Let’s face it: if your blog is your business, you need to treat that way. You need to have the right tools to make sure your blog grows and makes money. But how do you know what those tools are? It’s simple. You don’t have to. We’ve tried them all, and we are here to tell you what works. Here are the top 10 tools that every blogger needs.
Once you get set up with a great web host (here’s our #1 recommended web host), you need a blog publishing engine, or rather a Content Management System (CMS) that your site will run on. You have a lot of options, some paid and some free. Google’s Blogger is free, but there’s no support. What happens if you blog goes down (or disappears) in the middle of the night? Who will you call? With Blogger, you get what you pay for: not much. We’ve actually seen this happen. Joomla is well, something that we won’t get into here (lets just say we are SO not fans of Joomla). Then there’s TypePad, a paid option. Let’s just say we started on TypePad, and left as soon as we could.
If your blog is your business, you need to treat it like a business. Get a good, cheap web hosting service and install your own WordPress on it. There’s no reason not to. Our recommended web host even offers 1-click WordPress install.
2. Google Analytics
Knowledge is power. You need to know about the traffic on your site. Where is it coming from? Where are they going on your site? How long are they staying there? Is your traffic up? Or down? This is information you need. Big time.
Google Analytics has all this. Yes, there are other products out there that cover the same territory, but this is the best one. And it’s free. Have we mentioned that free is good? Because it is. Get it, use it, learn it, love it. You totally met your new best friend. Fun fact: some years ago, Google Analytics was a commercial product called Urchin, which cost upwards of $5,000. Then Google bought it, made it way better, and offered it free to everyone. Best. Analytics. Ever.
Chartbeat very similar to Google Analytics. In fact someone once called Chartbeat “Google Analytics on crack”. It offers you much of the same data, but it does so in REAL TIME. You can see traffic stats unfold right before your very eyes, feeding your Type A personality or offering you a cure for insomnia. It shows you who’s on your site right now, what they’re looking at, where they came from, etc.
Chartbeat has many valuable features, but chief among them is the ability to tell you how long it takes real users around the world to download pages on your site. Is your fancy new flash widget downloading slowly? Is your front page taking forever to load? Chartbeat will tell you, and you desperately need to know. Why? Because the internet makes people impatient. They may have no problem waiting nine months for their child to be born, but they won’t wait five seconds for your site to come up. Google knows that and won’t send visitors to a slow-loading website. Chartbeat lets you know if there’s a problem and gives you real time insight into what’s happening on your website.
Is your website up? Or is it down? You hope it’s up, you thinks its up, but is it really? Is it up all the time? Does it go down at the four in the morning on the third Tuesday of the month? Is your web host flaky, meaning having lots of tiny outages that you wouldn’t normally notice?
The truth is that without a great site uptime monitor like Pingdom, you simply don’t know. It offers you uptime reports, error analysis response time reports and will notify you by email, text or twitter if something happens. Pingdom does cost money, but it is an extremely valuable and necessary item for anyone who is in the business of blogging and/or making money online. You simply can’t live without it. Think about it: if you walk by a store and the sign says “closed” are you really going in? You can’t. It’s closed. Your website is the same way. Pingdom makes sure your doors are open all the time. And yes we’ve tried many other uptime monitors over the years, most sucking more or less than the one before.
More than any other uptime service we’ve tried, Pingdom catches any minor server flakiness so you know about it before your visitors or Google abandon you for it. Think of this as your outside agent keeping your web host honest.
5. Google Ad Manager (now DoubleClick For Publishers)
Google Ad Manager is the best ad management tool on the market, bar none. And it’s free. It is simple, robust and relatively easy to use, once you get the hang of it. Yes, you’ll need to play with it a bit because it’s very powerful, but it’s time well spent.
So what’s an ad manager? It’s a way for you to post ads on your site and make money. It allows you to create “ad units” on your website and then to display (and test) all kinds of different ads through those ad units. And then it allows you to figure out which ads get clicked best, convert best, etc. It’s something you must have if you’re going to make money online.
