your site to provide statistics like daily views, where your views came from, what outbound links people click, etc. Jetpack will provide these analytics for free, but they also offer paid plans with extra features. I recommend their $3.50/mo plan (truly billed monthly, NOT annually, you just have to click the monthly option!) because it provides daily site backups and helps monitor your comments for spam.
Google Analytics Dashboard: To use this plugin, you need to set up Google Analytics, which is free. It provides detailed statistics about your blog’s visitors!
Where to create social media images & edit photos
Canva for Work: I use Canva for Work for all of my social media headers, my Pinterest pins, and my Instagram story highlight covers. You can even use it to create PDFs!!! There is a free version of Canva that provides limited options, and Canva for Work costs $12.95/mo. They do offer a 30-day free trial if you’re hesitant about taking the plunge.
Picmonkey: I’ve used Picmonkey in the past for other projects and it’s super easy to learn. Their cheapest plan is cheaper than Canva for Work, starting out at $7.99/mo. They have a 7-day free trial so you can try it out first!
How to use Pinterest to drive traffic to your blog
The thing about Pinterest that several new bloggers don’t seem to consider is that it is a visual search engine, NOT a social networking site. When you approach Pinterest from that perspective, it’s a lot easier to think about it in a way that can bring traffic to your blog. Pinterest is where the vast majority of my traffic comes from.
Tailwind: Tailwind is a Pinterest pin-scheduler that allows you to schedule pins at optimal times to increase engagement. It figures out your best times to pin for you, or you can set your own schedule if you prefer. If you want to try it out, you can get your first 100 pins for free today!
Pinterest with Ell: Do you hear others talk about how much they love Pinterest but you’re sitting there baffled? This Pinterest course can help you!!! It is one of the most beneficial investments I’ve made in my blogging journey so far, because it helped me unlock the secrets of Pinterest early on. Most of my blog’s traffic comes from Pinterest! And it is literally THE most affordable Pinterest course I have ever seen, priced at JUST $32!
The course creator, Ell Duclos, turned her blog into a full-time job in six months. She truly knows her stuff, and her Pinterest course has helped me and others bloggers skyrocket our Pinterest reach! She discusses how to set up your Pinterest business account, how to set up rich pins so your pins appear better on Pinterest, how to create pins that convert, Tailwind, Pinterest strategies, and more! Ell’s course + Tailwind is the reason my Pinterest account reached over 200,000 views in under two months!
I also wrote a review of her course where I talk about my experience and my results in more detail.
Building an email list for your blog
I recommend starting an email list as soon as you can/feel comfortable with it, so that you can share content directly with your readers who want to stay connected with you!
Mailchimp: I currently use Mailchimp for my email newsletter. It is free for up to 2,000 subscribers. Once you hit 2,000 subscribers, the price changes to $30/mo and then increases by $5/mo for every 100 subscribers after 2,000.
ConvertKit: A paid email marketing service that a lot of big bloggers use and are happy with! Personally, that expense isn’t in my budget at the moment but it’s something I plan to purchase once Mailchimp is no longer free for me. You can try ConvertKit for free, but after the trial period is over it’s $29/mo for up to 1,000 subscribers.
Where to find high-quality stock photos for your blog
Unsplash: This is probably my favorite site for free stock photosand it’s where a lot of my featured images come from. It has a search feature so you can just search for whatever keywords you want!
Pixabay: Another place with free stock photos, and also gives you the option to search by photo orientation, making this a prime place to find photos for Pinterest.
Ivory Mix: The creator of Ivory Mix has a stock photo membership, but you can also sign up for her email list and get access to her free photo library. It’s updated each month with anywhere from 2-10 new photos.
Canva: If you use Canva for Work, you also get access to their stock photo library at no additional cost! A lot of the images I use on Pinterest come from Canva because it’s convenient.
Creative Market: You can purchase high quality stock photos starting at $2 on Creative Market!
Is your blog breaking any laws?
This isn’t a fun part of blogging, but it is necessary if you want to start a blog! A lot of people don’t like to talk about this, and as a result there is a lot of misinformation out there about what your blog needs to be legal! I know it’s scary and overwhelming, but the reality is that there are certain legal requirements you need to be putting on your blog to protect yourself and your readers.
Legally speaking, there are 5 major things most bloggers need to have on their blog to avoid breaking federal and/or international law:
- Disclosure statement – a page that explains that you use affiliate links / accept sponsorships
- Terms & Conditions – a space outlying the terms visitors agree with when they access your site (technically not legally required in the US, but a good idea!)
- Option to opt-out of cookies – can be easily achieved with a plugin, but consent must be clearly given and you CANNOT use pre-checked boxes… if you want to learn more about cookies (browser cookies, not edible ones unfortunately!), you can read up on them here
I’ve seen A LOT of bloggers recommend that you just fill out policy generators and be done with it and then put it in the back of your mind… I did that for a time. But the reality is there’s no way to guarantee that you’ll be protected in case something happens. In fact, the only way to be 100% certain your blog is legally protected is to consult with a lawyer! That can get expensive FAST.
Thankfully, there are a few bloggers I know who are also lawyers and provide resources to help protect other bloggers!
Lawyer-approved legal templates for your blog
Legal Disclaimer Templates
Disclaimer Template by Amira of ASelfGuru
You can also snag this legal bundle and get all three for a discounted price.
You also need to be reading up on the GDPR if you expect to get visitors from the EU (hint: you WILL!). The GDPR is a law that was passed in 2016 that sets guidelines for exactly how all websites handle data of EU citizens. Any websites, no matter where they are located, that process data of EU citizens (basically… all websites ever) were legally required to become compliant by May 2018, and websites that weren’t GDPR compliant after that date could risk fines of up to £20 million. If you want to guarantee that your blog is GDPR compliant, you can take this course offered by Lucrezia of TinyLoveBug, who specializes in EU law! The course is specifically designed with bloggers in mind and will get your blog fully compliant in under two days!
My favorite Facebook groups for new bloggers
One of my favorite ways to network and connect with other bloggers is via Facebook groups! A lot of them will have threads for you to share your blog posts and social media handles. Facebook groups are a great way to gain exposure, especially when you’re first starting out. Here’s some of my favorite ones!
Smartphone apps for bloggers
VSCO: I use this free app to edit my instagram pictures! You can buy filters if you want, but I just edit my pictures the same way each time so I don’t have to spend the money on filters.
Done: I use this app to track my habits! The free version of the app lets you track 3 different habits. I wanted to track more than that because I wanted to use it for non-blogging habits too, and I loved the app interface so much that I paid $5.99 to upgrade to unlimited habits.
Planoly: This app lets you preview your instagram feed before you post a picture, and it also can schedule posts for you.
Canva: Canva has an app so you can edit pictures when you’re not on your computer. I don’t use this one often because I prefer to do this on my computer, but you might prefer your phone! From what I understand, the app has more templates but the desktop version has better functionality.
Followers: Lets you see who is unfollowing your instagram account. I use this so I don’t continue following people who follow just to unfollow! I’m not a fan of that game and this app helps me combat that a little bit… and gives me an odd sense of satisfaction.
I hope you enjoyed! If you don’t mind, please share this post, especially if it helped you!
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