Blogging is a lot more than just writing. There are researching, editing, promoting and networking. If anyone told you blogging is easy, that person is not a blogger. Because I am not the expert in the industry, I always look for new tools that will make my blog better.
Expertise is the enemy of innovation.
I am going to show you what is in my blogging toolbox. All these tools are free. I know most blogger don’t make a penny from their blogs. It is possible to put together a good blog with low or no budget. That is the beauty of the Internet. Also every single tool in this list are online. I have a desktop, a laptop, a netbook and an iPhone. I prefer to have everything in a cloud.
One of the biggest mistakes that many bloggers made is ignoring the power of visual. Unless they are graphic design, fashion, crafts or cooking bloggers; most of them don’t do much photo editing. Thanks god I am fashion blogger, and everyday I read many beautiful blogs with great photo editing techniques. It forces me learning how to take better photos and how to edit them. It is like when my next door neighbour’s driveway is clean like a mirror, I would spend 2 hours shoveling to save face [happen to me every winter, why did I buy a house with a big driveway ???? ] In the Pinterest age, photo editing is not an option anymore. Good content is not good enough, you need it to be beautiful too.
My favorite editing tool is Pixlr. It is like Photoshop but in the cloud. Pixlr Editor has 20% of the functions you’d find in Photoshop. Unless you are a photographer, graphic designer or artist; it is all you need. Autodesk also offers an even more simplified version of the program, Pixlr Express. Most of the time I use Pixlr Grabbe, a browser plugin which allows me to easily grab screenshots of web pages and use Pixlr to add text, filter and border. The most simplied version, Pixlr-o-Matic is Instagram with more filters. You can add vintage and retro effects to your image within a minute. Pixlr-o-matic is also available as a download, on Facebook, as an Chrome web app and for your iOS or Android device. I used Pixlr to edit all the images in this post. Pixlr is everything a normal blogger need to make images become more Pinterest-friendly. The design is clean. The app is fast and easy to use.
LoveIt is my favorite photo social network at the moment. Pinterest is the king of photo sharing However Google was not the first search engine, it was 18th. Facebook was not the first social network. I believe LoveIt is not a clone, it is a Pinterest killer. Why? Because it gives users so much more power. Organizing Images. Instead of moving one image at a time, as with Pinterest, a user can move multiple images into multiple collections at once. Shared Collections. There’s a community aspect to LoveIt. Users can join boards with friends and create collective collages. For example — three Carroll Shelby fanatics all collecting photos of old mustangs on the same board. Private Collections. Users can also create private collections that only they (or others they invite in) can see. As an example, if an architect was creating a plan for a client, with ideas and examples, he could keep that visual online board to himself, until he was ready to share it with clients or colleagues. Recommendation Engine. LoveIt recommends more boards or collections you might like based on your interests and recent items you have collected. Original Sourcing. Once you “love” an item, you can automatically see the source (i.e. original blog or website) that the item came from; you can also view other items from that source. Brands. LoveIt already has several brands on board on the site (i.e. Better Homes & Gardens, Marie Claire, Honda, AHAlife, and others). Users can go right to these brands’ websites and start loving what they have displayed online [Forbes]
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I know they are working on a few powerful new features. I am a very loyal user, but LoveIt convinced me to dump Pinterest. It makes my life so much more easier. My favorite feature at the moment is the private collections. I am not a big fan of pinning photos and sharing them with people. I am selfish and I hate sharing. It is hard to believe because I have over 4000 pins on Pinterest. Pinterest was fun in the first few days but after a while every beautiful image looks the same. It became a very boring social network. This is the reason I adore LoveIt. I use it as a visual organization tool NOT a social network. If you visit my LoveIt profile, you won’t find many public images because most of my collections are private. Whenever I find a beautiful image on the internet that I am planning to use in the future I would save in a private collection. Before LoveIt, I had to save everything in Evernote. Evernote is a great tool for researching but not the best visual organization tool. I don’t want my followers to see the content before I publish it. Also, LoveIt organization tool is very powerful. I have always pinned image on the wrong board on Pinterest. And it would take me half an hours to correct all my mistakes. With LoveIt, I can just drag and drop. I believe LoveIt is the perfect tool to discover and organize images for your blog. Don’t look at it as a social network, and try to use it as a tool.
