Tools for Building Your Online Empire
We’re asked every week about the best tools and resources to use for blogging, email marketing, search optimization and more, so we decided to put this list together.
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Other Tools and Resources We Recommend
If you have a special situation or still aren’t sure about what tool to use, feel free to write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’re happy to help out.
Note: I have used all the resources listed below and have had a great experience with each, but your experience may vary. Some links below are affiliate links, which means we’ll earn a commission if you purchase that particular tool or service. If you do, I thank you for supporting us and this site. Cheers.
WordPress: there are lots of blogging platforms out there, but only one valid choice in my opinion. That’s WordPress, and all my sites run on it. WordPress has the greatest variety of themes, plugins and services of any blogging platform. Best of all, WordPress is open source and free.
I’m talking about the self-hosted version of WordPress, not the hosted wordpress.com version. That means the software runs on your servers (like at BlueHost, see below) and you’re in complete control over how you use it, and what to install. Most importantly, you’re in control of your data instead of some other bigger entity who can change the rules at any time.
Website / Blog Hosting
BlueHost: I’ve used half a dozen or more web hosts over the years and have plenty of stories about server nightmares. Bottom line: after crazy problems last year (with other hosting services costing as much as $200/month), we found that BlueHost is hands-down the best option for websites that are getting less than 100,000 visitors a month.
Bluehost has hosting packages starting as low as $4.95/month, so you aren’t going to find a better deal out there.
If you need help setting up your blog on BlueHost, here is a six minute video that walks you through all of the steps (purchasing the domain, installing WordPress, and configuring a “countdown plug-in”) to get your site live.
Google Analytics: you’ll want to track the visitors coming to your site, so you can measure your growth and figure out where people are coming from. Google Analytics is a solid free choice that I use and recommend.
Clicky: if you want more tracking options and real-time data, Clicky is my go-to solution. Clicky has a fantastic interface and the ability to make your data public (we use this in the Million Dollar Blog Project). On some of my sites, I actually use Clicky and Google Analytics so I can compare the data. Clicky has a free version that works for most people.
WordPress Themes and Plugins
WooThemes: all around, Woo is my favorite WordPress themes solution. They have tons of options, a solid and easy-to-use interface, and a design style that just works. I always advise beginners and those without programming skills to choose WooThemes. Several of my sites, including CorbettBarr.com and Expert Enough run on WooThemes. Some themes are free, and some cost a reasonable price considering what you get.
Thesis: for more adventurous beginners or people with some development experience, I recommend going with Thesis. Thesis has superior search engine optimization options and it’s optimized to load fast. We’ve used Thesis at Think Traffic since day one because it’s the perfect platform when you want to develop your own unique design instead of going with something pre-packaged.
Backup Buddy: trust me, you don’t want to learn the hard way about how important it is to backup your site. Way too many people skip this step, and it usually ends with disastrous consequences. I’ve tried at least five other solutions, but find BackupBuddy to be the easiest and most reliable complete backup solution. I opted for the developer’s license and now use it on all my sites.
W3 Total Cache: when your site gets more popular a caching plugin can help make sure it loads quickly for all those visitors. W3 Total Cache is the best plugin caching option for WordPress, and it’s free.
Pretty Link: I use this plugin to track affiliate links and make them look good (like thinktraffic.net/link instead of http://blahsite.com/blah/blahdieblah.php?12345).
(Note: I use several other plugins for various purposes on different sites. If you have questions about which plugin to use for a certain situation, feel free to write us with your question.)
TweetDeck: when you have multiple Twitter accounts and want to keep track of everything in one place, TweetDeck is a great option. I use the TweetDeck app for Google Chrome and keep it open in a pinned tab. (this application is now owned by Twitter)
HootSuite: this is another option for managing multiple accounts, including Facebook. I like to use HootSuite on my iPhone.
Buffer: one of the best ways to grow a Twitter following is to tweet often. The problem is you either have to be on Twitter all day, or your tweets all go out in clusters when you’re there. Buffer solves this problem by helping you schedule tweets throughout the day. We used this every day for a few months to keep our Twitter account for Expert Enough topped up and it grew quickly.
SEO / Keyword Research
Market Samurai: the most popular keyword research tool holds that title for a reason: it’s easy to use and effective. I recently switched to using this from another popular tool that has suffered in quality recently. Market Samurai runs on the Mac (yay!) and you can get a 35% discount by signing up for the free trial here.
Google Keyword Planner: the updated keyword research tool. Google’s tool works well for basic queries. If you’re on a tight budget, you can get a lot done with this tool, but it lacks the speed and efficiency of Market Samurai (above).
Shopping Carts / Merchant Accounts
e-Junkie: as a shopping cart for basic ebook sales and even simple membership sites, e-junkie is a fantastic choice. It’s inexpensive and simple, and we use it for several products we sell.
1ShoppingCart: for more complicated sales and affiliate tracking, we use 1ShoppingCart (like for Traffic School).
PayPal: believe it or not, I know one blogger who runs a multi-million dollar business with no shopping cart, no merchant account or anything else, besides PayPal. You can collect credit cards, create “buy now” buttons, create recurring payments and more just with PayPal. It’s probably the simplest and quickest way to start accepting credit cards and getting paid online.
Google Checkout: another option I use sometimes instead of or in addition to PayPal to accept credit cards.
(Note: I wish I could recommend a full merchant account solution besides PayPal and Google Checkout, but I’m honestly searching for one now myself. My last experience with a merchant account wasn’t great, so choose carefully.)
Other Productivity / Misc. Tools
Call Recorder for Skype: I use this to record all the Skype interviews I do here and elsewhere. It’s easy to set up, solid and inexpensive.
ScreenFlow: I use this for recording my screen while delivering webinars and presentations. It’s how I developed Traffic School, The Hustle Project and other classes and presentations we’ve done. ScreenFlow is one of the most important tools I use on a regular basis.
Coda: an indispensable and all-in-one tool on the Mac for accessing your servers over FTP and SSH. If you don’t know what those things are, don’t worry, it’s geeky stuff you may not need
Google Website Optimizer: a free tool for optimizing conversions on your website. You can set up simple a/b tests or multivariate tests by inserting a little script on your website.
Optimizely: if you’re willing to pay for optimization, this tool is far more comprehensive and much easier to use than Google Website Optimizer.
(Note: for email and sign-up form optimization, AWeber has built-in split testing)