Curious about the inner workings of a successful blog?
I’ve managed to turn my curiosities and experiences into a decent side-income by writing on this blog and a few others over the years.
One of the things that drew me to blogging is that the expenses of starting and maintaining a blog are surprisingly low.
In this post, I’ll share the tools that I use to keep Planet of the Paul running, so you have a blueprint to follow when you’re ready to start earnings with your words.
If you’re serious about blogging, you should probably use a self-hosted WordPress site (not to be confused with WordPress.com, which I do not usually recommend).
With self-hosted WordPress, you have full control over your website, including the ability to install custom themes and plugins, monetize your site through advertising or selling products, and have access to the source code.
Using third party blogging platforms like WordPress.com, Wix, and Squarespace can have some limitations when you want to fully customize your site, scale, etc, so they are not what I personally recommend.
However I will say that if you are looking to start an e-commerce store where you’re selling items rather than just traditional blogging, Shopify is a decent platform that I’ve personally used and I can recommend that from experience. Anyways, back to blogging…
My web hosting recommendations:
- Bluehost: the best beginner hosting provider I recommend with plans starting at $2.59/month. It’s dirt cheap and good enough for beginners who are just starting out. I used Bluehost for my first few years of online projects and had a good experience. There’s a ton of online tutorials on Youtube as well, which makes it really easy to learn and use. Back when I used it they had a really simple one-click WordPress install, and since your domain name is connected to the same account, you don’t have to worry about the technical stuff of pointing the DNS yourself.
- WP Engine: the current hosting company I use for this site. It’s a little expensive starting at $20/month, but the support is outstanding. If you’re just starting out and not comfortable pointing your own domain DNS to a hosting environment yourself, this might be overkill. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’d probably be better served by Bluehost.
- Namecheap: the company I use to buy and store my domain name (planetofthepaul.com). Note: if you use Bluehost you won’t need to buy your domain name and hosting at separate companies, it will all just live at Bluehost which keeps things simple.
So what is web hosting, anyway?
Think of web hosting as the foundation of your online house. It’s literally the computer server where your blog lives.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to actually buy a computer server and keep it in your house.
There are many hosting providers who will do this for you and help you get your WordPress system installed in just a few easy clicks.
In fact, if you sign up for hosting now, you could likely publish your first post within 30 minutes.
Design & Theme:
Your blog’s design and theme are like its interior decor and layout, shaping the way your visitors perceive and navigate your site.
A professional looking design keeps readers engaged and encouraging them to explore more of your content. Using a good theme can help your blog stand out against all the other amateurs who use the free themes that come with WordPress.
- Thrive Themes and Builder: I used this suite of themes and plugins to create this website. It’s got a drag and drop builder, and a ton of prebuilt stylized boxes, email capture forms, page template, and more. It also comes with access to Thrive University which contains tons of training videos on marketing, copywriting, and web design.
This definitely isn’t required to start, and honestly is probably pretty unnecessary, but I’ll share anyway. This is basically just a plugin you install after you buy hosting and set up your WordPress site, and then you gain the full functionality.
It’s definitely not necessary when you’re just starting out though, so I might skip this at the beginning. There are many other free or affordable themes you could consider instead.
And to be totally honest, now that most people view sites on their cell phones, most layouts kinda look the same anyway for blog posts.
SEO & Keyword Research:
SEO and keyword research help your blog reach the right audience amid the billions of other pages online.
If you want to get Google to send traffic to your site, you have to make sure you’re writing about topics that people are actually searching for, and that you’ll have a chance to rank for in the search engine.
To figure this out, you can either use free tools like Google keyword planner, or you can kick it up a notch and use paid tools like the ones below to help discover keyword opportunities and gain free traffic to your site.
- Ubersuggest / Ahrefs: Powerful SEO and keyword research tools that simplify the process of finding the best topics and keywords to target, so your content reaches the right audience.
Image Sourcing: Camera + Free and Paid Stock Photos
Pretty pictures = more time on page.
If you can, you really want to use your own original photos to show Google that you have actual personal experience in the topic. They don’t even have to be high quality DSLR images.
I’ve posted plenty of iPhone photos with poor light. It still shows you have personal experience and real original photos which is more than most blog posts can say.
But capturing original images is not always possible, and sometimes you gotta grab some stock images for your site to fill in the gaps.
Like anything else, there are free and paid options, and generally you get what you pay for. Here’s what I use:
- My Camera: Canon 5D mark II
- Pixabay / Unsplash: My go-to sources for free-to-use images for my blog. You’ll see a lot of these images all over the internet on various blog posts, because they’re free and what most beginners grab.
- Adobe Stock / Deposit Photos: I have a paid subscription to both of these high-quality stock image sites. The selection and quality of photos is wayyy above the free options, and I don’t mind paying a few bucks a month to make this site look that much more legit. Protip: occasionally App Sumo runs a Deposit Photos deal where you can pick up a subscription for a huge discount. It’s worth checking before you sign up.
Writing & Editing:
Everyone’s first draft sucks. The magic is always in the editing.
These tools can help you spot errors and rephrase your content to make it more clear and engaging.
- Grammarly / Hemingway: Invaluable writing assistants that help me refine my content, making it more engaging, clear, and impactful for my readers.
Visual Content Creation:
I have no professional design skills, but I haven’t let that stop me yet. Here are two of my favorite tools:
- Canva: A user-friendly design tool that enables me to create stunning visuals despite being severely design-challenged. They have templates for blog banners, images, stock photos, any social media format you can think of, and a million other things. I have the paid version, but there is a free one too that still has a ton of features.
- Coolors.co: color scheme inspiration.
Workspace & Hardware:
My desk is my blogging command center and my laptop is my steering wheel.
- MacBook Air M2 (24 GB RAM): My powerful and reliable computer setup provides the extreme speed I prefer. You definitely don’t need this much RAM to start blogging (in fact almost any modern computer is more than enough). But I’m often running several programs in the background and watching YouTube videos while I’m working, so I go the jacked up version of the best portable laptop of all time.
- Dual Dell Monitors: When I work from home, my dual monitor setup really helps me gain efficiency and work fast by using 2 screens at once. I use a StarTech USB-to-Dual Display Port adapter to connect
These tools have been game-changers for my blogging journey, and I believe they can help you too.
They’ve made it easier than ever to get started, manage my blog, and even enjoy the process. Don’t be afraid to give them a try – you might just find yourself a few steps closer to your dream blog!
If you’re interested in how to actually make money with a blog (advertising, affiliate deals, etc), I have another article that goes over exactly how I monetize this site and make over $1,000 per month.