Blogging Tools

10 Essential Tools You’ll Need to Launch a Blog

As social media grows in popularity, more small business owners are getting interested in blogging. Once they decide to have a blog the next question is: what tools to use, and how much do they cost?

The cost of operating a blog is virtually negligible. Around $100/year will buy you access to a self-publishing platform with all the tools to instantly reach people all over the world. From a cost-benefit perspective, blogging is really a no-brainer.

Here’s a breakdown of the tools I’m using and how much they cost:

Domain Name ($9/year):

I used GoDaddy to register shoestringbranding.com and all my other domains. GoDaddy has excellent prices and a user-friendly interface. Make sure you check these tips on how to chose the best domain name before you proceed.

Logo ($99):

With pencil and paper at hand, I quickly drafted a manual version of how I wanted my logo to look and started a contest on 99Designs to bring it to life. Since I’m not a graphic artist my logo is very simple, but it gets the job done and it’s even been nominated for awards.

I’m not recommending that you skimp on your logo. In fact, a good logo is probably the best investment you can make. In any case, a professionally designed logo will rarely cost you more than a few hundred dollars (Guy Kawasaki reports that he spent just $399 for the logo of Truemors).

There are many great designers on Fiverr who can design a great logo for you too, but beware of designers with little or no feedback as I’ve found that some designers feature work that is not their own.

Hosting Package ($7.95/month):

I set up ShoestringBranding as an add on domain in a hosting account that I already had, so technically my incremental hosting costs were $0. My existing account is a basic hosting package with Midphase for which I pay $7.95/month.

A basic package will give you more space and bandwidth that you’re going to need in a long time (you can always upgrade later if your blog hits the big time).

Blogging Software (Free):

I use WordPress for its features, its ease of customization, and because it has been endorsed by Google engineers as a search-engine-friendly blogging platform. It is also free, and usually comes included in most hosting packages.

Activating WordPress is very easy (your hosting company can give you instructions), or you can read this tutorial.

Note: don’t confuse WordPress.org (an open source free blogging software that you can customize and is available with most hosting packages) with WordPress.com (a free hosted blogging platform with very limited customization options). Learn more about the differences between wordpress.org and wordpress.com.

Blog Theme (Free):

There are hundreds of themes that have been developed especially for WordPress, and that you can freely use. I went to the WordPress Theme Site and picked a two-column theme.

If you are looking for something a bit more premium looking and don’t mind spending a few extra dollars, there are many fantastic looking themes available on ThemeForest. They typically cost around $40 which isn’t much considering how good they look, but spending money isn’t essential if you want to get started on a shoestring budget.

I chose this free theme because I wanted a mostly white, minimalist template that was easy to manipulate and customize (it is easier to customize a white, minimalist template than a theme that uses more colors and textures).

Also, I chose the two-column over the three-column layout. Some people prefer three columns (two sidebars) because it gives them more space to put ads and widgets. I, however, prefer the two column layout (one sidebar) because it offers less distractions and helps readers focus on the content (sometimes more is not necessarily better).

I then customized the theme’s style sheets to achieve the look and feel I wanted. All I really did was to change the font type, modify the header, and change the link colors.

Since I know some HTML, I was able to do the changes myself. However, if you are not that technically inclined, you can always get some affordable help on Freelancer or Fiverr to make the changes for you.

Email and RSS Feeds (Free):

For my email newsletter, I’m using Mailchimp combined with the Mailchimp for WP plugin. My WordPress theme has a built in stylesheet for this plugin so the form integrates seamlessly with the blogs design as you can see on the right.

Although RSS feeds have taken a back seat over the last decade since the rise of social media, they are still relevant and people still use them for bundling all of their news under one reading platform. As such, I still use Google FeedBurner.

RSS lets you distribute your content through many different feed readers. FeedBurner also gives you the option to put a form on your blog to allow your visitors to subscribe by email. With FeedBurner you can also keep track of your subscriber numbers and learn some basic statistics about your visitors.

Sharing Buttons (Free):

It is recommended to put social sharing icons at the end of your entries so that your readers can easily share your posts on social media. I chose Twitter and Facebook buttons for my posts as they are the most popular social platforms for sharing activity on my site.

You can also use the comprehensive Easy Social Share Buttons for WordPress on CodeCanyon plug which is what I now use. It costs $20 but it looks very good and lets you share your post on almost every social platform available.

Analytics (Free):

I use Google Analytics, a great free tool from Google that tells you how many visitors are coming to your site, where are they coming from, what keywords are they using to find your pages in the search engines, etc.

Google Analytics is very easy to install and is a must if you want to understand your blog’s traffic patterns. If using WordPress you can use the Google Analytics Dashboard for WP plugin to install Google Analytics in a few minutes.

Search Function (Free)

I use Google Custom Search to give my visitors the option to search my site (see search box at the top of the sidebar to your right).

After you sign up, you’ll be given two snippets of HTML: one of them to place where you want your search box to be, and the other one to put in the page where you want the search results to appear (this excellent Google Custom Search tutorial will show you how to do it).

If you have a Google Adsense account you can tie it to your Google Custom Search account and Google will pay you every time somebody clicks on the sponsored links in your search results page.

The alternative is to just the use native search functionality that is already built into the WordPress default code. It’s not a bad option by any stretch and is the most popular option used by bloggers.

Images (Free):

Photographs and images significantly increase the credibility of your blog, enhancing your posts and making them easier to read. I use royalty-free stock image sites like ShutterStock and IStockPhoto for my posts where you can buy the rights to use an image on your blog for as low as $1.00. You can either pay per image or pay for a monthly subscription.

There are free alternatives like Pixabay and Unsplash if you want free options, though the choices can be a bit limited.

You can also use Flickr images for posts if you want free images. Here’s my guide on how to find Flickr pictures that you can use legally on your blog.

That’s all there is to it. In summary, I have spent $99 for a logo and $9/year for a domain name. In addition to this, you will need around $95.40/year for a basic hosting package. Any way you look at it, publishing a blog is a bargain.

Aside from the cost of the tools you need to get your blog up and running, your biggest expense will be the time you invest in researching and writing posts. However, if you are like me, you will heavily discount the value of that time because you’ll be doing something you enjoy.

If you really don’t have the time to manage your blog you can always use a quality blog writing service to write the content for you but this will add to the expense,

What other tools are you using? What advice can you give bloggers that are just starting out? We would love to hear your tips and suggestions.

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