The 11 Best Tools and Plug-Ins for Serious Bloggers

In the beginning, most bloggers are just having fun. You blog about whatever strikes your fancy on any given day.

After a while, you realize you want to get serious about your blog. You want people who see it to hire you for good-paying blogging gigs — or maybe you want it to become a money-earner of its own. You start sticking to a niche topic, adding photos, and trying to improve your blog’s design and usability.

That’s when you need to get serious about the tools you’re using to make your blog look great, and to get the word out about your blog.

I did a post recently about some of the tools I use to run my writing business, and got requests for a followup on blog tools.

As it happens, we got a lot of questions about the best blog tools and plug-ins at the end of the WordPress Crash Course I recently held on Freelance Writers Den…so here’s a recap of the conversation I had with our two WordPress experts — Brandon Yanofsky of B-List Marketing and Joseph Putnam of Blog Tweaks.

Here’s our list of the coolest plugins and other tools for serious bloggers. Most of these are free, but a few cost a bit. If you’re serious about blogging, you’ll need to invest a modest amount to look pro — and it’ll be worth it.

  1. A paid host. Free hosting is lamesauce. Your free host could change the rules, kick you off, go out of business, or otherwise mess up your life. Plus having .blogger or .wordpress in your URL brands you as an amateur. As Joseph pointed out in the Webinar, there’s another dark side to staying on free hosting: One day, when you get serious, you’ll have to transfer your site over to a paid host, a process in which your RSS subscribers have to subscribe over again. So you may lose some or all of them. If you’re on a free host, get a paid one now, while your blog’s subscriber base is still small and you have less to lose. It won’t get easier later. Joseph and Brandon both like BlueHost, and I’ve been using Dreamhost. But whatever host you look into, make sure they have terrific, 24/7, rapid-response type support help. That’s the key to sanity.
  2. A paid theme. I learned this one the hard way with Make a Living Writing, which is still stuck on a free theme, which I discovered can’t do a very nice-looking tag cloud and loads a bit slow, I discovered. Brandon likes the StudioPress themes, while the Den and my writer site are now on WooThemes, which I’m liking. We agreed buying a theme from one of the big providers with good support and a big family of different themes created on the same platform is the best way to go, as it makes it easy to switch to a different theme later.
  3. Mailchimp. Monetizing your blog is all about collecting email names and then marketing to your email list. To do that, you need a pro email-marketing provider. Mailchimp is free for your first 2,000 subscribers and has a ton of features. It’s easy to understand and use, and you can style your emails with your blog site’s colors, embed links easily, and much more. Honestly, I don’t know why every startup blogger in America isn’t using them — you just have nothing to lose. Plus, their techs work for bananas and sign their emails “eep!” They’re more fun.
  4. Paypal. I’m still surprised when I find writers who don’t have a PayPal account hooked up to their bank account. Increasingly, clients want to pay through PayPal, and you can use it to sell your own products, too. I also sell some through e-junkie, which has more flexibility for setting up limited-time discounts.
  5. MorgueFile. We got into a big conversation about where to get free photos, and my recent favorite is MorgueFile. Why? You don’t even have to attribute the photos, which is nice as that little credit line clutters up your blog post. I can’t always find what I want on there — but the photo above is from MorgueFile. Nice, huh?
  6. Akismet. Now we come to the free WordPress plug-ins you need to make your site work well. Akismet is the best spam-killer out there.With Akismet, you should be able to set your comments free — that is, get rid of Captcha and other barriers, or having comments ‘awaiting moderation.’ Akismet will kill 99% of your spam and you can just relax.
  7. WordPress Popular Posts. Many bloggers make the mistake of having a “recent posts” widget, but that’s not what you want. You want popular posts. We don’t care what you’ve done for us lately — we want to know the most amazing and commented-upon posts you’ve ever created. This plug-in will keep your best stuff at the top of your home page forever. I can testify I still get about 800 hits every month on my most popular post thanks to this plug-in.
  8. CommentLuv. This little add-on automagically pulls up the headline of a commenter’s own most recent blog post and puts it at the end of their comment on your blog. In other words, CommentLuv makes people dying to comment on your blog because it gives them a really useful link. It greatly ups the number of comments you will get on your blog.
  9. Sexy Bookmarks. You’ve seen it everywhere — the one where a row of social-sharing buttons is half-hidden at the bottom of a post, and as you mouse over it, they pop up. That’s sexy! Which is why they call it Sexy Bookmarks. Unfortunately, I can’t get it to work on the free theme here (see why you want a paid one?)…but if it’ll work on your blog, use it. Really encourages people to spread the word about your blog.
  10. Wibiya toolbar. If for any reason you find Sexy Bookmarks doesn’t work, you can use the social sharing bar I use on this blog, the free Wibiya toolbar. You can customize it a million ways…you’ll note I just added Google+ to mine since it’s the new, hot place in social media. It also appears in an animated way just after your page fully loads, so it’s a little bit sexy, too.
  11. Intense Debate. Brandon informs me Intense Debate now works with CommentLuv (I used to have ID and it didn’t a while back, which is why I got rid of it). But I gather they’ve made friends now, so check it out. Intense Debate allows you to easily thread comment responses and otherwise style up your comment area.

