When I first looked into blogging, I didn’t know anything about it.
I didn’t know:
- what a blog is
- how blogs work
- how people make money from blogs
- what it takes to get a blog up and running
I also had no technical experience with things like WordPress or coding and no marketing experience, internet or otherwise.
Partly because there was so much to learn and partly because I was suffering from analysis paralysis, I researched and prepared for 11 months before starting my blog.
You definitely do NOT have to wait that long to start your blog! Especially since you can learn from my mistakes and capitalize on my research.
I started my blog completely from scratch with ZERO experience and you can too (probably a lot faster).
Today, I’m going to share with you four essential tools that will lay the foundation for your blog and its success. I use all of them and highly recommend them for any newbie blogger.
* This post contains affiliate links. I am an Amazon Associate, a Bluehost,Thrive Themes and ConvertKit affiliate, meaning that if you click on a qualifying link and make a purchase, I will earn a commission. Please read the Disclaimer for more info.*
Sign up for exclusive access to the Freebie Library (a regularly updated collection of free downloadable content) and updates from the blog.
Domain & Hosting: Bluehost
Choosing a Domain Name
To start a blog, you will first need to come up with a domain name.
Advertising Disclosure: I am a Bluehost affiliate so if you click on the link below and make a purchase, I will earn a commission. Please see the Disclaimer for more information.
You may want to consider naming your website after yourself, especially if you are in the personal development niche, because it’s good for branding and doesn’t pigeonhole you into one narrow topic. Consider popular personal development blogs like jamesclear.com, marieforleo.com and briantracy.com.
However, if your name is difficult to spell or pronounce (like mine!), you may not want to go that route. Instead, try to come up with something short and memorable that contains a keyword related to your niche. For example, 3dsuccess.org contains the keyword “success” and 3dsuccess is less than 10 characters.
It’s generally considered best to get a .com just because it’s the most recognizable but a .org is good too and might be worth the trade-off if the name you want on .com is taken. Just make sure there’s not already an active company with the name you want!
Advertising Disclosure: I am a Bluehost affiliate so if you click on one of the links below and make a purchase, I will earn a commission. Please see the Disclaimer for more information.
Next, you will need hosting.
A paid, self-hosted WordPress website (wordpress.org) allows you to have complete control over your website.
You could go with a free wordpress.com blog if you want to blog as a hobby, but if you plan on making money from your blog, you should definitely go with a paid, self-hosted one. It's only $3.95/month with Bluehost.
Benefits of a Self-Hosted WordPress (.org) Website
With a paid wordpress.org site, you can choose your theme and sell ads on your website (which you can’t do with a free wordpress.com website).
Another benefit of a self-hosted WordPress site is that you can install plug-ins. Plug-ins are pieces of software that you can add to your site to enable it to perform additional functions.
For example, there is a free plug-in called Google Analytics that allows you to analyze activity on your blog, like how many visitors you are getting, what pages your visitors are looking at and your visitors’ referral sources.
Google Analytics as well as other free plug-ins like Yoast SEO (for content optimization), Askimet (for spam blocking) and Social Warfare (for social media sharing) are essential for serious bloggers.
Adding these time-saving plug-ins will make your life a whole lot easier, especially if you don’t know how to code… and you can only upload plugins to a self-hosted WordPress.org site.
The great news is that you can get your domain name AND hosting from Bluehost.com, one of the largest and most trusted web hosting services out there.
Right now, Bluehost is offering web hosting for only $3.95 a month.
And when you sign up, you will get 4 freebies!
First, you will get your domain name FOR FREE.
Second, you will get an SSL certificate FOR FREE.
*An SSL certificate is the little green lock that appears next to your website name to let users know it is legitimate and secure. This is really important for your credibility, especially now that Google marks any site without an SSL certificate as “unsecure”.
Third, you will get 1-Click WordPress Install and site builders FOR FREE.
And last but certainly not least, you will get 24/7 support FOR FREE – which, let me tell you, YOU WILL NEED. And they are awesome. I’ve called to ask for help so many times and they are always super friendly and helpful.
