Part of the appeal of blogging is its cost effectiveness. Anyone can start a blog for absolutely free using WordPress.com or BlogSpot. For a few additional dollars anyone can buy a domain and host a blog there. But when things start to get serious, they also start to get more expensive.
Professional bloggers — that is, bloggers who earn a half decent income from their labors — need more and better tools than amateur bloggers. Smart bloggers will reinvest their income into their blog and purchase tools and applications that will help them advance even further.
Through nearly eight years of blogging, I’ve tried and tested dozens upon dozens of tools. Here are my picks for the top five any professional blogger needs at his or her disposal.
1. Raven Tools
Link building isn’t what it used to be. Back in the day you could pay a nominal amount of money for a number of high-PR backlinks. There were entire networks of blogs dedicated to such endeavors. But ever since Google’s Penguin update, these networks have been devauled. Sites that sell links get penalized, so they don’t pass any PageRank. Sites that buy links then have backlinks from low-qulaity sites, hurting their own rankings. Yet bloggers still need backlinks to rank. How cna they get them without getting in trouble with Google?
Raven Tools is powerful marketing software that, among many other features, provides a comprehensive link building tool. It allows users to set up campaigns, target keywords, and keep track of every link built. In that way it not only lets bloggers track their link building efforts, but also gives them important data on it. Link building is a difficult, time-intensive effort in modern times. Bloggers need software like Raven in order to get the most out of their time.
Every day bloggers walk a fine line between writing for humans and writing for search engines. No blogger wants to write solely for search engines. Those kinds of posts are stuffy in nature and are rarely interesting to readers. Completely forgetting about search engines can be detrimental, though. They refer reams of traffic, so bloggers should take advantage when they can. The only solution is to find a balance.
Scribe helps bloggers find that balance. Created by the producers of Copyblogger, Scribe lets bloggers research and optimize their articles without making them too blatantly search driven. Unlike other content creation software, Scribe won’t lead users to stuff their articles with unnatural sounding keywords. Instead the software helps users find topics and tweak language to find that perfect balance between humans and search engines. It even includes a cross-linking tool, so you can reference other relevant articles on your site.
Beginning bloggers have few administrative tasks to worry about. In those early stages it’s all about content creation and audience building. But as a blogger finds more success the administrative tasks start to grow. You have to start tracking income from various sources. Perhaps you’ll also have to start paying other bloggers. That requires either an accountant, which is too expensive for any blogger, or some serious software.
QuickBooks is one of the oldest names in accounting and invoicing, and it’s now even easier to use. Instead of selling an expensive software license, QuickBooks charges a monthly fee for using its web-based program. It’s great for accounting, billing, and invoicing, three tasks that a professional blogger will certainly need. There just comes a point when an Excel spreadsheet won’t cut it any longer.
Images make blogs look nicer. Yes, the meat is in the text, but people’s eyes are caught by images. Many bloggers simply find their images through Google Image search, but that’s a dicey proposition. Many of those images are copyrighted, and using them amounts to stealing. Since professional bloggers want to keep everything on the up-and-up, they need an alternative.
While stock image hosts such as iStock are plenty expensive, there are cheaper ones that do the job just as well. Photospin has an enormous library of royalty-free images at a price that bloggers can afford. It can cost $429 per year to access a library of 1 million photos, or $649 to access 2.5 million photos, including larger file sizes. That gives bloggers 750 downloads per month, so they’ll have plenty to go around.
5. Thesis or Genesis
Sure, content is still king. Without quality content, no one will come back to your site. But content is like conversation: there are some people who will take one look at you and decide that conversation isn’t worth the trouble. So even though you have superb conversation skills, some people won’t bother. The reason is usually appearance. The blogging equivalent of putting on a nice pair of slacks and a button-down shirt is using a quality theme.
Thesis and Genesis are two of the biggest names in modern WordPress themes. Both are SEO-friendly, and both provide myriad design options. Thesis allows you customize your site as though you were a programmer, even if you have no programming skills, The Genesis framework is host to dozens of high-quality themes, many of which can be accessed with a single licensing fee. Either way, these themes help you put your best foot forward, opening up opportunities not available to bloggers with mediocre designs.