What are you favorite tools for awesome blogging? Leave a comment and let us know.

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27 comments on “The 11 Best Tools and Plug-Ins for Serious Bloggers
  1. What about livefyre? I have been hearing a lot about it lately.
    susie@newdaynewlesson recently posted..There Is No Black & White In This World

  2. Holy catfish – many of these tools I hadn’t even heard of; I’m getting right on it! Great post! Thanks so much.
    Karen S. Elliott recently posted..The Island of Dr. Morose

  3. Karen says:

    I use a lot of these on my blog right now, but a couple are completely new to me. I’m always looking for good quality free images but had never heard of MorgueFile (not sure I like the name though!) I also don’t use Akismet. Are you saying I won’t need to moderate comments at all if I install it?
    Karen recently posted..Kindle Publishing: Diversify Your Income and Sell More Books

  4. Sarah Ketley says:

    Awesome post, many thanks for the great links :-)

    sarah

  5. I use MailChimp and absolutely love it! I’ve also used MorgueFile but sometimes their selective can be a little limited. I discovered FreeDigitalPhotos.net through your WordPress webinar and I love that option. You can use the photos for free with attribution or buy photos for a small fee, and the selection is pretty good.
    Susan Johnston recently posted..Guest Post: Google’s Panda Update Good News for Writers

  6. Pinar Tarhan says:

    Thanks for MorgueFile! I was getting tired by all the crediting rules:)

    I love Wibiya, and I am definitely going to try mailchimp. I’m still on Feedburner.

    My absolute favorite is Paypal, though. I find it strange when writers have published their own books, are selling them on their websites and not offering paypal as a payment method!
    Pinar Tarhan recently posted..Cure Your Writer’s Block with Tristan Higbee’s 101 Ways to Battle Blogger’s Block

  7. Soul Stops says:

    Thanks Carol for the great tips! I am a complete newbie. My blog is on BlogEngine.Net so I’m not sure if I can use the plug-ins that you recommended but I will look into it.

    Thanks again for a great post!
    Soul Stops recently posted..Five Minute Fridays: A New Way…

  8. Another great plugin is LinkWithin which adds a lot to to the look and usability of a blog. One time I had some glitchy results from having changed the title on several posts, and I contacted LinkedIn support. They fixed the problem very quickly.

    Since I write about various old performers from time to time and include videos, another plugin I use is Smart Youtube which makes it super easy to add one or more videos.
    Madeleine Kolb recently posted..Why It’s a Bad Time To Be Old And What You Can Do About It

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh duh! Can’t believe I didn’t include LinkWithin, which is obviously in use here. It really makes a site stickier, as readers often read old posts as well.

  9. Thanks, Carol. Having just switched my blog from Blogger to a self-hosted WordPress, these are the types of things I need to know. I learned about Akismet the hard way. On Blogger I had one spam comment in 2 years. With WP, I had about 8 in the first week. Also, don’t know how I ever lived without a PayPal account. It is my favorite “bank” now.

