The Best Services And Tools For Bloggers

Matt hard at work in the Punakha Valley, Bhutan
Matt hard at work in the Punakha Valley, Bhutan

I was recommending my favorite blog theme companies and host providers to a blogger who had asked for advice in a Facebook group today, when I realized two things:

  1. A lot of people need good advice about stuff like that
  2. A lot of people on Facebook give terrible advice
  3. I give advice that’s significantly less terrible than the advice you can get on Facebook

So, I thought I’d start this page as a living resource for bloggers. That way, instead of answering the same questions for bloggers over and over, I can just update this page every time I see a new question to answer and point all everyone to the same resource for their answers.

There are two things I really want you to know about the recommendations below.
First, a bunch of them (but not all of them) include affiliate links.

Second, these are all products I love and stand behind 100%. Some have affiliate links and some don’t, but I recommend them all for the same reason: they’re awesome.

If there’s any stuff you think should be included below — or if you need some help figuring out which stuff you need — please leave a message in the comments.

The Best Hosting Services for Bloggers

For Beginners

Here’s the thing: cheap hosts suck. All of them.

Most of the popular ones are also all owned by a few companies. In my opinion, Bluehost, HostGator, Media Temple, and GoDaddy are all basically the same in terms of performance and customer service.

By the same, I mean terrible.

Over the years I’ve seen people rant about all of them. I’ve also seen people swear by all of them. I’m sure the comments on this post will eventually be filled with people’s stories that show how great or terrible each is. But the truth is, when you pay less than $5 per month, you get what you pay for. Experiences vary from person to person. You’re rolling the dice no matter who you choose.

There is one service among them that stands out, though, and that’s GoDaddy. They’ve managed to suck extra hard. GoDaddy has the most insanely confusing management system I’ve ever seen. If you want to choose one of these providers, I can only give you this advice: DON’T CHOOSE GODADDY.

The rest are pretty much the same. I included a link to Bluehost because they offer the best affiliate commission. If you’ve noticed that they get a lot of recommendations online, that’s why.

For Getting Serious

StudioPress Sites
I was so happy when StudioPress launched this. As you’ll learn, I’m a huge fan of both StudioPress themes (more on that below) and I use their super premium hosting (also mentioned below).

This hosting package, however, is great. It was my first choice for UpThink, and is the host serving you this website. It’s a great middle-ground between the terrible beginner packages above and the expensive big-time baller packages below. It’s good, fast, managed WordPress-optimized hosting that includes access to StudioPress themes and — depending on your plan — plug-and-play e-commerce features. This service will be the first I consider for any new website I launch in the future.

I highly recommend you check it out.

For When You Hit The Big Time

WebSynthesis & Performance Foundry
There are several premium WordPress-optimized hosts out there. WP Engine has done some really good marketing, but I have it on good authority from some very techie people that their servers are not as good as their competitors and I, personally, found their backend terrible to use.

So, I always recommend people to sign up with the StudioPress super-premium service, WebSynthesis. That’s where I host my blog. I have had zero issues, and I doubt I’ll ever move it.

I’ve never actually hosted a site with Performance Foundry. It’s run by a guy I got to know very well travel blogging. This guy, Craig, is one of those guys that’s just so genuine, honest, and knowledgeable, you just want to hug him. In my experience, his skill and integrity are unimpeachable. So, if you’re the kind of person who’d rather give their money to a hardworking entrepreneur than a big, faceless company, then Performance Foundry is where you want to go.

Cheap Domain Names

Let’s be honest, domain names are pretty ridiculously cheap. But, if you want to save $3 per year, then NameCheap is the place to go. I’ve started registering all my domain names there.

The Best WordPress Themes

StudioPress & WooThemes
Bloggers often make a common mistake when choosing a theme: they focus too much on the way a theme looks and ignore the other important qualities — such as how it works across platforms, load time, and future reliability.

When it comes to themes, I always make the two same recommendations for one simple reason: a theme is only as good as the developer support it comes with. If you can’t be sure your theme will be supported by the developer as long as you need it, then you’re taking a risk that’s not worth it.

I’ve been forced to change themes (and help others change themes) too many times because a developer went out of business, stopped updating the theme, and it stopped working.

StudioPress and WooThemes are the two biggest, most stable theme providers in the game today. Their themes are flexible enough to accommodate any needs (I mean that literally. You can replicate literally anything you see in any other theme with the proper customizations.) and they’re likely to be supported as long as the Internet is around.

They’re also very good at building themes that are technically sound, load fast, and display well on all devices.

They may cost a bit more, but trust me, they’re worth it. This website is build on the StudioPress Atmosphere Pro Theme, while my personal blog is built on WooTheme’s Canvas framework.

The Most Useful Plugins

Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is probably the one plugin you can expect to find on almost every blog. It has far and away outdone all other SEO plugins in terms of functionality and usability and their ever-growing library of free tutorials is makes it the best plugin for pretty much everyone, from the newbie to the pro.

Broken Link Checker
Cleaning up broken links is important for both user experience and SEO, but it’s a pretty daunting chore so most bloggers avoid it. This plugin, makes it easy and fast by automating almost the entire job, making it a fast and easy task.