So, you get hosting, a domain name, an SSL certificate, 1-click WordPress Install, site builders and 24-7 support all for as low as $3.95 a month!
Theme: Thrive Themes
Advertising Disclosure: I am a Thrive Themes affiliate so if you click on the link below and make a purchase, I will earn a commission. Please see the Disclaimer for more information.
A theme determines how your blog will look (fonts, colors, content organization).
If you don’t know how to code or you don’t want to spend $2,000 + hiring a website designer, you will need to install a theme for your website.
Free vs. Paid Themes
There are both free and paid themes out there. If you are planning on making money from your blog, it is crucial to go with a premium theme. Premium themes have greater functionality and make your blog look professional.
If you do decide to go with a free theme, choose one from the WordPress.org Themes directory. Other sources may be unreliable, so stick with WordPress themes to be safe.
But, keep in mind that free themes have limited features and support options.
If you’re running a personal blog, a free theme would definitely be sufficient but if you are looking to run a business and make money blogging then a premium theme is definitely the way to go.
What Sets Thrive Themes Apart
I decided to go with Thrive Themes. Four things that really set them apart for me is that their themes are:
- Conversion-Focused: Their themes are designed specifically with blog marketing in mind. They are elegant, highly-customizable and most importantly – conversion-focused.
- Highly customizable: Fonts, colors, backgrounds and layouts can all be tweaked to your preferences easily so your site will look beautiful, professional and unique.
- Mobile-Responsive: All their themes are fully mobile responsive, which is super important given that approximately 65 percent of online content is consumed via smart phone.
- Lightweight and Speed-Optimized: Most people expect websites to load in two seconds or less and they won’t think twice about bouncing from your site if it takes longer than that. So, it’s absolutely essential that your blog loads quickly and is not bogged down with bloated code.
Thrive Themes Membership
When you become a Thrive Member, you get access to all their templates and their full suite of plugins. You get all the plug-ins they currently have and all the ones they will come out with in the future.
You also get constant updates, unlimited support and access to Thrive University, where they post marketing tutorials and webinars to help grow your blog.
Thrive Themes Plug-Ins
Even if you don’t become a member, you can purchase each plugin separately. They’re all fully compatible with WordPress and will work even if you don’t have a Thrive Themes theme.
Here are some popular Thrive Themes plug-ins:
- Thrive Architect/Content Builder: Drag and drop WordPress editor and page builder (*If you can only get one thing, this is IT. As someone who has no idea how to code and absolutely no IT knowledge/experience, Thrive Architect has been a total life-saver!)
- Thrive Leads: Create all types of opt-in forms to increase conversions
- Thrive Ovation: Display testimonials
- Thrive Ultimatum: Display evergreen countdown timers for your product launches
- Thrive Headline Optimizer: A/B test headlines
- Thrive Quiz Builder: Make quizzes for your audience to take
- Thrive Optimize: A/B test landing pages
* A note about some other themes: I notice some bloggers are recommending the Genesis Framework by Studio Press. Be warned - if you do not know how to code, this theme will be too difficult for you to manage without hiring expensive website designers to help you.
Another commonly recommended theme is Avada. While it does have some nice features, it is a notoriously slow and bloated theme. It also has a back-end page builder which doesn’t allow you to see changes as you are making them. This can take you waaay longer to build your website than with a visual page builder like Thrive Architect.
Email Marketing: ConvertKit
Advertising Disclosure: I am a ConvertKit affiliate so if you click on the link below and make a purchase, I will earn a commission. Please see the Disclaimer for more information.
Your Email List is Your Most Valuable Business Asset
I'm sure you've heard this before - you need to start growing your email list from the beginning.
Email marketing outperforms all other types of marketing time and time again. That means, if you are planning on selling anything on your blog, your email list will be your most valuable asset.
Google and Facebook algorithms are changing all the time and you never know how that will affect your traffic. LittleThings, a company that built a huge following on Facebook, was forced to shut down when their profits plummeted because of an algorithm change that cost them 75% of their organic traffic.