The LoveIt image above is an interactive image, and the image below is also an interactive image. Play with them. I strongly believe that interactive media is the future. Right now not enough publishers are using interactive media. It is a great opportunity for you to stand out especially this tool is free. Thinglink technology lets businesses and consumers embed audio, video and rich media links directly in images and share them across the web. The plugin is compatible with WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr and more. If you are a fashion blogger, you can link the item to an e-commerce store like I did here. The basic account is free and you can upload up to 50 images per month. For most blogger, it is more than enough. The price of the Plus and Pro accounts are pretty reasonable too. If you have a plus/pro account you will get access to detail statistics. It can help you understand your audience better. You can tell exactly how users are interacting with your images.
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This tool was stolen from the fabulous Pushing Social’s Essential Tools for The Savvy Blogger list. I fell in love with it at first sight. It is so hard to find creative commons or royalty-free photos from Flickr. The day I installed the Compfight plugin for WordPress was the happiest day of my life [ maybe not, but it saves me a lot of time]. I can add image to my blog post and set it as featured image with in a few clicks.
If you read my Links You Don’t Want To Miss series, you already know I am a crazy Google fan. Some people think Google is paying me, that is not true. Using my favorite tools and getting paid is my dream. If you know any Googler, don’t forget to tell them how much I love Google. A year ago I said I will bet my future on Google+, and today I am still there. I believe Google+ is a power tool and it will have a very bright future. Google+ affects your Google ranking. You should learn to love it. Plus it is an amazing networking tool and my second favorite search engine.
Google Hangout is one of the most power tools from Google+. It makes collaboration so much easier. There are so many apps for hangout such as slideshare, youtube, google, doc, game, Cacco etc. You have the power to make your conversation more interactive.
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Video Blogging is big. According to YouTube’s head of global partnerships, Robert Kyncl, “ Today over half of all Internet traffic is video—51 percent. And based on the current trends, we predict that in the next three years over 90 percent of all Internet traffic will be video.” And I am sure you want to be part of it. Hangout on Air makes it so easy to host an online show, engage with people, record and publish it on YouTube. I am working to launch my web show, and you should too. Bonus:A lot of bloggers use Skype to connect with their friends but I prefer GChat. I always forget to turn on Skype but I always have Gmail opens. I also have an New York Google Voice number for my friends from the states to contact me. When I travel, I usually buy a prepaid phone number and add-on data. People can call the same number no matter where I am. It is cheaper than paying roaming charges.
email@example.com Do you think this email look professional? I don’t think so. Many blogger bought their own domain for their blog but still using a tacky looking email address. I know I am mean. Do we really have to question it? I have talked to a few fashion blogger friends of mine (fashion people are usually very low tech), most of them think it is too complicated to set up a firstname.lastname@example.org email address. It is not true. I didn’t really know anything when I started blogging and I had no problem setting up my Google Apps. It is 2012, you can do anything if you want it bad enough. YouTube has million of tutorial videos for you. In the beginning I got Google Apps just for Gmail. Any other email system would drive me crazy. I need all my plugins such as Canned respond, Boomerang, Social CRM system and sync my contact list with Google. Later I found out there are more apps like Google Doc, Drive, Calendar, Talk and many apps in the Google Apps MarketPlace. For most bloggers and small business, the free account is good enough. It is a powerful and free, what are you waiting for?