And it is free, and will remain so despite rumours that this could change with their recent acquisition of DoubleClick. As a result of that acquisition, Google Ad Manager has morphed into DoubleClick For Publishers (DFP). The DFP web page has replaced the Google Ad Manager web page, but the functionality is the same. In fact the functionality and the user interface have both improved considerably since the DoubleClick merger.
6. Aweber (Email List Server)
If you have a website and no email list, you’re really missing out on a huge opportunity. But that’s a topic for another day.
And let’s face it. If you do have an email list, you need your emails to get there and get read. Period. You need a way to get them from your keyboard to John Doe’s inbox. Period.
How do you make that happened? With Aweber. It’s that simple, and with their $1 for 1 month trial offer, it’s that cheap. At least, to start. It’s true. Aweber is not the cheapest email marketing service out there, it’s just the best, and frankly, it’s only one worth using. We left. We came back. There’s a reason for that. In the past it wasn’t exactly known as the easiest to use or most intuitive site out there but they have made incredible strides in this department as of late and it is way more accessible for you and we can’t recommend it highly enough. Do yourself a favor and don’t price-shop email list providers; try Aweber, you’ll be glad you did.
If you’ve started a video show (or video podcast) you know that it can’t just be on your website, it has to be everywhere. That means YouTube, DailyMotion, 5Min, Blip.tv, Vimeo, Yahoo Video, Sevenload, etc. You also know that each video file is HUGE (especially with HD), and uploading them is a HUGE PAIN. And that’s just uploading it once. With multiple sites, you have to upload each video multiple times, right?
Wrong. Tubemogul takes care of this for you. With Tubemogul, you simply upload it to their site once and then boom! They use their proprietary magic to distribute your video content to all the major online video platforms. That saves you time, and sanity. And if that wasn’t enough, they have analytics built in! See how many times your video has been viewed, for example.
Oh, VodPod, how do we love thee? Well, we’ll spare you the details, but we love them a lot. You are seeing them right here, at the top of our page! You see that sexy row of our videos? That’s them. They are really amazing at giving you ways to do something with your videos in a stylish, organized manner. Lets say you upload your video to Youtube. Great. What do you do with it now? Embed the heck out of it? That’s fine, to a degree, but if you have multiple videos like we do (we have over 550 segments and counting on Ask Dan & Jennifer alone) that just doesn’t cut it. Vodpod gives you a way to integrate and display your videos on your website in a way that is as accessible as it is aesthetically pleasing.
The simple fact of social media is that it is always there. If you want to be a force in the social media world, you must always be there. You need to be regularly posting to Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc. You can’t be robotic, but you must be consistent. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” certainly applies to the digital age and social media.
Fortunately, with Sendible, that’s never a problem. Sendible is a tool that allows you to schedule you tweets and other social media posts on all platforms hours, days, weeks and even months in advance. Going on vacation? No problem, set up your tweets in advance and your followers will never even know you were gone. Another way to look at this is that your followers who expect your great tweets regularly will keep getting them regularly. Just don’t go totally automated or everyone will stop following you… they expect personality and engagement too!
TweekDeck is a free desktop tool that functions as your personal real-time social media browser. It allows you to keep up with and post to Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and seemingly every other place you can think of – all from one application. Think of it as a sexy, digital command center from which you can control your burgeoning media empire. Okay, maybe not, but it is really simple and fun to use. You simply enter in your account information for each network and that’s it. You are officially off and running.
Yes, we know this is #11, but you will thank us for it. Face it. People have opinions and they LOVE to share them. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that user interaction is a key component of a successful site. People love to take polls and they love to see what other people think.
PollDaddy is the way to go, and there’s no point in you looking around at other polling options. We did. They look bad; really bad. Recently it was acquired by Automattic, the good people who bring you WordPress, which is definitely a good thing. Here’s a poll we ran on Ask Dan & Jennifer…
That’s all for our top 10 (and by 10 we mean 11) tools that all bloggers need! We’ve done all the work, research and experimentation so you don’t have to. All you have to do is run out and get these tools and put them to work on your site. And remember, if your website is your business, you need to treat it like one. Now get out there and get to making money and changing people’s lives!
We know we went kind of fast through this list due to time constraints, but stay with us. In the coming weeks we’re going to get into all the details you ever wanted to know for choosing all of these tools and using them like a pro.