When you have an email list, you don’t have to worry about losing all your profits because of an algorithm change. You can reach your audience without relying on someone else’s platform.
Even if you are not selling anything yet, your email list will help increase traffic to your blog as you notify subscribers of your new posts.
But, personally sending an email to each person that subscribes and keeping track of your subscribers’ activity would be extremely difficult to manage, especially as your list grows.
Professional email marketing services allow you to prepare your emails in advance and have them automatically sent out to your email list on scheduled dates and times you select.
ConvertKit Was Built For Bloggers, By Bloggers
I use ConvertKit and highly recommend it to anyone serious about starting a profitable blog.
Before creating ConvertKit, founder Nathan Barry was a successful blogger. The company was built with bloggers' specific needs in mind and that's one of the reasons it's unparalleled.
Email List Segmentation
With ConvertKit, your email list can be segmented according to their interests. So, you can send different emails to those who signed up because of their interest in Topic A than those who signed up because of their interest in Topic B.
No Duplicate Emails
Let’s say someone signs up for more than one opt-in offer. You don’t have to worry about them receiving duplicate emails (for example, your welcome email) – ConvertKit takes care of all that for you automatically.
Or let’s say someone buys your product in the middle of your email sequence. You don’t have to worry about them receiving the rest of your sales pitch emails (cringe!)– ConvertKit takes care of that for you too.
You can also run A/B tests to see which content or offers work best by sending one to half of your email list and one to the other half.
Analytics & Reporting
Yet another benefit of ConvertKit is that you get access to subscriber analytics and reporting tools. This allows you to see where your subscribers are located, whether they opened your emails and whether they clicked on any of your links – priceless information!
Plus, ConvertKit’s plain text emails help you to avoid spam filters so your emails actually make it to your subscribers’ inboxes. And they will automatically resend unopened emails, which means higher open rates and more sales.
*Be careful if you decide to go with a free email marketing service like MailChimp. They do not allow affiliate marketing in their emails! This is a huge downside, especially for new bloggers who make most of their income through affiliate advertising.
Like Bluehost, ConvertKit has excellent customer service and they also provide live trainings, workshops and open office hours. And right now it’s only $29 a month for your first 1,000 subscribers.
Try it for free! 👇
Social Media Marketing: Pinterest/Tailwind
Advertising Disclosure: I am a Share-A-Sale/Tailwind affiliate so if you click on the link below and make a purchase, I will earn a commission. Please see the Disclaimer for more information.
Now more than ever, social media marketing is SUPER important for your blog/business.
There are many social media platforms on which to promote your blog including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn and Instagram.
Pinterest is the Best Social Marketing Tool
Pinterest is the best social marketing tool because:
- It drives FREE traffic to your site
- Pins have a longer “life” than posts on other platforms such as Facebook, meaning you get consistent traffic to your posts over time
- Pins have the potential to go viral, which can drive huge amounts of traffic to your site
- Most people on Pinterest are high-income earners and use Pinterest to plan for purchases
Tailwind, an automated pin scheduler for Pinterest, helps you to post at a good frequency and at the times when your audience is most active. I love being able to schedule my pins in advance - as opposed to manually pinning 30+ times a day!
*Update April 2020: How I Get Over 1 Million Monthly Views on Pinterest
Also, Tailwind Tribes helps to get your pins in front of other people’s audiences (which is especially helpful in the beginning, when you don’t have many followers of your own).
When you join Tailwind, you get 30 pins a month that you can add to up to 5 Tailwind Tribes.
So, my top 4 Must-Have Tools for New Bloggers are:
These tools are absolutely vital to starting and growing your blog. They were extremely helpful to me and I hope they are to you as well!
Over to you – Any tools or resources that you love & recommend that I haven’t mentioned? Let me know in the comments!
*Update 10/1/19: It's been a year since I launched this blog! Check out this post for lessons learned in my first year of blogging - What You Can Learn From My First Year Blogging.*
*If you enjoyed this post or it helped you, please share it.*
Share this & help someone else!