This is one of my 2 favorite plugins for Gmail. You can get a Chrome Plugin or the app from the Google Apps MarketPlace Rapportive shows you everything about your contacts right inside your inbox. You can immediately see what people look like, where they’re based, and what they do. You can establish rapport by mentioning shared interests. You can grow your network by connecting on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and more. And you can record thoughts for later by leaving notes. “Stalking” people is part of networking. If you want to be a good blogger, you need to learn to become a relationship builder. If you want to be a good relationship builder, you need to learn to be a stalker. This tool is perfect for it. I have tested pretty much every CRM programs in the Google App Marketplace, and Rapportive is my favorite. I get everything I need without leaving Gmail. Another good Social CRM program is Batchbook. Chris Brogan wrote a reviewa few years ago. I used it for a few months and realized I spent more time with my contact list than the people. It offers way more than I need. However it a cheap decent social CRM system for small business.
Livefyre is the best comment system with realtime updates, social network comment integration and social tagging. When I just started blogging, I spent days searching for the perfect comment system. I knew I want a social comment system and I found Livefyre. One day, the comment system stopped working. I sent Livefyre support a tweet and email . They got back to me right away and helped me solving the problem. Guess what, it was not Livefyre’s fault. One of my photo plugins caused the problem. Livefyre has the best support team for a free plugin. If I hate a brand [i.e Hootsuite the most unsocial social media brand I have ever known], I will be a b****. If I love a brand, I will be its most loyal fan and ambassador. Livefyre is one of the brands that I love. They really care about their users. I cannot count how many people I have recommended the plugin to. I believe everyone should use it. The company is going to roll out Livefyre 3soon with a ton of improvements, including:
- Moderators can edit comments
- More filter and search options with fewer clicks
- New “user” section in admin dashboard
- Real-time updates
- Batch moderation capabilities
- and more
Data is Gold.
If you want to be successful on the Internet, you have to learn to love analytics. Numbers are boring but you need to understand your site and audience to promote it. Google Analytics shows me how effective my strategy is. I know exactly when is the best time to post, which social network sends the most referrals, which topic is popular etc.
WordPress Jetpack Site Stats
Bonus: Google Analytics might be too complicated for some people, Wordpress Jetpack Site Stats is a good simplified version of Google Analytics. My little sister. Monster just starts blogging. She is using this plugin now. If you really hate numbers, at least get this plugin. It gives you the most important numbers you need to know. I use both of them because I really like to see my stats on the WordPress top menu on every single page .
I used to use su.pr as my url shortener because of its social toolbar. However I cannot pin anything with that toolbar so I switched back to Bit.ly. I love its statistics page and the bundles feature. It is the best url shortener.
I hate SEO and that is why I love this plugin. All in one:
- Post titles and meta descriptions
- Robots Meta configuration
- Permalink clean up
- XML Sitemaps
- RSS enhancements
- Edit your robots.txt and .htaccess
- Clean up head section
- API Docs
If you want to learn more about SEO check out The Beginner’s Guide to SEO
I hate SEO, but it is still important. Recently I discovered the power of keywords and fell in love with Google Keyword Research Tool. It helps you discovering the competition for the keywords you want to rank for.
Recently I realize how much referral traffic I got from commenting on other blogs. I use Google Reader as my RSS feed for articles that I want to read and share. I use Bloglovin to comment on target blogs. Bloglovin is my RSS for engaging. It is very easy to use. Read a post => comment => move to the next article.
Buffer is scheduling app for Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. To be honest, I used to hate Buffer with a passion. I used Timely.is way before Buffer. It is used to be so much better than Buffer in my opinion. When I first tried Buffer, I ran into a few problems and I hated it. Few months later, I tried it again and couldn’t login. There was no way to recover my password. I hated it every more. However Leo Widrich [@LeoWid] and the Buffer team changed my mind. They are really good at marketing. It was so hard to avoid Leo. He was everywhere. There are so many things I have learned from them. Buffer was not the best app when I first tried it, but it managed to become the best. I really admire the Buffer team and Leo. If you are a blogger, stalk those guys. Believe me you won’t waste your time.