  10. Shlomo says:

    I see you list Akismet as a free WordPress plugin. It appears to me that it is only free for personal blogs. For business blogs or blogs promoting products they ask for a minimum payment of $5 per month.
    Shlomo
    Shlomo recently posted..Review of WinPatrol

  11. Hi Carol,
    Another great attribution free site for images is http://www.sxc.hu/ and http://www.livefyre.com/ is a real time commenting service – helps build a community feel to comments and interaction. Great to have you back from holidays! Hope the summers has been good – can’t wait for it here downunder.
    Di Mace | Word Swords recently posted..Have you left space to think: is negative space positive?

  12. Sheila says:

    I love the keywordluv and commentluv plug ins. It helps a lot on promoting the commentator’s recent posts and their respective keywords. It seems ethical to have proper name used instead of keyword. Akismet too is best for anti spam.
    Sheila recently posted..LPN Training Programs Overview

  13. Frances says:

    Thanks for this information. The MorgueFile.com I had never heard of and glad to have it as an option.

    Wonderful post.

    Frantastically yours,
    Frances

  14. Brankica says:

    Pretty good list, and if you don’t mind, I would add a few more:
    – GASP for spam protection definitely!
    – I like Mailchimp but I am moving to Aweber. Took me long time to decide, but the tracking and conversion data Aweber has made me decide. I guess the more serious I become about my blog, the more I think about conversions, lol
    – When it comes to Paypal, I am not surprised many people don’t have it. There are many countries that are for what ever reason not on Paypal list and they can’t register. On the other hand, if you are from USA, why don’t you have Paypal account, really…?!

    Great list, Carol!
    Brankica recently posted..Quick and Easy Way to Build Sales, Landing and Squeeze Pages

  15. I can attest that 10 of these are great tools… Been using them regularly!

    The new one to me is “Popular Posts”…can you confirm that it works with WP 3.2? When I go to install it, I get a WPress warning that it does not support WP 3.2.

    Also, I recently found the “Sexy Bookmarks” website where they can give you some interesting free analytics about your site (and anyone elses’ site too!) Want to see how many women vs. men share links to Carol’s blog? It will tell you. good stuff.

    Thanks Carol, as always!
    David
    David Worrell recently posted..New Name, Same Great Content

    • Carol Tice says:

      That’s funny David —

      I actually had some problems with Popular Posts as well…it seemed to be impacting my load time. So I ended up taking it down and hard-coding a sidebar widget with popular posts. I just occasionally take a look again and change a few out as my popular ones change.

      What I should really say is you should have A popular posts widget…don’t think I’m attached to a particular one…or just do your Analytics, see which yours are, and put a few in the sidebar. I’ve found that a very successful strategy for getting people involved in your site…and for keeping great older posts alive for years.

      • I have WP 3.2, and it seems to works fine with WP Popular Posts on my blog.

        David, did you get a warning that WP Popular Posts are not compatible with WP 3.2 or that there’s not enough information to know for sure? I’ve seen the second warning sometimes when I go to install a new plug-in.

        One other thing. I do what Carol does for my Best of [my blog] posts. That is, I use a widget and change the links from time to time.
        Madeleine Kolb recently posted..Why It’s a Bad Time To Be Old And What You Can Do About It

  16. Sarah says:

    I am a huge WooThemes fan. I’m a web developer so I now hold the entire WooThemes catalogue for my clients. They have almost 100 themes to choose from now and are so easy for even novices to use and customise.

    I haven’t heard of MorgueFile though so I’ll go and check that out. Thanks for the great post!
    Sarah recently posted..Announcement from WooThemes – perfect for that special occasion

  17. Claudia says:

    I’m always looking for good quality free images but had never heard of MorgueFile, but I think that this file is quite helpful for me.
    Claudia recently posted..autorent tallinnas

  18. Gina says:

    This list of tools is so valuable. Thank you Carol for what you do.

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