Manage WP
If you have more than one blog to manage, then Manage WP is a fantastic time-saver. Just install the plugin to all your blogs and you’ll receive regular email reminders to update your plugins and themes and to clean up old post drafts all from one dashboard with simple one-button actions.

There are several free and premium popover plugins out there. I use OptinMonster. To be totally honest, it’s been so long since I bought it that I don’t remember what convinced me to buy it over others. I think it may have been a recommendation. Either way, so far, it has been great.

OptinMonster comes with a number of very nice pre-made templates for popovers, slide-ins, sidebar forms, and embedded forms. It’s quite customizable, enables you to choose very specifically which visitors are shown popovers and on which pages they are shown, allows for easy A/B testing, and integrates easily with most newsletter applications such as Aweber, Constant Contact, and Mailchimp.

UpDraft Plus
Automated backups are essential. If you don’t have them set up yet, please take a minute to set them up right now. There are lots of solutions for this. I like UpDraft Plus, which I’ve been using for years.

Sucuri Security
Like backups, basic security is also essential. Every blogger needs to take the time to create a unique login page, unique login ID, difficult password, and install at least basic security. Sucuri is pretty much the industry standard for WordPress security and most everyone I know uses it.

Analytic and Demographic Services

Demographic information about your audience is very important for showing sponsors and clients that your followers are exactly who they’re trying to reach. So, in addition to Google Analytics, I highly recommend plugging Quantcast into your website and also verifying your web traffic with SimilarWeb. Both are free and very useful.

Whenever I’m vetting websites for clients I want to be able to quickly check their traffic and following without contacting the blogger directly. SimilarWeb and Quantcast both allow me to check this information on a public website so I can quickly see if a blog is right for my needs. By making my job easier, you make me more likely to work with you.

Both websites also provide you with credible data on who is visiting your website, to both you and your clients understand exactly who you’re reaching. I also use the SimilarWeb embed code to provide up-to-date public analytics on my blog’s Media Kit page.


Travel Blog Success
There are a few different courses out there for learning how to travel blog, but Travel Blog Success is far and away the best. They have a wide range of courses that have been developed over the years and they have a very productive and supportive community of experienced bloggers who provide newer bloggers with advice and they’re constantly putting out new courses. I’ve been a member since the early days and it’s been great watching the community grow over the years.

Professional Travel Bloggers Association
As the Outgoing President of the PTBA, I’m obviously a bit biased about it. On the other hand, I also know better than most what’s happening inside the PTBA. This year we’ve seen the Facebook Group become a very good resource for finding answers to blogging problems, and for having in-depth discussions about the state of the travel blogging industry that you don’t see anywhere else. The PTBA has also started publishing unique insights into blogging, such as a survey of the prices bloggers are charging for the different services they offer.

Those aren’t all the benefits, but those are the educational ones. If I’ve piqued your interest, you can learn more here.

WordPress Technical Help

Fantasktic Blog Migrations
Fantastktic offers numerous WordPress help services, but they specialize in WordPress migrations. They’re usually $99 and they’ve always done an fast, professional job when I’ve used them. Once, I was helping a client who ran into a fairly serious issue with her migration, but the crew at Fantasktic worked on it for several days until it was fixed.

If you have a WordPress problem, you can also submit it to them and they will reply with a timeline and price to fix it. I’ve never tried that, but based on my experience I definitely trust their pricing and service.

WP Maintainer
WP Maintainer is a website maintenance service that provides backups, takes care of updates, and provides security for your blog for $99/month.

Productivity Tools

If you use a Mac, I have a treat for you. Alfred is an easy-to-use launcher and automation app that intuitively enables you to launch any app without touching your trackpad/mouse and also enables you to create simple automated workflows. Their website also has a library of pre-made workflows for more tasks than you can think of.

When you combine Alfred’s automations with the more technical – and more detailed – automations you can create using the native Mac Automator, you have an incredibly powerful time-saving tool. From checking time zones and currency exchange rates to automating photo optimization, Alfred is probably the single most-used app on my computer and it’s saved me more hours of wasted time than I can imagine.

Rescue Time
This is probably one of the most popular productivity apps out there. It tracks everything you do on your computer (when active) and then automatically produces productivity reports that show you how you’ve used your time and how much time you’ve put into different tasks. It also allows you to block distracting websites and set goals. Basically, it’s the best toolkit around for analyzing and managing the way you spend your time.

Te best task management SAAS around with a very robust free version. Includes everything feature every other task management system has an a very intuitive design. Also integrates with GMail. We tested a lot of systems before settling on this one for project management at UpThink.

International Banking

Transferwise (the PayPal killer)
We loathe PayPal, their unreasonable fees, and their ridiculous currency exchange rates. We were so happy when Transferwise popped up. It’s a money transfer service started by some of the people that were behind Skype. They have super low transfer and exchange rates and will even let you open a borderless bank account.

At the moment TF doesn’t offer a Hong Kong business bank account (UpThink is based in HK), but the second they do open one you’ll probably see us send all our payments to bloggers through Transferwise rather than PayPal, which would save us all a ton of money. We highly recommend you sign up now!

Is there anything I left out? Let me know in the comments below!

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