Feedburner is one of the best feed management for blogger. It makes it incredible easy for anyone to subscribe to your blog. It also allows you to track data. If you don’t have a clue how to use it, check out this post. Feedburner 101
Most bloggers only promote their content right after they published it. It is hard to go back, and try to promote old posts. However most of my content are timeless, I don’t want them to be forgotten. This WordPress plugin helps me keeping my content alive and gaining a lot of traffic. To avoid tweeting out of date content, don’t forget to set the maximum age of post to be eligible for tweet, omit some categories, and exclude out of date posts
Anything can happen tomorrow, I think we should backup our databases. I have a backup plugin that sync with Dropbox. If tomorrow something happens to my blog, I would be fine.
Evernote is the best note-taking app. You can capture anything from text to web pages, image, and voice notes with Evernote. If I find an interesting article from my RSS, I will send it to Evernote. If I want to save a Google+ post or tweet, I send it to Evernote. I take a photo of everything and send it to Evernote. It is my favorite note taking app for research. I have the Evernote Web Clipper for Chrome and Iphone app. There are many note-talking app that have similar feature as Evernote. However just like Bit.ly, Dropbox, Buffer; Evernote integrates with everything . That is why it is the best note taking app.
Google Alerts is a good research tool to keep me up to date with all the juicy news. It helps me finding new topic for my blogs. I also use it as a reputation control tool.
I use this plugin to organize and schedule future blog posts. It is very easy to say I will blog 3 times a week, but most of the time I don’t. I am more likely to write when there is a plan.
Because I have 3 computers, I want everything to be in a cloud. Most of my blog posts are written when I am not connected to the Internet, I use Google Docs Offline. When I am connected again, it will sync with the cloud. I don’t have to remember which computer I used when I wrote my post. Google Docw is like Microsoft Office without all the fancy tools that you don’t really need. It is not too much, not too little, just right. Google Docs is highly collaborative. It is the perfect tool to work with your team or guest bloggers.
I cannot write but I like to write a lot. After the deadline is the best grammar, style, and spelling checker. You can install Google Chrome extension, Firefox add-on, or WordPress plugin. It is the assistant I have always needed.
I had no clue what Akismet was when I started blogging, and I uninstalled it. It was one of the worst decisions I have made during my blogging career. I wasted so much time dealing with spam. I reinstalled it and now I can spend my quality time engaging with you :). It is one of the WordPress plugin that you will download, install and forget about it. It will take care of everything and you will never have to worry about spam again.
This plugin analyzes your words as you are typing in your blog editor and suggest tags, images, links and related articles for your content. From reading is post, you know I love adding links. According to SEO for WordPress there are 82 outbound links in this post. Of course I love this plugin. Also the plugin allows me to add photos from my Instagram without leaving the page. It is an amazing blogging assistant tool. Zemanta supports WordPress.com, WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, TypePad, Movable Type, Drupal and Posterous. There is a Chrome extension A few days ago, Zemanta and Fashion Traffic announced a partnership. If you are a fashion blogger, you can add image and earn commission within a few clicks.
Even I love this plugin , I have uninstalled it. Lately, I installed a Pinterest plugin on my fashion blog and found out the app adds a logo that links back to its website at the end of the post. There is no way to turn this off ( you only have invisible option). I don’t have ad on my blog, I wouldn’t promote an app. Sorry Zemanta, we are not meant to be together.
I read almost everything on my phone. It is very important for me to make my site mobile-friendly. I have tried many mobile plugins for WordPress and WPtouch is the winner. And the most important tool…..
+1 Pen and paper
Usually pen and paper are not free but you can easily buy them cheaply. I get mine for free from conferences and events. At the end of the day the best blogging tool are pen and paper. There are no bugs, no error, and they won’t die. I like to carry a small notebook and pen around with me. I write or scribble whatever comes to my mind. You never know an idea might become very useful one day. If your smartphone and laptop are dead, pen and paper might save the day. These are the top 25 blogging tools that I adore. You don’t have to use all of them. We are all have different tastes, just use the one that works for you. Have fun blogging. If I missed any good tool, please let me know in the comment.